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Tue Nov 4, 2014, 07:40 PM

A Boon for the Women of Ecuador

A Boon for the Women of Ecuador

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The share of Cañar's people leaving the country is greater than that of any other district in Ecuador. While the costs of migration can
be high, for women there are many benefits. Credit Bear Guerra
CAÑAR, Ecuador — For the 60,000 residents of this rural county of green hills and small villages, migration is something of a rite of passage. The share of Cañar’s people leaving the country is greater than that of any other district in Ecuador. More than 70 percent of its households receive remittances every month, and rely on them to cover basic necessities.

The costs can be great, especially on children, who are left behind by their parents or also embark on the perilous treks, sometimes alone. And the economic effects are sometimes perverse: In Cañar, big houses built with money from abroad stand unfinished or abandoned as more residents leave.

But beyond the cautionary tales, Cañar also stands for one of the great overlooked benefits of migration: unprecedented access to education and jobs, freedom of movement and financial independence for women, especially indigenous women, whether they left and returned, or never left.

Emigration from Cañar started in the 1960s, after a drop in the export price of locally produced straw hats pushed local men to move to Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city. Falling oil prices gave way to debt and inflation in the 1980s, and by the 1990s, many peasants had lost both their meager savings and their livelihoods. Over the next 15 years, about half of Cañar’s population, mostly men, went abroad, especially to the United States and Spain, looking for jobs.


(What ARE the chances the New York Times and the Washington Post would decide to do feature articles on indigenous women of Ecuador at the very same time?)

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