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.
News / 23 March 2020
In many places in Latin America, access to clean water is under great pressure from overuse and pollution, often caused by large-scale agriculture or mining. This has significant impact, especially on women. In March, with International Women's Day on March 8 and World Water Day on March 22, they make themselves heard and claim their right to water.
Blog / 7 December 2020
Five years of GAGGA: “Once you understand what gender justice is about, your perspective will change for good”
Almost five years ago, the Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action (GAGGA) started its journey to bring together the often still quite separate worlds of environmental justice organisations and the women's rights movement. At Both ENDS, Annelieke Douma and Tamara Mohr have been coordinating the GAGGA programme. Together they look back at five years of learning, connecting and enjoying the fruits of this innovative programme.
Blog / 8 March 2019By Tamara Mohr
Together with five women from the Platform Suace Pyvyvõhára, I travel to Mingã Pora in the east of Paraguay. Around 45 families from the indigenous Tekohá Suace community settled here in 2016. In Guaraní, Tekohá means 'the place where we are what we are'. They reside in tents - self-made out of waste materials - on a small strip of land with a soy field on one side and a nature reserve owned by the Itaipu company on the other.
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.
News / 3 June 2020
Last Friday, 29 May, it was announced that both the Fair, Green and Global Alliance (FGG) and the Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action (GAGGA) have been selected as two of the 20 potential strategic partnerships of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the 2021-2025 period. Both ENDS is pleased that the Dutch government is seriously considering extending its support to these networks, as they show that cooperation on the basis of equality between grassroots organisations and NGOs throughout the world can continue to bring about change in the position of women, in respect for human rights and in making trade chains and financing systems sustainable.
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.
Publication / 26 November 2020
External link / 19 June 2020
When destructive projects are seen through the eyes of local women, it is clear that International financial Institutions (IFIs) are one piece of a large and complicated puzzle. Therefore, in 2019 we brought together experts in women's rights and IFIs to learn from each other.
News / 5 March 2020
In Indonesia, with its many islands and long coastline, for many communities fishing is an important livelihood strategy for many, both men and women. However, officially the women are often not counted as fisherfolk. And this is not a minor detail. It makes that their interests are being neglected. Both ENDS' partner Solidaritas Perempuan works with these women to amplify their voices.
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, 15:00 - 16:30
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.
External link / 19 June 2020
In 2019, Karambot Women's Agriculture Group (Nepal) convinced their municipality to fund its proposed irrigation plan, after they followed a planning and budgeting training.
External link / 29 May 2019
Mining often has a huge and devastating impact on the environment, including water, air and forests. It can profoundly affect nearby communities, not only by harming local ecosystems, but also by exacerbating or provoking societal tension. In many places across the globe, women are leading resistance to mining and the 'extractivist' model.
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.