The Violence of Being Left-Out: Buen Vivir and everyday exclusions against indigenous women

In our new 2022-23 masters students' blog series, Emily May Muir explores how Buen Vivir in Ecuador failed to include indigenous women in decision-making processes...

ID Blog post #03

There have been recent calls to expand feminist definitions of women’s violence to encompass everyday disadvantage and exclusions from decision-making. This blog explores how Buen Vivir in Ecuador had seemingly good intentions to improve the everyday lives of indigenous women, however, in practice, failed to include indigenous women in decision-making processes and spoke-over their voices. 

Buen Vivir or Living Well, is an alternative development theory originating in Latin America from indigenous concerns of development in Ecuador. The goals of Buen Vivir centre on co-existence, with both humanity and Pachamama (Mother Earth), as well as living as a community and fighting for the historically oppressed. This works towards an end goal of a good life and an embrace of human diversity. 

Buen Vivir was utilised by Ecuador’s 2008 administration to provide an alternative to previous harmful structures and improve inclusivity. This new policy sought harmony and balance with society, state and nature through a national plan of wellbeing. President Rafael Correa within this administration pledged to “eradicate violence against women’’. The Buen Vivir administration therefore offered a hopeful opportunity for improved inclusivity of indigenous women within decision-making processes, with an indigenous worldview aiding in challenging pre-existing biases. 

However, in practice, the Buen Vivir administration distanced itself from indigenous worldviews and often reflected previous gender hierarchies, contradicting the original notions of justice within Buen Vivir. For example, indigeneity and gender were often treated by policymakers as two separate categories, neglecting the experiences of indigenous women who experience violence as multidimensional rather than in just one way. Other critical action plans acknowledged these complex relationships but lacked practical solutions for communities, and therefore failed to be implemented.

Indigenous women found their voices left out of solution-orientated conversations. Tsáchila women are the second largest indigenous population in lowland, coastal Ecuador, yet the majority of development programmes which sought to help the Tsáchila community failed to empower or directly involve Tsáchila women. Traditional authority structures within communities were often left unchallenged by development policymakers, leading to the voices of Tsáchila women being silenced by male voices. The principles of Buen Vivir are grounded in the everyday lives of Tsáchila women, such as through agricultural community practices, yet these valuable insights were not sought by development policymakers. These feelings of being left-out were carried by many other indigenous women throughout Ecuador as they also found their voices silenced or misheard by development professionals seeking to erase inequalities. 

Here, the original meanings of Buen Vivir are lost when indigenous women are silenced. Buen Vivir places life and humanity in the centre and was originally a bottom-up, community everyday practice between indigenous peoples. State-led Buen Vivir demonstrates how well-meaning policy can fail when the valuable and distinctive concerns of indigenous women are oppressed by unquestioned powerimbalances, further perpetuating mundane and everyday violence against indigenous women.


Lind, A. (2012) ‘“Revolution with a Woman’s Face”? Family Norms, Constitutional Reform, and the Politics of Redistribution in Post-Neoliberal Ecuador’, Rethinking Marxism, 24(4), pp. 536–555. Available at: 

Radcliffe, S. and Pequeño, A. (2010) ‘Ethnicity, Development and Gender: Tsáchila Indigenous Women in Ecuador: Tsáchila Indigenous Women in Ecuador’, Development and Change, 41(6), pp. 983–1016. Available at:

Radcliffe, S.A. (2012) ‘Development for a postneoliberal era? Sumak kawsay, living well and the limits to decolonisation in Ecuador’, Geoforum, 43(2), pp. 240– 249. Available at:

Radcliffe, S.A. (2018) ‘Tackling Complex Inequalities and Ecuador’s Buen Vivir: Leaving No-one Behind and Equality in Diversity: Tackling Complex Inequalities and Ecuador’s Buen Vivir’, Bulletin of Latin American Research, 37(4), pp. 417–433. Available at:


Ordonez, J (2020) Access online:

Written by Emily May Muir 

Emily is currently a student on the Environmental Change and International Development MSc.

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