A 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook the northwestern coast of Ecuador in April 2016, resulting in 663 deaths, with 12 missing persons, and 4,859 injured.1 An estimated 720,000 people were affected by the earthquake and were in need of humanitarian aid. Over 3,550 registered aftershocks have reverberated across the pacific coast since the initial earthquake on April 16, strongest being 6.7 and 6.8 in the Richter’s scale through April 2017, by the National Geophysical Institute. The magnitude of the seismic event and aftershocks that accompanied it resulted in one of the largest internal displacement in Ecuador’s contemporary history.
The Canton of Pedernales, located in the province of Manabi, was among the hardest hit. At the height of the crisis, over 80,000 people were displaced, with the majority living in 26 official camps. The remaining people lived in informal settlements or with host families in urban and rural settings. Conditions in these displacement sites varied greatly; some having access to basic services while others, especially in rural areas, having very limited access to services. Poor sanitation conditions had increased the risks of mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika, Chikungunya, and Dengue fever, posed immediate health threats, particularly in rural, informal settlements. The government of Ecuador (GoE) addressed various gaps to ensure rapid response, with assistance from UN agencies and other International and local NGOs.
With regards to gender and violence, national statistics show that 60.6 percent of Ecuadorian women have experienced some form of violence and 1 in 4 have been a survivor of sexual violence.2 In Manabi province, the rate of gender-based violence (GBV) is slightly less than the national data. However, the communities most affected by the earthquake were already in vulnerable socioeconomic situations and GBV was of critical concern even before the earthquake, with prevalence rates as high as 58 percent in some locations and 37 percent of children between the ages of 5-17 having experienced household violence.3 The disaster exacerbated several contributing factors to GBV, including worsening perception of security, dignity and privacy as a result of lack of adequate shelters and multiple displacements many of the affected population have undergone. Moreover, protection partners had a particular concern for at-risk children and adolescents living in informal settlements that are not in school and live in crime-prone areas. Psychosocial support is still critical for the affected population, including children.
It is also worth noting that women’s participation in Ecuadorian society in the form of community spaces is very low. Among the total female population nationally, only 6.3 percent claim ever to have participated in such spaces; the data is even lower at around 3.2 percent with regard to women participating in producers, farmers and traders’ associations, while slightly being higher for their participation in savings cooperatives.4 These indicators show a complex ealityand challenges facing women’s social participation, inclusion and representation, through which they can express their needs and solutions. While women may be active in political structures in the democratic electoral systems, this has not guaranteed their representation in local and national decision-making processes. According to the National Electoral Council, women’s participation in governance account for only 7.8 percent of the mayoral positions at the sub-national level, and 39 percent of legislative positions at the national level.
Against this backdrop, a pilot study was conducted in two internally displaced persons (IDP) camps of Pedernales I and Pedernales II in Manabi Province in June 2016 to explore how women, men, and marginalized groups participate in the camp life and camp governance structures and how women’s participation may contribute to women and girls’ perceptions on safety. Using qualitative methods, a baseline assessment was conducted to understand the barriers and facilitators to women’s participation and to generate key strategies to foster women and girls’ participation in the camp life and camp governance. Identified strategies from the baseline include strengthening women and girls’ economic skills and creation of livelihood opportunities, building IDP leadership skills, and raising the awareness of the community on gender-related issues. These strategies have thus been piloted within the Pedernales camps since late 2016.