UNHCR – Drums Against Gender-Based Violence in Ecuador

By Jaime Giménez in San Lorenzo, Ecuador | December 07, 2021

The rhythmic beat starts, the maracas join, and singer Olaise Cortéz swings as she tackles a devastating issue that’s too often shrouded in silence – gender-based violence.


“Husband, don’t mistreat me,” she shouts, as the group of women respond, “Let’s move on. “It’s time for a change / Let’s move on / That you were born to a woman / Let’s move on / You can’t deny it / Let’s move on.”

Then she steps things up, letting the women in the Drum Circle – and the wider community beyond – know that sexual violence is a crime: “If someone rapes me / Let’s move on / The first one. thing to do / Let’s go ahead / Let’s go out for help / Let’s go ahead / And report it too.

Olaise, 66, and the women of African descent from her collective Tía Gachita use songs, instruments and arrullo beats to raise awareness among men, women and children in the dusty streets of Calderón, northwest Ecuador.

“Sometimes if you don’t know anything different, you don’t change,” says Olaise. “But… we have learned our rights. We pass this knowledge on to our neighbors, to our brothers, to our children, to advance this [discussion] forward, ”she adds.

Olaise founded the group, which bears his mother’s name, in 1986 in the region of San Lorenzo in Ecuador, a few kilometers from the border with Colombia. It draws on the centuries-old musical tradition of the Afro-Ecuadorians, whose ancestors were brought to South America as slaves in the 1600s.

“Our music … is the medium we have used to guide young people.”

Some of the members of Tía Gachita are from the local community, others are Afro-Colombian refugees. Olaise says they are all “determined female warriors,” committed to reviving a traditional form long used by their communities as a means to educate the next generation.

“Our music, a ritual that our ancestors used, is the medium we used to guide young people,” says Olaise, who wears the traditional Afro-descendant women’s headscarf tied around her head.

  • Members of Tía Gachita play their traditional “arrullo” rhythms in a park in Calderón, Ecuador. © UNHCR / Jaime Giménez

  • Rosa Preciado Mina, member of Tía Gachita, plays the drum by the river near Calderón, in San Lorenzo, Ecuador.

    Rosa Preciado Mina, member of Tía Gachita, plays the drum by the river near Calderón, in San Lorenzo, Ecuador. © UNHCR / Jaime Giménez

  • Tía Gachita members play traditional “arrullo” rhythms from the Ecuadorian and Colombian Pacific region on a riverbank near the community of Calderón, Ecuador.

    Tía Gachita members play traditional “arrullo” rhythms from the Ecuadorian and Colombian Pacific region on a riverbank near the community of Calderón, Ecuador. © UNHCR / Jaime Giménez

  • Tía Gachita includes Afro-Ecuadorian and Afro-Colombian refugees and uses traditional rhythms and songs to combat gender-based violence.

    Tía Gachita includes Afro-Ecuadorian and Afro-Colombian refugees and uses traditional rhythms and songs to combat gender-based violence. © UNHCR / Jaime Giménez

Their message is really needed. The UN estimates that one in three women in the world will experience gender-based violence in her lifetime, most at the hands of someone she knows or with whom she is intimate.

Latin America has one of the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world. And the already dire situation only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in prolonged lockdowns and deepening poverty. The increased risk of violence is even greater for displaced women and girls, who are particularly vulnerable to the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic and face additional barriers to reporting abuse and seeking help.

Although violence is common, it is rarely discussed. Group members say the arrullos provide a valuable way to start much-needed conversations in their lowland and coastal communities.

“It is difficult to go directly to a partner to deal with problems of violence,” said Zorana Narváez, 32, a refugee of African descent from Tumaco, on the southwest Pacific coast in Colombia. “But through the song you can listen to the music, the theme and everything is different,” she adds.

Since 2019, Tía Gachita has received support from UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, its partner HIAS and the United Nations Population Fund, through workshops on gender-based violence prevention, gender-based violence prevention, promotion of human rights and the integration of refugees.

“I learned a lot about the rights we have here in Ecuador.

In addition to combating gender-based violence, the group uses arrullos to spread other useful public service messages, including the need to get vaccinated against yellow fever and measles – and now COVID-19.

Ecuador hosts some 70,000 Colombian refugees, as well as more than 500,000 Venezuelan refugees and migrants who have found a safe haven in this small Andean country to rebuild their lives.

Olaise also uses music to promote the integration of Colombian refugees who have settled near Calderón. The band’s rhythmic call and response songs seek to build brotherhood between the two nationalities and expose the rights of people uprooted from their homes by violence and persecution.

“It was a great experience because I learned a lot about the rights that we – as people on the move – have here in Ecuador. And it also helped me guide other people in the same situation, ”says Zorana, who has worked with Tía Gachita for six years.

Many of San Lorenzo’s African-descent communities share family ties with communities in Colombia – and both communities are excited to revive a common traditional form.

“I feel very lucky, because thanks to arrullos we saved the culture of our grandparents, which was already left behind, and we can also talk to women about our rights, about the equality that we should have ”, says Zorana.

Reviving the culture of his ancestors – while spreading useful messages – also gives Olaise deep satisfaction.

“Culture is people’s lives,” she says. “This is why we organize ourselves, as women custodians of wisdom, to save our culture, our lives.”

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