June 7, 2016

Environmental justice: a matter of life or death for women

Together with the Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action, Mama Cash will be dedicating a great deal of its efforts to feminist environmental activism and the theme ‘environmental justice’ in the coming years. It’s about time, because although the environment and sustainability receive a lot of attention, only a fraction of the worldwide ‘human rights budget’ goes to women who are standing up for their environmental rights: namely 0.01 per cent.

Under the umbrella of the Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action (GAGGA), Mama Cash will be joining forces with the Central American women’s rights fund FCAM and the Amsterdam-based Both ENDS, which works with civil society organisations in developing countries on a sustainable future. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs is subsidising GAGGA for five years, up to and including 2020, as one of 25 strategic partnerships.

Barbara Lotti, programme officer for Mama Cash: “Together with all GAGGA partners, we are going to spend the coming years placing the right of women to food security, water and a clean, healthy and safe living environment even more prominently on the agenda of environmental and women’s rights funds. We are also going to encourage more cooperation between environmental and women’s rights movements.”

Floods

In the past years, Mama Cash has been supporting groups that are working on land rights for women, as well as access to drinking water and other natural resources. In the coming years, they will also be joined by groups that are focusing on the impact of, among other things, climate change, oil and gas extraction or the mining industry on women’s lives. Barbara Lotti: “If you look at the consequences of droughts or floods, large-scale palm oil production or extractive industries, you will see that women are often hit harder than others. That is due to economic and social systems that push women in a vulnerable  position. As a result, women are poorer and thus more dependent on the produce of the land which they live on. If the water or the land becomes polluted or dries up, they have nowhere to go. In addition to this, women often care for other family members, which makes them less mobile. They cannot simply seek refuge 100 kilometres away. And a simple fact like women not learning to swim in certain places also has tragic consequences. More than 80% of those who died in the tsunami in Aceh in December 2014 were women.”

Rosa Parks

Together with GAGGA, Mama Cash wants to raise awareness about the ways these social components can increase the impact of climate and environmental problems on women. In addition, GAGGA is seeking to help strengthen activists worldwide who are standing up against climate damage, environmental pollution and the destruction of natural resources.

This is being achieved, among other ways, by providing regional women’s funds throughout the world with money and training in order to support local activists who are dedicated to a fair and green future. Lotti: “The importance of these activists was beautifully expressed by the Canadian climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe. She drew a parallel with the American civil rights movement and said: ‘Martin Luther King Jr. gave inspirational speeches. Rosa Parks refused to give up her place on the bus. We need both.” GAGGA chiefly aims to support the Rosa Parks of this world: environmental activists who refuse to step out of the way of bulldozers and diggers, and thus demand their rights in a very physical and practical way.”

The pressure from environmental activists will increase the influence that women can exert on decisions regarding their living environment. It is often the case now that local residents are given the opportunity to consult on procedures related to building and mining projects, but it is mostly men who are allowed to speak. However, women will suffer  the effects the most if, for example, the water in the river becomes polluted, and it is therefore vital that they demand their place in decision-making processes and let their voices be heard.

Seed banks

Female activists are already taking matters into their own hands in many places in the world, and are developing initiatives that deserve to be recognised and imitated more. Lotti: “For example, women are setting up seed banks where indigenous plants are preserved, so that they can be planted once again if they are displaced by other, often genetically modified, plants. In that way, these women are ensuring the survival of biodiversity.

Together with GAGGA, we are supporting the ‘Rosa Parks’ of this world: environmental activists who refuse to step out of the way of bulldozers and diggers.

Or take the women who are campaigning against mining or hydroelectric power plants. That is not without risk, as we saw with the recent murder of the indigenous activist Berta Cáceres, who successfully opposed the Aqua Zarca dam in Honduras. This cowardly deed shows the enormous economic interests involved in such a dam, which are even defended with violence. However, this murder caused a big commotion fortunately and the Dutch development bank FMO, which invested in this mega dam, also decided to suspend its activities in Honduras.”

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