Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Leading from a Place of History and Learning

By Kahea Pacheco, WEA Advocacy Network Coordinator

I grew up in a tiny, rural town on the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island of Hawai’i called Honomu.  We are maybe 550 people large, and are a remnant of the old sugar plantation days when the Big 5 sugar companies were king and villages would crop up along coastlines where sugar mills were located. It’s a beautiful, multicultural landscape where eating sugar straight from the cane stalks, watching our fathers throw cast nets down at the ocean, and swimming or catching ‘opae (shrimp) in the streams and waterfalls seemed ordinary. 

The first time I can remember recognizing that I was indigenous was when I was sent to a summer camp for Native Hawaiian kids in the fifth grade.  It was a week-long program on a different island from the one I lived on, and I remember knowing I should feel lucky I could go.  That going and learning about my culture was something special, and not everyone had that opportunity.

The second time this happened was when I was accepted into Kamehameha Schools, Kapalama Campus—a private boarding and day school for Native Hawaiian students.  The school, one of the largest philanthropic trusts in the United States, was founded by Ke Ali’i (Chiefess) Bernice Pauahi Bishop, great granddaughter of King Kamehameha I, after she bore witness to the decline of the Hawaiian people as a result of colonization and the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, and felt education was key to our survival.  At Kamehameha, I learned about my legacy, culture, history and language.  I was given opportunities—through school programs, mentorship and scholarships—that allowed me to graduate, to go to college, then law school.

All of this, because I’m Native Hawaiian, and I am a result of our unique history.

For me, being indigenous has been a privilege, both spiritually and practically.  I feel extremely fortunate to have grown up in a space that not only taught me about my history, about myself, but that celebrated it.  Because of this, I also recognize my responsibility.  I have a responsibility to be a leader and a student all at once, to be a good role model, and to give back and uplift my community just like it has uplifted me.  I have a responsibility to those who came before me—my kupuna (grandparents, elders), my ancestors—as well as those who will come after me, for generations and generations to come.

“You will be living the haole time, and the wise thing to do is to move with the time, because time is a thing that belongs to no one….There’s only one thing I ask of you, my children—You are Hawai’i, and I would appreciate that you remain Hawai’i.”
– Pilahi Paki (in Then There Were None by Martha H. Noyes)

It’s this journey, however short it’s been so far, that has led me to Women’s Earth Alliance.

I first joined WEA as a Legal Research Intern for the North America Program in 2011.  At the time, I’d been out of law school for two years, had just left from a job that left me feeling disconnected from all the ways I wanted to be present in the world, and so accepted the internship feeling a sense of…relief.  Relief that I would once again be contributing to work I felt most accountable for—supporting Indigenous peoples and communities like my own.

In the two and half years since joining the team, my sense of purpose and responsibility has only been strengthened, particularly in this last year as I’ve stepped into my new role as Advocacy Network Coordinator for the North America Program.  I now find that I am a leader as much as a student, that I am called to make decisions as much as seek insight and advice and guidance.  With this new role then also comes the fear I think many people, particularly young people like myself, have felt when stepping up and being called to share their mana’o (knowledge): fear of not being ready, of making mistakes, of saying or doing the wrong things at the wrong times, of not knowing. 

“There are cultures still that understand the importance of being lost.  In fact, they celebrate it, because they know that just beneath the surface, something rich and potent is stirring.  They know that the point at which the latitude of the mind meets the longitude of the heart is the centerpoint.  It is the stillpoint of the wayfinder.”
– Dr. Elizabeth Kapu’uwailani Lindsey, PhD (TEDxWomen 2012)

But it’s times like these, when stepping up, that we need to remind ourselves that we are rarely stepping up alone.  Instead, we are surrounded by the knowledge passed to us from our elders, from our mentors, from our own experiences.  And there are those we defer to, whose expertise is so much more vast than our own—their knowledge is to be recognized and celebrated as well.

For me, this has meant listening deeply to not only myself, but to my sisters, my parents, my grandparents, stretching all the way back to my ancestors, my beginnings.  Stretching all the way across to encompass my larger community—my friends, my colleagues, and the grassroots leaders engaged in this work.  It has meant asking questions, being courageous in my conversations, and honoring those who have shared their stories, knowledge and expertise with me.  This is where my ability and my drive to contribute comes from—from that place of learning and listening and growing.  

This is where, I think, as women, as Indigenous peoples, as allies, we all find our strength to contribute.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

World Toilet Day: Everyone Goes But Not Everyone Has a Place to Go

By Women's Earth Alliance, GWWI Director, Gemma Bulos
Believe it or not, there are more people in the world that have cell phones than toilets! Which means more people can make a phone call or send a text than access a toilet. This has significant impact on public health. Biological contamination and the presence of feces in water is one of the highest causes of diarrhea and water-related disease causing millions of people to lose their lives every year.

But the issues that arise because of lack of toilets extends beyond health – it impacts safety, security and even education, especially women and girls. Women and girls are the most affected by the lack of sanitation because they are at risk of violent attacks when they don’t have a private or safe place. Many women and girls will withhold consuming food or drink during the day so they will not have to relieve themselves in the daylight. 1 out of 8 girls drop out of school by the 8th grade when they start menstruating because there are no toilets.

But sanitation is not just about toilets.  Women leaders who are participating in the Global Women’s Water Initiative WASH Service Center Training Program understand these challenges and have identified sanitation as one of their priorities in their communities. This past July, they learned to build two different kinds of waterless toilets – for safe storage of feces, and menstruation cleaning bays – so women and girls can clean themselves when they have they are menstruating. They also learned to make reusable sanitary pads as well soap, shampoo and perfume.

Take the enzymatic digester, for example. One of the most common toilets in developing countries are pit latrines. In some communities, pit latrines exist, but they are unusable, as they are full of human waste and often shut down or locked as a result. The toilet digester is an enzymatic powder that can break  down and eliminate waste in a pit latrine within 24 hours for a fraction of what it would cost to build another toilet or hire a company to extract the waste. This product is a solution for existing full toilets and can rejuvenate otherwise unused toilets. And we are discovering that participating women trainees can sell it and make a profit.

GWWI graduates now have an array of appropriate tools to start their own micro-businesses. They are being hired to build toilets and sell sanitation and hygiene-related products. Most importantly, the knowledge doesn’t end here. Our partners are helping other women do the same.

On World Toilet Day, we reflect on the courageous steps our colleagues are taking in their communities to ensure people’s safety and dignity on this day and every day.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Weathering the Storm: Gender Dimensions of Haiyan & Climate Change

Rucha Chitnis: Director of Grantmaking, Women's Earth Alliance @ruchachitnis

As Philippines grasps the devastating scale of the destruction unleashed by Super Typhoon Haiyan, the global community must prioritize those who are being disproportionately impacted by this natural disaster—women and girls.  The typhoon has impacted over 11 million people and aid gridlocks are paralyzing relief operations with poor access and communications.  As aid and relief agencies scramble to deliver critical services to survivors, it is crucial to keep in mind the gender dimensions of natural disasters, and existing inequalities facing girls and women.

Why Gender Lens Is Crucial

Climate change and natural disasters are not gender neutral:  Women and girls face multi-faceted discrimination and inequalities globally.  Prevailing social norms – which leave women economically and culturally vulnerable in the best of times – impede women’s ability to recover from natural disasters and receive adequate support for their unique health, safety and other well-being needs.  According to a report, Because I am A Girl, women and children are 14 times more likely to die in disasters than men.

Escalation of violence against women and girls:  Disasters, such as the Super Typhoon, create crippling social breakdowns, including in law enforcement services. A study of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law conducted in four camps of internally displaced persons around Port-au-Prince, Haiti, revealed alarming data: Of the households surveyed 14% “reported that, since the earthquake, one or more members of their household had been victimized by rape or unwanted touching or both.” The typhoon in Philippines is no different, and human rights groups are raising concerns of escalating violence against women and girls, including risks of trafficking, forced marriages and rape.

Lack of adequate healthcare: UNFPA estimates that nearly 200,000 pregnant women need additional support, with stories surfacing of women giving birth amidst the rubble. Approximately 40% of women in the Philippines deliver at home, so there is an urgent need for groups like UNFPA to provide clean delivery kits to partners and midwives. 

Women's groups in Manipur are raising awareness on climate change
and promoting women's role in governance
Way Forward: What We Are Learning From Women’s Groups  

Around the world, women’s groups, solidarity networks and movements are demanding urgent climate action and a re-examination of a carbon-fueled development paradigm. Indigenous and rural women recognize that as mothers, caregivers, food producers, water and environmental stewards, they bear a disproportionate burden from these climate-induced disasters.  Here are some holistic ways in which our grassroots partners and allies in South Asia and beyond are taking proactive steps to build community resiliency.

Empowering Women & Promoting Rights:  HIMANWANTI, Women’s Earth Alliance partner in Nepal, works to promote the rights of rural women in forest and natural resource management.  HIMAWANTI believes that it is crucial to strengthen the role of women in the management and protection of biodiversity, as well as promote equitable access to natural resources and benefits generated from its use.  They are also strengthening political literacy to build networks of healthy, conscious and empowered women throughout Nepal. 

Ending Climate Denial and Demanding Accountability to Grassroots Women:  A diverse gathering of women leaders from around the world in New York this year urged the world’s governments to make commitments to avoid a global temperature rise of 2.0 C degrees. Women also reminded the global community that citizens in industrialized nations have a responsibility to educate themselves and their worldviews and to divest from dirty fossil fuel developments, such as Tar Sands and fracking. Click here to read this powerful International Women’s Earth and Climate Summit declaration.

Promoting Women’s Decision-making:  Our partner in Manipur, India, Rural Women Upliftment Society works to holistically build the leadership of indigenous women.  RWUS promotes women’s participation in local governance, and provides capacity building support in sustainable agriculture and livelihoods to strengthen women’s food and economic security in the face of climate variability.

Respecting Women’s Knowledge and Expertise:  Across the Global South, women farmers and Indigenous women’s networks and movements are positioning themselves as knowledge holders, equipped with a powerful agency to build holistic climate solutions.  Women farmers are also seed savers, who have immense knowledge about native food crops, such as drought-resistant millet varieties that thrive in dry land areas and need little water for cultivation.

Women farmers in Karnataka are planting drought-resistant millets
and raising awareness on climate change through street theater and other activities 
Our partner in India, the GREEN Foundation, believes it is vital to value women’s knowledge and expertise to promote food security and build community resiliency. GREEN is mentoring a group of women farmers in a drought-prone region in Karnataka in community radio production, where they will share information on climate change, early warning weather signs and promote sustainable agriculture as an important strategy to promote food security and healthy ecosystems.

There is an undeniable link between existing gender inequalities and how they exacerbate women’s vulnerabilities in the face of climate change and natural disasters. Women’s rights advocates note that it is crucial to include women’s leadership and decision-making in all aspects of climate change and disaster management program implementations and policies.  Women’s participation is key in not only post disaster recovery efforts but also in proactive disaster prevention and climate mitigation and adaptation efforts.  If you wish to donate to grassroots women’s groups that are leading recovery efforts for Typhoon Haiyan, consider donating to the Global Fund for Women. Also here’s an appeal with a list of organizations to support Indigenous peoples affected by this crisis.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Women Water Champions Partnering Across the World

Can you train my wife to do what you do?was a common question Grace Mushongi of Bukoba Women’s Empowerment Association would hear from some of the local men while she was building rainwater harvesting systems and tanks in villages around Bukoba, Tanzania. Even her husband bragged to the masons who were building their house to seek help from his wife, because after all, she was a mason too! 

But if you’d have met Grace two and half years ago, she would not have been able to tell you how to mix cement, explain the elements of a rainwater harvesting system or test water.  Since participating in the Global Women’s Water Initiative Training Program, Grace and her partner Rachel Nyamukama have been able to build water technologies that have already provided over 2000 people with water in her region. Prior to Grace and Rachel’s efforts, women would have to walk upwards of 8 hours a day to fetch water at the dirty river.

Grace and Rachel have learned how to build two kinds of water tanks, a variety of water catchment systems, two kinds of toilets as well as how to manufacture soap, shampoo, reusable sanitary pads and toilet digesters to sell locally. They are continuing their WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) training in April where they will learn how to make and build different water treatment options to clean contaminated water. They are both well on their way to being able to provide full water and sanitation services in their community to address water access, water quality and sanitation.

But Grace and Rachel couldn’t have done it alone. With the support of Women’s Global Connection, a foundation in Texas, and their biggest cheerleader, Patricia Lieveld a professor at a local university, Grace and Rachel were able to raise over $20,000 to cover the costs of their participation in the training, seed grants and technology construction.

When we visited Bukoba, wherever we went, everyone called Grace their ‘local water champion’ – because she didn’t just build technologies, she taught other women how to build them and encouraged people to treat their water and wash their hands.

 “I used to think that you had to be educated to be a trainer! But look at me now!” Grace told GWWI.

Grace now wants to have a greater impact! She has since enrolled herself in school to learn how to speak English so that she can train people in surrounding regions.  

Grace is an amazing example that GWWI is all about - supporting women to unleash their strengths and providing them with the tools to step into their role as water champions!