Thought leadership from our experts

Diversity in the legal profession: Ecuador’s fight for inclusion

Ecuador is a small country located at the equator line in South America. It is recognized for having some of the most diverse ecosystems, paired with the most diverse ethnic groups across its 4 regions. It has a history of unstable political institutions and ideologies, constant fights for independence and several efforts to keep the country’s identity intact. With all of these elements in the mix, it has certainly been and continues to be a great challenge to speak about diversity in the legal profession, which as we know, is currently one of the most competitive and less inclusive fields of work. Unfortunately, studies regarding the analysis of diversity and inclusion in the Ecuadorian legal field are very limited. This comes to be from the fact that there is very little awareness and attention directed towards inclusive practices in the field. Consequently, the importance of writing and discussing the topic is undoubtedly fundamental to offer and impulse advances. In particular, there are two areas of diversity and inclusion that have to be referred to when it comes to the legal profession and those are: the reduction of the gender gap and the inclusion of several nationalities and ethnicities.

In our country regulations referring to the reduction of the gender gap are relatively new. After the women´s movement of the 5th Conference of the United Nations about women in Beijing, 1955, the Ecuadorian constitution in 1998 finally included legal dispositions in favor of women such as equality and non-discrimination before the law, equal participation of men and women in politics, the formal recognition of housework as a productive labor activity and State obligations to promote public policies that intend to reduce the gender gap1. Our current constitution, which was changed and approved in 2008, added the principles of equal job opportunity, equal pay, and the prohibition to dismiss during maternity leave, amongst others2. As it goes for international law that has been ratified by Ecuador, we are part of several representative instruments of women’s rights. For starters, we have ratified the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women3, the 1994 Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women4, and the 1953 Convention on the Political Rights of Women.5

Despite the existence of this entire legal framework, the reality of the situation continues to be far from inclusive and non-discriminatory. Studies conducted throughout 2015 – 2020 by the National Institute of Statistics and Census have shown that women’s employment rate is currently 30.6%; 14.2 points lower than men employment. From that employment rate, only 5% of women reach management positions in Ecuador. Women get paid 35% less than men for executing the same exact job. These numbers are linked with the fact that 29% of Ecuadorian families are led by women, and 70% of one-parent-households are led by women as well.6 Our National Assembly as our legislative body, has been composed throughout the years an average of 61, 6% men and only 39, 4%7 women. Often, what practice shows is that these statistics respond to cultural elements within the Ecuadorian understanding of family, in which the woman is in charge of house work and the men is in charge of professional work. This conception limits women´s access to higher levels of school and to time-demanding management positions, which become practically impossible considering the rest of responsibilities brought upon them. The legal field is no exception to these numbers and to these conceptions.

Nonetheless, not everything seems to be so obscure. Positive advances have been made by joined efforts of women all across our country. To set an example, the same study shares that during the last few years, the amount of young women in universities has significantly increased to the point that today, 6 of every 10 university students are women. Job rates have increased in the last ten years from 30,6% to 32,4% for women and post-graduate studies rates have also increased from 0,8% to 2,3%. 52% of women who are in university are studying educational sciences and the remaining 48% study administrative or commerce related careers8. All in all, women are more integrated into the educational system, and determined to remain in such. As it comes to the legal profession, most of the firms in our country are led by men. In fact, my representation as Managing Partner of Falconi Puig Abogados would constitute the first time a female leads our firm in almost 50 years. This representation, and the representation of many young women initiating their careers inside other firms shows that our profession is slowly and steadily transitioning to be more equivalent. Every day more women are enrolled in legal law firm’s payrolls, in university and in public institutions. Now it´s more a matter of letting them reach higher positions and extending opportunities for their growth.

As for the second area of diversity that must be addressed, to elaborate on the inclusion of several nationalities and ethnicities it is important to start by adequately defining the difference between these two concepts. As defined by International Law, when referring to nationalities, it is to be understood that we refer to a collection of people who are perceived to share a legal bond based on common citizenship9”. This is to be taken into account because there are several migratory waves that have crossed Ecuador throughout the years. For example, we have high statistics of immigration from Colombia, Peru, Cuba and the most recent, from Venezuela. On the other hand, when referring to ethnicities, we refer to “a group whose members share common language and culture, or a group which distinguishes itself in the exercise of their right to self-determination as such”.10 This is also important in the context of inclusion because Ecuador has 32 identified different ethnic groups, which include some non-contacted groups of the Amazonian region.11

The Ecuadorian legal framework regarding the inclusion of several ethnicities and nationalities is also very protective and granting. Our constitution recognizes that we have several groups within our country and establishes the States obligation to protect the identity of each one of them12. It also recognizes the principle of non-discrimination for incoming immigrants and other persons in mobility conditions.13 At an international level, Ecuador ratified in 2002 the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families14, from which several public policies have been implemented. We are also a part of the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention of 198915 and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination of 196516, through which we have also promoted efforts to preserve identities and native languages within our country.

Statistically, the numbers show that there is lot of work to execute for the inclusion of different nationalities and ethnicities. For example, 2019 statistics have shown that 89% of the Venezuelan population that is living and working in Ecuador don´t have formal jobs17. Only 40% of immigrants from Caribbean countries have finished high school and 31% have started university without graduation. The remaining 29% do not have studies.18 For ethnicities, it is a constant worry of our authorities to work on the reduction of the illiteracy rates that are particularly high within the indigenous communities of our country. We are ranked by the UNESCO as country number 81 for literary rates with 7.17% of illiterate population19, out of which the majority are concentrated in the amazon and the coast, where some of the oldest ethnic groups reside20. As a result of these rates, the inclusion of different ethnic groups is not common within the legal profession, mainly due to the sociological phenomenon that the lack of access to education represents.

In this area of diversity, as well as in gender, two common elements come to mind. First, the fact that the generalities of the legal framework, at constitutional and international level are in favor of the inclusion of these areas of diversity to everyday activities as well as to professional activities, and second, that although advances have been made, there is still a lot of work to do in order to incorporate diversity in the legal field. Lawyers, as experts of the law are the main messengers of its dispositions. Knowing that the legal framework towards inclusion exists is already a huge step for our professionals to become defenders of that legal framework and join efforts in the fight against exclusion, discrimination and inequality. Last but not least is important to remember that is our job to change this reality by assuming the obligations of offering non discriminative opportunities, balancing the amount of men and women in our offices, incorporating people who are in condition of mobility and overall, implementing a culture of equal respect to all in the work environment that they lead. I´m proud to say Falconi Puig Abogados is aware of these realities, and is openly making efforts towards inclusion and towards the acceptance of the beauties in diversity. We are part of important initiatives such as the United Nations Global Compact, directed toward the fulfillment of the purposes established in the 2030 agenda and we recently signed our commitment with the Women´s Empowerment Principles, all for which internal policies are being implemented. We believe that efforts like these can be made by legal firms all over the world and they represent a huge step towards a better and fairer tomorrow.

1 Constitución de la República del Ecuador, 1998.

2 Constitución de la República del Ecuador, 2008.

3 Ratified November, 1981.

4 Ratified September, 1995.

5 Ratified December, 1952.

6 INEC, Censo de Población y Vivienda, 2015-2020.

7 INEC, Atlas de Género, 2018.

8 INEC, Censo de Población y Vivienda, 2015-2020.

9 Akayesu Case of the ICTR 1998

10 Kayishema and Rudzina ICTR 1999

11 Presidencia de la República del Ecuador, Plan Nacional de Desarrollo “Toda una vida”, 2017-2021.

12 Constitución de la República del Ecuador, 2008, Art. 1, Art. 11.

13 Constitución de la República del Ecuador, 2008, Art. 40.

14 Ratified February, 2002.

15 Ratified May, 1998.

16 Ratified September 1966.

17 Ministerio de Gobierno, 2019.

18 Ministerio de Gobierno, 2019.

19 UNESCO, 2017.

20 Censo Informa: Educación, INEC 2001-2010.