“Guapa”. “Hey beautiful, what are you up to?” When you walk down the road, looking distinctly scruffy and tired, and you receive these types of comments from elderly men or toots from cars, it’s a clear sign that there may be some issues with gender perception within a country. This is certainly the case in Ecuador.
As things stand, there is a dichotomy in the status of women in the Ecuador. Their civil, political, social and economic rights are well enshrined in 2008 law and the country is the fourth highest scorer in Latin America and the 17th highest in the world in the Social Institutions and Gender Index. 42% of Members of Parliament are female compared with 28% in Luxembourg. Girls are more likely to be enrolled at school at all levels than boys.
Yet these positive statistics stand in stark contrast with exhibitions I have seen in newspapers and exhibits around the city. Although women are likely to have more education than men, 61% of Ecuadorean women are underemployed compared with 50% of men and men earn on average 20% more than women. The traditional female role within the home and family is partly blamed for this discrepancy. This is also given as one of the causes for the high levels of violence against women within the country. Six out of ten women report being abused and one in four women has been subject to sexual violence.
The country also has the highest teenage pregnancy rate within South America and this is a number which is continuing to rise- 17% of girls between 15-19 have had at least one child. These girls tend to subsequently miss out on further education and may struggle to find employment. Fertility rates tend to be higher on adolescents from poorer backgrounds and the poor economic prospects for teen mums serve to propagate the poverty cycle.
Although impressive strides have clearly been made to improve the situation for women within Ecuador, there is a long way to go. Improving the economic opportunities open to women will prove essential for improving their status in society.