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Upholding Human Rights - Bridging the gender-environment divide

Both ENDS and some partners started a four-year project Upholding Human Rights, bridging the gender-environment divide in 2014, with the aim to empower women and human rights defenders, to improve sustainable resource management and to further explore the potential of the human rights system to enhance the position and protect the rights of women.

Both ENDS has been supporting marginalized communities whose environment and resources they depend on are (threatened to be) damaged or taken away from them for years. People who have no voice in decisions taken regarding their land and their resources, who can make no legal claim to the land they and their ancestors have been living on for centuries, and who usually are not (enough) compensated for the loss of their livelihood. Women suffer disproportionally from unsustainable developments based on the exploitation of natural resources, because of their specific role in feeding the family and fetching water on the one hand, and their lack of decision-making power over natural resources on the other hand. At the same time, international recognition of universal human rights, such as access to food, clean water and having a healthy environment, do not seem to make a difference for these people.

Using the Human Rights system to guarantee women's rights

Experiences, both in the effective implementation of these rights by governments and in the claiming of these rights by citizens, are limited. The project is meant to explore how the Human Rights system can be better used to support especially women whose rights are abused by large-scale development activities such as mining or land conversion for commercial agriculture or forestry.

Specific case-building work is taking place in India, Kenya and South Africa, to generate evidence and strong examples of gendered human rights impacts of large-scale development projects. The first step is to make communities aware of their rights, and work with them to see how to claim them in an effective way. For example, ActionAid Kenya works with communities in Kilifi, Magarini Sub-County, where people were forcefully evicted from their ancestral land to allow for salt companies to extract salt. The fertile land has turned into salt goons, the water wells have been contaminated with salt deposits, and many trees have been cut down to fuel the salt industries. As women are responsible for their family's food and energy supply and for taking care of the ill, they suffer most from the consequences of these developments. The majority of the population still does not have land and a large part is living as squatters in lands that they believe rightfully belong to them but which are currently under the ownership of the salt companies. Organised meetings in 2014 between the communities and the salt firms as an alternative dispute resolution has led in some cases to the salt company returning land to the rightful owners.

 

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