CSW: gender and unsustainable development

Women activists from Guatemala, Colombia, Kazakhstan and Fiji came to the CSW to share their experiences of agrofuels and mining in their countries, Valeria Costa-Kostritsky reports from the CSW

Valeria Costa-Kostritsky
7 March 2013

At an event organised by the Women’s Major Group and entitled “Violence – Ecology – Livelihoods, Feminists Confronting Unsustainable Development”, Norma Maldonado, from Guatemalan NGO Tierra Verde, said that the privatisation of water in response to the demands of the mining companies means that women now have to spend more time than ever fetching water.  The increased amount of time spent on domestic chores leaves less time to attend school, and less time to organise politically. When women do take action to resist the mining industry, they are often criminalized. On 13 June 2012, Yolanda Oqueli, one of the leaders of a movement of community members calling for a proper consultation on a mine near Guatemala City (Frente Norte del Area Metropolitana) was shot as she returned home from a peaceful protest. She survived, and is currently in hiding.

Activists from the Southern Hemisphere said that mining industries are extracting national resources to export them to the Northern Hemisphere, where they are used to sustain an unsustainable lifestyle.  Isis Alvarez, a biologist from the Global Forest Coalition in Colombia, said that large monocultures such as sugar cane and palm oil, respectively used to produce ethanol and bio-diesel, are a direct threat to food sovereignty. Lands that have been used for planting these monocultures are left so degraded that cannot be used to grow food crops anymore.  There are no specific studies on the impacts of agro-fuel cultures on women's health yet – a gap that needs to be filled – but Alvarez linked agro-fuels to an increase in miscarriages, malformations of newly-born and child mortality – basing her information on people's testimonies given at an Agro-fuels Forum which was held in Bogota in September 2011.

A Global Forest Coalition report on The true cost of agrofuels,quotes a report by the UN High Commission for Refugees , "over 200,000 people are displaced each year in Colombia with land expropriation in excess of 6 million hectares.  To gain access to lands, U.S. funded military personnel, working with Colombian paramilitary operators, are violently expelling people.” Entire communities have been displaced and threatened, with sexual violence sometimes used as a weapon, says Alvarez. When they do manage to return, the land claims of the indigenous people are not recognised. In Colombia too, women have started to organise. There too, it is dangerous. Sandra Viviana Cuellar, a 26-year old who was advocating for the equal participation of local communities in the environmental decisions that affects them, disappeared in February 2011 and has never been seen again.

Elina Doszhanova, of the Social EcoForum NGO in Kazakhstan, came to the CSW to speak of the dangers of uranium mining. Kazakhstan is the world's largest producer of uranium with a history of nuclear weapon-testing. 456 nuclear tests were conducted by the Soviet Union near the town of  Semipalatinsk in Eastern Kazakhstan, from 1949 to 1989, without regard for their effect on the local people or environment.  The broad anti-nuclear movement of Kazakhstan, "Nevada Semipalatinsk" eventually won the closure of the nuclear test site in 1991. “Nuclear power is anything but green,” said Doszhanova, “Uranium mining is done near villages where the poorest people live. Men and women dig radioactive material.” There is no solution to the disposal of radioactive waste produced by the uranium yellow cake used in nuclear power plants. Doszhanova said that the yellow cake is sent to nuclear plants elsewhere, but the people are stuck with the radiation from waste for centuries.

Noelene Nabulivou, from Papua New Guinea and a member of the Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), described the catastrophic consequences of land and ocean mining in the Pacific, and the transformative responses from women and civil society. “We cannot separate bodies from structures, sexual and reproductive rights from the political economy”, she said. Kiribati's prosperity depended heavily on phosphate mining until 1979. It accumulated a large reserve fund which now contributes to government revenue. Led by the SPC Human Development Programme, the first nationally representative study on violence against women and related child abuse in Kiribati showed that more than 2 in 3 ever-partnered women aged from 15 to 49 reported experiencing physical or sexual violence, or both, by an intimate partner.   Nabulivou maintained that exacerbated levels of violence against women in Papua New Guinea area result of the  confluence of gender, economic and ecological issues. “Men flush with mining money buy child brides,” she said, explaining that violence against women in the Pacific region is often disguised by distorted traditional practices of arranged marriage, child brides, polygamy and compensation. For Nabulivou, this violence is linked to a capitalist model which strips resources from inhabitants of the land. As she put it: “It's about a dysfunctional system which weighs heavily on bodies of women and girls.”

With an eye on the Post-2015 development agenda, these women are calling for the world's governments to incorporate civil society's visions and proposals for a sustainable development that is rooted in equity, ecological sustainability, and respect for universal human rights, including gender equality.  As they said, it's time to describe what world we want.



















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