In late January 2016, the government of Ecuador signed a controversial contract with Chinese oil company Andes Petroleum, handing over rights to explore and drill for oil deep in the country’s southeastern Amazon Rainforest, part of a fragile ecosystem known as “the lungs of the Earth.”
In marches, protests, conferences and international forums, the women of the Ecuadorian Amazon are standing for the forests and their communities, and navigating a brutal intersection of environmental devastation, cultural dislocation, violence and persecution.
On International Women’s Day, March 8, a coalition of Amazonian Indigenous women took to the streets in the city of Puyo, Ecuador, calling for the cancelation of this new oil contract.
International representatives of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, Amazon Watch and other allied organisations joined the women of the for the march, forum and press conference, which brought global attention social and ecological threats posed by expanding oil extraction in the Amazon.
The contract plans open up almost a million acres in the center of Ecuador’s road-less southeastern Amazon, where Indigenous communities have successfully prevented fossil fuel extraction for decades. The concession means large swaths of deforestation and irreversible devastation of the forest’s magnificent ecological, social and cultural diversity.
The Sápara people and the Kichwa of Sarayaku have denounced the new contracts as a violation of their fundamental rights, and have made clear their intentions to keep resisting extraction and protecting their rainforest.
The Ecuadorian government claims to have consulted the Sápara in accordance with Article 57 of their constitution, which requires Free, Prior, and Informed Consultation (FPIC).
The new Ecuadorian oil contract, encompasing more than 40 percent of the lands of the Sápara people, also threatens the cultural loss of an indigenous nation consisting of just 300-500 people. The Sápara language has been official recognized by UNESCO as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.”
In a statement published by EcoWatch, Ena Santi, women’s leader of the Kichwa people of Sarayaku said: “we have always defended the living forest, we are not going to stop this ever, we will not allow for the destruction of the Mother Earth who feeds us.”
Concerned people worldwide are demonstrating their support by signing and circulating a petition, “No Extraction in the Amazon! Women of Ecuadorian Amazon and International Allies Reject Oil Concessions, Stand for Rights of the Earth and Communities.”
“Women are the main victims – their ability to feed their families becomes impaired. There is deterioration of family health and they suffer the division of their communities and other forms of violence,” women representatives of the Sapara and Shiwiar Nationalities and the Kichwa Kawsak Sacha and Sarayaku Peoples explained in a collective statement.
‘This government policy has infringed on our rights since we have not been adequately consulted,’ the women added. ‘We as women have not been considered and we have not participated in those government informational meetings.’
‘We reject this oil policy of the government and the possibility of further oil concessions in the southern Amazon; We denounce that deceptive mechanisms have been used to obtain signatures of community members in order to justify supposed prior consultation processes. We stand firm in the defense of our territories, for the defense of life and the good living of our families and communities.’
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Picture Credit: Emily Arasim