Why has constitutionalising Buen Vivir failed to rethink and prevent gender-based violence in Ecuador?

In our 2022-23 masters students' blog series, Ciara Bridgeman disputes current gender policies in Ecuador.

Ciara E Bridgeman ID blog photo

In Cuenca, one of Ecuador’s largest cities, 79.2% of women face violence, even though a strong legal framework is in place to deal with it [4]. Rooted in ideas of Buen Vivir (“the good life”), the constitution of 2008 called for a protection of life, with a special mention of women [4]. However, rather than protecting citizens, the constitutionalising of Buen Vivir has resulted in the loss of protection against violence for women and a continuation of colonial violence. Why is this the case? 

Buen Vivir (BV) is an indigenous Latin American concept used to describe an alternative to development and in English, it translates to “the good life”. It believes well-being is only possible through community and protecting nature [1]. Moreover, it is an anti-colonial pushback against neoliberal ideas [3]. In Ecuador, this concept was constitutionalised by former President Rafael Correa in 2008 and gender was placed as a key area of focus [2]. Protecting women from violence thus forms part of community well-being and BV. 

However, the application of BV has been uneven and there is a difference of vision between the policy makers and civil society [2]. The constitutionalising of BV resulted in the un-doing of feminist activism that took place throughout the 1990s. Women’s rights activists encouraged the passing of Act 103, meaning any violence that did not result in physical marks would be dealt with under rapid civil procedure [2]. Significantly, it provided women with immediate protection from violence without facing a court case. The 2008 constitution resulted in this act being replaced with the 2014 penal code transforming certain acts of VAW from misdemeanours to criminal offences [4]. 

Consequently, it became more difficult for women to be protected from their abusers, even though the law was more powerful. Only 11.1% of VAW cases result in conviction and the law no longer offers immediate protection from abusers [4]. Moreover, survivors of VAW prioritised protection, which could now only be achieved through conviction and often the trial would be dropped before that would happen [4]. The constitutionalising of BV has evidently failed these women and instead, has resulted in a system that is not fit for purpose and distant from the experiences of the women it set out to protect.

It is possible to attribute this failure to how the constitutionalising of BV did not truly break from colonialism. The indigenous vision of gender is one that is not rigid; there is a belief that masculinity and femininity balance each other, with no hierarchy between them [2]. Colonialism has imposed a gender hierarchy in Ecuador [2]. Rather than seeking to challenge notions of hierarchy between men and women, BV policy shows continuity from previous neoliberal policy. The inclusion of ‘the nuclear family’ into the code targeting VAW indicates the legislature wanting to uphold colonial notions of a male headed household and marriage, rather than shifting towards more equal rights [2]. 

The constitutionalising of BV had the potential to limit and rethink VAW. This has not been the case and instead, through a strengthening of laws and failure to listen to the needs of women, violence is now more difficult to be protected from. 

Reference List 

  1. Gudynas, E. (2011). Buen Vivir: today’s tomorrow. Development, 54(4), 441-447. 
  2. Tapia, S. (2016). Sumak Kawsay, Coloniality and the criminalisation of Violence Against Women in Ecuador. Feminist Theory, 17(2), 141-156.
  3. Radcliffe, S. (2017). Tackling Complex Inequalities and Ecuador’s Buen Vivir: Leaving no-one Behind and equality in diversity. Bulletin of Latin American Studies, 1-22. 
  4. Tapia, S. (2021). Beyond Carceral Expansion: Survivors’ Experiences of Using Specialised Courts for Violence Against Women in Ecuador. Social & Legal Studies, 30(6), 848-686.

Written by Ciara Bridgeman 

Ciara is currently a student on the International Development Masters. 

 Ciara E Bridgeman- ID student profile

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