“Having a home doesn’t make you rich, but not having one makes you very poor”

Q&A with Patricia Castro, Tumaco’s Secretary of Women’s Affairs

In January 2021, the municipal administration of Tumaco created its first Secretary of Women and Gender Equality. The entity represents a new view of equality and the strengthening of women’s rights. In this interview the Secretary, Patricia Castro, talks about the entity’s strategy and the challenges that women in Tumaco face when accessing property due to gender violence.

Why was the Secretary of Women created in Tumaco?

Patricia Castro, Tumaco's Secretary of Women's Affairs
Patricia Castro, Tumaco’s Secretary of Women’s Affairs

The Secretary was created last year with the aim of working on five pillars: equality, education, health (both promotion and prevention), entrepreneurship, and the last one where we have worked with the Land for Prosperity Activity, housing. It is called the Secretary of Women, but we work on different processes that promote gender equality and the rights of the LGBTI community. It is essential that we work with a very diverse group of people.

What is patrimonial and economic violence?

We call it patrimonial violence, but women do not call it that. When we are with women in our workshops and we hear a woman say, “I have to put up with so much from him because I depend economically on him” or “if I report him, who will sustain me?” or “I can’t separate from him because he is the owner of the house or the parcel where the house is, and I won’t get my part”. When they tell us about these situations, we explain to them that these are examples of patrimonial and economic violence.

What challenges do the women that go to these workshops face?

The women that go to these workshops do not have this information. For example, when it comes to land and property, the best way to overcome these barriers is motivating women to participate in formalization processes, and that is what we are doing with the Municipal Land Office and with USAID’s support.

What should women understand about land titling and their rights?

Titling in favor of women is decreasing the uncertainties they have. They ask themselves what would happen if they separated from their husbands. We explain to them that under the law, even under de facto marital unions (uniones maritales de hecho), women have the right to split all property in half because they have the same rights as formal unions. But there are other types of unions, and we explain that there are successive unions and multiple unions. There are a lot of multiple unions in Tumaco, when the man has parallel relationships with several women.

How do you reach women with these campaigns?

This is done with open calls, focused on certain neighborhoods, and with female leaders that know the communities. We train them on how to get their property title and we connect them to the Municipal Land Office. And because a lot of neighborhoods were built over landfills or are under the jurisdiction of the General Maritime Directorate (DIMAR), the Municipal Land Office guides them on which parcels can or cannot be titled. Thanks to this support, a lot of women that have been waiting for 30 or 40 years to be owners now have the opportunity.

What benefits does a title bring to women? 

With the property titles they can access housing credits or can apply for bank loans to adapt and improve their home now that they are sure it is theirs. When it comes to their heritage, we tell them a lot about inheritance and that they can leave their home to their children. Finally, these women are being empowered and have a feeling of belonging. One of the women once told me that ‘having a home doesn’t make you rich, but not having one makes you very poor.’

How does land ownership favor men over women?

In my own family you have an example. My grandfather had a lot of land, and before he died, he left a clause in his will that stated that only his male children with the same last name, Castro, could inherit the land. So my dad inherited the land, but if he separated from my mum, she would not get any property. And that is what happened, they separated, and the family house was left to my dad only. My mum had to leave. That is why we are working to raise awareness among women and to promote land titling.

woman in kitchen
Gloria Criollo, 53, is a single mother of three who works for a government program supporting pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children under the age of two. She received a land title last year.

With what other topics is the Secretary of Women involved, to support women in Tumaco?

From the Secretary of Women we are working with women on entrepreneurship, to gradually eliminate economic dependence and in this way mitigate violence. We are strengthening women associations in tourism and gastronomy. Because there are a lot of women that have restaurants and can cook the delicious typical food of Tumaco, but they tell me that apart from cooking they do not have any other tools. We are also looking at creating a tourist trail in El Morro so that tourists and visitors can enjoy regional food.

What did the Secretary do for the Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25?

With support from the Women’s Committee (Mesa de la Mujer) and USAID, we coordinated several institutional actors to launch the Week for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. There were activities to commemorate victims of gender violence and remind everyone that we cannot normalize violence. We also organized a street theater installation on the main road to Tumaco, in an area called Tigre, where several women were taken to be killed. We also had a symbolic act where we planted trees to remove the stigma around the victims. Finally, we also held various neighborhood film screenings and painted a mural overlooking the beach at El Bajito, paying homage to a young woman that was raped and killed when she was eight months pregnant.

Photos of activities from the Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25

Cross posted from Land for Prosperity Exposure site