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Empowering Women: An Assessment of Legal Aid Under Ecuador’s Judicial Reform Project

By: Marcela Rodríguez

This is a report commissioned by the World Bank.

The facts are harrowing for women in Ecuador. Twenty percent of households in Ecuador are headed up by single women; they suffer more poverty than any other group. Too many urban women are barred from entering the workforce due to childcare requirements and other household obligations, lack of necessary education and skills. Yet opportunities and resources for training are scarce and women’s personal growth and development, and that of their children, are severely limited.

At the same time, the economic crisis that has gripped Ecuador since the mid-1990s has further aggravated the situation. Women seeking to collect social welfare benefits, to escape abusive home situations, to collect back wages, to start a small business, or to register their newborn children face new obstacles and more petty corruption.

Their need for legal support and protection has never been greater. It is in this context that Ecuador’s judicial reform project, partly financed with a World Bank loan in the amount of $10.7 million, successfully introduced innovative measures for assisting poor women in exercising their constitutional and civil rights. Under the “Law and Justice” component of the project, pilot programs were undertaken in three cities and two outskirt urban areas to support nongovernmental organizations in providing legal and complementary services to qualified women and their children so as to help them secure their legal entitlements and to improve their social and economic positions.  This study reviews and evaluates these pilot programs.