‘Women beyond war': Rising up for environmental justice and an end to violence

• June 4, 2013
women beyond war

Aura Lolita Chavez Ixcaquic defends indigenous rights against extractive industries in Guatemala. Source: Nobel Women’s Initiative, 2013

If the flow of money is any indication of the world’s values, then the perpetuation of both fossil fuels and militarism are among society’s top priorities. The International Monetary Fund recently reported that world governments spend $2 trillion annually subsidizing fossil fuels, almost 9% of all annual national budgets. In the past two decades, the world has also seen a steady rise in global military spending, largely driven by enormous defense spending in developed nations. These two budget priorities divert funding away from social services such as healthcare and education.

These trends are alarming, but the activist movements working for both peace and sustainability are growing and gaining momentum, with women at the forefront.

The Nobel Women’s Initiative brought leaders and peace activists from around the world together in Belfast, Ireland from May 28th to May 30th for their fourth biennial conference, “Moving Beyond Militarism & War: Women-driven solutions for a nonviolent world.

The conference hosted a panel entitled “Demanding Accountability & Regaining Our Moral Compass,” featuring peace and climate activists who are critically examining and making explicit the often unseen connections between the violence of war and violence against nature.

Moderated by human rights advocate and former U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, the panel featured Farhana Yamin, international climate change and development policy expert; Crystal Lameman of the Beaver Lake Cree, leading activist against Canada’s oil sands and for the rights of First Nations; Aura Lolita Chavez Ixcaquic, a Maya K’iche educator and human rights defender from Guatemala; and Hania Moheeb, Egyptian journalist and advocate against sexual violence.

Philosophies connecting environmentalism and feminism often point to a common thread in the oppression of both women and nature. Both are subordinated to the will of men and the nation-states they lead. Such domination occurs via objectification: women and nature are reduced to mere tools with which to gain profit and power, without inherent value that could lead to their protection or granting of rights.

The same machinery of power that leads to violence against women also propels destruction of the earth’s resources. Making the connections between these types of violence is essential to rooting it out from its source.

women beyond war

Farhana Yamin, Source: Nobel Women’s Initiative, 2013

It goes even further, however, as Yamin explained to the audience: the impacts of war and climate change are gendered. In times of instability, caused by both war and climate change-fueled natural disasters, women are most vulnerable. They are frequently denied the rights, freedom, and economic assets that would enable them to act independently, putting them at a disadvantage during crises.

Yamin also noted that the accelerating consequences of climate change are likely to drive increased civil instability and conflict. Climate change will intensify natural disasters, water scarcity, agricultural declines, and the spread of diseases, creating conditions ripe for conflict as resources become scarce and climate refugees are displaced.

These issues are intertwined – both in cause and in effect – and women bear a great deal of hardship as a result.

As seen at the Conference, however, this is no reason for them to shy away from the fight.

Chavez is a leader of the Council of K’iche’ Peoples in Defense of Life, Mother Nature, Earth and Territory (CPK). With CPK, she has spearheaded years of indigenous resistance to unjust and illegitimate resource extraction in Guatemala. In 2012, she helped to organize the participation of over 27,000 indigenous people in the commission for the “good faith consultation” required by law on development projects, which resulted in their collective and overwhelming opposition to such projects.

She relies on the teachings of her ancestors for guidance, yet she is also aware that the traditional roles and rights for women need to be changed, as she believes women’s leadership in CPK is vital.

In fighting international mining companies in her community, Chavez has experienced threats, intimidation, and violence simply for defending her land – violence that is only further legitimized by her gender.

Transnational companies for us represent death and destruction… government and mining companies don’t want me here. I thank Mother Earth for having me here another day.

In response to their violence, she and her community act “with love, with democratic participation” to build a “collective life.”

When speaking on the motivations for her activism against oil sands extraction in First Nations’ territories, Lameman describes her love of and obligation to generations both past and future.

As women, we are keepers of water. The lakes I used to drink from, I would never let my children drink from now.

Her moral commitments have kept her dedicated to a long legal battle against the Canadian government for allowing the exploitation of First Nation lands by fossil fuel companies. Her nation, the Beaver Lake Cree, can no longer sustain their livelihoods because of the toxic pollution on the land. They have documented over 17,000 treaty violations by the government.

women beyond war

Crystal Lameman, Source: Nobel Women’s Initiative, 2013

 She takes significant risks by speaking up – many others in her community are scared. Now that the oil and gas industry has moved into their lands, many are dependent on it for their jobs.

The activists on the panel ended on a somber note. As women leaders and activists, they have experienced especially intense scrutiny and discrimination for standing up. For several members of the panel, the discrimination against them includes media attacks, lawsuits, and physical assault.

Moheeb replied:

Attacks on women are intended to stigmatize the whole women family. When we speak out, we challenge that.


Comments (1)

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  1. Natan Rai says:

    Compassion you have in abundance. All the best.

About the Author

Emily is a graduate of St. Mary's College of Maryland with a B.A. in psychology. While in school, she spent her time leading environmental and social justice campaigns. She recently worked for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network as a grassroots organizer for a moratorium on natural gas fracking in Maryland.

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