During last year’s record killings of 207 environmental defenders, another group felt the impact of violence – women, the mothers, wives, and daughters who use natural resources the most.
Women are the main gender getting water, preparing food and caring for children on the lands being taken from them to build large crops and ranches for corporate farms. While the majority of those murdered last year were men, indigenous women bore the lasting impact of having their ancestral lands and preserves taken.
Women lose their homes and their livelihoods when the environment around them is destroyed. According to the World Food Programme, women often only yield 20-30 percent of a man’s crop, because they lack the fertilizer and other resources needed to improve it. They are the ones to pass down knowledge about growing local vegetables and herbal medicines to new generations but aren’t paid for it.
In addition, when land is taken, women are the first to suffer. Mothers will forgo eating in times of struggle to make sure the rest of the household is provided for. According to the World Food Programme, about half of all pregnant women in the developing world are anemic, which causes around 110,000 deaths during childbirth each year. When there is a loss of biodiversity in land, it hurts the whole family, but it starts with the woman.
According to Global Witness, a watchdog group, “Women defenders often have to fight a battle on two fronts: the public struggle to protect natural resources, and the hidden struggle to defend their right to speak out within their own organisations and families.”
Female environmentalists are not as respected as males. Female defenders of the environment rarely receive the same level of support as their male colleagues because their communities are often dominated by macho culture. Not only do they go unrecognized, but communities, organizations, and families sometimes even actively hide the violence women face in fighting for the environment.
Despite the risk of even greater physical and sexual violence than their male counterparts, women work at the forefront of the struggle against eminent domain laws and hostile takeovers of ancestral or protected lands by farming, logging and mining companies. They risk both reputation and life in order to secure the safety of their small communities in South America, Asia, and Africa.
“The power of women is a collective power that fosters community; that’s what strikes fear into the supporters of extractive policies. We organise not only in our territories but also in our own lives, in our beds, in our homes and communities,” Lolita Chávez, an environmentalist from Guatemala told Global Witness.
“We need to declare our territories free from violence, free from mining; we want to be able to celebrate the water, land and air as vital and brimming with life, not as commodities for sale.”