Posted by: Jena Davison | January 23, 2010

This is Where I Live

Some things I have heard, overheard, seen, noticed or read about Ecuador in the past ten days or so:

1. 8 out of 10 Ecuadorian women have been a victim of physical, mental or sexual violence in their lives.

I saw this statistic plastered on the side of an approaching bus last week. It appears to be part of a social justice awareness campaign here in Quito, as I have seen it a few times since then. As an advocate for women´s rights and sexual assault prevention, I am both sickened and maddened by this high percentage of violence against Ecuadorian women. The sad part is that it is probably an even higher percentage, seeing as though many women don´t come forward to report it. However, it doesn´t particularly surprise me, though, knowing that machismo (male chauvinism) is alive and well here. Having personally been victim to absurd amounts of hissing, honking and hollering (preciosa, linda, guapa, mamacita….) at by Ecuadorian men, I can gather that females here are considered objects of male desire more than living, breathing human beings.

I was also told that there is a huge issue with Cuban men coming over to Ecuador and marrying Ecuadorian women in order to gain citizenship here. These women are then stuck in sometimes abusive relationships because they can´t afford to pay the high costs necessary for divorcing them.

2. The government here has recently taken steps to censor the media and to limit freedom of speech. There has been never-ending debate about a proposed Communication Law (Ley de Comunicación) that would call for all media outlets to register with the govenment, would require all journalists to have a journalism degree before practicing and would allow for prior censorship by the government if the content violates the Constitution (created by the government). Journalists must also reveal all sources, thereby taking away the protection of source anonymity–an important component of journalism. Visible steps have already been taken, worrying some Ecuadorian citizens and some members of the international community. In late December, the government shut down a television station known for being critical of the government for three days, sending a strong signal to other stations about the risks of positioning themselves politically opposed to the government. Additionally, an indigenous radio station had its license revoked.

Another component of this legislation includes a quota of how much of the programming has to be national, or public. It proposes that at least 40% of daily television programming has to be national programming and at least 50% of daily radio program has to be music that is produced, composed or played in Ecuador. I was also told that President Correa must appear on television for ten minutes for every hour of television programming (not sure if this is actually true).

As a journalist, I am particularly interested in this topic, and I am curious as to how the journalism education here compares to that in the U.S. I find it troubling that this law may actually become a reality because it is a huge breach on freedom, and it is one small step in the dangerous direction of complete censorship. Being critical of our leaders is one of the biggest responsibilities of journalists–making sure to check the power of those in power. I have come to feel lucky that I grew up in, was educated in, and live in a country (the U.S.) where I can freely express and interpret a wide range of ideas and opinions. Similarly, I feel fortunate that as a journalist, I have more rights and protections in the U.S. than the journalists appear to have here.

3. Quito is really Americanized. Huge shopping malls and mega movie theaters are prevalent, especially in the more modern northern sector. You don´t have to look hard to find fast food chains like KFC, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Dunkin´ Donuts and Dominoes (there is one at the corner of my street, but an XL sized pizza and salad combo costs $15.99!). Quiteños are also known to be a bit more materialistic–valuing the art of consumerism and proudly displaying wealth through things like cars, expensive electronics and imported clothing–even though they may need to penny-pinch in other places in order to survive on their salaries. Also, there is a huge expat community here in Quito and it is easy to get lost in an English-speaking scene and to hang out at expat, English-speaking bars exclusively. Besides those that live here and work here, tons of gringo travelers populate the bars, streets, museums…wherever.

4. The nightlife here is very much divided according to social class. The poor people gather and drink outside in parking lots and in front of liquor stores. The middle class goes to bar and clubs with small cover charges or without covers at all. The upper middle class and upper class go to exclusive, ritsy clubs with $10-$20 cover charges and expensive drinks. These high cover charges are in place to filter out everyone else and allow the high-heeled Dolce and Gabana-wearing girls to bump butts with the richest Ecuadorian guys.

5. The Ecovia, or major bus line here that huffs down 6 de Diciembre, Quito´s major road, literally means ¨Eco-friendly Travel.¨ Yet, I watch it puff out black clouds of smoke, suggesting that it is actually firing harmful chemicals into the atmosphere. In fact, the pollution here appears to be really bad, and I have found myself holding my breath sometimes as the Ecovia turns around the corner to avoid inhaling it. Likewise, there doesn´t seem to be too much regard for the environment here in general and the closest thing to recycling is returning empty beer bottles to the store you bought them at so that they can be picked up, cleaned, refilled and redelivered to another store. This all seems like such a shame considering the incredible natural beauty throughout Ecuador.

NOTE: I am always trying to find a balance between being critical of the places I am in, without seeming condescending in my interpretations and explanations of them. Different societies operate differently and I don´t want to come off like I am saying there is only one way for things to be done, because I also recognize that this is not true. I also know I am understanding this all through a very particular lens based on how I was raised and educated.

WHAT DO YOU THIS OF ALL OF THIS? FEEL FREE TO MAKE COMMENTS : )

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Responses

  1. i really like the criticism, jena! as travelers we always have the “tough” (back-breaking, i’ll call it haha) job of experiencing and embracing the new culture, but also realizing it’s not just a vacation place. people live there. jobs are had, families are formed, etc etc… we can’t just discount all the bad stuff because we’re not citizens of that country.
    conversely, like you said, we can’t criticize everything we see. growing up the U.S. sometimes makes us a bit jaded to the fact that other countries don’t operate like the great and perfect (right?) United States of America. let’s embrace the cultural differences!
    i’m so glad you wrote about all that stuff! i miss you dearly and am glad your experience has been so great. love youuu

  2. Jena, your blog gets me through those looooong friday afternoons! Safe travels, and remember, in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king! Be good hun!!


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