Feminism in Latin America: rituals, solidarity and the link with the environment
At the end of November EFLAC, the most important gathering of feminists from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, took place in a park just outside Montevideo, Uruguay. Within Both ENDS, I coordinate the GAGGA programme, in which we promote cooperation between the environmental and women's movements. Our partners Mama Cash and FCAM persuaded me that this meeting was the perfect opportunity to find out whether and, if so, in which way women are interested in the environment. They had prepared me for a very intensive meeting, at which the whole spectrum of emotions would be aroused and expressed. I had no idea what to expect and set off with a completely open mind. And so it came that I spent four days among more than 2,000 women from across the continent.
What I noticed immediately was the diversity. A wonderful mix of women, indigenous, coloured and white, lesbian, transgender and hetero, disabled and non-disabled, young and old. There were expressive, bright colours everywhere: multicoloured hair and clothing, and shirts with texts and symbols, were the rule rather than the exception.
The link between environmental activism and feminism
Many of the issues that concern women seem to have nothing to do with the environment, but nothing is further from the truth. Legalising abortion, combatting sexual violence, threats against women and the murder of women, prove to have more to do with environmental problems than you would think at first glance. And yet, this was the first time that 'cuerpo y territorio' (body and land) had been on the agenda at EFLAC.
What was interesting was that there were so many women who fight to preserve the environment who have never thought of themselves as feminists, and ardent feminists who discovered for the first time that they are also environmental activists because they fight for access to land, clean water and healthy food. For them, all these issues are part of the same package.
"For the defense of our bodies and territory"
The sessions on environmental and women's rights were therefore well attended, especially by women – many of them indigenous – who fight against mining and large-scale agricultural and infrastructure projects. It is the women who feel the consequences of these activities first. A lack of food and clean water means serious problems for their families, for which the women are responsible. That is why women are the first to defend their communities and are found at the front of demonstrations, because the police or the army are less likely to use violence against them. But when it comes to negotiating, it is only men sitting around the table.
In the meantime, the situation in many Latin American countries is rapidly deteriorating. Critical organisations are unable to do their work, demonstrations are banned, and protest is branded as 'terrorism'. Violence against women, intimidation, disappearances, and murder of women are on the increase. At the meeting, much attention was consequently paid to female human rights defenders (Defensoras) and how they can better protect themselves.
Strong women and solidarity
Despite all this, it is unimaginable how strong and militant these women are. Take, for example, the woman from Guatemala who is fighting water pollution by large-scale agriculture. Since a few years ago, her community has been surrounded by sugarcane and palm oil plantations. The river is polluted, their access to clean water has been blocked, and their land taken way from them. And all without the community being consulted.
This Guatemalan woman who fights for her rights is not welcomed with open arms. Not by the large producers, who are often supported by the government and the army, but also not by her husband or a large part of her own community. She is intimidated and threatened, has had to go into hiding on several occasions, and is completely dependent on a social network of people who take her in and protect her. If she were to be raped and become pregnant, which is no exception, an abortion would be illegal.
Sometimes, the resistance from their own community is more difficult to deal with than the anonymous intimidation. Women are supposed to care for their families and should not express their opinions in public. One of the women from Bolivia told us that her own husband cut her traditional skirt short so that she could not attend public meetings.
In this context, it is so important that women work together. Collectively, they are stronger: the environmental and the feminist movements, urban en rural, young and adult, indigenous, coloured and/or lesbian.
And don't forget the men. The few men who were at EFLAC were there to run the barbecue or take care of the technical facilities. At the end of a meeting with GAGGA partners, one of the women said that it was important to see how we could also involve men. That sounds familiar to me. In the environmental movement, we often wonder at the end of a project "How can we incorporate gender here?"
"Women Human Rights Defenders are not alone"
Strength from creativity
Although the discussions were serious and really in-depth, not an hour passed without attention being devoted to rituals, singing, dancing, drumming, etc. Meetings often started with a ritual. One, for example, started with photographs of different positions of resistance, which we all had to copy. That was followed by examples of slogans called out during demonstrations and marches in various countries. Everyone could contribute and we joined in enthusiastically. It was a little strange for me, but for most women it was the order of the day and was an excellent way of getting rid of tensions. Their power was clearly visible during these rituals.
I became convinced of the importance of meetings like this. It is an opportunity for thousands of women to feel that they are not alone in their seemingly hopeless struggle against power, capitalism, neoliberalism and machismo. It is also a place where they can be themselves and feel safe for a while. To talk about what they have been going through to others who understand, have had similar experiences themselves and are interested in their stories, without being threatened or discriminated against. To be able to laugh, cry, scream and sing. To be free for a while.
I learned a lot and had much to think about, but I have come to the conclusion that, with GAGGA, we are going in the right direction. Helping to strengthen local women, who are fighting for a clean environment. Working with women to develop proposals that are based on their own needs and knowledge. Entering into alliances between the environmental and women's movements and making women's hard struggle visible. It was moving listening to these women's stories at first hand, but it also made me proud of the work we do.
Read more about this subject
GAGGA rallies the collective power of the women's rights and environmental justice movements to realize a world where women can and do access their rights to water, food security, and a clean, healthy and safe environment.
Video / 12 September 2018
Latin American partner organizations of GAGGA launched the campaign "We, women, are water" in March 2018. This video was launched as part of this campaign, and emphasizes the role of women water defenders.
Video / 12 September 2018
The Latin American partner organizations of GAGGA launched the campaign "We, women, are water" in March 2018. This video was launched as part of this campaign, and emphasizes the importance of recognizing water as a common good.
Video / 12 September 2018
Latin American partner organizations of GAGGA launched the campaign "We, women, are water" in March 2018. This video was launched as part of this campaign, and emphasizes the role of women in the sustainable management of water in Latin America.
External link / 31 May 2018
It was minus 20 degrees Celsius when 2.000 women gathered at the main square of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, to voice their distress about the terrible smog in the city caused by three large power plants. Soon after, the women were invited to speak about the problem of air pollution with the minister of environment.
News / 8 March 2018
Women around the globe are at the forefront of addressing the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation, designing, implementing, and scaling up their own solutions. Socially defined gender roles often position women and girls as stewards of the physical, economic, and cultural well-being of their communities.
News / 22 June 2017
On June 5th, World Environment Day, community members at the southern coast of Guatemala protested against the rapid spread of large-scale palm oil, sugar cane and banana plantations in their region. Utz Che', our local partner organisation, joined the march.
News / 14 March 2018
We are shocked and alarmed by the news that the Philippine government has declared a list of 600 people to be communist terrorists. On the list are mostly indigenous leaders, environmental activists and human rights defenders. Among them are some of our partners, and we are deeply worried about them and the other people on this list.
Event / 7 March 2018
Join us for the third session of this five-part series on women's rights and climate finance, aimed at building knowledge and power to ensure finance flows benefit local women's groups, respond to community needs and respect human rights.
Publication / 10 December 2018
News / 28 September 2018
We congratulate Joan Carling, member of the permanent commission on indigenous peoples of the UN, for having received the Lifetime Achievement Award as 'Champion of the Earth' by the UN Environment! This is the UN's highest environmental honor, given to six of the world's most outstanding environmental change makers once a year.
Video / 28 August 2018
The fifth session of our five part series on women's rights and climate finance, Experiences and Perspectives of Women Engaging in Climate Finance, shared the insights of three activists who have been serving as GCF Monitors as part of the "Women Demand 'Gender-Just' Climate Finance" initiative. They spoke about their processes of learning about climate finance and connecting with others to monitor climate finance in their communities and regions, discussed the value they have found in this work, and answered questions from webinar participants.
Video / 14 June 2018
The fourth webinar of a five part series on women's rights and climate finance: Strategies for Organizing to Influence, Monitor, and Track Climate Finance (from Global to Local), focused on strategies to engage with various actors to both facilitate and advocate for the meaningful inclusion of the perspectives and experiences of women's groups, affected communities, and other civil society stakeholders in the design and implementation of projects and programs.
Event / 8 June 2018
The International Institute of Social Studies, Both ENDS, IUCN National Committee of the Netherlands and Mama Cash invite you for presentations by Joan Carling, indigenous leader and women's rights activist from the Philippines and member of the permanent commission on indigenous peoples of the UN, and Jan van de Venis, Human Rights Lawyer at JustLaw, about the experiences of indigenous leaders in the Philippines, in a world of increasing oppression and human right violations against environmental activists.
Event / 14 April 2018
On the 14th of April, Both ENDS wil host a workshop called 'Small Grants, Big Impacts' on the annual Africa day in Amsterdam. The workshop aims to demonstrate that so called 'small grants funds' effectively deliver (devopment and climate) money where it matters, to people that need it the most. Large development banks, funds, donors and governments could use small grants funds as alternative financing mechanisms to make sure their money benefits people and their environment now and it the far future.
Blog / 22 March 2018
By Sander Hehanussa
"How many layers of clothing are you wearing? One? No, that's not enough. You should wear your ski pants over your jeans, and change your shoes for snowboots." And there you are, on day 1 of your trip to Mongolia. I had already heard that Mongolia is very cold at the end of November, and with -22 degrees that seemed to be all true.
Publication / 8 March 2018
Video / 1 February 2018
The second session of our five part series on women's rights and climate finance, Gender Mainstreaming in Climate Finance Mechanisms, provided an overview of how gender equality has been mainstreamed into global climate finance mechanisms, including a deep dive on gender considerations under the Green Climate Fund by Liane Schalatek of the Heinrich Boell Foundation - North America.
Video / 14 December 2017
This Introduction to Climate Finance is the first of a five part series on women's rights and climate finance, aiming to build knowledge and power to ensure finance flows are benefiting local women's groups, responding to community needs and respecting human rights. This session will outline the climate finance landscape, as well as the key challenges and opportunities we hope to explore in this webinar series.
News / 14 December 2018
During the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) of the UNFCCC taking place in Katowice, Both ENDS partner Raju Pandit Chettri – director of Prakriti Resources Centre in Nepal - was one of the selected Southern leaders to meet with the Dutch Minister of Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade, Sigrid Kaag. We asked Raju about his expectations, messages, Kaag's responses and his experiences of the meeting.