Monday, November 30, 2015

COP21: Time to Put a Cap on Global Gender Inequality

By: Katie Douglas, WEA Intern

“I will ensure this… the climate battle must be fought for, and with, women,” stated Laurent Fabius, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development. These words are Fabius’ bold commitment for the 21st session of the Conference of Parties (COP) which starts today in Paris, over which he will preside as President. For WEA and our global allies, his declaration is a real opportunity for world leaders to highlight and recommit themselves to addressing the intersectional relationship of women and the environment on an international level. The only question is whether Fabius and other decision-makers have the gumption to follow through on such promises made months ago? Or will COP21 be yet another international meeting that renders gender equality irrelevant to climate change, and creates an environmental protocol without the mechanisms to enforce it?

COP began as an international response to climate change with the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 and a commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale. COP21 represents a chance for representatives from over 190 countries to cooperatively create universal agreements, all in the aim of keeping our climate below 2°C or 3.6°F. The U.S., the European Union., Russia, China, and India will largely negotiate the next 50 year agenda, as they are all among the highest emitters of greenhouse gases. However, in the past these powerhouse countries have failed to prioritize the critical role of and impacts on women in the global environmental movement.

One of the many reasons women are so incredibly impacted by the effects of climate change is due to the vital role they play in securing the natural resources that their families depend upon for survival, such as clean water, food, and fuel. Around 70% of women work in agriculture in low-income food-deficit countries, though generally women own less than 10% of the land. These women are already forced to mitigate the effects of climate change that drive soil erosion, drought, and food scarcity, and through traditional methods and knowledge these women are able to adapt successfully. The 2014 Copenhagen Consensus stated that agriculture research is the single most effective way to invest in fighting malnourishment. Combine this with the fact that agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to pollution, and the answer is straightforward: Invest in women as keepers of traditional knowledge and stewards of natural resources, provide them with the support and networks necessary to develop their community-based, sustainable solutions, and witness how the ripple of their efforts become a wave of transformation.

But one of the biggest challenges in constructing an effective international protocol is designing the mechanisms to enforce it. Past COPs have only created legally non-binding frameworks for treaty negotiations, such as the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. So long as countries can opt out of ratifying treaties that might actually impact their emission levels, there seems little prospect for any sort of enforcement on pollutant control. However, at COP21 there is hope for change as the conference’s main goal is to, for the first time, create a universal, legally binding agreement with which to effectively combat climate change. A global accord where individual countries are actually held accountable to their actions is an opportunity to create environmental protocols that invest in the women leaders who are already adapting to these changes.

For WEA and our allies around the world, we can only hope that this rare opportunity for change will not overlook women—who are critical agents in any long-term plans for our earth and future generations—and that those world leaders like Laurent Fabius will hold true to their words. Because it’s time for a protocol that doesn’t merely cap our emissions, but asks us to restructure our world to a more sustainable way of life. So let’s make a change and invest in women to invest in a sustainable future.

Further Reading:

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Why were the elephants so angry?

By: Katie Douglas, WEA intern

In Ulhara, a village in the city of Hazaribagh in Jharkhand, India, a group of women gathered for a cluster meeting and sat in thoughtful conversation on a rising issue: Why were the elephants of the forest so angry?

The women questioned what had driven fourteen elephants to wreak havoc and destruction in the nearby villages where many of the women were from, leaving one man dead and destroying numerous food grains, houses and crops. The women began to share how mining projects were destroying their homes and natural resources, and causing them great mental and emotional strain. They likened this to the experience of the elephants, who were losing their homes and corridors to mining and infrastructure development.

Ultimately, the women decided that they were not angry at the elephants. Instead, they understood the animal's anger and vulnerability as their own.

The natural habitat and corridors of elephants are being lost to mining and development, and they are venturing into villages where they can cause damage to both property and life.  Photo: CASS

Since 2013, WEA has partnered with Chotanagpur Adivasi Seva Samiti (CASS) to develop a community development training for adivasi (indigenous) women of the Santhal tribe in eastern India. Large-scale open-cast coal mining and infrastructure development has resulted in the destruction of land, forest, and rivers. Not only are these resources the primary means of food and fuel that the Santhal women rely on for sustaining their families and communities, but these resources also contribute medicine, peace, and spiritual sustenance. With the loss of their lands and rivers, the women have become increasingly dependent upon men and outside markets, which makes this not only an issue of environmental exploitation, but also indigenous rights and gender injustice.

In the face of environmental destruction and oppressive gender structures, these trainings provide women with different methods of support, all with the aim of helping them to exercise their rights, practice their culture, and enhance their natural resources for a future they can manage. This is facilitated through cluster groups, trainings, weekly meet-ups for female leaders, and by enrolling local girls in school. Cluster groups, like the one that met in Ulhara, are critical to the state of the community because they allow women to share stories and skills, collectively organize, and discuss basic human and forest rights.

Women gather in Ulhara village for a cluster meeting.  Photo: CASS

Through this training, adivasi women also share personal experiences and build bridges of commonality and support. These trainings ask the women to question what they know of gender. At one such training, Ms. Budhandi—a CASS volunteer—offered the group a song:

A group of men are sitting under the banyan tree
They have listened to the sufferings of women.
They are getting up and going.
The women beckon them
To come back and listen.

Discussion of songs and stories like these allow the women to sit back and view the situation through a lens that considers gender as a social construct, and that then encourages them to take their place as leaders in their communities.

Driven by the destruction of the environment, once-sustainable communities like those near Hazaribagh have been reduced to dependent entities that are disconnected from their environment and unable to protect the rights of adivasi women. This partnership aims to provide the training, support, and networks necessary to uplift the leadership of grassroots women in some of the most impacted adivasi communities in the area, therefore promoting healing and providing safety to human and elephant alike.

The Ulhara cluster group.  Photo: CASS

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Small-scale organic farming can feed the world

In our work, we've seen the incredible contributions women farmers continue to make in their communities when small farms and home gardens, and their caretakers, are uplifted and respected.  This is also something we're seeing in the news more and more each daybut it's not a new idea.  Obviously, small farmers have known this simple truth for years, and apparently, so has the United Nations.  

In a 2013 report by the UN Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) titled “Trade and Environment Review 2013: Wake Up Before It’s Too Late,” which included contributions from more than 60 experts around the world, UNCTAD urges us all to make some big changes in our agricultural practices.

"Even as the United States government continues to push for the use of more chemically-intensive and corporate-dominated farming methods such as GMOs and monoculture-based crops, the United Nations is once against sounding the alarm about the urgent need to return to (and develop) a more sustainable, natural and organic system."
Read the full article from TECHNOLOGYWATER here, and the Trade and Environment Review 2013 report here.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Weathering the Storms Together: Grassroots Women’s Response to Climate Change

WEA shares our thoughts on women, climate change and more in Earth Island Journal's online edition.

"Tomorrow, September 29, is Global Women's Climate Justice Day of Action. As nations prepare for the UN COP21 climate negotiations in Paris, women across the world will tell their stories, demonstrate their solutions, and demand that our world leaders take meaningful action on climate change. As the late Dr. Wangari Maathai said, "...not only are women bearing the brunt of environmental and development setbacks — they are also a powerful source of hope in tackling climate and other environmental threats, and their voices must be heard." 
On this day of action, we have a chance to remind our global community that when we invest in women, we invest in food and economic security, community health and protection of land and our precious natural resources. Join us as we deepen the conversation: how can we powerfully stand with the leadership of grassroots women leaders who are on the forefront of struggle and transformation? Because when grassroots leaders can share best practices, access resources, and take collective action, they build a foundation that communities can stand on to weather storms together."

Read the full article here.  And we'd love to hear how women in your life are driving solutions to change!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The SDGs: Landmark achievment, or a step backward?

Photo by: UN
"The 2030 agenda for sustainable development is being hailed as a landmark achievement for women’s rights and gender equality. But the adoption of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) this weekend, featuring celebrity-studded side events and thousands of observers, threatens to overshadow – and perhaps even undermine – the 20th anniversary of a much more significant global agenda for women’s rights: the Beijing declaration and platform for action.

...The objectives of Beijing were consistent with a recognition of the deeply structural nature of the inequalities experienced by women. By openly challenging austerity programmes and the impact of macroeconomic policies on women, the platform acknowledged that the neoliberal, “trade not aid” model of development was – and is – failing the majority of the world’s women. Despite the intervening impact of two global financial crises, rocketing wealth inequality, growing fundamentalisms, and a steadily worsening climate crisis, the SDGs fail even to match the Beijing agreement’s level of ambition, let alone build on it to meet our current challenges."
The Guardian takes a look at how the Sustainable Development Goals--to be adopted this weekend in New York--measure up to previous global attempts to address a myriad of issues such as gender equality.  Read more here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

In the News: How Climate Change Impacts Women the Most

Photo by: Rucha Chitnis
"Climate change directly impacts the ability of women to achieve their own human rights and increases gender inequalities," Eleanor Blomstrom, program director for the Women's Environment and Development Organization, told VICE News.

Despite the greater threat to women, their needs are often neglected in sustainability planning, said Nisha Onta, a gender and climate change expert with the women's rights organization WOCAN. Under UN climate change guidelines, for example, developing countries are expected to submit plans for how they will adapt to a changing climate. But those plans are often made without incorporating plans for addressing gender inequality, like the fact that a lower-class woman in Bangladesh might not be allowed to use a new water pump, which is seen a important tool for managing changing precipitation patterns.

"The needs and reality of women are lacking and the work of women is kind of taken as a given," Onta told VICE News. "[Developers say,] 'We will go in and we will have water, we will make water accessible.' How are you going to do that? Women are going to collect this water. Have they been consulted? Do they have time?"
Read more about the differentiated impacts of climate change, and how the UN hopes to address this with it's Sustainable Development Goals in this great article from VICE News.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Gendered Perspective: Reflections on the MDG and the potential of the SDG

By: Katie Douglas, WEA Intern

A woman closes the door behind her and sets off into the early light of dawn. It’s the pre-monsoon season in India, and the air is thick with heat as she walks to her small kitchen garden. What began as a grant of seeds, has transformed into fertile beds of earth that are all her own. From her garden she can produce crops to both feed and financially support her family. From her garden she has been able to build alliances with other local women’s collectives around the importance of organic farming and how to improve their own self-sufficiency. From her garden her future is now one of abundance and opportunity.

This is our vision for the world because, we believe that when women thrive, communities thrive. When women are supported and resourced, they are able to lift their communities out of poverty, increase economic stability, and provide countries with sustainable practices to address and combat climate change. In light of this, the member states of the United Nation’s have been awarded a rare opportunity. As they reconstruct the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) that will be adopted in September, these nations and participating NGOs have the potential for being the spark that makes the WEA vision for the world—a world where grassroots women leaders are heard, and their knowledge is honored and uplifted for the betterment of us all—a reality.

In 2000, the eight MDG were established by the UN to target global issues identified as being some of our world’s most pressing concerns. Over the past fifteen years, great strides have been made towards accomplishing these goals. The percentage of those living in extreme poverty has been reduced nearly by half, from 1.9 billion to 836 million. More girls than ever are now enrolled in schools, and gender equality in secondary schools in 36 developing nations is no longer just an aspiration, but a shining reality. Access to clean drinking water has also seen an increase for up to 90% of the global population. But while this incredible progress represents important steps toward creating global equality, the work of the MDG isn’t finished. We cannot regard this progress as a landmark triumph while millions of people—particularly women and girls—continue to face severe poverty, basic human rights insecurity and deep inequity.

In this way, the MDG have come up short in shedding light on the intersectionality of the original goals, especially with regard to gender. In the final progress report the Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki Moon, noted that of all the goals, gender equality and woman’s health were the most neglected. Even with an advanced education women around the world continue to earn 24% less than men. Less than 20% of government leaders in the world are women. And women in developing nations are fourteen times as likely to die as women in developed nations. When we look at this reality, we can clearly see how issues of climate change, food security, and environmental degradation continue—these are interconnected challenges existing in an ecosystem that is our world, and one challenge cannot be addressed while ignoring another.

Come September, all countries that participated in the MDG must re-evaluate and submit new goals, which will become the SDG. Of the seventeen SDG declared so far, one goal directly focuses on women, while many others have the potential to impact gender in positive and critical ways. Goal #5, the aim of achieving gender equality and empowering all girls and women, is only one of many and yet impacts almost every other issue at stake. In fact, a 2014 study by the Copenhagen Consensus Center providing guidance on which of the drafted SDG targets were the best investments rated those aimed at gender equality among the highest. Still, many governments fail to invest in the leadership and capacity-building of women, they fail to increase resources to address violence against women or to ensure access to reproductive health care, and they fail to recognize the disproportionate financial and environmental burden women bear as food producers and providers, community caretakers, and natural resource stewards. The global success of women represents our greatest hope for a reconciled world, and this is something that must be taken seriously by the SDG and world nations.

The Millennium Development Goals gave us a glimpse of a world where change is possible. Through WEA’s vision of recognizing essential women’s rights, and building global networks of empowered female leaders, the Sustainable Development Goals have the potential to create a world where change truly is sustainable.

Further Reading

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Everything Connnected to the Land is Connected to our Bodies

The links between land and body have never been more apparent than in recent years, with extractive industries drilling, mining and fracking lands on or near traditional Indigenous territories, providing economic benefits to transnational corporations and national economies at a cost impacted communities are still grappling to understand. A cost most deeply felt by Indigenous women and young people.

This is why WEA is currently working in partnership with Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN) to explore this critical intersection and ways to support the leadership of young Indigenous women who are resisting environmental violence in their communities.

To learn more about this work, please visit our website.

This beautiful piece was done by WEA Intern, Katie Douglas, for WEA's initiative on environmental violence.

From the artist: Each day that I spend interning at WEA teaches me more on the intersectionality that binds women’s rights, indigenous communities, and the environment. While the natural symmetry of these three elements is beautiful, the reality of their existence in our world is often one of destruction and injustice. As the greed of industry spreads, it is impossible not to see the direct correlation between detrimental environmental practices and their impacts on women with regard to health, culture, and actions of violence. From this, I was inspired to create an image that could begin to express humanity’s violation of the Earth as a parallel to humanity’s violation of the women’s bodies.

The open copper pit mine of the her belly shows that humanity is not only extracting Earth’s resources, but also that by plundering straight from her womb we are destroying any chance of future life. An oil well symbolizes the pollution that degrades the environment of so many native communities, while the flag is a symbol of the widespread domination of the Earth, indigenous peoples and women. Deforestation and waste are represented by the stump and can, and placed on her breasts to show our extreme dependence on these non-renewable resources. Despite the bleak outlook of the image, the ball of light in her hand represents my feeling of hope. Because if WEA has taught me anything, it is to trust to in the immense and impenetrable power that women hold in our hands to change this world for the better.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Pope Francis’ Encyclical: A Message of Hope for the Earth, but Where are the Women?

By: Katie Douglas, WEA Intern

“Laudato Si” or “Praised Be to You”, Pope Francis’ recently released environmental encyclical, details how the collective actions of people are responsible for the irreversible degradation of our Earth. Subtitled “Care for Our Common Home”, the encyclical speaks boldly to the need for change to the structural injustices that drive environmental devastation. However, as the many years of WEA’s work has shown us, the Pope fails to identify one of the most prevalent social injustices that directly links to climate change: gender inequality. The question we—as women, as allies, as actors in our global community—are left with, then, is: how can humanity care for the planet while half of our population continues to fight for an equal position in ‘our common home’? 

In general, the encyclical takes an important stance as it calls for people to accept our role in and impact on the degradation of the Earth. This has been the most controversial point of the statement across religious and political spheres, with Pope Francis calling out the unrestricted rights of human “dominion”. He states that being created in God’s image does not give humanity justification for the domination of other beings, and such “dominion theory” has only encouraged the destructive exploitation of the natural world. Our greed, he says, has led to an alteration of the Earth’s natural cycles, resources and productive capabilities. To find solutions, Pope Francis stresses the need to bring impoverished and Indigenous voices to the center of environmental discussions. This is a critical steps since, as we have learned from our partners, these communities already face the damaging impacts of climate change in acute ways, even though they’re often not the drivers of this destruction.

What this landmark statement doesn’t do is highlight the fact that even within these communities, women are typically those most disproportionately impacted by environmental degradation due to their roles as mothers, food providers, and community caretakers. However, despite this overall lack attention paid to gender issues and impacts, the Pope does acknowledge that, "This sister [Mother Earth] now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse.... We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will." As we read this, we are reminded of the direct link between the body of the Earth and our bodies as women. The violence to Mother Earth that Pope Francis talks about is seen reflected in the violence experienced by women through climate change, pollution and natural resource development. At WEA, this is one of many reasons we are committed to supporting grassroots women around the world who intimately understand the interconnectedness of our place in this world as both women and stewards of the Earth, who draw strength and wisdom from our relationship with Mother Earth, and who are stepping forward and leading our communities toward a future where we co-exist in equality with one another, and in reverence of the Earth.

Gender equality must become recognized as a central point to the environmental movement, especially in a world where women living in poverty are the demographic most affected by the effects of our actions. While we applaud Pope Francis for taking this important first step in directing humanity’s attention to our historically negative impact on the environment, and for boldly calling for change where it is so very necessary, we stand firm in the knowledge that respect for our Earth and respect for women are undeniably linked.  We must understand this simple truth: we cannot have one without the other.

Further reading:
Mother Earth Cries Out & We Must Listen and Act Boldly--Reflecting on Pope Francis's Encyclical on the Environment
"Sister Earth Cries Out": Did Pope Francis Just Proclaim an Eco-Feminist Theology?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Meet Our Summer Intern!

We love summer for so many reasons.  It's the time of year when seeds planted in the spring blossom, bloom and grow strong, and it's a time to prepare for the warm gatherings and occasions for sharing that seem to characterize the fall.  At WEA, the summer is when we tend partnerships, plan for celebrations to come, and welcome in the amazing interns we've been fortunate enough to work with in summers passed.

This summer is no different, and we're so thrilled to welcome Katie to the team here in Berkeley for her summer break. Meet Katie below!

KATIE DOUGLAS General Office & Research Intern 

1. Tell us about yourself your background/journey to WEA.  I’m a student at Brandeis University in Boston, and heading into my senior year with majors in Environmental Studies and Anthropology. I attribute my love of the natural world to my parents for introducing me to redwood trees and blue-bellied lizards. During college I became heavily involved with the organization Half the Sky, and was incredibly moved by their work in providing access to education for girls across the globe. When I stumbled onto WEA I was amazed to find an organization that seemed to perfectly address the intersection of my interests in women’s rights, the environment, and the traditional knowledge of indigenous communities.

2. What do you do at WEA?  I’m a General Office Intern so I mainly support Kahea with general administration tasks, such as filing and managing the donor base. Additionally I research ongoing environmental developments for women, and assist with current campaigns.

3. Share 2 unique/fun/crazy/weird things about you that your co-workers do not know! 
I worked on a farm for several summers, and seriously considered taking a baby goat home with me because I’m obsessed with goats. I have a secret skill for building camp fires.

4. What do you see as the biggest challenge in the intersections of women, indigenous issues and the environment?  I think that the mainstream western environmental movement can be very ignorant to what an integral role women and indigenous persons play in the protection of the environment. While I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with the preservation of land, or the legal protection of endangered species, I think that the environmental movement can forget that millions of people around the world are already facing the direct consequences of climate change. Therefore their experiences make them experts on the current effects of climate change, and place them at the most important locations to develop sustainable change with equal access to resources and community training.

5. Tell us about a woman who inspires you and why. 
Sheryl WuDunn, the co-author of Half the Sky, is one of my biggest inspirations. She has broken so many barriers as a reporter, an educator on women’s rights, and a modern leader. Her work on the direct links from women’s education to a country’s economic prosperity, resource management, and levels of poverty has always reminded me how integral women are to the state of our world.

6. Tell us one thing that surprised you at WEA.  WEA is such a close-knit and welcoming community, and everyone made me feel so comfortable on my first day. I was really surprised by how small WEA is, but all these women have accomplished so much. And there are always so many kinds of tea in the office, which is awesome!

7. What do you hope to get out of your time at WEA?
  I hope to be continuously learning about current global developments and issues that deal with the intersection of women’s rights, the environment, and indigenous rights. I’m also hoping to gain a greater understanding of how non-profits like WEA function, and get to know an amazing group of women leaders.

Meet the rest of the talented interns that have worked with WEA throughout the years here!