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