Flowers in the Air

Flowers in the Air

February 2, 2022
Author: Paulina Jiménez, Head of Solutions Mapping, UNDP Ecuador Accelerator Lab

The Spotlight Initiative in the Latin American and Caribbean region focuses on eliminating femicide and, in the case of Ecuador, the United Nations agencies that participate in this joint program are UN Women, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). One of the pillars of the project, led by UNDP, is aimed to improve data quality on different forms of violence against women and girls. In this framework, UNDP Ecuador´s Accelerator Lab, under the premise that data is not only statistics, proposed adapting a social cartographic tool called "Other Maps," to bring in qualitative information to understand other dimensions of feminicide. Families participate in a process of mapping, observation, listening and self-ethnography to trace the routes of memory, injustice and community response against femicides in the cities of Cuenca and Portoviejo.

This is how “Flowers in the Air” emerged. It is a hybrid methodology that combines on-site mapping with digital tools, critical observation, interviews and local actor encounters. It is an intervention with no subject of study, but instead, families themselves met, walked and narrated their stories to mark localities with traces of memories, pain and emptiness, but also their struggle for justice and their rights. These cartographies, made up of memories and experiences, aim to bring us closer to what a life lost due to femicide means, to collectivize mourning, to keep memory alive and to make visible community responses to the lack of justice and reparations that persist in each of the cases.

Geo-localizing a memory point with participants. Photo credit: Paulina Jiménez A.

The process

Prior to the activity, we discussed the methodology with affected families and activists against gender violence, to ensure their acceptance and avoid re-victimization. We understood that it would not be easy to engage participants given that the results were uncertain. However, although initially reluctant, families gave their time, their stories and their memories. They discovered in the shared pain, that injustice transcends the private sphere as a matter of “individual bad luck.” As intended, their polyphonic narratives achieved a collectivized mourning. After having mapped families and local organizations in each territory, participants were convened in collective meetings, and then the walks were carried out. They visited areas that consisted of public spaces as well as their households; each point and each route were defined by the families.

On learnings and unexpected effects

Towards a new ethics in interventions

Dealing with processes of loss, pain and mourning, it was important to apply ethical considerations in this intervention. We sought to do no harm and to avoid re-victimization. Instead, we aimed to contribute to the families and their communities in their journey toward healing. For this, we have learned that ethical criteria such as anonymization, use of images or forms of participation cannot be standardized. While some families preferred the use of pseudonyms, for others it was important to give testimonies providing their first and last name.

Caring for and not harming participants also requires a team that practices self-care because one cannot provide support when lacking self-containment. In this sense, working with a sensitive, experienced, and interdisciplinary team, our strategic partner Fundación ALDEA, was crucial.

Yadira Labanda is the mother of Angie Carrillo, a victim of femicide. She participated on the team, accompanying the families and offering peer to peer listening, based on her own experience. It was an intervention that placed empathy at the center, for the freedom to feel and think collectively and not academically. In relation to this, Nicoletta Marinelli from Fundación Aldea says about the importance of rituals: “Rituals at the time of opening and closing meetings or workshops, helped us connect with feelings and less with thinking. It was very helpful to bring self-care kits (oils, candles, paints, soaps).”

In addition to the circumstances of loss and injustice that families undergo, we found cases of families who face poverty and lack basics such as food, not to mention the lack of full reparation for crimes committed. There is a need to create a new organizational ethics framework, to enable field workers to create activation protocols for response networks that address vulnerable cases. Interaction with these families helped develop this activation: local organizations learned about the current conditions of each case and provided closer follow-up with them.

In this regard, María del Carmen Quezada, from Casa María Amor and the focal point at the local level in Cuenca, said: “We activated a closer empathy with families, survivors of femicide. Inter-institutional connections were activated to provide an economic response. We saw the importance of a closer follow-up. It is important to close things when we open them - even more so when touching personal processes. It enriched me as a person.”

It must be said, however, that organizations such as Fundación Casa María Amor in Cuenca and Fundación Nuevos Horizontes in Portoviejo are overwhelmed with cases that require attention.

A memorial route in Cuenca. Photo credit: Nicoletta Marinelli, Fundación ALDEA.

Family-Centered Repair

There cannot be a standardized healing, but each family must determine the symbolic and material actions that can enable them to receive a fuller recompense. We know that nothing can fully heal the pain of losing a loved one, but the sense of justice and truth demanded by families can help repair the damage. These cartographies were, for many families, a first step in symbolic reparation, in the sense that they felt listened to, visited and supported.

“When they saw us arrive, they had a small thread of hope, said Nicoleta Marinelli, ALDEA Foundation. “Feeling that someone from another city has come to visit you, knowing that there is another person who has experienced the same thing, knowing that people from the capital have come to see them. They felt important, taken into account. They felt understood."

They kill us for being women

One of the unexpected phenomena that emerged from the meetings and the families’ testimonies is a greater awareness of femicide and extreme violence.

“It gave them a notion of what gender violence means,” said María José Larco, the psychologist of the team. “These families discovered that women are killed just for being women. For Sonia, it was like removing the blindfold from her eyes when she found out that her daughter was killed for being a woman. Before, she didn't understand it that way. She justified it by saying, ‘my daughters didn't go to parties.’ With the meeting, there was more awareness and a more empirical approach to gender.

A network that reactivates

After the cartographies carried out in Cuenca and Portoviejo, the Lab and its partners held an evaluation workshop to learn about unexpected effects. Getting together as families caused an empathic listening process and helped build alliances. In the end, it allowed a network of relatives of the victims to be strengthened.

“Based on this process, the families in Cuenca are strengthening a network of relatives of victims of femicide violence,” said María del Carmen Quezada. “It is the first organization created in the Austro region of the country. Sonia Salamea, Cristina's mother, was empowered and said she felt very strong. ‘I'm going to create an organization,’ she told us. It is being structured and Casa María Amor is providing technical support. Statutes are being created with support from lawyers from the Ministry of Economic and Social Inclusion (MIES). Sonia is very empowered and has empowered other families to vindicate her daughter's death.”

This effect makes us think about the importance of creating the conditions to promote self-organization processes. We can conclude that these memorial routes served to create alliances, reactivate local response networks, strengthen a network of families, allow families to feel heard, identify cases of vulnerability that require attention, and to honor memory while insisting on the search for justice.

Next steps

We hope to turn this tool and its stories into an awareness platform aimed at different audiences from government officials to communicators. We seek local organizations that can appropriate it and accompany other families as they carry out their memory cartographies, walking together and going through their memories and demands for justice and reparation together. It is a tool that not only strengthens data, but also activates networks and offers families space to amplify their memories and needs. If you want to know more about the methodology and you are interested in replicating it, you can write to: or


With contributions from:
Nicoleta Marinelli, Yadira Labanda, María del Carmen Quezada, Yoeli Sánchez, Patricia Moya and María José Larco

Access the blog in Spanish here.

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