by Bani Amor
“In the Ecuadorian Amazon, women’s struggles have been subsumed into the Indigenous and anti-extraction movements; there’s never been a collective that identifies as feminist,” starts 25 year-old theater actress and activist Lisseth Valdiviezo, “Until now, that is.” The Amazonian region of Ecuador takes up nearly the entire eastern half of the country (which is why we call it el Oriente), but is home to only about 5% of the national population. Though most of it comprises of remote ecological reserves and small Indigenous communities that live along the rivers, there are a collection of cities that serve as gateways between the Andes and the jungle, one of which is Puyo, where the feminist collective La Quinta Bruja was born.
“We’ve reached a moment in time [in Ecuador] where it’s necessary to claim feminism as an urgent and prioritized struggle,” she says. The collective kicked off earlier this year with a campaign addressing violence against women in the region called Yo digo basta Pastaza, referencing el Oriente’s most populous province, to which Puyo is the capital. They held a workshop for about 40 Puyenses to discuss the issue: “People broke out crying, sharing stories about their partners beating them up, growing up watching their fathers beat up their mothers - one woman talked about how her sister was being threatened with murder by her boyfriend at that very moment,” says Lisseth. “The issue is so hidden yet so commonplace because every single woman in that workshop had one or two intense stories of intimate violence at the hands of men.”
I asked her what challenges they faced as a feminist collective el Oriente, to which she quickly responded, “Sexism! Machismo! The patriarchy!” We laughed and she went on to lament how other local activist movements actively try to invalidate La Quinta Bruja and feminism in general. “It’s the people who are most conscious that say what we’re doing isn’t really important, which is convenient because every one of those collectives are run by men.” Another common critique from local men is that feminism is a bourgeois European concept, to which she responds, “Well where do you get your Marxist politics from? Animal rights? Even if the term was born in the U.S. or Europe, the point is to translate that and apply it to a local context, which is being done all over Latin America.” She’s offended when local men equate feminism with whiteness, saying, “We have our own struggle! With Indigenous women, Black women, multiply marginalized women, women fighting extraction in the Amazon and across Ecuador.”
Lisseth also organizes the annual Alas de Luna gathering of young Ecuadorian women artists which was held in Cuenca this year, a city in the southern Andes. “One thing is gender-based discrimination, but there’s also age. There’s this idea that young women’s artistic contributions aren’t real art, serious art - that they don’t matter.” La Quinta Bruja may be the only feminist collective in the Ecuadorian Amazon, but it is one of many that have formed throughout the country, forming a significant, highly-active and very visible movement that’s gaining more traction with each new day.