Women's role in environmental conflicts
has the potential to redress the unequal distribution of the
benefits and costs related to the industrial exploitation of
natural resources as well as to challenge local masculine domination.
When women take active part in the struggles – either
leading, organizing or actively participating in the decisions
– they often redefine their social position within their
own culture, while at the same time challenging the global economy.
By Sandra Veuthey, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Agarwal, B., 1992. “The gender and environment debate:
lessons from India”. Feminist Studies 18:
Agarwal, B. 2001. “Participation Exclusion, Community
Forestry, and Gender: An Analysis for South Asia and a Conceptual
Framework”. World Development 29(10):
Diamond, I., Orenstein, G.F. (Eds.), 1990. Reweaving the
World. Sierra Club Books, San Francisco.
Guha, R., 2000. Environmentalism: A Global History.
Longman, New York.
Martínez-Alier, J., 2002. The Environmentalism of
the Poor: A Study of Ecological Conflicts and Valuation.
Edward Elgar, Cheltenham.
Mellor, M., 1997. Feminism and Ecology. University
Press, New York.
Mellor, M., 2006. “Ecofeminist political economy”.
International Journal of Green Economy 1:
O'Hara, S., 2009. Feminist ecological economics: theory and
practice. In: Salleh, A. (Ed.), Eco-Sufficiency and Global
Justice. Pluto Press, New York, pp. 152–175.
Peet, R., Watts, M., 1996. Liberation Ecologies. Routledge,
Perkins, E., Kuiper, E., 2005. “Exploration: feminist
ecological economics”. Feminist Economics 11:
Perkins, E., 2007. “Feminist ecological economics and
sustainability”. Journal of Bioeconomy 9:
Plant, J., 1989. Healing the Wounds: The Promise of Ecofeminism.
Green Print, London.
Rocheleau, D., Thomas-Slayter, B., Wangari, E., 1996. Feminist
Political Ecology: Global Issues and Local Experiences.
Routledge, New York.
WOMEN: IMPACTED AND EMPOWERED
- Food sovereignty in the hands of mangrove
This story has been cultivated with
the thoughts, the experience, the dreams, the words and the
hands of women shell-gatherers from the Province of Esmeraldas,
in northern Ecuador.
Living conditions there are hard.
Access to the communities is usually difficult, there are schools
in some locations, but very often the teachers lose heart and
leave. The parents must make great efforts and send away their
children to enable them to study. The water is no good for consumption
and food is getting increasingly scarce.
With the arrival of the shrimp ponds,
the mangroves disappeared and the farmhouses disappeared too.
Nor were the dead respected either, as they even invaded the
cemeteries. People leave, seeking to improve their lives, but
they always come back because what they learnt is to gather,
to fish and to sow food.
We start this reflection with much
joy. For a long time now we have been struggling for the defence
of the mangrove ecosystem, we have been talking about how we
have been losing food, work and land. They even want to take
our dignity away from us. We are trapped between the destruction
of primary forests and the shrimp ponds and now, between the
eucalyptus plantations and the oil palm plantations that are
advancing and threatening to make us disappear.
Approximately ninety of us women
sit and talk, sharing every day the gathering of shells from
between the mangrove roots. Together we open another door to
advance along this path. Rosa, Jacinta, Delfida, Uberlisa, Fátima,
Gladys, Digna, Reverside, Anita, Nelly, Albita, Lucety, Ismelda,
Nancy, Danny, Daila, Mercedes, María, Andrea, Estefanía,
Santa, Lourdes, Marianeli, Flora, Herlinda, Tasiana, Rita, Ramona,
Marieta, Carmen, Pastora, Ninfa, are the women with whom we
have been struggling for nearly twenty years now in defence
of the mangrove ecosystem, since the eighties, when the shrimp
ponds and nurseries started invading the mangroves. We have
been fighting for years, “but we are not tired.”
Sharing the warmth of a plate of
traditional food, sheltered by the intelligence and picaresque
joy of Esmeralda’s shell-gathering women, we crafted this
story to share with other women, with other struggles, with
other expectations ... and in this fiesta we were joined by
Don Garci, Goyo, Cocoa, Edgar, Pirre, La Mona, Fifo, Maximo
“Like a nightmare that
we have to wake up from”
“One day we woke up and
it was like a bad dream, like a nightmare. Some with machines,
others with machetes, all destroying the mangrove forest; then
the fire finished everything off. Large notices were put up
‘Private property – no trespassing’ and some
skulls and crossbones appeared on the notices. Then armed guards
and dogs prevented the women shell-gatherers from entering the
few places left where the mangroves had survived. The guards
insulted them, chased them with the dogs and threatened to kill
Thus, the story of destruction in
the Muisne Canton, in the south of the Province of Esmeraldas
began. This happened towards the end of the eighties. It was
then that industrial shrimp farming started to destroy the mangrove
ecosystem and peasant farms starting from the Province of El
At the beginning, the population
believed in the companies’ offers: “They came like
they do during political campaigns, promising us the earth.
During the first years it looked as if a bonanza was coming.
We all went out to gather shrimp larvae and to fish for egg-producing
shrimps to deliver them to the industry. But soon it was all
over and here we are, with our arms crossed, with nothing.”
The community people never thought that in a few years their
lives would be so affected.
“With shell gathering, my mother
gave birth and brought up ten daughters. We all studied up to
college and we never wanted for anything at home. Not luxuries,
but we had everything at mealtimes: different types of crabs,
such as the guariche, the tasquero, and the mapara; also forest
animals, free-range hens and shellfish, clams, mussels, fish.
Bananas were more abundant then. At that time, there was food
because everyone had their own small farm. People grew food
in their front gardens; there were all sorts of herbs, chillangua,
large oregano, small oregano, cilantro, spring onions, mint
and palo. We eat pepa e pan, peach palm ...
everything was abundant. Now a shell-gatherers’ family
lives very poorly, shrimp farms occupy the mangroves and the
lands that belonged to our grandparents. Many farms have been
The women shell-gatherers from the
Muisne Canton remember how the parish of Bolivar in the south
of the Canton was larger, it had mango trees, avocados, orange
trees, guavas, lemon and mandarin trees, coconut palms. All
the houses had vegetable gardens, with corn, broad-beans, beans,
cassava, sweet potato, zagú, tomatoes, sweet
peppers, chillies, sweet potatoes of all kinds. The women
told how they used to go down to the vegetable patch and have
everything for the dressing at hand: white onions, shallots.
There were aromatic plants too, verbena, mint, thyme, citronella.
The women of Bunche and Daule described the same landscape.
We know how the lives of our fellow
fishermen, crab gatherers, coalmen have deteriorated because
we are all one and the same: women, men, mangroves. The stories,
the legends, the dances, the songs...now there is hardly anything
In the old days there were great
dances in big halls. The people celebrated their feasts to the
sound of the guitar. In these parts the guitar was much played.
The Black people arrived at the Canton of Muisne in the forties
with their drums, their lullabies and praises and they merged
with the customs and the culture of the inhabitants of Manabi.
All of them went to the mangroves and all of them have made
their lives there.
“But what I always say
is that what is most important is our political struggle. It
must never falter but rather grow. What is most important is
to recover our natural enterprise, our mangrove ecosystem. There
no one asks us for documents, no one places an age limit, we
are humbly received. All the rest is complementary. We will
not allow shrimp farming to be legalized, because if the government
hands over the lands then they will become more arrogant and
will want to humiliate us.” These are the words of 24-year
old Andrea, mother of three boys and with all the strength of
the women shell-gatherers from the Province of Esmeraldas.
The women shell-gatherers from the
Canton of Muisne tell how, in spite of their deep grief over
seeing the destruction of the mangrove ecosystem and their impotence
over the speed with which the ecosystem was destroyed, their
thoughts challenged them to find some way out. Fortunately they
were together, there were community organizations as by then
the Canton of Muisne was learning the story of the Muisne
Esmeraldas Peasant Organization (Organización Campesina
de Muisne Esmeraldas - OCAME), a strong organization inspired
by the Church of the poor.
Today the proposal is to rehabilitate
the mangrove ecosystem and with it, recover all that has been
lost, because they are even taking away our culture. When the
mangrove is reforested, the shells, the small tasquero crabs,
larger crabs and other shell-fish will all come back. And community
work will come back too because you can do nothing on your own
and our communities have always been noted for their support,
for reciprocity. Families survive because between us all we
support each other, grandfathers and grandmothers, sons and
daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, uncles and aunts, mother
and father and “whoever is stopping by.” Everybody
contributes, not only with money but with work, with company,
with good advice and this must not be lost.
What is still a bit “low”
is work on the farms and the plots, although it has started.
But it needs strength because it is like an incomplete body,
as if the hands were missing or perhaps the heart. Markets are
being organized to sell products from the mangroves and the
farms; we call them Food Sovereignty Markets. What we are trying
to do is to sell what we produce, what comes from our own land,
with no chemicals. We are also taking products out of the mangrove,
but with the message that the shell has to be big, 4.5 cm as
it is good to sell, the small one must be put back so it can
finish growing. We want to do the same with the
crabs, sell large crabs, mind the egg producing crabs and mind
the mothers who reproduce.
“The fact is that we
consider the mangrove ecosystem to be our mother and this is
what we have all learnt. Life is there, the mangrove ecosystem
is a maternity and it is a natural industry that God has left
us as heritage, so we won’t be poor.”
Long days of reflection, joyful meetings
among communities, reforestation of mangrove forests, a political
process of resistance is being built, of territorial dispute
which, finally is a dispute for power.
For the group of women from the Cayapas
Mataje Ecological Reserve, in the north of the Province of Esmeraldas
and the Wildlife Refuge of the Muisne Cojimies Mangrove Estuary,
in the south of the Province of Esmeraldas. Sent by Marianeli
Torres, CCONDEM, Ecuador, e-mail: email@example.com
- Nigerian Women Bear the Curse of Oil
The communities constantly grapple
with the consequences of oil spills, gas flares and other menaces
arising from unregulated explorative activities of the international
oil companies. Many women in these subsistence communities bear
the burdensome task of caring for their families, protecting
them from harsh pollution. The rate of cases of cancer, infertility,
leukemia, bronchitis, asthma, still-births, deformed babies
and other pollution-related ailments are unusually high in this
region. From Ikarama to Akaraolu to Imiringi, women are bruised
As one farmer, Marthy Berebo shared,
“If I am to undress before you, you will see the extent
of the toll this pollution has taken on my body. The whole of
my body is racked with aches.”
Ikarama, a predominantly fishing
and farming community of 10,000 people, also ranks as one of
the most polluted communities in the Niger Delta. Settled along
Taylor Creek, Ikarama is host to both the Nigeria Agip Oil Company
(NAOC) and Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC). Shell’s
pipes that link the Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers States all pass
through Ikarama. Shell’s Okordia Manifold is also situated
in Ikarama. It is assumed that by hosting big international
companies like Shell, communities flourish. But the contrary
happens to Ikarama, as it finds itself in a deep and dark pool
of poverty. The roads have yet to be paved, as promised by the
company while the lives of people are becoming worse, with their
livelihoods destroyed by the frequent oil spills.
Alili Ziah is a widow with seven
children. Before, she could still provide for them through fishing
but now that the water has been contaminated, her family has
been forced to depend on other people’s charity. “Whenever
I set traps and I go to inspect, they are soaked in crude oil,”
she remarked. Like Ikarama, Imiringi has been hosting several
of Shell’s gas flaring sites since 1972. The health implications
arising from the open, poisonous flames are enormous. People
who live nearby complain of rashes on the skin, redness of the
eyes and other complications. Contamination is quite likely
since women usually dry their local staple, kpopko garri near
these gas flaring sites. Women’s reproductive health has
also been affected, as seen with the rising number of cases
of infertility and birth deformities.
Oil has been Nigeria’s lifeblood
since the late 1950s, when Shell had its first successful oil
well in Oloibiri in the Bayelsa State in 1956. Eighty per cent
of the country’s wealth is kilometres of flow lines and
400 kilometres of pipelines. It has 349 drilling sites. At the
height of its operations, Shell produced one million barrels
of crude oil daily. There are prospects that the figure would
once more increase.
Yet oil companies have very little
to show in terms of its contributions to the communities’
development. In fact, they have merely subjected communities
to more poverty and disease because of their unregulated means
of polluting the land, water and air. In the Niger Delta alone,
there are more than a hundred gas flare sites. With the huge
money involved in this industry, it not surprising to see conflicts
that claim the lives of over 1,000 people annually.
Of the oil companies operating at
the Niger Delta, Shell has been deemed as the most notorious
as it sanctioned human rights abuses committed by security forces
at its employ. Shell arms and pays government security personnel
and outfits who are always quick to quell any signs of uprising
and carry out wanton human rights abuses. In all of these, women
are the major victims, as widows and mothers. They have been
the families’ pillars on whose shoulders much of the sorrow
and deprivation fall.
Many women still carry scars and
live in deformed bodies as a consequence of the military operatives
that paid by Shell moved into the communities with amoured tanks,
guns and weapons, shooting and killing hundreds of people including
women and children, mowing down entire villages, and maiming
thousands, in times when Ken Saro-Wiwa roused the consciousness
of the nation and the international community over the environmental
injustice in Ogoniland.
Promise Yibari Maapie had her left
arm permantly withered as a result of a gun shot. Her daughter
Joy also sustained damaging gun shots on her legs. “The
soldiers brought pain, sorrow and hunger into my life,”
she told a reporter. After the infamous Ogoni genocide, there
have been several cases, including that of the Odi Massacre
in 1999, where entire towns were razed down. It was a retaliatory
move by the government’s troops, arising from the killing
of some military men by militants. In mid 2009, massacres and
bombings happened in several villages in the Gbaramatu Kingdom
in the Niger Delta. In the process, many women were killed,
wounded or displaced. There were reported cases of those who
gave birth in the forests and creeks while running away from
the military attack. As usual, there were reports of rape by
Women are the foremost victims in
the Niger Delta tragedy. Apart from contending with gas flares
and oil spills, they also live at the very edge of their lives.
When rusty pipelines conveying crude oil burst, farmlands, forests,
streams and rivers are damaged. Scores are also killed as in
October 1998 when an oil pipeline explosion roasted around 2,000
people in Jesse Town in Ethiope, West Local Government Council
of the Delta State. Worse, government interventions are nonexistent
and when they exist at all, they are either belated or half-baked.
Besides this, constructions of gigantic drilling projects pollute
and alter the communities’ water ways, depriving residents’
access to water. These impacts are felt most by women. Aside
from being farmers, they also provide food and water for the
Despite the tragedy that their bodies
bear, women have been rendered voiceless in many communities.
In most communities, it takes the special intervention of civil
society organisations (CSOs) for women to be allowed into the
town hall consultative fora where issues affecting the communities
are discussed. Men would always insist that the matters to be
discussed are too serious for women. In many cases, women cannot
claim land ownership. Farmlands usually belong to husbands and
fathers. The deaths of their husbands or divorce could spell
the end of their stay in those lands. Thus, environmental disasters
constitute a double tragedy for women.
Nonetheless, in some communities,
women are organising themselves, attempting to undo the malevolent
strings of retrogressive customs and take up their destinities
into their own hands.
Excerpted and adapted from: “When
Blessing Becomes a Curse in the Niger Delta”, by Betty
Abah, for Women in Action, the Journal of the ISIS International
Women’s group in the Philippines, published February 2010
(edition titled: Women in a Weary World: Climate Change and
Women in the Global South). This article can be read on
line with pictures at: http://www.wrm.org.uy/bulletin/152/Nigeria.html
Ms Abah is Gender Focal Person of the Environmental Rights Action/Friends
of the Earth Nigeria. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The document can be viewed at: http://www.isiswomen.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=frontpage&Itemid=28
- Papua New Guinea: Women in Oil Palm Association
In late 2008, WRM and Friends of the Earth Papua New Guinea/CELCOR
jointly organised a workshop with local women in Papua New Guinea.
The workshop referred to oil palm plantations that are being
mainly promoted to feed the European market with palm oil (used
in products such as cosmetics, soap, vegetable oil and foodstuffs)
as well as for the production of agrofuels.
In a country where most of its 5
million population still lives in the rural area and rely on
subsistence farming for their livelihoods, the oil palm export-driven
production is increasing at the expense of traditional livelihoods.
The workshop gathered women from
different provinces and enabled them to express their concerns
regarding the expansion of oil palm plantations: possible land
shortages due to oil palm expansion; contamination of rivers,
streams, as well as soils and the air as a result of the use
of agrotoxics in the plantations.
However, they went beyond and also
tackled women issues, giving an insight into the impacts of
oil palm plantations on their condition as women. They referred
to the reinforcement of male control over women through the
increasing control of men over the income from oil palm production;
the restriction of women’s access to garden land as a
consequence of the conversion of traditional farmlands to oil
palm plantations; social disruption including increased alcoholism
and domestic violence.
The meeting served as a catalyst
for the need of women to organise themselves, and one of the
outcomes of the workshop was a plan to establish an association
of women within the framework of the campaign on oil palm issues.
In November 2009 Women in Oil Palm Association (WOPA) was established,
and this year 2010 it is in the process of being registered
under the Investment Promotion Authority.
The Association was formed with the
“Exposing the impacts of the oil palm industry in PNG
on women and children through awareness and community mobilization
Campaigning for change in government policies, oil palm company
management practices on the environment, social and economic
livelihood and welfare of the women and children
Campaigning and lobby for women and children rights against
deprivation and violation by the industry
Uniting affected women to form solid foundation and established
a women network to campaign on issues affecting women and children
Protecting and promoting the rights of women and children
Acting as a body, a voice or catalyst for the oil palm affected
Campaigning and lobbying for the environment and community livelihood
to be defended, preserved and managed in a sustainable way.”
The creation of the WOPA
is important to raise women's issues in the oil palm industry
in PNG. The initiative of the Women in Oil Palm Association
is a relief for the women who are quietly campaigning on oil
palm issues impacting their livelihoods.
There are many challenges ahead for
the women organized under the WOPA. Yet, it is a major step
in the process of women becoming empowered to demand for their
rights and as they claim “for the environment and community
livelihood to be defended, preserved and managed in a sustainable
Adapted from the article "WOMEN
IN OIL PALM ASSOCIATION (WOPA)" sent by George Laume, from
Friends of the Earth Papua New Guinea-CELCOR, email: email@example.com.
The full article can be accessed at: http://www.wrm.org.uy/countries/PapuaNG/WOPA.pdf
- Brazil: Women affected by dams – changes
in their lifestyles
The building of hydroelectric dams
in Brazil has been marked by a lack of respect for the environment
and society and more so by a lack of respect for the affected
communities that see how their lives are radically changed and
how they are annulled in the name of “capitalist society
development.” In Brazil, over 2,000 dams have been
built, resulting in the eviction of over 1 million people from
their lands. There are federal government projects foreseeing
the construction of 1,443 more dams over the next 20 years.
These are major works linked to false promises of more jobs
and development; respect for nature, cheaper energy for the
people and guaranteeing the families’ right to compensation.
However, so far the control of dams has been left in the hands
of multinational corporations, few jobs have been generated,
energy has become more expensive for the workers and compensation
has not been paid.
That is to say, there is a dictatorship
installed against the people who live on the river banks. Not
only are negative concrete and material impacts involved, such
as flooding of forests, cities, schools, homes, but there are
non-tangible and affective impacts too, because with the loss
of a spatial relationship, other links are also lost such as
family ties, community sharing, reference to surroundings –
losses that directly affect “feelings,” causing
serious damage to the health and welfare of the affected populations.
Changes in habits and economic
We cannot place all the responsibility
for unequal gender relationships on hydroelectric projects,
but we do know that they have changed pre-existing conditions
and that they tend to worsen them. Capitalist and patriarchal
society is strengthened by the action of these companies regarding
local and structural initiatives (where the dam is being or
has been built) of the capitalist model.
The announcement that dams will be
built triggers off different reactions and behaviour in men
and women. In most cases it will be seen that women show strong
resistance to leaving their territory and find it hard to assimilate
the possibility of changes in their space. For their part, some
of the men are more easily convinced and see a possibility of
financial compensation for leaving the area. One of the factors
justifying this is that, traditionally men relate to activities
generating financial resources (money), while women do not.
On residing in rural areas, most
of the people affected by the dams have a close relationship
with the land. They use natural resources mainly for food but
also use other inputs for family consumption, such as infusions,
firewood for cooking and heating, etc. In this respect, women
are the first victims of environmental degradation, resulting
in immeasurable losses for the communities depending on nature
This is corroborated by the fact
that 70% of the families affected by dams in Brazil have not
received compensation and in the few cases that their rights
were recognized, the new area is much smaller than the previous
one. Thus, women lose their little peasant farms and their
autonomy. They lose their vegetable patch or garden where they
produce a variety of food (orchards, medicinal herbs and farm
animals), the area where they experiment with seeds and store
them, the area that enables them to supplement their income
and enrich the family’s diet – spaces were women
decide what they are going to plant, how they are going to do
it, what seeds to grow, etc.
This change not only implies the
loss of a woman’s position of power and decision, but
also an increase in her economic dependency, for instance in
relation to the market and the pharmacy. In communities where,
before the advent of the dam, the relationship with nature was
maintained as a fundamental factor ensuring the continuity of
their lifestyle, in the new context women are those most adversely
affected and tend to suffer such negative impacts more deeply.
The process of emptying the communities
that “remained” and were not affected by the flooding
of the reservoir, has resulted in the loss of family ties, of
relationships with the environment and with the emptying of
community gathering places, such as the church. As the
communities are emptying, public transport becomes scarcer,
rural schools and local health centres are closed down. It is
possible to imagine the impact on the lives of women, who have
to look after the family, the children, older people, the handicapped,
etc. With the shortage and often the suspension of public transport,
women’s mobility and their potential access to jobs, study
and leisure activities become harder.
These populations were expropriated,
not only in the legal sense of the word. These people who lived
off the rivers and their banks lost their material working conditions
and were uprooted, transplanted geographically and culturally,
expropriated from a knowledge and tuning in with the physical
environment, with their surroundings, with “abstract”
values that are not only of great sentimental value but more
importantly, as references that can never be rebuilt nor measured
in terms of money.
Affective relationships and
Impoverishment and the trauma of
the communities’ social rupture have a more serious effect
on women, and particularly on their affective relationships
and health. In some cases, impoverishment, generated by
forced displacement of people and the violent arrival of major
works, increase lack of understanding and family de-structuring,
abandoning of families, male migration to urban areas, increasing
the number of homes where women are the heads of the family,
facing the responsibility of bringing up children on their own.
Increased domestic violence as a consequence of alcoholism is
another effect made more serious by de-structured families and
Regarding health, it is common that
home management and family welfare are the woman’s responsibility.
It is she who controls what is available and what is missing
and sees the need to “economise” available resources
to ensure their existence for a longer time. This is reflected
in the food situation, although cultural models in different
regions of the country reproduce gender inequality when food
is distributed among the family. In some studies it has been
observed that unequal food distribution among men and women
in the family was recurrent, especial during greater scarcity,
as was the case after the arrival of the dams. “Women
and girls are given a smaller helping or are excluded from some
items considered as more “strength-giving” (meat
for example) as their work is considered to be “light”
and demanding “less energy replacement.”
Regarding women’s health, the
arrival of workers from other regions and states to build the
dams and the resulting urbanization of the region are factors
that can increase sexually transmitted diseases, particularly
AIDS. Cases of teen-age pregnancy also increase, and these mothers
are immediately abandoned because once the dam is built, young
workers move on somewhere else.
As if such “occasional”
relationships were not enough, one of the strategies used by
the companies is to hire young men to seduce the girls and thus
come closer to their families with the aim of convincing them
to leave the community peacefully and not to participate in
activities organized by those affected by the building of the
dam. The installation of “prostitution businesses,”
popularly known as “zones” near the workers’
housing has been observed. This strategy on the part of the
companies is aimed at “entertaining” the workers
who have been far from their families for some time. In
some cases the sale of women’s bodies is accompanied by
the sale of teenagers for prostitution, possibly influencing
and facilitating international trafficking in women.
The above mentioned facts are just
some of the losses suffered by women as a result of dam building.
The consequences on women are innumerable and our objective
is to open them up for discussion, emphasizing the problems
that directly affect the women who were forgotten over time,
almost making gender issues invisible. Possibly there
are many other questions that need to be opened to discussion
and taken up for analysis and deeper thought in order to enable
women to be recognized as political subjects in the process
of social transformation.
By the Movimento dos Atingidos por
Barragens – Brazil, sent by Setor de Comunicação
– MAB, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org,
- No shining legacy: Women start organising
against gold mining in Thailand
The lush green rice paddies, vegetable
fields, forested mountains and quiet villages in the Wangsaphung
district of the Loei province of North-Eastern Thailand could
be an oasis of rural tranquility, with clean air to breathe,
fresh vegetables and fruit to eat and spring water to drink.
From the mountainous highlands to the lowlands along the banks
of the Mekong River and its tributaries, the fertile lands provide
seasonal harvests of macadamia nuts, bananas, lychees, longan,
mangoes, passion fruit, tamarind, coffee beans, soybeans, maize,
rice, sesame, and rubber. In the past, some small-scale gold
panning was carried out along the riverbeds, as the area is
rich in minerals, including gold, copper and iron. However,
today the land and water upon which the Isaan People have depended
for generations has become poisoned by cyanide, arsenic and
other heavy metals. The source has been traced to a recently
opened gold mining site operated by a Thai company with Australian
origins, Tongah Harbour Plc.
In 1996, the Thai Department of Mineral
Resources began a process of approval for granting gold mining
licence applications in Wangsaphung submitted by Tungkam Ltd.
(TKL), a subsidiary of Tongah Harbour that has Australian and
German financial support. The Thai Ministry of Industry granted
final authorization in 2003 for a lease the size of approximately
two square kilometers over twenty-five years. By September 2006,
TKL began its operations at the first open-pit gold mine on
a mountaintop once designated by the Thai government as a conservation
area. To date, only two sites have been opened, covering a total
of two square kilometers, as well as an on-site plant for cyanidation
and carbon treatment of the gold. As of early 2009, over one
hundred mining applications by TKL are pending approval by the
Local residents in the area remained
unaware of the mining licences, until the TKL’s machinery
had already arrived. Although TKL has claimed that they took
proper steps to hold consultations with the community, there
is no documentation available regarding where these consultations
were held, who participated, or what was discussed. Local residents
claim that these meetings were not publicly announced and that
the company handpicked the few people who did attend.
According to local activists, there
is no public access to the agreements made between the company
and the government or the mining concession certificate that
would indicate the type and time frame of the mining activities
on the land surrounding their farms. Furthermore, it was not
until 2008 that some information was publicly reported regarding
the legally required environmental impact assessments (EIAs).
These studies were quietly completed by two Australian firms
in conjunction with a Thai company along with Thai faculty from
Khon Kaen University, without any input or participation from
Although Tungkam claims to be committed
to “environmental stewardship”, local residents
report that some of the most devastating effects of the mining
have been related to the loss of clean, local water sources.
The mine site has interfered with the route of a natural spring,
which originally brought fresh, pristine water from the mountain
through Wangsaphung. As a mitigation measure, the company diverted
the stream so that it now flows around the periphery of the
mine. Residents allege that the spring water has become polluted
by not only the mine tailings, but also improper disposal of
on-site solid wastes. Since 2006, mass numbers of poisoned fish
floating in local streams have been observed on numerous occasions.
With elevated levels of cyanide and other heavy metals, this
stream runs directly into Loei River, a tributary of the transboundary
Mekong River. Furthermore, residents note that contaminated
water from the mine flows down the mountain during the monsoons,
and they worry that the heavy metals will leach into groundwater.
Meanwhile, in the dry season, dust from the mine blows through
residential areas, exacerbating respiratory illnesses amongst
the local population.
For the first time in known history, farmers are reporting severe
water shortages, resulting in dry rice paddies and patches of
parched, cracked soil. With the mine tailings pond adjacent
to their fields, the majority of residents express fear about
the uncertain levels of contamination in the fruits, vegetables
and rice they still attempt to cultivate. Given the level of
contamination and acidification of the rainwater, residents
can no longer rely on gathering drinking water naturally. Instead,
they have had to begin buying water, placing a strain on already
tight family budgets.
Realizing the need to augment cash
incomes in order to afford purchases of food and water, some
women are travelling more frequently to the provincial capital
to take on temporary day jobs. Ultimately, local residents’
abilities to retain their practices of food sovereignty and
self-sufficient livelihoods have been lost, while their rights
to food, water, and health have all been stolen. As the ones
responsible for cooking, cleaning and water provision for drinking
as well as other daily needs, women testify that the household
pressures they experience have accordingly increased.
Over the past two years, local residents
have begun to report rashes, breathing problems, severely irritated
eyes, chronic headaches, dizziness, and weak sensations in their
limbs. In addition, the regular and frequent blasting coming
from the mine causes not only cracks in housing structures and
the shattering of glass windows, but also heart palpitations
amongst elders, and chronic levels of distress among children.
After working in their fields and
rice paddies, women and men suffer from skin irritations that
result in their skin peeling off and opening into festering
wounds. Men who work in the mine have experienced distressing
health problems, including skin diseases, severe eye and lung
problems, insomnia and neurological degeneration. Meanwhile,
women report that after washing clothes worn in the mine and
the fields, they suffer from rashes on their hands and arms,
breathing difficulties and eye pain. Blood tests conducted on
children provide solid evidence of elevated levels of cyanide
and other heavy metallic contaminants. A recent report, released
in February 2009 by Thai government officials also warned residents
to refrain from drinking the local water or using it to cook,
due to elevated levels of cyanide, arsenic, cadmium and manganese.
Police and armed security guards
have been working with Tungkam to monitor the mine site and
the community, reporting on all who enter the site and surrounding
vicinity. In general, local people are too intimidated to speak
out publicly about the impacts of the mining, and as a result,
the voices of social and environmental justice advocates remain
muted. The lack of opportunities to participate in decisions
affecting the future of their land and means of survival, as
well as the silencing of dissent can be understood as nothing
less than serious breaches of political and social rights, guaranteed
under national and international laws.
Initially, local residents were frustrated
by Tungkam’s lack of communication, consultation and openness
about their plans for Isaan ancestral lands. After documents
about the mining licence were leaked to a local biologist, the
information was disseminated amongst the community in 2006.
Since then, a small team of concerned residents —the majority
of whom are women— formed an ad hoc committee that has
been organizing community meetings to discuss the impacts of
gold mining on the local water sources, the soil and local vegetables,
air quality and people’s health. They have held public
forums and open discussions, photo exhibitions and workshops.
According to committee members, it is mostly local women —and
in particular, those from younger generations— who attend
discussions about the impacts of the mining, and strategies
for changing their situation. In November 2006, an exchange
with activists from Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines
was hosted in Wangsaphung as part of an international mobilization
against large-scale commercial gold mining. According to local
women, after this initial international exposure, security was
tightened at the mining site. Those trying to investigate Tungkam’s
operations began —and continue— to be subjected
to severe intimidation tactics.
Throughout 2008, local residents
helped document the health impacts of the cyanide poisoning.
They then proceeded to file complaints with the national human
rights and health commissions. A report issued by the Human
Rights Commission called on Tungkam to clean up the contaminated
areas. However, despite the fact that the commissioners validated
community concerns and condemned the company’s operations,
no remedial action has been taken. Instead, Tungkam has begun
publicizing their commitment to “positive corporate ethics”,
and is sponsoring school festivities, sports tournaments and
youth scholarships. For the villagers of Wangsaphung, these
initiatives appear disingenuous, detracting from their serious
concerns about the lasting legacies of cyanide and arsenic poisoning.
As of late 2009, the Wangsaphung
community committee was seeking to halt Tungkam’s expansion
plans for their gold processing and cyanidation plant. Protests
were staged at the local government district office demanding
that documents detailing the site expansion be made public.
Further demonstrations by civil society networks are planned.
Simultaneously, women are organizing weaving and food collectives,
which allow them to retain a sense of identity, follow ecologically
sensitive principles, and practise self-sufficiency. This groundwork
is intended to form a basis of collective solidarity from which
to launch into a campaign calling for the closure of the mine,
and the prohibition of new mines on Isaan land.
By Tanya Roberts-Davis with the Thai
Network for Mining Affected Communities/ Eco-Culture Study Group,
- Women and climate change – most affected
and least heard
In a study published recently in
Germany on Climate and Development, we find the following statements:
“Poverty affects many, too many people – and it
affects men and women differently and in different numbers.
Most of the poor are women, as poverty research has shown, and
this is bound up with the fact that in many countries women
and girls continue to suffer legal and social discrimination:
They have poorer access to education and health care than boys
and men, and they do not have the same economic opportunities,
be it because their ability to act is curbed by legal restraints,
or because they are unable to move freely, or for other reasons.”
The study adds that “There
is good reason to believe that one result of the political and
social discrimination of girls and women is that they are affected
differently than men by the impacts of climate change, a circumstance
that exacerbates the poverty and other risks they face.”
One of the good reasons for believing that this is true is the
fact that most of the people affected by the worst climatic
disasters that have happened over the past few years are poor
and in their vast majority women. For example, in Indonesia
during the tsunami, for various reasons more women were drowned
than men: because they did not know how to swim, because they
stayed to look after their children until the last moment, because
they were locked in, because they found out too late, because
their long dresses did not enable them to move fast, because
their food reserves were so low that they could not make the
effort required to save themselves, etc.
In an article on “Women and Climate Change,” Kellie
Tranter, an Australian lawyer describes some of the causes of
death, such as those mentioned above and shows that during so-called
“natural” disasters, more women than men have died:
90% of the 140,000 victims who died during the cyclone that
hit Bangladesh in 1991 were women, more women than men died
during the heat-wave that struck Europe in 2003 and in the Indonesian
tsunami in 2006, 3 to 4 women died for each man. (2)
In a study carried out with women in Germany, Bolivia and Tanzania
in 2009 (3), it was revealed that women are more burdened with
their daily activities due to climate change. An example of
this is shown in the department of Oruro, Bolivia, where “at
times of heat-waves the water sources dry up and the remaining
water becomes increasingly brackish and less potable. Strong
winds sweep away loose earth and dry it. There are also new
species of parasites. There is a sort of bug that is causing
great damage by attacking the root of the alfalfa plant and
killing this forage.” Furthermore, with the change in
temperature, crops that used to grow easily don’t grow
anymore and the continuous frosts and rains cause losses.
The cattle are also decreasing because of the lack of pastures
and because of the appearance of “a new and aggressive
type of mosquito that attacks human beings and animals. In short,
climate change makes the already gruelling working life of Bolivian
women even harder.”
Very similar stories are told by the women of Dodoma, Tanzania.
Continuous droughts oblige women to “go increasingly far
away to get water and sometimes they are forced to buy it...
crops have dropped off in a catastrophic way. This is the cause
for the worrying lack of food in the whole village.” Women
must use different strategies to survive. Gladis, for example
tells us how “...we can no longer count on income from
agriculture...I also have a vegetable garden and breed pigs
and hens. Also I sew school bags...I make local beer and do
occasional jobs.” But they too ask not to be the only
ones who make sacrifices. They demand that the government must
avoid the continuous logging of trees and burning of forests
that are worsening water supply and the climate, while also
demanding that the industrialized countries change their lifestyle.
Women cannot continue to be the victims and must take a leading
role when climate change policies are being designed. Although
some formal recognition has been achieved, it is not reflected
either in the proposals or in the structures of the United Nations
Convention on Climate Change.
On the one hand, most of the policies proposed as (false) solutions
for addressing climate change further exacerbate the situations
described above. For example the promotion of large scale crops
to be used as fuel and monoculture tree plantations as so-called
carbon sinks, have been shown to have negative impacts on forests,
soil and water and also on women.
On the other hand, women have serious difficulties in being
taken into account, even within the structure of the Convention,
contradicting its own statements. In December 2007, in
Bali, international leaders declared for the first time that
“gender issues are pertinent to climate related policies.”
In 2009, the Convention formally recognized the participation
of gender and women’s groups. However, recently the UN
Secretary General, Ban Ki- moon announced the creation of a
“high level” group tasked with no less than investigating
potential sources of revenue to support developing countries
in their efforts to cope with the impacts of climate change
and the shift to low-carbon development pathways. (4) The group
is composed of 19 members. All men. The destiny of humankind
may be in their hands (5)
Declarations about “gender equity” must be reflected
in deeds. Time has run out. Women, while suffering most from
the effects of climate change are also essential when seeking
solutions. The solving of gender inequality is a question both
of justice and of survival.
- Taken from “Climate Change
Adaptation from a Gender Perspective, A cross-cutting analysis
of development-policy instruments by Birte Rodenberg for DIE
Research Project “Climate Change and Development“,
- Published in Mirada Global.com
- Taken from "Strengthen
women. Change the climate!", VEN organization.
- From the article by Elizabeth
Becker and Suzanne Ehlers “Why are women being left
out of climate decision-making?” http://www.grist.org/article/2010-03-08-why-are-women-being-left-out-of-climate-decision-making-u.n/
- Additional information from Gender
CC press release available at:http://www.gendercc.net/
- The invisible women and men who resist against
the destruction of their territory in the northern Great Chaco
Living should not have to be a struggle
against deadly forces. The life of the indigenous Ayoreo women
and men living in isolation (without contact with our civilization)
did not used to be a struggle; it was a life lived in and with
the land they inhabited, over the course of many centuries.
Today, however, through no choice of their own, for these women
and men, living has come to mean resisting, enduring –
and having to struggle – since the arrival of another
world bent on invading and replacing their own world…
Haven’t we all faced this same
situation, no matter who or where we are? Finding ourselves
imprisoned, caught up and trapped in situations of resistance
and endurance, when all we really want is to be left alone,
to be happy, to live?
The women and men who make up the
six or seven groups of Ayoreo living “in voluntary isolation”
– a status and categorization that they have not chosen,
but rather one that has resulted from a process of extermination
and external pressures – currently represent a tiny but
significant human minority. In the past, the indigenous peoples
who lived throughout the Americas, with their diversity of worlds,
were the majority, while the “isolated” minority
were the first settlers and invaders.
Today, these isolated Ayoreo groups
continue their way of life in the forests of the northern part
of the Great Chaco region, travelling by foot throughout their
particular group territories, from place to place. Along the
way, they find life and give life to every corner of their rich
and varied geography, which we tend to perceive through our
outsiders’ eyes as merely a uniform stretch of forested
area over the Chaco lowlands. In our language shaped by economic
thinking, we describe their nomadic movements as a means of
ensuring “resources” for their survival: water,
so precious in the arid Chaco region, animals to hunt and eat,
fruit that grows in the forests. But these women and men do
not look at their surroundings through eyes that only see what
is useful, or define everything on the basis of scarcity. To
them, the forests of the Chaco are not poor, but rather full
of riches. For those who “still” live in these forests,
to live does not mean to survive and to struggle, and it never
has -until now. Meanwhile, for us Westerners living in
“modern” societies, it is impossible to imagine
a life that is not subjected to economic pressures, to the need
to struggle to “earn a living”. For many of us,
this is the only way to live that we know, and it consumes all
of our energies.
But the forest people we refer to
as isolated do not need to “earn a living”. They
have earned it simply by being born, and they continue to find
it, and in turn to recreate it, with every step and every new
day. They do not look upon the world in which they live as an
enemy, in the way that our world is viewed an enemy to us. Their
world – they call it “eami”, which means forest,
and also means world – contains, shelters and protects
them. It is a world with which they live in intimate, mutual
communication: they feel it, they see it, they recognize it,
they pronounce its names. They respect it, they fear its tremendous
powers, and they know how to protect themselves from those powers.
They know that there is a way to coexist with the world that
is the right way to live, the good way to live. And when people
are able to live this way, without harming the world, communicating
with it and taking only one’s share, the result is a sacred
equilibrium that kept this planet alive for a very long time,
before our era, the product of many equilibriums carefully maintained
by women and men from many worlds. The Ayoreo world is only
one of them…
Actually, we do not really know exactly
how they are, at this moment in time. We have learned what their
lives were like before, and had always been, through the testimony
of other Ayoreo who were forcibly uprooted from their world
by missionaries, and have been able to tell us about their lives.
But when it comes to the groups who are still living in isolation
today, no one has contact with them. All we can do is discern
and gather – like fruit from the forest – the signs
of their existence and their movements, and interpret them in
the light of our knowledge and our intuition. In the far north
and northeast areas of the Chaco, there are isolated groups
who are still fairly well sheltered by relatively large expanses
of intact forests. Although more and more of this forested land
is being cleared, it is still a relatively peaceful area. The
same cannot be said of the area to the south, which is closer
to the towns and cities of the Central Chaco. The women and
men living in isolation in this area now hear and receive the
message of the destruction of the forests and their total and
utter disappearance every day. And their daily movements are
now marked by this destruction. Many of their places have become
“non-places”: spots on the planet that have lost
their faces and names, disappeared forever, and which in the
Ayoreo world have ceased to exist. On the other hand, in our
world, these dead Ayoreo places are given new names and become
places on our map (a map of death?), connected by our roads,
shaped by our projects, productive by our definition, classified
by their degree of usefulness for our own purposes. Some become
cattle ranches, others, future soy bean plantations (if Monsanto
achieves the trumpeted feat of developing drought-resistant
In the meantime, these more exposed
groups of isolated Ayoreo live and move among the cattle company
ranches, always invisible, but with nowhere left to go to escape
the noise of the bulldozers working day and night to knock down
more and more trees, or the trucks roaring past on the countless
roads that have carved their land up into grids.
Do these isolated Ayoreo women and
men know what they are struggling against? Some time ago, they
used to leave feathers and shamanic symbols along the borders
of their world, in an attempt to halt its disappearance, but
all in vain. They must realize that what they are facing are
forces more powerful that those of their own world, forces that
speak other languages. And they must be beginning to doubt their
own powers, and to feel threatened and weakened.
This time of the year, the months
of February and March, is the season for wild chili peppers,
and it is the Ayoreo women who walk through the forests picking
them. This year, these women will be harvesting them with greater
fear, with greater precaution, with the incessant roar of machinery
ringing in their ears. There will be fewer peppers to gather.
They will no longer be able to pick the peppers that grew in
places that no longer exist. Like the wild chili peppers, the
caraguatá plant also belongs to the world of women, who
weave its fibres into bags and other woven goods, like textile
diaries that record their experiences, beliefs, hopes and dreams.
The female gatherers are endangered
in the same way as the plants they harvest, just as the male
hunters are endangered in the same way as the animals they hunt.
And as a result, the independent, diverse and unique powers
of their world are endangered.
Deforestation, an abstract word when
written here, in this article, is a relentless and concrete
reality in the northern Chaco, and it is slowly destroying the
life and equilibrium of the Ayoreo world. It is destroying freedom
and independence, life that does not depend on money or supermarkets:
self-sustained and sustainable life.
To struggle does not always mean
to wage war and attack. Sometimes it is a silent, invisible
and peaceful flowering. The women – and men – of
the isolated Ayoreo groups are struggling against deforestation.
They are doing it by being there, by clinging to their way of
life, inseparable from the life of their territories. Sometimes
to struggle simply means to exist and to persist, to believe
in oneself and be strong, to recognize and be conscious of one’s
Benno Glauser (Iniciativa Amotocodie,
Paraguayan Chaco), email: email@example.com
- The Garo Women in Bangladesh: Life of a Forest
People without Forest
Sicilia Snal (25), is a Garo woman
of the forest village Sataria in the Modhupur sal forest. It
is merely a 62 thousand acres forest patch, yet the third largest
forest of Bangladesh, a country having one of the lowest per
capita forest coverage on earth. Sicilia has to routinely visit
the nearby forest to collect firewood. This is a traditional
right that she and other villagers have always enjoyed.
Nowadays this historical native forest
has lost all but its name. It has come down to less than ten
per cent of its original size. This has made the life of the
Garos, who still try to cling to the forest, challenging. Many
have been killed, tortured, put into jail on false cases, women
raped and made to migrate to cities to become industrial workers,
beauticians, housemaids, etc.
With little formal education in the
remote village, Sicilia supplements cash income for her family
by selling labour on a daily basis. An additional burden placed
on her is the collection of fuelwood from the nearby forest
that has been reduced to mere shrubs.
Her life dramatically changed on
21 August 2006. Early in the morning on that day she went to
collect firewood as usual. On her way back home, she and a few
other Garo women put down their head loads to take a rest for
a while. All of a sudden, to their great surprise, a forest
guard shoots her from behind with his gun. Sicilia is hit. More
than a hundred pellets enter her body; some penetrate her gall
bladder and kidney. She fell unconscious. A surgery at a medical
college in the nearest town [Mymensingh] removes her gall bladder.
Some pellets still remained in her
kidney and could only be removed after she gave birth to her
third child. With about a hundred pellets all over her back
and hands, she is now restricted from any hard work. Like in
other cases, she has not got justice in court. Her case is added
to a few thousand other cases that are still pending in the
Bihen Nokrek (35) of Joynagachha,
another forest village, was shot to death by the Forest Department
(FD) guards in the wee hours of 10 April 1996. A one-member
judicial inquiry committee headed by a local court magistrate,
produced only a final report, which, according to a FD source,
said that the fire [that killed Bihen] had been justified. Bihen
Nokrek leaves behind his wife and six children only to languish
in poverty and insecurity.
Renu Nekola, a Garo woman of Kakraguni
Village in the same area served more than a month and a half
in jail for "damaging forests" in 1992. According
to Nekola, she was arrested while collecting firewood from the
forest on 12 December 1991. Nekola, with a small axe in hand,
was caught and charged with cutting a live tree. The magistrate
of a local court punished her with one month in jail. However,
she had already served one month and 23 days in jail before
getting the verdict under the forest act.
Sicilia Snal, Bihen Nokrek and Renu
Nekola are descendants of a matrilineal Garo tribe that first
settled to this forest centuries back. They had a long journey
from Tibet. The majority of the Garos live in the Indian State
of Meghalaya. The forest was dense and full of life at one time.
The people grew everything. For centuries they used to practice
slash and burn cultivation as well on the high land, locally
known as Chala.
In the matrilineal Garo society women
own property, do everything, can independently choose their
husbands, and are seen everywhere doing all types of hard work
in the fields and houses with an air of freedom, in sharp contrast
with women in the Muslim majority society. While in the Muslim
society the women are bound by many restrictions, the Garo women
are equal to their men. They smoke tobacco and drink with their
men. They do not get too angry if some have committed even adultery.
Offences committed can be peacefully settled in exchange for
a few pigs that are consumed by the whole village in a festive
mood. This is a beautiful people with beautiful minds growing
in the forest. This picture is never to be seen in the majority
These children of forests, who once
lived a peaceful life in the forest villages, are now exposed
to the outside world due to the fast vanishing forest. The recent
major factor for the dramatic loss of native forests in Modhupur
and elsewhere is monoculture plantation with exotic eucalyptus
and acacia trees funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB)
and the World Bank. The monoculture plantations in short rotations
have severe and multiplier effects. More recently, outsiders
have initiated massive-scale commercial banana and pineapple
plantations among other things.
Without forests, the life of the
Garo women in particular has become tough and risky. Fuelwood
and forest foods that women have always collected from the forest
have become scarce. They still go to the forest that is reduced
to mere undergrowth and have to face “goons and guns”.
The Forest Department armed guards, the military at times, groups
of forest bandits, and the traders from outside —all together—
cause insurmountable difficulties for the Garo women in particular.
Sicilia Snal and Renu Nekola are just two of thousands of women
who face bullets, rape and other types of harassment in their
daily lives in the forests.
The severe deforestation, plantation
and invasion by outsiders into the forest villages force the
Garo women to migrate to the cities. A stunning fact about the
Garo women in the capital Dhaka is that if you visit any beauty
parlour [for women], you will see Garo girls working quietly
and smilingly. They are also found in the physiotherapy centres.
They are the ones most trusted as housemaids in the houses of
the foreigners. A few thousand Garo girls and women, uprooted
from their land and forest, make an eye-catching difference
in the capital. They are exceptional women with very different
values. Types of work that “pollute” other women
from patriarchal societies cause them no “pollution”.
Their psyche makes them truly equal to men. So wherever they
are, they are the change makers.
The Garo women take the income that
they make in the cities back to their villages. The forest has
disappeared from around most of their villages, but they stand
strong and teach people in other societies the lessons they
need to learn. They smile against all odds they face. They do
not have titles to the land they build their houses on in the
forest villages, but they are the ones who hold the seeds of
the forest. Given a chance, the forest can flourish again if
in their hands.
By Philip Gain, Society for Environment
and Human Development (SEHD), Bangladesh, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Brazil: For whom and why do women struggle?
What is happiness? We can find many
answers and we may even consider that being happy is a strictly
personal matter. However, at least two aspects of happiness
are universal: we all want it and it would be hard to find someone
who could declare him/herself happy when confronting hunger,
homelessness or when lacking access to the knowledge constructed
and accumulated by humanity.
How are we in terms of the ‘happiness
index? From the standpoint of being a woman, poor, very poor.
From the standpoint of being peasants and working women, very
poor. From the standpoint of being mothers, poor.
In the home, domestic chores are
still considered “feminine tasks,” while men who
say to have already overcome male chauvinism “help out,”
but do not take on these chores as their own. Attributes commonly
assigned to women are used to discredit and belittle people,
for instance as in some of the sayings of football fans. To
be a “little woman” is to be nothing, it is to be
a slave, an object.
To be a mother is not only to “suffer
in paradise.” Very few work places, schools and public
and private spaces have child care centres so that mothers can
effectively be in activity, whatever this may be. On looking
for a job, the question “do you have children?”
can be the beginning of ruling you out. In general the individualism
that has been so cultivated in modern times does not recognize
children as a collective responsibility, as persons whose welfare
must interest everyone. Children are uniquely their mother’s
As workers we still receive less
for the same work outside the home. Many heads and bosses also
consider women workers as sexual objects. And as peasant women,
we suffer directly from the negative impacts of the advance
of capitalism on rural areas, in the way of proceeding of transnational
In addition to all this, we are subjected
to violence every day and, what is even sadder, with a high
rate of this violence practiced by fathers, husbands, sons,
uncles, grandfathers...that is to say, violence born inside
Let us go back to the issue of peasant
women. It might seem that a “natural” course of
human development is for trades to disappear, as with the Industrial
Revolution, so the disappearance of peasant women would also
be “natural” as “modernity” advances
in rural areas. It might also seem that city inhabitants have
nothing in common with what happens out in the countryside,
such as the violence of agribusiness companies against peasant
women and men.
Considering what we eat, we can see
two options in the cities: “industrialized” food
and “natural” food. By industrialized food we refer
to the fast-food chains and ready-made meals produced by Bunge
and other corporations. By natural food we are talking of milk,
cereals, fruit, vegetables, and so on, 60-80% of which are produced
by peasant women and men.
The effects of both food options
are there to see. High obesity, cancer, suicide, and depression
rates and a wide variety of illnesses based on McDonald type
diets. We never hear about people getting ill from eating
healthy food produced by peasants.
For this reason, the task of producing
food which is essential for the happiness of any person cannot
be a business and, throughout history, peasant women have been
protagonists in guaranteeing food for all.
The business of transnational companies
such as Monsanto, Syngenta, Nestlé, Bayer, Cargill, Dupont,
Basf, is not to produce food, but to produce profit. Along this
eternal profit-seeking path, they are trying to exterminate
peasants. And those first hit are peasant women.
Where agribusiness advances, peasants
retreat. The few remaining jobs are held by poorly paid and
much exploited men. For women the alternatives are to migrate
to the cities, remain at home, in total dependence or to become
For society as a whole, this means
fewer jobs, less food, less housing and more violence. What
happiness can this model build, if even the pride of knowing
and being able to produce food and peasant identity, inherited
and perfected by each generation, can be stolen by agribusiness
When a company patents a seed - an
asset of the peoples that should be at the service of humanity
- it is stealing the knowledge built up over time by peasant
women and men.
In various regions of Brazil, pulp
mill companies are expanding their green eucalyptus deserts.
In Bahia, in Espiritu Santo, in Maranhão, in Rio Grande
do Sul, Stora Enso, Votorantin/Fíbria, Suzano, are evicting
indigenous peoples, Afro-descendent people, peasant men and
women from their lands and installing their cloned armies, under
the form of eucalyptus trees and under the form of soldiers.
We, peasant women, indigenous women,
black women, women from the Landless Movement and Via Campesina,
are rising up against the transnational companies’ death
project. On this 8th of March we are reaffirming our struggle
because 8 March is a day for roses, but it is still a day to
continue struggling, to topple down eucalyptus trees and the
hunger they represent.
We proclaimed in our manifesto that
“It is not only food that we want, we want healthy
food, we want food sovereignty!” In Brazil, according
to research carried out by the Federal University of Rio de
Janeiro (UFRJ), 80% of the people without access to income are
women. Changing this situation involves building up food sovereignty.
What is Food Sovereignty? It means
that the people – women, men, young people, senior citizens
– decide what they want in their food and it means being
able to produce and consume healthy food in the necessary amount
and in accordance with their culture. Food sovereignty
implies a cultural transformation, in which new relationships
between people are contemplated.
Some people attempt to disqualify
our struggles, calling us delinquents and ignoramuses, they
compare us to those who acted by destroying machines when the
blood of textile workers started to be shed during the Industrial
What is our crime? Cutting down eucalyptus
trees to plant food? Preventing collective assets from being
stolen, such as seeds, rejecting patented transgenic seeds?
Proposing to build a society with bread, water, air, education
for all? Is this the crime and the ignorance?
In order to build food sovereignty,
we need to fight against agribusiness and the encroachment of
the green eucalyptus desert. Food sovereignty is the basis of
the happiness of peoples, as it implies abundant, healthy and
accessible food and new relationships between people and between
people and the environment.
Men, you need to bear in mind that
a woman who lives with and who struggles next to a man who declares
himself “machista”, is like a slave living with
someone who declares him/herself to be pro-slavery. What kind
of a relationship of equality and respect can exist in such
When we struggle for a new society,
with food sovereignty, we struggle for our personal and collective
happiness. On International Working Woman’s Day we continue
to struggle for food, but it is not only food we want, we want
food sovereignty, we want to enjoy a happy life in our countryside.
By Janaina Stronzake, MST de Rio
Grande do Sul, e-mail: terrajanamail.com