Meet the Indigenous Eco-feminists of the Amazon

In Ecuador, indigenous Kichwa women are resisting corporate interests that threaten their land.

By Lindsey Weedston

Source: Yes! Magazine

For episode two of A Woman’s Place, Kassidy Brown and Allison Rapson traveled to Ecuador and ventured deep into the Amazon rainforest. There, issues of indigenous rights and the rights of women intersect in many ways. Corporate exploitation of indigenous land directly affects women who rely on natural resources for important aspects of their culture and daily lives.

This is one reason why Brown and Rapson sought out Nina Gualinga, a member of the Ecuadorian Kichwa tribe, internationally known for her indigenous rights activism. “In every episode we tried to address a different angle of feminism and a different way that it could be expressed,” Rapson said. For Brown and Rapson, Gualinga represented the power of eco-feminism, which combines environmentalism with feminist theory.

“We were struck by lots of things, but really it was just understanding her relationship to Mother Earth,” Rapson explained. “It’s a very personal relationship, and fighting for the planet, for them, is like fighting for a really powerful woman who needs their protection.”

The episode explains how, after oil companies began exploiting their land for fossil fuels, the Kichwa people protested, sued the government, and convinced the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to force oil companies out of Kichwa territory. But even though Kichwa women stood up to Big Oil and won, they still have to be vigilant. For Gualinga, and other Ecuadorian women interviewed for this episode, the capitalist system that threatens their land is also a key element of the modern patriarchy.

“It’s the kind of capitalism where big oil is coming in with a very masculine approach,” said Brown. “With the worst form of masculinity—aggressive, not listening to the community leaders, and not hearing what the people want.”

“All people have both feminine and masculine attributes. It’s not that all men are bad and it’s not that all masculine expression is bad,” Rapson said. “It’s that we are living with the remnants of an outdated and antiquated system.”

Gualinga says another obstacle indigenous women face is the stereotype that their communities are “primitive.” So when she brought Brown and Rapson to her village of Sarayaku, Gualinga showed them how Kichwa people have mixed modern technology with ancient traditions. The village uses solar panels for electricity—and Rapson explained that they even have their own “tech center”—while things like traditional teas and beauty products are still made by hand.

“It’s incredible to walk around the forest with Nina. She would pull this flower and tell us about how this oil would clear up your skin,” said Brown. “Then she would pull another thing that I would never recognize out of the rest of the foliage and say ‘This is great for your hair, it will make it longer and stronger.’ They have what they need there.”

This is part of the reason protecting their land is so important to the Kichwa.“It’s kind of like someone coming into your town and saying ‘I’m going to destroy your grocery store and your bank and your beauty salon,’” explained Rapson. “‘I’m going to literally take every aspect of your life—everything involved in how you live every day-to-day moment—and I’m going to get rid of all of that.’” Because when Gualinga and her fellow tribe members talk about protecting their environment, it’s more than just land. It’s protecting their history, their traditions, and their culture.


Lindsey Weedston wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Lindsey is a Seattle-based feminist blogger with a creative writing degree that everyone told her would be useless. She spends her time writing about various human rights and social justice issues on her blog Not Sorry Feminism and dabbles in video game reviews and commentary. Find her on Twitter at @NotSorryFem.

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13 Responses to Meet the Indigenous Eco-feminists of the Amazon

  1. Nolan says:

    Luther, thank you for expressing my original point better than I could when you said,¨A fair argument people may have against identity politics is that it DIVERTS ATTENTION from issues that affect everyone such as the economy and environment.¨ So, isn´t it a NEGATIVE development when activists link their struggles with broader causes such as environmentalism?

  2. Heather Awen says:

    As a feminist I know how to blame men for overpopulation. One of the main problems in getting birth control into many places in the world is that the men refused to use it because they believe it’s a sign of machismo to have lots of children even if they don’t care for them and without any regard to the risks to the woman’s life every time she goes into labor . The main problem worldwide for doing any family planning has been men .

    This guy obviously has a lot of male guilt that makes him very defensive and reactionary . Maybe his mother was a real bitch.

    • Just a reminder to all commenters, please refrain from personal attacks. I’m all for open debate but if the balance of an argument is aimed at an individual rather than the idea it will be removed.

      • Nolan says:

        ok, then please let me rephrase:
        Wow, the ignorance of this comment is astonishing, it takes 2 to create a child.

        Personal attacks on peoples mothers is fair game though?

        • No it’s not, but if the preponderance of the argument were statements to that effect it would be removed. I can understand the urge to make personal attacks in defense of deeply held convictions but it’s not productive, escalates conflict, and distracts from problems we’d be better served by focusing on.

  3. Heather Awen says:

    Thanks for having stuff about women on here. Obviously that person who did the post before needs to look at the distribution of wealth end rights of women in the world because they seem to think that men and women are on equal playing field which is incredibly sexist and offensive to women , it’s like saying that black people and white people are on equal playing field . Thanks for doing this because so many so-called anarchist men don’t give a shit about women.

    • Nolan says:

      What about the distribution of wealth and womens rights? Never claimed there was a level playing field. And where did you get the idea I am an anarchist? You need to check your grip on reality, seriously. ¨many so-called anarchist men don’t give a shit about women.¨ Um….ooooook.

  4. Nolan says:

    What kind of misandrous bs is this? Blaming deforestation on the evil patriarchy, what utter nonsense. Like women don´t create demand for oil. This vid and article doesnt even address the #1 reason for for deforestation, which is the meat industry. But since most women eat meat too, that wouldnt fit into their perverted worldview that all the problems in this world are the because of men and that women are the answer. Feminists havent yet figured out how to blame meat eating and overpopulation on men, so they ignore those larger problems and focus on a tribe fighting the evil patriarchal oil industry.The entire concept of this article is ridiculous, consider if a mens rights activist wrote an article about how the Kichwa men are defending their land against corporate interests because men have a deep connection and feel a need to protect Earth. I assume the Kichwa women make up about half the population of the tribe, so I it should be expected that there are women taking up the fight, not just the men.

    • You make a valid argument against the meat industry, but the perspective of eco-feminist activists is supported by the fact that upper levels of political and economic institutions causing their problems are disproportionately men and have been for a long time. As important as it is for men and women to be treated as equals, we need to acknowledge differences and some important ones include differences within cultures of genders which affect power structures and strategies to effectively change such structures.

      • Heather Awen says:

        Thank you for acknowledging the fact that if you look at the global population , women have very little access to power and to wealth and to the human rights . This is exactly the sort of sexist activist crap that men who are so insecure about how much privilege they have take out on feminists . If you’re gonna have sex with women you might want to know what the hell women are facing in the world if you think that you actually love her.

        • Nolan says:

          Heather, what the hell does pointing out the ludicrous view of blaming men for the actions of oil companies prove my insecurity about supposed ¨(male) privilege¨? The only thing your comment proves is your lack of ability for rational thought. I don´t know what country you´re from, but here in America, the pendulum for rights has swung far in favor of female privilege. Just take a look at child custody trends in the courts. Do females have to sign up for the draft? The vast majority of homeless are men due to lack of support compared to women. 93% of workplace deaths are men, so forth and so on. The problem with feminists is that they observe and approache all social issues with a gynocentric lens. Every issue is seen as a womans issue and if a man is affected(Kichwa men are being affected by these oil companies), it is seen as a byproduct of misogyny. Feminism is intellectually dishonest at best, and as this article and you comment shows, lesbianic man hating at worst. If youŕe gonna have sex with men, you might want to know what the hell men are facing in the world if you think you actually love him. btw, im single and staying that way, it is just too risky to enter into a relationship with a(n American) woman in this environment. Also, not really up to going on dates because it is culturally expected that I pay for the dates(female privilege)

          • As you mentioned, feminism is one lens through which people frame an issue. But just because it’s at times subjective or incomplete doesn’t mean it’s intellectually dishonest. There’s certainly oppressive aspects of the female experience most men may not comprehend, just as some struggles of minorities are difficult for people of a dominant majority to understand. A fair argument people may have against identity politics is that it diverts attention from issues that affect everyone such as the economy and environment, which is why I think it’s a positive development when activists link their struggles with broader causes such as environmentalism.

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