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Community Organizing During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Ecuador

Feminist Perspectives
Angie Clara Farfán García

Guest Author

07 December 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to humanitarian and economic crisis in several countries across the globe. For historically marginalized communities, this pandemic has rendered visible, as much as it has exacerbated deep-rooted inequalities. Ecuador, one of the first countries in Latin America to be hit the hardest by the coronavirus outbreaks, declared the country under state of emergency on March 16th. In order to stop the spread of the coronavirus, the government responded with neoliberal and individualist measures, which failed to meet the needs of poor, rural, Black, Indigenous, trans and migrant communities across the country.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, informal workers in Ecuador made 56.7% of the country’s labour economy1, and women made 40.2 % of all informal work2. Up to 2018, only 55,5% of the population had access to sewage services, percentage which dropped to 36,4% in rural areas3. In a context where the government has failed to provide solutions to long-lasting concerns in terms of labour, education, basic services and healthcare, different communities rapidly organized through local solidarity chains, in a political exercise that allowed not only for the re-significance of education, health, and well-being, but enabled other forms of community-based political economies.

Timbiré, a rural parish located in the province of Esmeraldas, situated at the northern border of the country, like most rural communities, has historically been deprived in terms of education, healthcare, and basic services. Before the pandemic, community organizers from the parish council were demanding access to clean water, as nearby rivers had been contaminated due to mining actives. When the state of emergency was declared, the parish of Timbiré, mainly inhabited by Black single mothers who work in agriculture, were not only in an extremely vulnerable position as they already had precarious access to clean water, but also because they couldn’t get their products out.4

We had to return to that practice we had before, el trueque, that meant I was able to take my bananas, cacao, papaya, (…) and go to the nearest town to exchange that for fish, rice or oil, that’s how we’ve survived during this time.– Lorena Valdez, Timbiré-Esmeraldas

The importance of trueque (barter) was key in order to implement alternative modes of solidarity economies, not only in Timbiré but in different communities across the country. Likewise, the creation of local urban gardens and seed banks, the organization of common pots, the creation of a trans shelter house5, and the return to ancestral medicine through boticas campesinas across the country6, are some examples of the initiatives pushed forward by different communities in order to survive heightened inequalities during confinement.

odalys cayambe-flor de bastion
Odalys Cayambe, Trans activist, preparing food for the entire barrio in Guayaquil.
ivonne macias-shushufindi
Preparation of chucuhuaso, a  traditional Medicine from the Amazon, in Shushufindi.

Far from wishing to romanticize these strategies, these crudely illustrate historical responses from the state to marginalized communities in terms of education, healthcare, the improvement of roads, and general access to basic services (clean water, sewerage and electricity). For poor, rural, Black and Indigenous and trans communities, grassroots organization has always been the response, and this pandemic has been no exception. However, this has also intensified the work of many women organizers, whom have had to take on leading roles regarding preventing contagion and providing health care, child care, and schooling, this time not only for their homes, but for entire communities.


All the major work fell on women during this pandemic, issues of education, health, (…) if someone gets sick, it is us moms who are always there for our children (…) The issue of food, if there is no money, it is them (women), who have to go out looking for food. If the water is dirty or polluted, they are the ones who have to go out to get the water. In other words, all the major work was condensed, concentrated on women, and this came along with an overflow of violence– Ivonne Macías, Shusufindi-Sucumbios

One of the most important elements of feminist and solidarity-based economies is the recognition of care work7. Before the health emergency, Latin America women spent an average of 22 to 42 hours a week on care work8. During confinement, women have borne an even heavier burden regarding care activities. Beyond this, many women have had to stay in confinement with their abuser. This in turn, has led to a world-wide increase in emotional, physical, sexual and economic violence against women. As gender-based violence cannot be put in quarantine, the UN has referred to a “shadow pandemic”9, to display how different forms of violence against women, do not only continue but have exacerbated during the health emergency.

Additionally, in various countries in Latin America, the pandemic has further legitimized the use of military and police force against impoverished, racialized communities and rural areas. Maricruz Sánchez, a domestic worker from Isla Trinitaria (Guayaquil) shares the story of one of the barrios most affected by the coronavirus outbreaks:

The only thing the government did was militarize the city, hire more police. Here in Trinitaria, it was war-like, military air force, police arriving in cars, motorcycles. Arriving here to scare people, telling them not to go out. They said that if people didn’t listen, they would throw gas at them.– Maricruz Sánchez, Guayaquil-Guayas

Abuse of power has been exercised against trans women, migrant workers, Black and Indigenous women, and many street/informal workers, who already were in a vulnerable position regarding their rights. It is clear that this pandemic has not had an equal impact on different groups of society. Thus, gender-based violence needs to be understood in a context of criminalization of poverty and ethnic-racial discrimination. As María Quispe, and indigenous women from Lagunas Chuqui de Laulillaca puts it:

“If one of us gets the virus, they say ´it is the Indians who are spreading the virus´. It’s all discrimination, for others it’s normal, but for me it’s not (…) they say ´Indians do not take care, they do not stay at home´ (…) but when they (authorities) made the news because they were at parties and rumbas, no one said anything because they are mestizos” – María Quispe , Saraguro-Loja

It is clear that rules regarding confinement do not operate the same in all bodies, and that some lives are regarded as disposable at the sake of others10. This pandemic has unmistakably shed light on long-lasting inequalities against black and indigenous women, trans women, migrant, informal workers, and groups at the margins of society. Governmental responses and recommendations have kept intact laissez-faire logics, and worked largely to benefit the country’s main financial groups. The ongoing colonial apparatus, which has deprived black, indigenous and rural communities from basic services, such as clean water, access to health care, and decent housing, now in state-form, has dared to tell the communities to stay at home, and constantly wash their hands.

As historical inequalities exacerbate and gain legitimization, it is urgent to understand the validity of settler colonialism’s biopolitics11, which under a continuous logic of elimination, perpetuate crude violence against historically marginalized communities. Although an incredible resilience and capacity of organization has been shown from the part of women and their communities, these should not be glamorized, as there are historical material demands awaiting to be met.

Ilustrations by Natalia Zavala


This is an adapted, shorter version of a larger booklet, which collected the demands from different communities in Ecuador before, during, and after state of emergency, due to COVID-19, was declared in the country. The booklet was made in collaboration with the organizations: Amandla, Mujeres de Asfalto and FES-ILDIS. To see full work in Spanish, please visit: You can listen to the interviews in Spanish at Amandla’s podcast here

  1. INEC (2020), in:
  2. UN Women (2014), “Mujeres y mercado laboral informal: vulnerabilidad y pobreza” , in:
  3. INEC and UNICEF (2018), in
  4. Lorena Valdez (2020), in
  5. To see news in Spanish, visit:
  6. Boticas campesinas was an initiative pushed by Movimiento Nacional Campesino FECAOL. To see news in Spanish, visit
  7. See Quiroga Díaz Natalia (2020), “Coronavirus y economía: Cuando el cuidado está en crisis”. Available at:
  8. CEPAL, (2020). “La pandemia del COVID-19 profundiza la crisis de los cuidados en América Latina y el Caribe”
  9. ONU Mujeres, (2020). “The Shadow Pandemic: Violence against women during COVID-19” Available at:
  10. The above mentioned term mestizo was used to identify a person of European and Indigenous descent during the Spanish colonization. During the republican era, it became synonym with national identity, leaving out Black and Indigenous population from the national imaginary. To read more on Ecuadorian mestizaje, see Karem Roitman, (2008), “Hybridity, Mestizaje and Montubios in Ecuador”, Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford
  11. See Patrick Wolfe, (2001) “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native”, Journal of Genocide Research 8: 4, and Scott Lauria Morgensen, (2011) “The Biopolitics of Settler Colonialism: Right Here, Right Now”, Settler Colonial Studies, 1:1, 52-76, DOI: 10.1080/2201473X.2011.10648801

Author’s Bio: Angie Clara Farfán García

Angie Clara Farfán García is a MA History student at FLACSO-Ecuador, and holds a BSc in Anthropology from UCL. She is part of the collectives Geografía Crítica Ecuador, and Re-existencia Cimarruna. Her current research interests include: colonial heritage and cartographies, the making of genealogical fictions and whitening technologies in 18th century colonial America, as well as the configuration of affect and desire in everyday colonial society.

Feminist Perspectives

Feminist Perspectives is a blog created to publish research-based work – like academic research and think pieces – and art-based projects that use gender as a category of analysis or explore…

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