News / 7 August 2018

Indigenous women fight dams in Guatemala

Communities from Northern Guatemala have filed a complaint this week against the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). They bear the brunt of the construction of two large hydropower dams in the Ixquisis region, that are co-financed by the IDB. This is against the bank's own policies on environment and sustainability, indigenous people, gender, and information disclosure.

It's the women in the communities that are most negatively effected by the construction of the Pojom II and San Andrés dams. The dams cause water scarcity and pollution in the fertile region. Fish die and harvests are reduced. Stomach and skin diseases become more common, especially amongst women, who stand in the polluted water when washing clothes, and children who play in the rivers. This puts even more pressure on the women in the indigenous communities, as they are the ones feeding their families and taking care of ill community members.

The women also feel no longer safe within their own communities. They are afraid to walk alone in the dark, as they are being harassed by the dams' construction workers, and fear revenge. Because the women are at the frontline of the protests against the dams.

Both ENDS partner files complaint

The women's fight against the dams is being supported by Both ENDS-partner AIDA, an environmental lawyers organisation. AIDA has mapped and published the consequenses of the dams for the women and shows how their rights are being violated, at the same time neglecting the bank's own gender policy. AIDA also reminds the Guatemalan government of their duty to protect the environment and the indigenous communities.

Now AIDA represents the communities in a complaint before the independent accountability mechanism of the IDB, together with two other organisations. They call on the bank to withdraw their funding of almost 15 million USD for the dams, as these projects don't meet its own social and environmental policies.

The complaint is quite unique. Firstly, because it contains a gender perspective, looking specifically at how women suffer most from the megaprojects like hydrodams. And second, because IDB is being held accountable for violating their own gender policy. This is often ignored in complaints to development banks, that usually only focus on environmental and social impact on community level.

GAGGA: connecting the women's rights and environmental movements

This focus on gender aspects in the complaint to the IDB is a result of AIDA's participation in the GAGGA-programme (Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action). GAGGA aims to rally the collective power of the environmental organisations and women's rights movement, which often work separately. Because just like in Ixquisis, the women who bear the burden of large-scale dams consequently also take the lead in the defense of the environment and their territories.

Being part of the GAGGA family has shown environmental organisation AIDA how environmental damage impacts women and men differently.


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