Title: La Violencia Adentro (Violence in the Interior): Gender Violence, Womens Rights and the State in Coastal Ecuador
Name: Karin Friederic
Year: 2009
Type: Dissertation Fellowship
Summary: Building on research conducted over the last ten years, my dissertation explores how local understandings and manifestations of gender violence in coastal, rural Ecuador are changing as women and men learn about human rights and gain access to state-based forms of justice. Family violence is extremely widespread in the region called El Páramo, in part because of its longstanding legitimacy in the eyes of both men and women. While intimate partner violence has long been accepted as a private and generally unremarkable affair, newly circulating discourses of human rights and citizenship are prompting people to increasingly question this view. Many inhabitants are now beginning to hold the state accountable for protecting women and children, even though legal and judicial resources remain scant.

Many Ecuadorians, including government officials and NGO development workers, often attribute high rates of violence to machismo and a so-called culture of gendered violence among Ecuadors coastal populations. Over the past seven years, NGO programs have instituted workshops to educate El Páramo men and women about womens rights. My research found that because these womens empowerment initiatives approached gender inequality and gender violence as only a cultural and ideological issue, they have had variable and contradictory effects on social relations and rates of violence. Using data from over ten years of research in this region, I show that many women have since experienced increased rates of violence within the home. Furthermore, I argue that while domestic violence interventions recognize the role of particular political and economic factors in exacerbating violence and shaping womens access to justice, the transnational and political-economic dimensions of the production of these so-called violent cultures are overlooked. Thus, women struggle deeply with the ideological claims to rights when they do not have the political and economic resources to act upon them.

My research findings demonstrate not only how political, economic and social processes normalize gender violence, but also how transnational human rights discourses are reshaping gender relations, structures of impunity and accountability, as well as the visibility of particular forms of violence. More recently, inhabitants in the historically marginalized region are actively using alliances with transnational NGOs to negotiate their relationship to the state. Human rights, transnational alliances, and improved access to justice offer powerful openings for local women and families. However, their empowering potential is delimited by growing social and economic vulnerability and discrepancies between rights-based subjectivities (implied through human rights discourse) and peoples preexisting understandings of the self. With this in mind, my research argues that human rights  as concept, as practice, and as discourse  reorganizes power in ways that warrant both optimism and critique.

In my research, I use mixed methods such as ethnographic fieldwork, interviews, oral history and archival research to allow for a historically-specific examination of the political and economic context from which colonists originated. For example, I demonstrate the role of the gendered division of labor and long-standing history of marginalization from the state in helping to normalize the use of violence on the coast. This research forges critical links between diverse subfields of anthropology, namely, historical political economy, feminist theory, human rights, anthropology of the state, and medical anthropology. Thus far, I have published these research findings in a dissertation (The University of Arizona) and three journal articles (in Practicing Anthropology, the Arizona Anthropologist, and Intersections). I am now preparing a book manuscript on this research which will also incorporate mid-level analyses of Ecuadorian womens rights policy-making and implementation.