How memory maps are helping to heal the families of femicide victims in Ecuador
QUITO, Ecuador - From 1 January to 3 September, a total of 206 femicides were registered in Ecuador. In other words, every 28 hours a woman is murdered for gender-related reasons.
Flores en el Aire is a digital tool that aims to humanize these shocking statistics by sharing testimonies from the families of eight femicide victims. Using audio files, photos and virtual maps of the places where the women lived, worked and spent their free time, the site serves as a cartography of memory that allows families to recount both their most treasured moments and their painful struggle for justice.
The stories of Cristina, Isabel, Maribel, Celeste, Eliana, Silvia Patricia and Angie take place across Cuenca, Portoviejo and Lago Agrio but are woven together by each family’s immense grief, their desire to celebrate their loved ones’ lives and to draw attention to the scourge of male violence.
Flores en el Aire was supported by the Spotlight Initiative and developed in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Acceleration Lab, civil society and women’s rights organizations. It combines digital maps and geo-referenced qualitative data to generate first-person narratives and was conceived as a community response to the injustice faced by families who have lost their mothers, daughters, sisters, cousins and friends to femicide. It was implemented by Fundación ALDEA, which since 2017 has been developing the "Map of Femicides" using data from civil society.
The maps also make visible "routes of (in)justice," which detail the winding paths of the surviving families in the justice system as they seek compensation and attempt to have the perpetrators held accountable.
For each map, a walk to the sites was undertaken with the families to record their narrative. The routes traverse both cities and rural areas, the trails and stories as diverse as the women themselves.
Virtual maps, real-world impact
Flores en el Aire was publicly launched on 3, 8, and 24 March 2022 in Quito, Cuenca, and Portoviejo, with the families who helped build it in attendance. The presentations were also attended by civil society organizations that supported and followed up on these cases and the media, youth, and other groups. A commemorative walk was held in In Cuenca on 8 March, International Women's Day.
The project garnered significant media attention and on 8 March 2022, the Government of Ecuador issued a presidential decree that reformed the delivery of compensation for children orphaned by femicide. This represents an important and necessary step towards reparations for families who take on the economic and emotional burden of raising and caring for children and adolescents who are left behind after their caregiver is killed.
The decree means that compensation can now be given during the preliminary investigation and prosecution phase of the case.
"It has been another achievement of the project to have solidified the process for the allocation of the femicide voucher to all participating families. It is a small amount, but it will help the sons and daughters of Silvia Patricia, Eliana, Celeste, Gabi, and Maribel", says María del Carmen Quezada, ALDEA Foundation collaborator and volunteer at Casa María Amor.
Unfortunately, to obtain the voucher in cases that occurred before 8 March 2022, the family must still present an enforceable sentence for femicide -- a requirement that excludes cases that do not yet have a final sentence, whether due to inefficiency of the justice system, a perpetrator who has fled, or any other factor.
The organizations assisting families to navigate the process have recommended that the State streamline the process, maintain an updated and complete register of children and adolescents orphaned by gender-based violence, and that families should be approached at the local level to be offered support. In addition, psychosocial support should be guaranteed as a fundamental part of reparations and followed up with health, education, and housing support.
New routes for Flores en el Aire
Since Flores en el Aire launched, ALDEA Foundation has received numerous messages from relatives and activists asking to tell the life stories of more women - sisters, neighbours, friends - who were also victims of femicide. They want to map their memories, and give testimonies of the difficulties they faced in accessing justice and obtaining sentences.
The overwhelming response shows the power of maps as a tool for symbolic reparations. Violence reproduces itself in silence, and femicides will not stop until the silence ends.