CIDSE is an international family of Catholic social justice organisations working together with others to promote justice, harness the power of global solidarity and create transformational change to end poverty and inequalities.
The labor and courage of women is central to their communities and rural economies, and by extension, to the global economy. However, they are underrepresented at all decision-making levels, especially when it comes to participation and co-determination in managing resources. In tribute to the exemplary commitment of women to themselves, their families and their communities, the Swiss Ecumenical Campaign 2019 focused this year on women's rights.
This ecumenical campaign is unique in the world as it connects the three Christian Swiss churches through their development organisations Brot für alle, Partner sein, and CIDSE’s Swiss member Fastenopfer. The 50th anniversary of the Ecumenical Campaign provided an opportunity to honour the commitments of these organisations to supporting women activists in the global South.
One of these women is Elizabeth Mpofu, the President of the Zimbabwe Smallholder Organic Farmers’ Forum (ZIMSOFF) and international coordinator of La Via Campesina (LVC), who is advocating for the rights of rural women in Zimbabwe. The contribution by Elizabeth Mpofu and other women are captured in the brochure produced especially for this year's campaign “Gemeinsam verändern wir die Welt! 50 Frauen die bereits damit begonnen haben“.
Women maintain the social network and in many places bear the brunt of the burden in smallholder agriculture and the informal sector. “Women make the essential contributions to the rural economy,” says Elizabeth, “cultivation of vegetables, animal husbandry, cooking, collecting firewood and water, going to the market, caring for family members and maintaining their homes. If possible, they also perform wage labor on top of that… Women are the backbone of the rural and national economy. That's why their work needs to be valued more.”
“Many of these contributions are not considered as ‘economic activities even though they are essential for the well-being of households and thus also for the overall economy of a country. Therefore, the needs of women must be recognized and considered.”
Elizabeth has experienced first hand that the valuation of women’s labor and the support of women’s needs can give them a foot up. “As a girl, I was not allowed to go to school. So I became a small-scale farmer and saw how important this type of agriculture that produces the majority of food worldwide is for women. It provides a livelihood and can also be the way out of poverty, but only if the right framework conditions are created. Health, education and social services in rural areas need to be strengthened and women must be appreciated for their role as food producers.”
In addition, she advocates for more women in leadership positions and is proud to say that there is a shift in the organisations she is involved in towards more women in leadership positions. “Women also need to be given more co-determination rights. This is what I fight for and every little success gives me the strength to keep going”.
In the global South as in the global North, women are courageous actors who stand up for their rights and those of their community, fight for an economy that serves life, and are committed to making urgent changes. This struggle is tied to the exploitation of natural resources, which often leads to human rights violations, land grabbing or soil and water pollution. Many partner organisations of Fastenopfer and Brot für alle experience firsthand the catastrophic effects of extractive industries. But whether in South Africa, the Congo or Laos, women are demanding their rights, joining forces and becoming stronger.
An encounter that brings the whole world together always represents an opportunity. But a gathering where men and women from all points of the compass come together to explain, share and raise awareness of their fight to defend our Common Home should be one that is accessible to everyone defending our planet’s environment.
(Original text in Spanish below)
At the World Social Form’s Thematic Forum on Mining and Extractivism in Johannesburg in late 2018, there were multiple opportunities for discussion in which people from all over, who dream of a world where there is a place for everyone, could voice their opinions.
Your first reaction on landing in a city with modern infrastructure and a history of mining is that mining does not solve the situation of those who have “fallen through the system’s net”, nor the structural poverty produced in areas where mining is promoted as the new saviour. Far from offering solutions, it deepens inequality in a world context where the richest 1% owns more than the rest of the world put together. It is also noticeable that, as Pope Francis remarked in Laudato Si’, those who suffer most from activities that harm the Home we share are the poor.
Some of the most telling statements came from Patagonia from the voices and struggles of thousands of women challenging roles and stereotypes imposed by the system and who dare to go to the barricades against “mining projects” whose progress represents a death sentence for their communities and land.
Women in the Wallmapu, whether they be indigenous or not, as elsewhere in the world, are to be found where people are uniting to stop the advance of mega-mining projects. Each has her own work and domestic responsibilities but is building up support networks that allow them, against all expectations, to continue bringing up children, looking after the home and at the same time turning themselves into defenders of the environment.
In Asia, Muslim women are coming together in their communities to challenge the strict roles imposed on them and creating income-generating opportunities that allow them to provide enough decent food for their children, contribute to domestic finances and, while it is not the main goal, develop a degree of independence.
African women in Uganda, Senegal or the Niger delta, added their voices to their sisters and spoke of the curse of illiteracy and of being deprived of opportunities just because they are women. They recounted that they are not always able to speak openly for fear of losing their children, though they shyly recognised that it was black women farmers who maintained households and the lives of their children and like other women across the globe took on their shoulders the defence of the fruits of creation.
Similarly, native American, Afro-American and white women descended from European immigrants, all the women who inhabit Abya Yala, from Alaska to Argentina, were discussing ecofeminism, achieving a huge degree of consensus over the concepts of “invisible”, “unpaid” work, the fact that women’s bodies get treated as conquered territory and are plundered by the system.
A feminist approach was clearly evident, one steeped in gender solidarity that went beyond mere borders, of love for life in the widest sense, devoid of sexism, racism and any type of discrimination. This is a post-colonial feminist approach from which clearly emerged essential pointers for confronting any challenge imposed on us by a system synonymous with individualism.
Those who hope to contribute to building a kinder world need to pay particular heed to the different threads, woven in by women from every point in the globe, standing up to patriarchy, though many are unaware of doing so.
Women from the farthest reaches and very often out of touch, use creative tools to survive in hostile environments without feeling in any way superior to other species. They are practicing genuine “Integral Ecology”, as put forward by Pope Francis in his encyclical.
Those of us in social movements, particularly feminist movements, must not delay in challenging where our approach and theories have been colonized as were our lands in the past. We must realise that the concepts on which we base our struggles can be applied universally and that we need to look more closely using the eyes, hands and experience of women who carry with them the wisdom of their ancestors regarding more balanced relations not just between generations, but as regards all creatures and elements that maintain the fragile equilibrium of what we call planet earth.
 Amandla Awethu! In Zulu, power to the people.  The area where Mapuche is spoken.  In the Kuna language (people of the current territory of Panama) "living earth" or "flourishing land" to designate what is known as America.
About Claudia Huircan: • Journalist - Broadcaster • Coordinator of the Justice, Peace and Creation team of the Claretian Missionaries of Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay • Member of the Red de Iglesias y Minería [Churches and mining network] steering group
ORIGINAL ARTICLE IN SPANISH
Amandla Awethu!: o el poder al pueblo de todos y todas
Un encuentro de culturas de todo el mundo siempre es una oportunidad, pero un espacio donde convergen mujeres y hombres de diversas latitudes del globo para exponer, compartir y sensibilizar sobre la lucha que llevan adelante en defensa de la Casa Común debería ser un espacio con acceso a todos los defensores ambientales del planeta.
En el marco del Foro Mundial Temático sobre Minería y Economía extractivista desarrollado en Johannesburgo a fines de 2018 se produjeron múltiples espacios de discusión al que cada territorio llevó las voces de quienes sueñan con un mundo donde quepamos todos.
La primera constatación que realicé al desembarcar en una ciudad de infraestructura moderna y de cultura minera histórica fue: la minería no resuelve la situación económica de muchos “caídos” del sistema y mucho menos la pobreza estructural tal cual promete en territorios, donde esta actividad extractiva se promociona como la nueva salvadora. Lejos de ofrecer soluciones, profundiza las inequidades en un contexto mundial donde el 1 % más rico, posee lo que el resto de la población en su conjunto. También se comprueba, tal cual lo remarca el Papa Francisco en Laudato Sì, los más perjudicados por las actividades que degradan la Casa que compartimos, son los pobres.
De los testimonios más enriquecedores volví a la Patagonia con las voces y las luchas de miles de mujeres que desafían los roles y estereotipos impuestos por el sistema y se atreven a enfrentar en la trinchera los “proyectos mineros” cuyo avance se constituye en una sentencia de muerte para las comunidades y los territorios.
En el wallmapu, del que formo parte las mujeres sean originarias o no, al igual que en todo el globo, son mayoría en los espacios que se fueron conformando para impedir el avance de proyectos megamineros. Cada una con sus propias responsabilidades familiares y laborales van tejiendo redes de solidaridad que les permiten contra todo pronóstico llevar adelante la crianza de los niños, el cuidado del hogar y a su vez, constituirse en defensoras del ambiente.
En Asia, las musulmanas se animan comunitariamente a desafiar los estrictos roles impuestos y generan espacios de economía solidaria de subsistencia entre las mujeres de la misma comunidad que les ayuda a garantizar alimentos en calidad y cantidad a sus hijos, realizar un aporte al sostenimiento del hogar y sin ser el objetivo fundamental les otorga cierta independencia.
Las africanas de Uganda, Senegal o Delta del Níger, comparten los clamores de sus hermanas y hablan del flagelo del analfabetismo, la falta de posibilidades por el solo hecho de ser mujeres, expresan que no pueden alzar la voz en algunos casos por miedo a perder sus hijos aunque, tímidamente reconocen que las mujeres campesinas negras son las que sostienen los hogares y las vidas de sus hijos y también como otras del resto del mundo ponen sobre sus espaldas la defensa de los Bienes de la Creación.
También las originarias, afroamericanas, las blancas que descienden de los venidos de Europa, todas ellas que habitan Abya Yala desde Alaska hasta Argentina, pusieron en discusión el Ecofeminismo, con grandes núcleos de consenso a nivel conceptual como el trabajo “invisibilizado” o “no remunerado”, los cuerpos de las mujeres como territorios de conquista que también son expoliados por el sistema.
Quedó expuesta una práctica feminista, impregnada de solidaridad de género que vence todos los límites territoriales, de amor por la vida de manera integral, despojada de sexismo, racismo y toda forma de discriminación. Una práctica feminista descolonizada en la que salen a relucir claves irrenunciables para enfrentar cualquier desafío que nos impone un sistema que es sinónimo de individualismo.
Las tramas diversas, tejidas por mujeres en cada espacio territorial, que enfrentan el patriarcado aunque muchas de ellas no lo saben, merecen especial atención por parte de quienes aspiramos a contribuir a la construcción de un mundo más amable.
Las mujeres de los territorios más alejados y en muchos casos incomunicados, aplican herramientas creativas para sobrevivir en un medio hostil sin experimentar ningún tipo de supremacía por sobre el resto de las especies, llevando a la práctica una verdadera “Ecología integral” como nos propone el Papa Francisco en su Encíclica.
Quienes formamos parte de movimientos sociales y en especial los movimientos feministas, debemos poner en discusión sin demora nuestras prácticas y nuestras teorías colonizadas como en su momento lo fueron nuestros territorios, asumir que los conceptos que mueven nuestras luchas no tienen una aplicación universal y que debemos mirarnos un poco más en los ojos, las manos y las experiencias de mujeres que traen consigo una sabiduría ancestral en materia de relaciones más equitativas no solo entre géneros sino con todas las criaturas y las cosas que sostienen el frágil equilibrio en lo que llamamos planeta tierra.
 En Zulú, el poder al pueblo.  Territorio en lengua Mapuche.  En lengua Kuna (pueblo del actual territorio de Panamá) “tierra viva” o “tierra que florece” para designar lo que se conoce como América.
Claudia Huircan: • Periodista- Locutora • Coordinadora del Equipo de JPIC (Justicia, Paz e Integridad de la Creación) Misioneros Claretianos de Argentina, Chile, Paraguay y Uruguay • Integrante del equipo impulsor de la Red de Iglesias y Minería
Early this month, January 2019, thousands of employees from Bangladesh factories making clothing apparels for global retail giants such as H&M, Walmart and many others went on strikes over low wages. The protest was marred with violence and repression by the police leading to reports of loss of lives and several others injured. Bangladesh’s USD$30 billion clothing industry is the world’s second largest apparel manufacturer, just behind China. The sector employs approximately 3.5 million workers and of these, 85 percent are women.
These protests come merely five years after the tragic Rana Plaza incident where the eight story building caved in ending lives of over 1,100 workers and injuring thousands. It was due to this horrific incident that the world’s attention was drawn to the inhumane conditions including low wages for sweatshop workers who are often young women and girls between the aged of 15 - 25 years.
Patriarchy intersects with the current dominant oppressive economic system to leverage and exploit women’s low status in society for profit, exacerbating existing structural inequalities. These inequalities are enabled and reinforced by the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises. Women are affected by corporate abuses in gender-specific ways. But corporations don't only violate and abuse human rights - they also increase their undue influence over policy decisions affecting our lives and communities.
From October 15 - 19, 2018, the Fourth Session to discuss the contents of a legally binding UN instrument to ensure the protection of human rights from the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises was held in Geneva. This was a watershed moment for the over 90 states and 400 observers, including representatives from social movements and civil society organisations, who took part in the week-long discussions.
As so clearly and forcefully recognized by the Deputy High Commissioner, Kate Gilmore, in her opening remarks at the meeting, “It is crucial that the treaty be rooted in the lived experiences of those who suffer most as a result of business activities.” It is essential, therefore, that the treaty takes into account the different, often disproportionate impacts of transnational corporations activities on women’s rights, and the additional historical and structural barriers to women’s access to justice and when seeking gender-responsive remedies.
The Feminists for a Binding Treaty is a collective of over 15 organisations working together to integrate a gender justice perspective into the legally binding instrument. Integrating a gender justice approach into the treaty means analyzing how businesses may have different, disproportionate, or unanticipated impacts on individuals, as a result of their different gender-based social and cultural roles and existing inequalities and discrimination in law and practice. This approach is essential to the very purpose of the treaty, which is to put the concerns of rights holders at the center and to effectively ensure the prevention, protection and remediation of business-related harms for all. Ultimately, women’s voices, rights, experiences, and visions must be visible and prioritized throughout the process and adopted treaty.
The Feminists for a Binding Treaty have focused on three key suggestions: (i) mandatory gender impact assessments of business activities, (ii) gender-sensitive justice and remedy mechanisms, and (iii) ensuring respect, protection and an enabling environment for women human rights defenders.
The inclusion of references to women in the zero draft of the Treaty is welcome and is a step in the right direction. Also encouraging was the fact that many states spoke in favor of including a gender perspective. But unfortunately, the treaty falls short of expectations and still treats gender as an afterthought and fails to address our key concerns.
We encourage States and stakeholders to continue to engage in substantive discussions that will bring us closer to the realisation of the binding instrument. The future legally binding instrument remains potentially a critical tool to advance gender and economic justice.
Together with allies, Feminists for a Binding Treaty remains strongly committed to advocate for a strong treaty that incorporates the perspectives, lived realities and visions of all women.
Felogene Anumo is Building Feminist Economies Coordinator at the Association of Women’s Rights in Development (AWID). AWID is a member of the Feminists for Binding Treaty Coalition. Prior to joining AWID, she worked for the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET). Twitter: @felogene
Layla Hughes is a lawyer who has worked on behalf of indigenous and conservation groups for the past 20 years on issues related to feminism, human rights, environmental protection, and corporate accountability.
This year we collected incredible testimonies from women who are fighting for their rights, their land and the future of their communities, while facing many obstacles. Here is a review of their calls and actions against oppression and injustice.
“I went to jail for defending Mother Earth. What a strange justice system.” Viviane Michel, President of Quebec Native Women narrated her struggle to stop the construction of a hydro-electric dam on a river in Northern Quebec (Canada) at the Women Resisting Extractivism gathering in Montreal in March 2018. The gathering was co-organised by CIDSE’s Canadian member organisation, Development and Peace-Caritas Canada and featured in the June edition of CIDSE’s Gender equality blog space.
Like Viviane Michel, the creative power of women, to build communities, grow food, lead campaigns and struggles against oppression and injustice was the red-line of CIDSE’s gender equality blogs in 2018.
As leading Peruvian Human Rights Lawyer Mirtha Vásquez pointed out: “Women act in solidarity with the environment and resources, as well as with the rest of society. Their struggle is not just against mining but also for alternatives to mining that demonstrate economic solidarity.” The blog on the centrality of feminism to agroecology by expert Emma Siliprandi also touched upon this issue. Siliprandi wrote: “Women in rural areas experience first-hand the violence exercised by big companies who ride rough-shod over the rights of traditional communities and steal their land, contaminate the water and appropriate natural resources and persecute and kill their leaders. They violate women’s dignity as a way of showing their domination. They equate their bodies to conquered territories.”
This mentality is endemic to the current system that originated in patriarchy, colonialism and racism, pointed out Boniface Mabanza, theologian, philosopher and literary scholar from DRC. Quoting German philosopher Ernst Bloch, Mabanza observed in his blog: “Humans think they have the right to relate to nature like an occupation army relates to enemy territory. In many parts of the world governments and mining companies act as if they had the God-given right to exploit the land at the expense of the local communities and women in particular. Next to cultural traditions that are very creative in inhibiting women’s land ownership, this constitutes the greatest threat to rural communities and women today.”
At the same time, there are countless examples of women’s organizations across the world standing up and acting to change this situation pointed out Emma Siliprandi in her blog on agroecology and feminism.
Yet, in both the Global North and South, women’s expertise is still underestimated and women’s organizations are consistently underfunded around the world, pointed out Elana Wright from CIDSE member Development and Peace, in her blog about Canada’s newly adopted Feminist Development Policy. While welcoming Canada’s ambition to lead international support for gender equality, Wright expressed grave concerns for the much greater increase in its military budget: a spending increase of almost four dollars on defense for every dollar on development. She asserted: “Canada needs to show that its approach to trade and to defense does not undo the good work done by Canada on development.”
Women’s struggles take different forms and most are on the frontlines of violence. Many are creative and direct, like “la Barbe Liège” a group of young women in Belgium, fashioned from a similar French organisation. The organisation uses direct and creative actions to challenge patriarchy and the glass ceiling imposed on women.
Some struggles aim to counter cultural stereotypes, such as the wearing of veils. In her blog, Zeinab Arteil from Lebanon talked about overcoming the stereotypical image of an oppressed woman wearing a veil. “At the very beginning, my veil was an obstacle for my progress. Today, I’d rather identify myself not as a veiled woman but as Zeinab, a facilitator, a cultural operator. I wear a veil that I move with across the countries, I work in arts theatre, music, dance, I meet with very different people, artists, activists, and I know everywhere I go I can make a difference; I know I bring diversity to the group I am part of and all that because of the investment I did in myself!”.
The feminist perspective, Siliprandi pointed out in her blog, lets us see women as protagonists and respects them as individuals and fights for their independence. In the same vein Nara Baré, coordinator of Coiab, Coordenação das Organizações Indígenas da Amazônia Brasileira [coordination of indigenous organizations of Brazilian Amazonia] wrote in her blog: “We are the guardians of the forest and we will do our utmost to defend it. And we will never stop being its indigenous inhabitants and women.”
A similar story was told in the blog about the South African “Greater Phola/Ogies Climate Camp.” The camp was organised under the banner of the Women Building Power Campaign, which is a grassroots women-led and women-driven campaign supported by WoMin. “We are building a movement from the grassroots, nobody knows our pain. Our harmony, our peace and our dignity have been disturbed. Before mining companies, we did not worry about buying water. We have been made poor by the elite, and we are staging this walk [and doing this campaign] to build awareness and show the strength of women who are challenging mining and this kind of dirty, unsafe and unsustainable development” testified one of the participants from Somkhele and Fuleni, northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa at the camp.
While women are at the forefront of these struggles, all agree that boys and men must be brought on board too. In post-conflict societies, for example, women take up many more responsibilities (agricultural work, economic activities, etc) that could lead to a sense of loss of personal value among men and in turn lead to tension in the family and the community, as well as domestic violence. In a blog showcasing their Lenten campaign in 2018, CIDSE member Entraide et Fraternite described how their partners in the Great Lakes region choose an inclusive gender approach. Men have to be part of the change for gender equality and they must be able to identify themselves in a positive way vis-a-vis women.
This was also the approach chosen for a new tool-kit to open up gender equality conversations in Catholic organisations that CIDSE member CAFOD published in March 2018. In the blog to mark the toolkit’s publication, author Tanja Haque wrote: “Some people I have come across think when talking of gender equality, that it only applies to women and that gender projects would only support women excluding men. Others are under the misconception that gender equality is a foreign Western concept that does not fit with some of the existing cultural traditions, or they fear that it seeks to confer women with power over men. How to respond to these misunderstandings? I explain that gender equality is not about any of these things. I respond by highlighting the following, that it is about creating conditions for love, compassion and justice for the poor, that it is about poor women and men. I stress the point that gender equality seeks to bring good news and equal opportunities for all and that the Church has a vital role to play in promoting such equal opportunities for all people and in preserving the dignity of women as well as men.”
CIDSE looks forward to showcasing more stories of courage, wisdom and determination to preserve the dignity of women as well as men in our Gender Equality blog space in 2019!
Colonialism with its hegemonic construct and the patriarchal and racist ideologies inherent to it did not accept alternative ways of living. Instead its faith in the superiority of Western ways of thinking justified the violent destruction of the original economic, social and ecological balance in all regions of the world it invaded. Colonialism propagated an alienation from nature and an ecocide which nowadays finds its continuation in extractivism.
As German philosopher Ernst Bloch put it, humans think they have the right to relate to nature like an occupation army relates to enemy territory. In many parts of the world governments and mining companies act as if they had the God-given right to exploit the land at the expense of the local communities and women in particular. Next to cultural traditions that are very creative in inhibiting women’s land ownership, this constitutes the greatest threat to rural communities and women today.
In Southern Africa many communities are being robbed of their land without receiving appropriate compensation. National governments most of the times condone this practice of land grabbing due to the pressure of transitional corporations that are being granted the right to extract minerals from the earth. Almost everywhere in that region it is understood that local communities cannot deny governments and corporations access to the land if it is needed for mining purposes. The governments let themselves be persuaded by memoranda of understanding by the companies which always promise to not only contribute to the wealth of the countries but also to directly improve the situation of the local communities. They promise the creation of jobs and to enhance infrastructures for education, health and transport. In reality nothing or only very little actually happens. Mining companies reap the profits and leave behind environmental degradation and social disintegration. Whatever governments collect in the form of license fees and taxes, if they get paid, often disappear into the private accounts of the externally oriented elite of the national governments. The wealth leaves the country while the social and ecological destruction remains on site.
The negative effects of mining particularly affect women as they are the ones who carry the responsibility for the survival of the family which is dependent on the access to land and water, two resources often polluted and destroyed by extractivism. In extractivist contexts, most of the time it is women who ensure the survival of socially disintegrated societies where many men are prone to alcoholism which in turn affects women negatively. They are faced with increased instances of domestic violence and have to dedicate more time to care work since the men working in the mines often get sick due to the unhealthy working conditions and alcoholism.
In light of these developments it is important to understand the scope of many local initiatives against extractivism. They are campaigning for realizing their “Right to say No”. In South Africa for example, there is the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA), a law that prescribes that mining companies must consult all concerned parties before starting their activities. Unfortunately South Africa is not an exception to the general picture in which both national governments and international companies reduce the required consultation processes to formalities in their belief that they have an unchallengeable right to access the land of local communities: landowners and users cannot refuse the access. Faced with this existential threat, the communities affected by mining are rediscovering the value of solidarity. They are joining forces to claim their space in the centre of decision-making processes concerning their communities. Doing so they are discovering the integrative strength of women, whose voices have been marginalized for too long. Claiming space at the centre of decision-making means that they design their own options for developing their communities and they don’t see a future in extractivism. Positive examples of communities that followed that path of development are very seldom.
Extractivism places a heavy burden on local communities and women in particular, and is also harmful to the environment. This combined assault on humanity and nature is not new, but indicates a continuation that dates back to the birth of the colonial project. From a historical perspective colonialism, understood as the commodification of the earth, its treasures, its flora and fauna and particularly its people for the economic benefit of the colonizing nations, went hand in hand with the domination over women and nature in the self-declared civilized nations. In the colonies people were alienated from nature and by the means of forced labor induced to develop a violent relationship to nature. This relationship is being continued in extractivism. Therefore, the imperative to overcome extractivism constitutes an integral element of decolonization of which the dismantling of patriarchy is a central part of. Extractivism and its violent relationship with nature and people in the surrounding areas of the mines, is a manifestation of skewed power relations, political structures and economic dominance that maintain colonial logic and praxis. The voices of local communities, in particular those of women, are not being heard as public discourses are dominated by externally oriented elites, which is again an element of colonialism. Consequently, we can only successfully overcome the crisis triggered by extractivism if the voices that have been marginalized up until now are given a space in the center of the process of change. The voices of women are central to that.
About the author: Dr. Boniface Mabanza Bambu is a theologian, philosopher and literary scholar from DRC. He works for KASA, Kirchliche Arbeitsstelle Südliches Afrika/ Ecumenical Service on Southern Africa in Heidelberg/Germany where the main focus of his work is apartheid and post-colonialism.
It’s not easy to roll back cultural norms we grew up with and which appear acceptable to the majority. Three years ago, though I was already an activist for various social and environmental causes, I had no interest in feminism. At the time, I viewed feminism as running through practically all the causes for which I was an activist but I didn’t see it as a cause in itself. My attitude changed in 2016 when I spent a year in Canada. Over there, I realised that the share of gender roles, while not yet quite equal, was much less segmented than in Europe. As a result of studying my new environment and a colleague who was heavily involved in feminism in Montreal, I became convinced that the feminist struggle had its own identity without necessarily being involved in other struggles.
This article was originally written in French- see below
Some months later, once I was back in Belgium, friends suggested I join a closed Facebook group made up exclusively of women from my region. The purpose of this group is to swap articles on and discuss feminism. Last April, a group member posted a link to a festival on transition to be held in our city, called "Tomorrow Now". Of the 9 main presentations on offer, 9 of the presenters were men. Seeing this event, many of us said we couldn’t just let this go – we had to react. How could anyone think of "building a sustainable, evolving, flourishing world ” in 2018 without including women among the experts? A call went out on Facebook to organize a meeting. A week later we got together to plan what we would do.
We wanted to make our point humorously and memorably, that’s why we decided to adopt the tactics of the French group “La Barbe” . [Untranslatable pun in French based on the masculine connotations of “beard” and its slang meaning of “enough of this”.] This exclusively female feminist group started in 2008 in France. Its aim was to show up the under-representation of women in positions of responsibility at all levels (in the economy as well as politics and culture) mainly through direct, non-violent action. We booked seats for the first presentation at the “Tomorrow Now” festival. At the beginning of the introduction, a dozen or so of us got up and went on stage wearing beards. One of the “beards” read out a humorous statement denouncing this 100% masculine event with heavy sarcasm. Using irony to complain about the absence of women in the selection of speakers was quite well received by the audience because they applauded when we had finished. “La Barbe Liège" was born.
As a result of overwhelmingly positive feedback from our first action, we were reluctant to stop mining such a rich seam. We all started looking into statistics about the extent to which women were represented at senior level at various levels in Belgian society (politics, teaching, research, the media, cinema, art, voluntary organizations etc) to have reliable data about the environment we are in. Though we were all alive to the situation, we were shocked when we saw the figures, they were much more alarming than we could ever have imagined.
At a large Belgian world music festival in August (Esperanzah), we brought these statistics to the attention of festival-goers and carried out our second big action. In the early evening, just before the headliner started, we got up on the main stages and highlighted the lack of women performers at this type of event. The festival’s music programme only contained 25% female performers, despite the theme of this year’s festival being “the decline of the male empire ”. The organizers had therefore already made a special effort to incorporate more female performers in the programme. So there is still some way to go to increase the number of women in the performance sector.
The membership of La Barbe Liège is made up of young women with varying views on feminist causes. However, like our French sisters, all our members are opposed to the patriarchal system and against the glass ceiling imposed on women. We are aware that some of society’s habits won’t change from one day to the next but, at our level, we want to get people talking and thinking about the role of women in society.
Some people are unsure about what we’re doing: - “Aren’t there other ways of raising awareness of this problem”? Well, in the same way that an engineer needs a variety of tools to build a machine that works, people need a variety of ways of taking action to reach the public and thus change their views about questions affecting women. All these forms of action employ a range of means to achieve our goal. Direct action, in the way La Barbe Liège uses it, is simply a tool, one means amongst many to try to construct a new, equal, non gender-based vision in the halls of power. Once the machine is working we’ll put our tools away – but till then, we’ll hold on to them.
About the author: Caroline Baudoin works in continuing education and is an activist in "La Barbe Liège", "Liège Sans Pub" and "les Alter’actif.ve.s (Entraide et Fraternité)" (Belgium).
« La Barbe Liège » : des actions directes non-violentes pour combattre le patriarcat dans les instances de pouvoir Déconstruire les codes culturels dans lesquels on a grandi et qui semblent admis par une majorité de personnes n’est pas une chose facile. Il y a 3 ans, bien qu’étant déjà militante pour de nombreuses causes sociales et environnementales, je ne m’intéresse pas aux questions de féminisme. A l’époque, je vois le féminisme comme une thématique transversale qui se retrouve un peu dans toutes les causes pour lesquelles je milite, cependant, je ne la vois pas comme une cause propre. En 2016, lors d’un séjour d’une année au Canada, mon regard change de perspective. Sur place, je me rends compte que la répartition des rôles de genre, bien que n’étant pas encore égalitaire, est beaucoup moins segmentée qu’en Europe. Suite à mes observations de mon nouvel environnement et à une collègue très engagée dans la cause féministe à Montréal, je commence à me dire que les luttes féministes peuvent avoir leurs propres identités sans être rattachées systématiquement à d’autres combats.
Quelques mois plus tard, en rentrant en Belgique, des amies me proposent de rejoindre un groupe facebook privé exclusivement composé de femmes habitant ma région. Ce groupe a pour vocation d’échanger des articles et de débattre sur la question du féminisme. En avril dernier, une membre du groupe poste un lien concernant un festival sur la transition, s’intitulant « Tomorrow Now », qui allait se dérouler dans notre ville : sur les 9 grandes conférences proposées, 9 conférenciers sont des hommes. En voyant cet événement, nous sommes plusieurs à nous dire que l’on ne doit vraiment pas laisser passer cela, que nous devons réagir. Comment est-il possible, qu’en 2018, on puisse imaginer « construire un monde durable, évolutif et épanouissant » sans intégrer des femmes dans la sélection des expert.e.s ? Un appel est lancé sur la page facebook pour organiser une réunion. Une semaine plus tard, nous nous réunissons pour planifier une action.
Nous voulons marquer les esprits d’une façon amusante et pertinente, c’est pourquoi, nous décidons de reprendre le « modus operandi » du collectif français « La Barbe ». Ce collectif féministe, non mixte, est né en 2008 en France, il vise à dénoncer la sous-représentation des femmes dans tout type d’instance de pouvoir (aussi bien économique, politique que culturelle) principalement par des actions directes non- violentes. Nous prenons donc des places pour assister à la première conférence du festival « Tomorrow Now ». Au début du discours d’introduction, nous sommes une petite dizaine à nous lever et à monter sur scène affublées de barbe. L’une des « barbues » prend la parole pour déclamer un discours humoristique dénonçant de façon sarcastique cet événement 100 % masculin. Cette façon ironique de dénoncer l’absence de femmes dans le choix des intervenants est assez bien reçue par le public car nous sommes applaudies à la fin de notre intervention : « la Barbe Liège » est née.
Suite à de nombreux retours positifs de notre première action, nous ne voulons pas nous arrêter en si bon chemin. Ensemble, nous effectuons des recherches de statistiques sur la représentativité des femmes dans les différentes instances de pouvoir de la société belge (politique, enseignement, recherche, médias, cinéma, arts, secteur associatif,...) afin d’avoir un aperçu concret de l’environnement dans lequel nous vivons. Bien que déjà toutes sensibilisées, nous sommes consternées de découvrir les chiffres, ils sont beaucoup plus alarmistes que ce que nous aurions pu imaginer.
Au mois d’août, lors d’un grand festival de musique du monde se déroulant en Belgique (Esperanzah), nous sensibilisons les festivaliers aux statistiques que nous avions trouvés et nous réalisons notre deuxième grande action. En début de soirée, juste avant le concert d’une tête d’affiche, nous montons sur l’une des scènes principales afin de dénoncer l’invisibilité des femmes artistes dans ce type d’événement. La programmation musicale du festival est composée uniquement de 25% d’artistes féminines, pourtant, cette année, le thème du festival était « Le déclin de l’empire du mâle » , les organisateurs avait donc déjà fait un effort particulier pour intégrer plus d’artistes féminines dans leur programmation. Il y a donc encore du chemin à faire pour arriver à augmenter la représentativité des femmes dans le secteur artistique!
« La Barbe Liège » est un jeune collectif, avec des personnes ayant des sensibilités différentes aux diverses causes féministes. Cependant, comme à l’instar de ses sœurs françaises, toutes les membres de notre collectif souhaitent lutter contre le système patriarcal en dénonçant le plafond de verre dont les femmes sont victimes. Nous sommes conscientes que certaines habitudes sociétales ne se changeront pas du jour au lendemain mais nous souhaitons, à notre niveau, susciter des débats et des réflexions sur la place des femmes dans l’espace public.
Certaines personnes se questionnent sur notre façon de procéder : « N’y a –t-il pas d’autres moyens pour toucher les gens sur cette problématique ? ». Comme une mécanicien.ne a besoin de ses divers outils pour assembler une machine afin qu’elle soit fonctionnelle, les citoyen.ne.s ont besoin d’une panoplie de moyens d’action pour toucher les gens et ainsi faire évoluer les réflexions sur les questions féministes. Tous ces moyens d’action exploitent diverses perspectives pour arriver à une fin. L’action directe, comme « La Barbe Liège » la pratique, n’est qu’un outil, un moyen, parmi tant d’autres pour essayer de construire une nouvelle vision, égalitaire, non genrée, des lieux de pouvoir. Lorsque la machine sera opérationnelle, nous lâcherons les outils...mais pour l’instant nous les gardons bien en main.
In every part of the world, women working on the land, in fisheries and picking crops have always been part of food production, rearing animals, processing crops in local markets and in protecting water sources and forests. In addition to those in front-line production, women in Non-Governmental Organizations, agricultural advisory services, teaching and public service are focusing on today’s problems and looking for alternatives to meet the challenges of making a decent living fairly and sustainably in rural areas and on our planet.
However, women’s involvement in politics is not always recognized or encouraged. Due to the macho, patriarchal structure of the society we live in, women are restricted to very specific areas, usually related to their roles as mothers and carers. Despite their experience, capabilities and determination in trying to change farming practices, for example, women face a series of obstacles to being heard and taking part in social movements.
Very often, they cannot represent their groups in shared-learning meetings, on courses or seminars because they have no one to look after the children at home. But if men have to go away, women are called on to replace them. In other cases, the difficulties are emotional – their husbands or partners face criticism in the community if their wives have freedom and independence - reinforcing the idea that they should be submissive to men for the sake of family harmony. Domestic violence is another obstacle for women in rural areas – very often their financial and social rights go unrecognized and thus, being the poorest of the poor, they are vulnerable in their personal relations, having to accept conditions imposed by their husbands out of fear of being unable to guarantee their own and their children’s survival.
Women in rural areas experience first-hand the violence exercised by big companies who ride rough-shod over the rights of traditional communities and steal their land, contaminate the water and appropriate natural resources and persecute and kill their leaders. They violate women’s dignity as a way of showing their domination. They equate their bodies to conquered territories.
There are countless examples of women’s organizations across the world standing up and acting to change this situation. In Latin America we have the example of the Mothers of Ituzaingó, fighting against poisons in Argentina. The Lenca women of Honduras opposing multinationals privatizing rivers and building dams; one of them, Berta Cáceres, was murdered in 2016. Women are fighting against green deserts (eucalyptus and conifer plantations) and against the setting up of paper mills in the southern cone (Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Bolivia). Paraguayan women farmers are fighting against genetically modified soya and defending their own seed. Mujeres por la Vida [Women for Life] in Yasuní, Ecuador, are indigenous women from different ethnic groups fighting together against the destruction of the jungle by oil companies. People of African descent are fighting against the loss of their land and the marginalization of their communities, like the quilombolas in Brazil. The women of the Palenques in Colombia, Panama and Venezuela, the Garífunas in Belize, the indigenous women in Putomayo, Colombia, and in many other parts of the continent are fighting against infrastructure projects (the Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America, IIRSA) that are trying to ignore sacred lands to open the way for mining companies to invade. Rural women from various countries, such as Colombia, Guatemala and many others, are suffering the consequences of war. Women are banding together in Brazil, Mexico and the whole of Central America, to denounce sexual violence
Many of these organizations support agroecology as a model for production and life that can help humanity reconnect more harmoniously with nature. They believe that this model is based in rural, grass-roots feminism that lets everyone, man or woman, young or old – from the countryside, town, forest or by the water – to live in dignity, with work, health, justice and peace.
Agroecology is defined as a combination of science, agricultural practice and social movements that is aimed at radically redirecting agri-food systems towards fairer socio-economic systems that are also sustainable environmentally. This often involves rediscovering and validating farming (and social organizational) practices that people had been using for hundreds of years but which were dropped because of the requirement for intensive production imposed by an economic system focused on the market and based on the endless drive for profit.
One of the elements of feminism in agroecology is to show that women are protagonists in experiments in organic production and that their contribution needs to be recognized. But it is not just their work but also their knowledge, experience, ideas and proposals for change need recognition. Their rights have to be respected – as regards land, income, technical support, information and marketing their produce; as well as their right to a decent life with health care, education, peace and the chance to dream of a better future.
The feminist perspective lets us see women as protagonists and respects them as individuals and fights for their independence. On the other hand, it shows us the importance, including the financial importance, to society as a whole of activities carried out by women. For example, there would be no production were it not for work in the home. What women farmers produce from their fields and areas around the home and in orchards and maintaining small livestock does not just support families’ subsistence but also contributes to local markets, neighbourly relations, the maintenance of food culture and biodiversity. It is not “large-scale production” feeding all of humanity but family farming produce, of which women are an integral part.
About the author:
Emma Siliprandi is an academic and Advisor to the Grupo de Mujeres de la Articulación Nacional de Agroecología – Brazil.
Strong and graceful women whom we should admire, did not get that way because things worked out. They got that way, because things went wrong, and they handled it. They handled it in a thousand different ways, on a thousand different days, but they handled it. Those women are superheroes!
Why am I saying that? Because some people’s attitude sometimes is so wrong; it digs so deep and could be harmful. But this turns to give strength and shape you, and this is what happened to me!
As a young adult I became deeply curious and would not settle for routine and monotony, I was always dreaming to succeed and to break stereotypes of women who don’t obtain enough representation.
I am Zeinab Arteil, a Lebanese educated woman, but guess what?! I wear a veil! I started wearing this veil at the age of 9.
As I grew up, limitations were growing with me, burdening my ambitions and dreams, until I turned out to be the stereotype of the Muslim woman, considered inferior to others because of her veil!
I used to hide from the looks of people I crossed! I used to care a lot about how others see me, wondering if they would accept me.
What impression would I leave to them? Would they see me as an educated woman or would they only see the veil I am wearing and draw their own image about the girl behind?
At the very beginning, my veil was an obstacle for my progress.
When I started working, it was so hard to convince employers that a covered woman could be as efficient as the uncovered. It wasn’t easy at all to persuade people that a veil is solely a piece of fabric that covers the hair but not the brain. At some points, all this pushed me to step back and dismiss; but in my mind I was always saying that it’s a mistake to think that my intellect, brainpower and whole nervous system couldn’t work properly only because my hair isn’t shown!
It took me a whole journey to get me closer to my ultimate goal because building self-esteem can be so difficult although rewarding!
There were times I would quit to let myself be that traditional oriental woman that follows her husband and obeys the rules society imposes on her; I struggled to prove myself as an active member of the society and to leave a trace making my veil a part of my identity.
Today, I’d rather identify myself not as a veiled woman but as Zeinab, a facilitator, a cultural operator. I wear a veil that I move with across the countries, I work in arts theatre, music, dance, I meet with very different people, artists, activists, and I know everywhere I go I can make a difference; I know I bring diversity to the group I am part of and all that because of the investment I did in myself!
How? I let people discover the unknown part of the story! I make them realize and witness what an educated woman could do, no matter how does she look, and that prejudice is a lost opportunity to enrich your knowledge and surrounding.
Doing some investment in my own self was an achievement not so easy to reach! Family restrictions, society obstacles, marriage burden, divorce... were delaying my arrival.
Today, I can say I succeeded in distinguishing myself with the way I look and dress; although it is a religious trait yet it stays very personal and never affects my personal relations nor social connections or my professional abilities.
I have to admit that I only succeeded when I decided to break these stereotypes as a wife, as a mom and as a veiled woman.
Crossing my career path, what I’ve learned is this: Your career doesn’t come from outside you! Society, religion, environment vanish in front of your own will. I had to sacrifice a lot and to risk a lot! I am always the wife and mom at home; this would never change but I changed the surrounding environment; In my life there were many turning points that I never expected, and behind every successful woman, there is a tribe of other successful women holding her back! Every single woman who supported my success helped me make that change!
In this occasion I would ask all women to support each other because only by supporting each other we can be stronger and make a change.
Today I can proudly say that I am a role model to many young girls in my country and my society; I work toward becoming a better leader and we are all leaders! Those who aren’t always find excuses ...
Today I can say that my father who in the past was always refusing that his daughter travels or works abroad alone is proud of who I became now! My husband who used to be manipulated by the surrounding and conservative environment turned to be a big support.
Today I believe that each of us can make a different impact and every twist is unique! We should start thinking that empowering girls by letting them realize their rights is not a burden on their families anymore.
Look at Malala, she was empowered by her own thinking and she chose to use her voice and she succeeded to obtain her very basic right: education!
This is how we empower not only women, but generations, and I mean men and women of all future generations!
Today, the best result of what I became is my son. I can see my success in his way of thinking in his approaches in his dreams and am sure that I am raising a man who will be supporting women empowerment and gender equality to build successful societies.
Women make up more than half the world population and potential, my aim and our duty today is to mobilize girls and women to see their values as leaders and to support them in these efforts through education art and culture. To hear their voices no matter how different they are; to invest in their skills and qualifications; to stand up for what is right!
I had a big chance for change but there are many other women waiting to be empowered to change the world so let’s make their voices heard!
At that moment, societies will realize the magnitude of our actions and will reshape the notion of what is possible!
My conclusion for this story is that there is nothing wrong with hoping, praying and asking the universe to give you the life you truly love.
But as you pray... move your feet! Prayer without action won’t move you forward. Only YOU have the power to decide your next step!
Leverage what you have to change your environment!
The town of Ogies is nestled in the heart of Mpumalanga Province, South Africa’s coal capital. The drive from Johannesburg passed coal-fired power plants and mines takes an hour and a half with the faint twinge of smoke up your nostrils. Driving into Ogies, gusts of murky air hit you head-on. You are now engulfed by the dust from the 15 coal mines surrounding the town. You also spot the menacing construction site of the mega coal-fired power plant Kusile belonging to the national energy utility Eskom. If (or when) completed, it will transmit 4800 MW of power, making it one of the top five biggest plants in the world and the biggest in South Africa apart from its counterpart Medupi. With that instant of climate-induced depression, comes clarity on why Ogies was chosen to host the first ever energy and climate justice camp for women; it’s a perfect setting to ground the lived reality of women in dirty modern South Africa.
The Greater Phola/Ogies Climate Camp comes under the banner of the Women Building Power Campaign, which is a grassroots women-led and women-driven campaign supported by WoMin. At the core of the campaign are a set of principles agreed upon at the December 2015 Niger Delta meeting. These principles include a commitment to grassroots women’s organising and movement building grounded in solidarity and popular education. These principles drive the building of an African ecofeminist women’s movement for democratised renewable energy and climate justice.
“We are building a movement from the grassroots, nobody knows our pain. Our harmony, our peace and our dignity have been disturbed. Before mining companies, we did not worry about buying water. We have been made poor by the elite, and we are staging this walk [and doing this campaign] to build awareness and show the strength of women who are challenging mining and this kind of dirty, unsafe and unsustainable development.” Women of Somkhele and Fuleni, northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
“...a climate refugee camp”
For the 80 women who bussed and taxied in for the event from various coal bearing parts of the country, including some of the old and new coal hotspots, the scene felt all too familiar. Basically, same mess, different town. The camp was held from 11-15 June, which signals the beginning of the deep winter chill that hits Mpumalanga particularly hard, and makes outdoor camping not viable. Instead, the Greater Phola/Ogies Women’s Forum who have been tirelessly working to build the resistance against coal expansion in the area, and who hosted the camp with the support of WoMin’s Women Building Power Campaign, negotiated for months for a church to be rented out to accommodate everyone and host the event. There were thin mattresses provided, blankets from homes decked out across the wooden floor of the church at night, and limited access to water from the municipality (water had to be tanked in) for bathing, drinking, and flushing the toilets during the day. The grim joke of the event was that this, more than just any ‘learning and organising’ camp, was in fact much like a climate refugee camp.
The sisters woke up each day in shifts from 4 a.m., to first fill up buckets of water, then light a fire to heat the water, and then carefully decide which parts of their bodies most needed cleaning given the very limited amount of water available to each of them. By 9 a.m. they had already cleared out the church, laid out the chairs by the space heaters (with only two or three in the chilled air of the cavernous space), had queued up in order and eaten a simple breakfast, and finally taken a seat ready for the day’s programme. The women seemed to endure the hardships of the climate refugee camp – unknown to the urban middle and upper classes in South Africa – with remarkable grace. Actually, it became obvious that the conditions were not abnormal for them, echoing their daily lives in the townships and farms across South Africa. One of the campers from Phola (the township in Ogies) sighed that access to water was a daily battle:
“We also lack water. The reason why we lack water is that we have so many mines. They are not putting back to the community because the mines are using our water and they are using a lot more water than the community. Maybe in the morning, as early as 4 a.m. we have some water. But by 6 a.m. the water is finished. Sometimes the whole week happens that we don’t have water. It’s difficult because even the municipality doesn’t help to bring the water tanks. Even if the ward councilors who work with the community are calling the municipality to bring the trucks for us, they don’t come. They just don’t care.”
The others could all too easily relate. From the access to basic services such as water and energy, to the encroachment of mines and plants on their lands or displacements arising from these, and to the degradation of their environment and the pollution filling their bodies, life is a struggle. And struggle is life. The sharing of experiences through stories of resistance against destructive projects was a pivotal part of the camp, revealing not just how women are impacted but also how to build together a movement to resist and transform their communities. A sister from the emerging new coal capital of Lephalale, to the north of the country, passionately explained that:
“This camp made it possible for us women to be open and not be silent. We have to talk to each other. Whatever is hurting inside, share it with someone else. I found something here being with other women like this. We have to solve it together.”
The programme also packed in talks on national energy and climate politics as a way for the sisters to locate their struggles, and to navigate through the technical language of the ‘experts’ so that they could give voice to their issues in government and corporate-led spaces. The government is currently developing a national climate change bill and electricity plan and is pursuing engagement on the mining charter. But these policies and pieces of legislation are being hotly contested by civil society groups for the lack of consultation with, and information on, those people, particularly women, who are affected by climate change, mining and lack of electricity.
One woman poignantly spoke about the current situation with access to energy:
“Finding energy is like trying to find gold. We walk long distances to collect fire wood; in our areas there is no forest anymore. Where we used to collect wood the places are now being shut down by mining. We have to buy wood, paraffin including coal to make fire which is not sustainable but just to satisfy our basic needs which is for lighting and cooking.”
A space for comfort, healing and solidarity
For many women there is no escape from energy poverty. Even though South Africa possesses large electrification rates, there are still many households that are not connected to the gird. On top of that, millions are connected to the grid but can’t afford electricity, which is the leading factor for women to use cheaper dirty fuel.
To add to these woes, women have to face a double burden of violence in trying to access resources for themselves and their families. South Africa is one of the most violent countries in the world, and violence against women is particularly alarming. This violence manifests itself in many ways, from the military and security apparatus of the corporations that are developing these projects, to the everyday violence and abuse as they go in search of wood and coal to meet domestic energy needs. The stories were painful to hear, but it was essential for women to have a space to cry, comfort each other, and start to heal.
As the last day approached and the feelings brought up by stories of violence and abuse simmered down, women started to look to the future. There was a spirited training on wonderbags – an energy-efficient way to cook – and a show-and-tell of clean renewable energy that can work at the local level off-grid. Driving away it was clear the camp was the start of a process to turn momentum into a tidal wave of a national movement that can push the leaders to act against climate change, energy inequality, and the violence perpetrated against women. The camp transformed the campaign, building an open, safe space for women to organise and build power against oppression that is destroying life, humanity, and ecology.
By the National Steering Committee of the South Africa Women Building Power Campaign; and Caroline Ntaopane & Trusha Reddy of WoMin
It’s a mistake to think that indigenous societies are monolithic, unchangeable. We assimilate behaviours like other cultures. We were doing this long before Europeans arrived. Adopting new customs does not mean turning our back on tradition.
Portuguese version below
The Portuguese don’t come to Brazil in caravelles or wearing clothes unsuited to the tropics as in the 16th century. But Christmas is still celebrated on the 25th of December, as then, as is eating farofa made from our manioc. Colonizers were also influenced by the colonized. We use cotton clothes and mobile phones but we still venerate our myths and ancestors and we live in permanent contact with nature. Our traditions are instruments, the tools or objects that define us as indigenous peoples.
Like most societies in the world, most indigenous nations are patriarchal. While at one time this arrangement was necessary, it is because it was part of various indigenous cultures. I’m Baré, but I know a Munduruku myth that spoke of a time when women were the leaders. Things don’t necessarily have to be like that. The most important thing is that individuals respect each other, that we recognize their qualities irrespective of gender or ethnicity. The world is interconnected and we know we’re going through a period of drastic change. We, the women of the world, we cannot allow ourselves the luxury of being mere spectators at such a critical time. Nor is today’s woman the same as 500 years ago. She knows she shares a new role in the world. And she’s not doing this just for show but because she knows it’s vital. The movement of native women is linked to the worldwide feminist movement. The choices we make will determine our future. We cannot turn our backs on experience and intuition. The Earth is our mother.
I’m the first woman to head COIAB (Coordenação das Organizações Indígenas da Amazônia Brasileira [coordination of indigenous organizations of Brazilian Amazonia]). Who would have imagined that a few years ago? Moreover who would have believed COIAB could have existed? This was made possible because we discovered that, though many differences separated us (“Indians are all the same” is another recurrent misunderstanding), within our diversity, the struggles of all the Amazonian peoples are similar. Our opponents use the same tactics and their purpose is the same – evicting us from our lands to exploit them irresponsibly.
Modern technology is used against us, so why not use it for us? The peoples of Amazonia live in a territory bigger than most countries; many of us only met each other recently. Using technology, we can exchange experiences more frequently. It will facilitate us organizing four events this month at Amapá Federal University, in Macapá – The 2nd Encontro das Mulheres Indígenas Amazônicas [meeting of Amazonian indigenous women]; The 4th Cumbre Amazônica — Amazônia Viva, Humanidade Segura [Amazonian summit – a living Amazonia, a secure humanity]; The AGM of COICA (Coordenação das Organizações Indígenas da Bacia Amazônica [coordination of indigenous organizations of the Amazon Basin]); and the 1st Chamado dos Povos Indígenas do Amapá e Norte do Pará [assembly of indigenous peoples of Amapá and North Pará ].
We are the guardians of the forest and we will do our utmost to defend it. And we will never stop being its indigenous inhabitants and women.
Mulheres indígenas: guardiãs da floresta conectadas ao mundo
É errado pensar que as sociedades indígenas são imutáveis, monolíticas. Assimilamos hábitos como qualquer cultura. Já fazíamos isso muito antes do europeu chegar aqui. Adotar novos costumes não significa abrir mão de tradições. O português não vem mais ao Brasil de caravela, nem usando roupas inadequadas aos trópicos, como no século XVI. Mas continua festejando o Natal no dia 25 de dezembro, como naquela época – até mesmo comendo farofa feita com a nossa mandioca. Colonizadores também foram influenciados por colonizados. Usamos roupas de algodão e celulares, mas ainda cultuamos nossos mitos e ancestrais, e vivemos em constante conexão com a natureza. Nossas tradições, são instrumentos, ferramentas ou objetos que nos definem como indígenas.
Como a maioria das sociedades do mundo, boa parte das nações indígenas são patriarcais. Se em algum momento esse arranjo se fez necessário, é porque isso faz parte das diversas culturas indígenas. Sou Baré, mas conheço um mito Munduruku que falava de um tempo em que as mulheres mandavam. Não precisa ser, necessariamente, assim: mais importante é que se mantenha o respeito entre os indivíduos. Que se reconheçam suas qualidades, independentemente de gênero ou etnia. O mundo está conectado e sabemos que está passando por um momento de violentas transformações. Nós, mulheres do mundo todo, não podemos nos dar ao luxo de sermos meras espectadoras numa hora tão decisiva.
A mulher de hoje também não é a mesma de 500 anos atrás. Ela sabe que lhe cabe um novo papel no mundo. E não faz isso somente por afirmação, mas por saber que é necessário. O movimento de mulheres indígenas está ligado ao movimento feminista mundial. Nossas escolhas vão determinar o nosso futuro. Não podemos abrir mão de nossas experiência e intuição. A Terra é mãe.
Sou a primeira mulher a assumir a liderança da Coordenação das Organizações Indígenas da Amazônia Brasileira (Coiab). Quem pensaria nisso há alguns anos? Aliás, quem pensaria na própria existência da Coiab? Isso foi possível porque descobrimos que, embora tenhamos muitas diferenças (outro equívoco recorrente: índio é tudo igual), as lutas de todos os povos originários da Amazônia são semelhantes, dentro da nossa diversidade. Nossos adversários usam a mesma tática e seu objetivo é o mesmo: expulsar-nos de nossas terras para explorá-las sem responsabilidade.
As novas tecnologias são usadas contra nós, por que não a usar em nosso favor? Os povos da Amazônia vivem numa extensão de terra maior do que a maioria dos países, muitos de nós só fomos nos conhecer há pouco tempo. Graças a elas, podemos trocar experiências com mais frequência. Elas vão permitir realizar quatro eventos este mês na Universidade Federal do Amapá, em Macapá: o II Encontro das Mulheres Indígenas Amazônicas; a IV Cumbre Amazônica — Amazônia Viva, Humanidade Segura; o Congresso Geral da Coordenação das Organizações Indígenas da Bacia Amazônica (Coica); e o I Chamado dos
Povos Indígenas do Amapá e Norte do Pará. Somos guardiãs da floresta e vamos fazer de tudo para defendê-la. E nunca deixaremos de ser indígenas e mulheres.