• May 22, 2024
  • 6 minutes

A feminist struggle from university classrooms

Nicole Alexandra Aguilar Fonseca

What happens when a woman has the desire to complete her university studies, but it fades? Is the diversity of violence that we face as students in the classrooms sufficiently addressed? Is it imaginable that in the educational environment, complicity and silence could be key elements that protect aggressors? These questions have been the origin and continuity of various women’s groups in Ecuadorian universities. Thanks to their testimony and experience, these women were able to notice the importance of making visible a problem that, due to its particularities, adopts new forms of expression and stalking.

Worldwide, violence against women constitutes a serious violation of human rights that impacts and has consequences on women’s life plans. We have all witnessed it at some point, directly or indirectly. But why does no one seem to be alarmed? Can humanity understand the magnitude of the loss of 200 million women and girls due to selective abortion, infanticide, gender violence and the resulting discrimination? This number exceeds the male deaths recorded in all wars of the 20th century, however, the data cited continues to be insufficiently considered.

In Ecuador, the situation unfortunately reflects the reality of most countries in the region. In 2023, 277 cases of femi(ni)cide have been registered, 68% of them being committed with a firearm. The ages of the victims are mostly between 18 and 35 years old. Among these cases, 79 young women were in that age range. Today, we come together to raise our voices for those 79 women murdered due to gender-based violence. We also do it for Abigail, number 80: on November 16, 2023, the authorities found her body and filed charges against her perpetrator.

For cases like that of Abigail, or that of Sandra, Emilia, Alejandra, murdered university students from various parts of the country, we have organized to make visible and denounce the other forms of gender-based violence that happens in the classrooms. In this context, feminist groups such as the University Feminist Coalition (CFU) and, later, the Ciudadanas del Mundo Foundation (FCM) were born. Through the tactical use of nonviolent resistance strategies, these organizations have positioned the problem in the public opinion of the university community that did not give it sufficient importance.

At the beginning of 2020, the CFU was established at the national level as one of the first spaces from civil society, focused on the prevention and eradication of gender-based violence or violence against women in higher education institutions. Throughout the COVID19 pandemic, the CFU, through self-management, implemented over three years of work more than 50 communication campaigns, 25 forums and workshops, two international seminars and is, to date, one of the youth advocacy focal points of the Organic Law of Higher Education and the Organic Law to Prevent and Eradicate Violence against Women, through participation in thematic tables aimed at providing feedback on the content of both laws. For 2021, the CFU was recognized with the distinctive Citizen Ambassadors of the organization The Millenial Movement and Global Goals Week.

Since its formation, the CFU has allowed the demands of young female students to be channeled and oriented towards real advocacy processes. The action, and subsequent process of local articulation with multiple feminist groups from other universities, allowed the University Block to be formed, for the first time, within the framework of the national marches on March 8 and November 25. This successful articulation process brought together the presence of more than 800 university students who, in one voice, demanded higher education institutions free of gender violence.

At the same time, the CFU has monitored cases of gender-based violence in the country’s universities. But, when the complaint processes are formally submitted to the administrative bodies of each university, the cases are usually archived due to the absence of specialized Gender Committees. Under this scenario, it has been decided to deploy nonviolent strategies that make the irregularities of each case visible: calling for sit-ins and posters in faculties or the dissemination of testimonies on social networks—mainly, on Instagram. In this way, the power pyramid of the universities where impunity and silence operate in these cases has been counteracted.

However, the CFU colleagues have had to face significant risks when trying to make a problem of this magnitude visible. From being subject to constant persecution to facing cases of harassment by teachers and classmates in the classrooms. In this context, the organized student struggle was forced to rethink its modus operandi. At a crucial moment, the need to establish a protection and support structure became evident, emerging as a natural evolution of the joint work developed during years of militancy.

In mid-2021, from militancy and side-by-side support in the streets, the work of the University Feminist Coalition was institutionalized and the Citizens of the World Foundation (FCM) was born. To date, its team is made up of 30 women university students and professionals from different careers and organizational experiences, actively contributing to the five axes of the NGO’s work: training, legal support, democratization of information, research and advocacy.

Two years after its formation, the FCM promoted the Organic Law Project for the Prevention and Eradication of All Forms of Violence against Women in Higher Education, with former national assemblywoman Briana Villao. It has also provided training workshops and communication campaigns, has reformed coexistence manuals and regulations, provides legal advice in cases of gender-based violence and has actively participated in multi-level advocacy processes with public and private institutions, educational institutions, and civil society organizations. , international cooperation agencies and, most recently, at the Fifth Meeting of the Directing Table of the Conference on Population and Development, in commemoration of the 10 years of the Montevideo Consensus.

As can be seen, CFU and FCM have in their repertoire of tactics a whole series of methods of nonviolent action, from protest and persuasion methods to sustained advocacy processes. These organizations are capable of permeating, at a national and international level, our main demands such as guaranteeing programs for the prevention, care and eradication of violence at all educational levels and allowing effective access to the continuity and qualification of young women in the educational system.

Both organizations have an emblematic project: the Purple Schools. These were born as the first independent school, at a national and international level, aimed at empowering and raising awareness among the student community about gender-based violence that is present in higher education institutions in Ecuador. In these first three editions, the Purple Schools trained 120 university students in 15 Ecuadorian provinces and 23 universities.

In short, the Ciudadanas del Mundo Foundation team continues to replicate this type of initiative in the country. We know that gender-based violence continues to be a problem and efforts to make visible, take action and influence are deeply necessary, especially at this particular moment where the numbers of violence, harassment and stalking in Ecuadorian universities are increasing.

For all those who believe in the mobilizing power of feminist articulation in scenarios where the cloak of silence shelters complicity and costs millions of life projects around the world.

Let’s continue! And, as the executive director of FCM, Ljubica Fuentes, says, we will work until education is feminist or it is not.

Thank-you note

To all the university women who face, day after day, the vicissitudes of gender violence in the classrooms. For you, everything. To the colleagues of the Citizens of the World Foundation, for allowing us to dream big. To Ljubica Fuentes, for being an unconditional mentor and companion along the way. To Mikaela Granja, because your sensitivity and critical analysis survive in each of the people you accompanied and guided in this fight.

Nicole Alexandra Aguilar Fonseca

Sociologist with a major in International Relations from the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador (PUCE). Researcher and manager of social projects for more than three years in civil society organizations. Member of national and international organizations that work on the prevention, combat and awareness of gender violence.

Translated by Damian Vasquez Kuliunas

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