Since my childhood I have always heard the story of the princess who finds her Prince Charming. The delicate and beautiful girl with blue eyes … However, on the streets I found women with brown eyes, tanned hands and lush bodies … The other big difference with reality from the story I was told is that women do not have any Prince Charmings on their sides. And so begins one of the thousands of stories with which working women, sex workers, housewives, daughters, rural women, activists, fathers and brothers from all over Ecuador have contributed to the campaign Cartas de Mujeres, meaning letters of women.
On November 25, 2011, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the municipality of Quito in partnership with the German Development Cooperation (GIZ) and with support from UN Women, issued a call to solicit testimonies of women’s lives through letters, asking also for letters on what would make a better world without violence or discrimination against women.
The result of this innovative participatory campaign was overwhelming -in three months 10,000 letters were received. Almost half of them portray different types of family and domestic violence. Others speak about violence within the institutions; for instance, women politicians left out of decision making despite being democratically elected or facing political violence. These letters echo a study by the Association of Women in Municipal Government of Ecuador (AMUME) of the 457 women in the country local authorities at least 100 have been victims of political violence.
In three months, Cartas de Mujeres has opened a public debate on gender equality and violence against women. And the institutions are responding to the dialogue. So far, the most striking result is the proposed reform by the local government to Ordinance 042 in Quito, which will now criminalize sexual harassment in public spaces. Estimates indicate that 68 per cent of women have experienced sexual harassment in Quito. According to Ana Rodriguez, Coordinator of the Contemporary Art Center of Quito, the campaign’s implementation partner, “This campaign is also important because it can show other municipalities that they can combat violence at the local level.” The local government’s commitment to expand the existing Ordinance was also influenced by the Safe City Quito initiative which is part of the Global Programme “Safe Cities Free of Violence Against Women and Girls”, supported by UN Women and the Government of Quito.
Cartas de Mujeres sheds light on other institutional problems as well which have so far remained in the shadows. For example, the issue of de-homosexualization. “Several of these letters tell heartbreaking stories of women being confined in hospitals to “correct homosexual behavior”, using practices such as corrective rape” said Ana Rodriguez. After hearing of these events through the letter campaign, Quito’s Mayor has pledged to prevent such practices.
The first phase of the campaign concluded on this year’s International Women’s Day, but the letters continue to arrive regularly in the 400 mail boxes installed in markets, malls, schools, museums and parks throughout Ecuador. In the second phase of the campaign the engagement and scope of the initiative is being expanded. The new call for letters will go out to people in the country, but also to other countries in the Andean region and to Ecuadorians living abroad in Europe, and will eventually create solid documentation on violence faced by women in Ecuador.
More information on the campaign Cartas de Mujeres