by Elaina Burress and Jenna Farineau
“I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.” ―Malala Yousafzai
Just two days ago, Sada Albachir and Agnes Leina from the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee along with Tafadzwa Dhlakama of the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association spoke on a panel that raised issues of human rights and gender. This side event was moderated by Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, who kept the discussion relevant to bridging the gender-environmental divide.
Unfortunately, women are not consulted in community decisions, and they often do not occupy spaces of authority. For this reason, they need to be given space to show their solutions, and to voice their problems. It has been shown that giving women resources increases the community’s overall resources. Since women, in their gender-roles, currently have such strong responsibilities over children, they tend to look to the future and encourage beneficial changes that promote longevity of the environment as well as the community’s well-being, more so than men.
In Zimbabwe, there are many human rights violations stemming from mining and other forms of economic development. Mining severely impacts communities’ livelihoods, leading to competition over resources of water being mined versus being drunk, and contamination of drinking water by mining. Furthermore, mining often leads to low water levels in areas where bodies of water are used for fishing by women, making fishing impossible.
Thus, it is important that resources are balanced in mining communities and other areas of economic development. Tafadzwa Dhlakama brought to light that while mining is necessary as a driver of the economy, and thus cannot be demolished, resources must be respected and shared or else they threaten the community and its livelihood and well-being. Additionally, it is important that the engendered impacts of climate policy be recognized, and that gender be mainstreamed in gender responsive climate policy. There must also be support for the groups most vulnerable to adaptation efforts in countries’ NDCs: most often women and children.
ZELA’s strategies for empowering women include: establishing women’s groups/forums and liaison committees putting women in legislative positions, drilling boreholes and livelihood gardens, utilizing legal strategies for legal redress in communities, and providing evidence based in scientific research. They promote facilitated legislator dialogues, and urge that mining companies play a crucial role in this process. ZELA’s priority is to promote integrative gender responsiveness and women empowerment in all mitigation and adaptation interventions. Women’s rights, as well as human rights in general, must be reinforced. The right of the people must be at the top of everything, alongside a right to development and health.
It must be noted the absurdity of this situation. Women should have ALWAYS and ALREADY had these spaces. It is ridiculous that women must be “given” these spaces, when women have been and continue to be the caretakers and users of the resources being contaminated and demolished so severely. They, through gender roles, have been given the responsibilities of jobs such as collecting drinking water, collecting and preparing food for their families, and tending to the children and the elderly and sick. They suffer most from any negative impacts of climate change and policy.
Despite this, women are often not in control of income or any finance. Income generated in these communities as well as financial support, does not go to them. Additionally, free prior informed consent and environmental impact assessments (EIAs) as general principles are often ignored in the most vulnerable communities. Specifically looking at EIAs, private companies, like the mining companies that exist in Zimbabwe, are often overlooked or become abused, as the process has been created for the educated. There is an erosion of culture, as well as a silencing of women’s voices specifically. For this reason, along with the measures suggested above, women must be included in all aspects of NAPs, NDCs, EIAs, as well as in budgeting and planning processes.
In conclusion, all of the speakers from this side event passionately recommend and work to increase women’s involvement in their communities. Economic development demands must be balanced with human demands, and human rights and well-being. Women need to be included in everything, in every single way that men are included in communities: there must be a 50/50 representation of women. They must have access and control over income, and be utilized in legislative decision-making processes, occupying spaces of authority where they can make decisions on solutions and vocalize their problems. It is at this level, the community level, where women must be empowered and feel comfortable and confident, for then they will be able to advance and bring their voices to a much larger, international level such as the UN.
We need women here and we need the people from the frontlines here.
Now, more than ever, inclusion of the collective woman is needed. Listen to them. Open these spaces, but do not “give” them these spaces. Do not give them this favor. Step aside.