Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Sarah Lyon


This research utilizes an agency framework to examine the complexities of the participation of indigenous women in local, national, and global spaces of activism. By examining the connections between processes of globalization of indigenous and women’s rights, development agendas, local politics, and gender dynamics in indigenous organizations, this research highlights the connection of ethnicity, gender, and power in an indigenous organization of Cotacachi, Ecuador, and for Ecuadorian and Latin American indigenous leaders and professionals working in national and global arenas.

Four interconnected topics are explored: (1) the understanding of indigenous women’s participation in the history of their organization within a context of interethnic discrimination and poverty that especially affects indigenous women; (2) the relation between indigenous women and the changing demands on indigenous leadership due to reconfigurations of rural livelihoods, the ascendance of the indigenous movement as a political actor, and the sustained presence of development projects; (3) the challenges indigenous women face and the strategies they enact as local leaders in their communities and organization negotiating essentialized constructions of indigenous women’s identity and forms of gender inequality; (4) the transition to local, national, and international formal politics and indigenous activism in which indigenous women’s legitimacy increasingly necessitates both experience in the indigenous movement and professionalization and expert knowledge.

Using an ethnographic methodology including interviews and participant observation, the research explores the participation of indigenous female leaders who, even if their strategies have favored working within the indigenous movement’s wider agenda, are also contesting forms of gender, ethnic, and class inequality they find in their own organizations and beyond. Thus, the research highlights the challenges they face, the strategies they resort to, and the possibilities of articulating a differentiated agenda that reflect their particular interests.