By Daysi Flores
We women occupy a special space when we speak of struggles for land and territory and resistance against the extractivist economic model that has been promoted throughout the Mesoamerican region and many regions of the world. This extractivist economic model has experienced a significant boom in recent decades due to the voracity for the accumulation of wealth by big capital, triggered by the high prices of raw materials and the increase in international demand for primary goods. In this context, extractive industry investments and projects have multiplied, particularly in mining, forestry, energy, and agricultural resources.
For this reason, we must keep in mind the main characteristics of extractivism:
It is historical: Extractivism dates from colonial times and has affected all the populations of the world. The logic has developed from slave-based, bloody extraction to the installation of a colonial world vision that established a division of labour according to the capitalist model in which the Global South exports nature, inputs and people for cheap labour, and the global north imports and transforms consumer products (although much of this transformation is done in the countries of the South) and trades the products.
It is capitalist: Extractivism views nature and the labour necessary for its transformation as a pure profit-making system that allows for the irrational accumulation of capital It depends upon poor governments that are malleable and permeated with corruption to guarantee flexible, complacent, and disenfranchised labour and access to natural resources.
It is patriarchal: The exploitation and use of nature is based on the exploitation of the lives of women and their communities. The model not only rests on the unpaid work of women, but also seeks the ideal of a workforce with characteristics like the levels of exploitation that we women experience throughout the world. Thus, violence becomes necessary for the preservation of profits. This is not only the violence experienced by the communities that confront these models, but also specific violence against women and its continuum as a mechanism to control lives and to guarantee the perpetuation of the economic system.
The power and reliance on extractive logic is so strong that while the entire world seemed to grind to a halt during the pandemic, few — if any — of these projects did. And neither did the impacts they produce. These are social, cultural, and environmental impacts that affect the right to life, health, personal integrity, and a healthy environment; economic and social rights, such as food, access to water, and labour rights; the right to personal liberty and social protest; and the right to protection from the forced displacement that these industries generate.
The impacts of extractive projects have led communities and populations to organize and resist the exploitation and dispossession of common goods. In the resistance, women play a fundamental role not only because they experience the impacts in a differentiated way, but because they have been the ones who for centuries have tended to, transmitted and protected ancestral knowledge through their textiles, art, agriculture, spirituality, language, medicine, and many other forms of resistance that have called on us to defend the value of life in all forms.
JASS Mesoamerica accompanies these women and their struggles in Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. To confront the power behnd extractivism, we have built tools, processes, collective knowledge and safe spaces for training through the Escuela Feminista de Alquimia (Feminist Alchemy School). From this school, and putting feminist popular education at the center, JASS has completed a process of virtually training political facilitators in the three countries to continue strengthening the leadership and increasing the political and facilitation skills of the defenders with whom we work and their organizations and communities.
The women defenders of this region are building diverse and hopeful strategies for life on the planet despite the harsh contexts they face. According to Global Witness, three-quarters of the lethal attacks against environmental and land activists that occurred in 2020 (during the pandemic) were in Latin America; and 75% of the murders registered in the world occurred in our region.
To promote these processes in the framework of the Covid 19 pandemic, the Training Course for Political Facilitators proposed a continuous training process in which land and territory defenders from Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico could develop and enhance their skills by learning to use virtual platforms to access pedagogical and political resources that serve their struggles.
Our three countries, while taking into consideration the distinct characteristics of each. However, all the processes had a common foundation that allowed women defenders to acquire basic tools for learning and strengthening their skills to design, execute and evaluate– different training processes that their organizations and struggles need, from the perspective of feminist popular education.
During this process, women defenders sharpened their capacity to assess the depths of power and all systems of oppression at the individual, family, and community levels. This enables them to read the context more astutely as they develop their strategies and actions. The women analysed the extractive industry and its different impacts on their lives, their communities, and the planet, as well as the damage caused by the erosion of community ties and movements. During the process, particular attention was given to skills and tools for understanding the dynamics and decision-making mechanisms that contribute to the construction of strong and resilient social movements, and the skills required to identify and propose mechanisms for the positive transformation of conflict.
Let me share with you one of the most inspiring experiences I have ever had, which occurred while visiting the compañeras in La Puya: A woman in traditional dress explained the root of their struggle, and at the end she told us: I pray that the owners of the companies, those people so rich that nothing satisfies them, can have peace in their hearts and happiness in their lives. Because if they have peace and happiness, they will not need to continue destroying our land.
In addition, they challenge global spaces such as the United Nations with their certainties, and manage to find intersecting paths that lead to ingenious solutions to the situations they face. Such is the case of the Ixpop Collective, of which JASS is a member. After learning about CEDAW and its mechanisms and recommendations, the collective realized that there was no special recommendation for Indigenous women. These women, accompanied by JASS and other organizations, have now made history by drafting, consulting, and building the first general recommendation of CEDAW generated by the group of women to whom it is addressed and not by the experts. The recommendation was adopted, and now the world’s Indigenous women have General Recommendation No.39 for Indigenous women. The collective continues its tireless work so that all Indigenous women know about the Recommendation and make it their own.
The compañeras participating of the Political Facilitators Course in the three countries give us hope for life through concrete actions, Despite personally experiencing the intersection of multiple oppressions, they continue to believe that living differently is possible and we all continue to work every day with a stubborn hope that glimpses a better future for the planet and for ourselves. This hope is not a pipe dream, it is expressed in specific actions that are fundamental for life. These actions include the collective construction of knowledge that can range from conducting research, to sharing their experiences and visions in programs on community radio stations, to raising a family Games Guide.During the pandemic, these actions included accompanying women who stayed at home caring for children and others, and to designing and forming part of deep processes of feminist popular education that teach us to build and deconstruct ourselves.
We know that everything we touch, we change, and everything we change, transforms us. That is why JASS seeks to contribute to the political strengthening of women, their organizations and movements through the facilitation and accompaniment of an educational and political training space. With land and territory defenders in Honduras, the program is based on their own contexts, know-how and knowledge. It enhances their capacity to facilitate strategic processes in their organizations and movements, and strengthens their leadership and knowledge by sharing tools for analysis and action and promoting a loving space that strengthens their links and networks, both social and community based.