Today’s International Women’s Day protests could provide the first indicator of public opposition to President Guillermo Lasso since corruption charges were leveled against him in January. An annual event, this year’s marches in major cities are being joined by several labor unions as well as the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador.
“This will be a thermometer of how the people and social organizations feel about the president,” says University of San Francisco political science professor Carolina Andrade. “The government is in a weak, vulnerable position due to criminal accusations and possible impeachment. It is also reeling from its loses in the February elections so the protests could tell us a great deal about the national mood.”
On the other hand, Andrade and protest leaders say the focus should remain on women’s issues. “It is wonderful that we will have the support of so many organizations but the intention of Wednesday’s protests is to promote women’s rights and to stop the violence and repression women face on a daily basis.”
Despite earlier suggestions that today would be the start of a national strike against the government, leaders of Conaie and the United Workers Front are telling their members to respect the meaning of International Women’s Day and the purpose of protests. Conaie President Leonidas advised his members not to set up roadblocks or engage in other challenges to the government. “This is not the beginning of a national mobilization,” he said. “We will take to the streets to support the women and protest the obstacles they face. A full mobilization may happen later if our demands to the government are not met.”
According to organizers, the protest marches will focus on Quito but will also be held in other major cities, including Cuenca and Guayaquil. Among the day’s activities, an alliance of women’s organizations will present a lawsuit on behalf of women to the Constitutional Court and hold a meeting at the Casa de la Cultura and march from Central University to the public plazas in Quito’s Historic District.
Advisors to Lasso are urging him not to overact to the protests. “He needs to respect the positions of feminists and instruct police to act responsibly in handling the marches,” says Alex Cueva, a former national security advisor. “The worst thing that could happen is if there are violent confrontations that incite other political groups to escalate the protest.”
On Tuesday, Interior Minister Juan Zapata said that police presence at the protest marches will be minimal. “Throughout the country, there will be no police presence at these concentrations marches for International Women’s Day,” he said. “We will maintain law enforcement personnel levels only for the normal maintenance of public safety.”