by JASS on June 15, 2018 at 4:28 pm

Written by Laura Carlsen


Today was a day of coming together—getting to know each other, talking about how to work together in networks and alliances, and there was even an intercontinental virtual meeting with JASS Southern Africa. From these encounters, we acquired new tools, knowledge and strategies, and we realized that we have vast internal and external resources on hand that we can use for our protection and to strengthen our movements.

In the opening ceremony, Miriam tells us that it is the day of obsidian for the Mayan calendar, a day to cut through obstacles. Overcoming the obstacles of technology, we heard the voice of Phumi Mtetwa, of JASS Southern Africa, who told us that extractivism there has been a constant battle since colonialism that changed little with independence and is now taking new forms. Politicians often have strong links with extractivist companies and their interests. Many see mining as a way out of inequality, while growing local movements are recognizing the costs and fighting back against the injustices that so-called development projects bring.

We’re struck by the fact that the power dynamics faced by African women are different – there, the chiefs, or traditional authorities, in the villages make direct agreements with the companies and the extractivist companies are usually Chinese rather than Canadian or U.S. But the exclusion of women from decision-making, the lack of consultation with the people and the tremendous economic and political power wielded by transnational corporations-supported by governments--are shared elements. Sadly, so is the use of violence against miners and local opposition. We reflect that we are clearly interconnected in our fight against extractivism, but we also know that we need to understand better in what ways and how to build mutually supportive networks ourselves.

On the other side of the world, Lisa Rankin of Canadian organization Breaking the Silence explains how they have formed links between organizations in the countries of origin of transnational corporations and local opposition. Their groups accompany Guatemalan communities in resistance, especially those facing repression for standing up to the mines.

Other tools they’ve used include Investor Alerts to warn mining company shareholders about the on-the-ground impact of their investments, although Lisa notes that the results have not been great since investors have a maximum profit mentality that does not allow much progress in raising concerns. The organization has also done studies to document the damages and violations of the mines. Along with other organizations they filed lawsuits against mining companies for crimes committed in Guatemala. The HudBay case is the first time in history that a Canadian company has been sued in the courts of their country for rape and murder in another country. The case is moving slowly, but opening up the legal process there is a milestone.
Results have also been mixed in advocacy work with embassies, due to the generally pro-business stance of governments, but they have managed to obtain information and call attention to conflicts and human rights violations. She mentions that other important ways of putting the issue before the public are delegations and working with media.

Lisa’s talk provides us with useful tools, presented with self-criticism that encourages a constant assessment to avoid using the same strategies and tactics when they don’t work. We saw that feedback between levels is a critical factor in building alliances - international work has to be defined from the local agenda, and local work must be enriched by international work.

In the discussion, several women comment that the Canadian government's recent commitment to design a feminist foreign policy is an opportunity for us to define more precisely what a "feminist foreign policy" should be and how it should be implemented. There is a danger that it gets stuck in financial support to women’s groups, or equality is understood as parity within a fundamentally unfair system. How can it go further and reach deeper definitions, which transform the patriarchal / capitalist system and protect life?

We don’t know how to answer the question, but one thing is clear: promoting mega-mining is not a feminist policy. The Guatemalan lawyer Liliana Hernández confirms this conclusion in her presentation on the impact of extractive industries on women. She describes the damage to our bodies, to our families and to our communities caused by extractivism and the many obstacles that exist to guaranteeing human rights when it comes to confronting large companies. A major problem is the complicity of the governments that should be the guarantors of those rights.

With all this information swirling around in our heads, the afternoon is the moment to apply it to our own experience. We divide into small groups to reflect on what all this implies in our bodies and lives by filling in the figure of a woman’s body with the pains and forms of violence we suffer- headaches, pressure in the chest, stress-related illness, and the physical and psychological toll of living with fear. Then we move on to the question of what we do to take care of ourselves, what makes us feel good, and we realize that there’s a lot we can do as individuals and collectives to bring more relief and joy into our lives.

Women from far apart and distinct contexts mentioned many of the same things—we love to dance, listen to music, have sex, hang out with friends, be part of organizations, get training to feel stronger and know how to defend ourselves, rest, enjoy plants and animals and nature, laugh (we did a lot of that during the activity), play with our children and grandchildren, watch television series, eat delicious food, have a drink. Sharing all this we see that it’s really important to give ourselves permission to say when we feel good and to say when we feel bad, to know and enjoy our bodies, and have the trust to share our emotions.

And that night, we came together on the terrace under the quarter-moon of Antigua and we danced and we ate good food and we drank and we did a lot of the things that make us feel good and happy and cared for in this world.


*Names have been changes to protect the privacy of individuals.

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by JASS on June 15, 2018 at 4:23 pm

Written by Laura Carlsen

Our Power and Our Protection: Sharing Information and Knowledge on Extractivism, Antigua, Guatemala. May 21-23, 2018

After the hugs - among friends who hadn’t seen each other in ages, among friends who just met - six candles are lit for the opening ceremony. The Mayan calendar favors us. Today is the day of wisdom, the day of ideas, but, as Miriam Pixtún de La Puya tells us, "ideas with feet", ideas that don’t remain abstract but help us to walk along the paths we have chosen.

The first session of the day is a mega-dose of information, first about mining: the process, its impacts, the companies and the different forms of resistance. With a simple and participatory style that invites mutual learning, a Guatemalan researcher and environmentalist explains the "ecological vision, understood as the relationship of everything with everything everywhere" that encompasses environmental, social and economic impacts of extractivism that go far beyond what we think of direct impacts.

Miriam Pixtun and Ana Sandoval of La Puya Peaceful Resistance follow and they have experienced these impacts. When they started the organization in their communities, the members established certain criteria, among them, inclusion (women and men, people of different ages, etc.) in all planning and activities; no direct dialogue with the company, instead requiring public institutions to fulfill their duties; and the development of collective processes, with no appointed leader, for both organizational and security reasons.

La Puya combines strategies of direct action, battles in the courts, information and training, working for local power, strengthening identity, and building alliances and international impact. They have faced repression, criminalization and defamation and had to address contradictions within the communities, including machismo. With the motto of "No to mining, Yes to life" the organization has won court injunctions and temporarily suspended the operations of the mine.

Although sometimes not considered an extractive industry, mega-plantations of African palm have spread and threaten communities in the region. It’s extractive because it extracts water, nutrients from the land and income from nature for the transnationals. Laura Hurtado, from Action Aid Guatemala, reports that the crop has taken over large tracts of land on our continent. Guatemala is the tenth country in African palm production in the world, and Honduras the seventh. Latin America is the region where this industry is growing fastest.

Dalila Vasquez, from Madre Tierra and a graduate of JASS’s Alquimia School, says that her seven communities on the southern coast of Guatemala have become "small islands in the sea of monocultures".

"We have to walk through their monocultures, and if they’re fumigating, we get bathed in poison," says Dalila. In a survey of community residents, Madre Tierra found: loss of access to land and water ("people have no choice left but to sell their labor to farms that don’t pay even the minimum wage," Dalila points out), disease and illnesses related to exposure to toxic chemicals, and few jobs - almost all for men, who are forced to work with pesticides without protective equipment and in sub-standard working conditions. She repeats a constant refrain in today’s testimonies: people have nowhere to go to defend their rights and interests because the government institutions in charge of monitoring take the companies’ side.

"For example, they warn the plantations when they’re going to inspect and the managers issue protective equipment only these days," she notes. The Red Sur organization in the region denounces the impacts and abuses of monoculture companies, but there is a lot of fear. "There have been deaths of leaders who have complained about this and communities are already dependent on the jobs so people could be left without work and without land."

Bettina Cruz, of the Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of the Isthmus in Defense of the Land and the Territory in Oaxaca, is up against the same kinds of corporations, but with a green façade. Large wind energy companies have taken land away from indigenous communities, pollute the water and soil, and harm the health of local people and animals. With the commodification of green energy in international carbon markets, this industry has become a new opportunity for "looting capitalism", she tells us. The large-scale projects cause inter-community conflicts, displacement and migration, destruction of ritual and planting areas and the loss of women's traditional economic activities. Several opposition members, including Bettina, have faced criminalization and jail.

Maria Felicita Lopez, of the Independent Lenca Peace Movement of Honduras (MILPAH), describes the efforts of her organization to defend their land and territory from encroaching megaprojects. In that effort, which has cost lives, "the recovery of the Lenca worldview, testimonial therapy, and using our traditional beliefs have helped us to continue working.”

Lilian Borja, also from Honduras, recounts her experience of persecution in the defense of landand territory, "Entrepreneurs have a lot of land in a few hands, but peasant farmers have no land to work. We’re fighting against a monster that is the sugar industry ... and against a murderous government-- For us, there are no laws, there are no rights," she says through her tears.

Honduras is experiencing a boom in megaprojects and accompanying violence. JASS Honduras carried out a mapping in 10 departments, which identified 199 areas affected by extractivism. Daysi Flores, JASS Honduras Country Coordinator, tells us that these projects are causing conflicts with private landowners, local governments and national and international companies. It’s hard for women to join the defense of their lands. In many communities, men prohibit women from participating in meetings, women have little access to leadership positions, and there is a "fiction of equality that is not transforming reality" by understanding it as just creating some spaces for participation of women but without considering the necessary contribution of diversity in the struggle.

María Guadalupe from Guatemala closes a long day with a historical tour of the extractive industry and how it affects the lives of women and of Mother Earth. She points out several stages: first, the World Bank and others issued personal titles to collective land to individualize ownership. Then women had to struggle for and eventually gained the right to co-ownership. Then came a new offensive with the extractive projects that forced women to broaden their analysis. She highlights the need to "take care of each other among others; to recover our bodies and develop power - not to dominate, but to share."

The day ended with these many facets and effects of extractivism, a day that left us with a broad overview and many ideas to walk with: the need for more studies, such as environmental and health baselines that allow us to monitor impacts; how to build more alliances at all levels; how to fill gaps in knowledge and strengthen organizations.

Faced with the ravages of extractivism to communities and the land, we’re more convinced than ever that, as our environmentalist colleague put it, "The destiny of the land in the hands of patriarchy is finite." The sad fact raises the challenge: How do we build a future in the hands of the people, organized, and with a vision of equality, justice and life?

 *Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.


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by JASS on March 8, 2018 at 3:55 am

By Chantrea Koeut-Urgell

I have been a feminist since before I even realized or understood what feminism meant—before I even heard what “feminism” was about. I am a proud feminist because I advocate for women’s rights. And I will always be a feminist because I have wanted and will always want men and women to be treated equally.

I am the oldest daughter in a family of businessmen. I have a younger sister and a younger brother. My parents have a small family business making and selling jewellery and managing real estate.

For some, I may be considered to be ‘breaking the rules’ and crossing the line because of who I am and what I am passionate in doing. For this, there are people who look at me as a ‘bad girl’ in terms of not following our tradition, the Cambodian code of conduct for women as exemplified in the Chbab Srey.

The Chbab Srey was written by a well-known male scholar named Krom Ngoy and instructs Cambodian/Khmer girls to behave sweetly, and to be gentle, nice, friendly, and weak. A Cambodian woman must respect and serve her husband well, no matter how bad he talks or behaves to her. I am not saying this traditional educational policy is completely biased, but it is a way that men dominate women. The rule was created and added to the academic education system for women to memorize and follow without criticizing any phrases in it.

Traditionally, Cambodian women cannot, by themselves, discuss, debate, or defend their own perspective or point of view. We are strictly “controlled” by men. Men tend to have an advantage over women in many unfair ways because of how society is constructed.

In 2007, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs requested the government remove Chbab Srey from the school program. However, they could not remove the code completely from the curriculum and a shorter version of it is still being taught for the purpose of teaching Khmer literature.

Cambodian girls are compared to prohok (a Cambodian rotten fresh-water fish) or to ‘white fabric’, which can be easily stained. Cambodian boys, however, are compared to ‘gold’. Girls have no right to express their opinion in any conversation or discussion in the family. Their words are rejected and considered to be wrong. It also is forbidden for women to have tattoos. If they go out at night, people will automatically think they are prostitutes.

My Experiences

I was abused both physically and sexually when I was a child. When I remember it, it’s like remembering a nightmare. Every time I visualize the past, I have a panic attack and I lock myself in the dark room with music to help me ease my sadness and pain. I cannot figure out clearly what has happened to me exactly or who was the perpetrator because I am not yet ready to reveal everything which is really deep within me. But my childhood was destroyed and I have been living many years with this torture. Frankly, it has taken me years to disclose this suffering through my first writings, though these do not reveal every part of my story. However, I believe it is good to share the tragedy that happened to me and hopefully some women can be helped from what I endured.

One time when I was about sixteen, I was beaten by my mother after watching a movie in the cinema. Even though I only went there with my girlfriends, she thought that the cinema is a place where young people made dates with their lovers. Since the cinema is a dark place, she said it makes guys excited and they might touch or harass me. She was worried about me and wanted to protect me, but for me, her actions were unjust. Punishing me was not fair at all. Guys should be penalized when they do not respect women! Why should us girls suffer? Why should I need to be responsible for their disrespect? We are the victims, not the perpetrators!

I grew up in a very traditional family with strict traditions that were taught to us by my parents and my grandmother. Because I grew up in a Cambodian culture, I cannot do the things that I desired. I had to fight with them to get what I want, as I described above. I was told to be a ‘proper’ Khmer woman – silent and weak. But maybe I am different from other Cambodian girls. I could not force myself to follow what I do not like – especially unreasonable traditions that perpetuate inequality among men and women. I went against my family many times in what I think were unfair traditions that prevent me from reaching my goals.

In our community, my parents were often blamed for how I look or dress, which do not present a “gentle” Cambodian girl. Wearing shorts or shirts that reveal cleavage or shoulders is considered improper and provocative. I cannot have a boyfriend or communicate closely with any guy because it would make the neighbours think of me as a whore – that’s what my parents always warned me.

“Be home early!” I remember once I came home later than 6:30pm as it was the time I young Cambodian journalist Chantrea Koeut-Urgellfinished an English class. I was beaten and my books were thrown out of my room because my mother thought that I did not respect family rules and I had put myself in danger.

I was also not allowed to study journalism. My parents said it is not a career for women because it requires constant travel where sometimes I may face many risks. But I secretly applied for the scholarship at the Department of Media and Communication of the Royal University of Phnom Penh. I took a written exam and was interviewed. I passed and when I told my parents, I think they were really secretly proud and happy, but unfortunately they did not express this feeling toward me. However, their pride was helpful to me so I kept going to reach my dream.

Strictness aside, my parents have always set a good example for me. Thanks to their hard work, they raised me to be a good person. I now have a job in a field that I love: journalism. And I believe that I can be a role model for young women in my country. Cambodian society traditionally considers my profession a career that is suitable only for men.

I served as a part-time researcher for the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in 2015 and according to its survey on Media and Gender in the Asia Pacific; men dominate the field of journalism in Cambodia. Sadly, the workplace does not protect us women journalists because we are women working in the media, which is less supported.

I personally faced harassment in my work as a journalist. Once I travelled to Malaysia for a meeting regarding IFJ research. There were two Cambodian guys, one working as a journalist a well-known Cambodian newspaper and the other a reporter for one of the country’s most popular TV networks. They bothered me with their behaviour and words.

The first night I needed to stay in a hotel in a suburb of Kuala Lumpur with a female roommate from Thailand, as the organizer had told me. Those Cambodian guys asked me if I was scared and if I was, I could come to sleep in their room and that they would take care of me (or let one of them take care of me). I did not really say anything besides, ‘No, thank you’.

The second night, we all moved to Malacca. This time, each person had an individual room. One of them sent me an SMS to see if I needed a massage when I was in the room alone. I felt so uncomfortable about the proposal and responded ‘No’. A few minutes after, he came to knock my door and called my name. I was surprised and nervous. I did not open the door or answer at all. Then, he was gone.

The day after, I wept and reported the incident to the director the IFJ. She said it was inappropriate and she promised to solve the problem. But until now, my case remains unsolved.

These are only some of the countless unfair events that happened to me, but that encouraged me to be stronger every day.

These experiences led me to commit myself to feminism and women’s rights! When inequality, discrimination, violence, abuse and harassment happened to me, I believe many women are facing the same situation, I have committed myself to advocate for the rights of women because women are also human! I hope, by my writing, it could help the community and improve society and eliminate all forms of discrimination against women.

Now you know why I am a feminist.


Image Credit
Photo 1: Heng Sinith
Photo 2: Vorn Sreyleak

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