by Daysi Yamileth Flores Hernandez on September 7, 2016 at 12:32 pm

The skies wept as together we received the month of September in the town of La Esperanza, Honduras. Hundreds of visitors brought with them hearts that beat to the rhythms of their struggles, their love and the many colors of their dreams; they brought their cameras, drums, pens, and the united cry to demand once and for all: Justice for Berta!

The force and the conviction of our presence can be felt not only in this town, but in every community, in every river, in every voice, in every mountain, and even in far-off places where solidarity has grown and today comes together to remind the world that it has been #6monthswithoutJustice.

The COPINH (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras) welcomes us with open arms, and with the care and hospitality of taking us into their home without regard for where you come from or what your issue is. They know we're here to support their struggle, which is our own. They know we are honoring Berta and honoring COPINH. On arriving, beautiful images of Berta's face appear as if to say: "I'm here!"  And your soul winces because the pain of her physical absences hurts like glass cuts to the heart, but then her voice is right beside you as you read her words on a banner: "The right to be happy is very subversive and that's why we should all aspire to be happy", and you see again her broad smile, her laughter, her jokes, her dances... Her love and her passion for life are right there in front of you!

With this spirit of love—so distant from the logic of "development"—we begin today to walk together to demand a permanent halt to the Agua Zarca project, an independent commission investigation into Berta's assassination, and an end to the exploitation of Mother Earth and the persecution of those who care for her and defend her. I have my hat ready, woven proudly by the women of La Cuchilla, a township declared mining-free, who like all the women in these parts have come here today to demand Justice for Berta!

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by JASS on August 14, 2016 at 2:53 pm

Ahoy macomrades Ahoy.

This was the call to action on June 13 as hundreds of Zimbabweans converged in the nation’s capital at the Harare Magistrates Court to support the release of Pastor Evans Mawarire who had been charged for “inciting” violence through what we have now come to know as the #ThisFlag campaign. Among those leading this rallying call was 31-year-old political activist and student, Maureen Kademaunga. Maureen is one of the many Zimbabwean women who have been vocal about the impacts of the ongoing economic instability in Zimbabwe. She stood and negotiated with the police, calling them to action every 30 minutes to give an update on what was taking place in the court room. Holding their Zimbabwean flags, women and men from all walks of life sang, danced and prayed into the night as they waited to hear the verdict. Around 8pm, the charges against Pastor Mawarire were dismissed.

How did we get to this moment of frustration and hope? Let’s rewind.

Zimbabwe is on its Knees

We find ourselves in a crisis. There are no jobs. There is no cash. Basically everything is a problem.” – Mai Sputi

Mai Sputi’s sentiment is shared by many and protest movements such as #ThisFlag, #Tajamuka, #OccupyAfricaUnitySquare, and #beatthepot have emerged because citizens have had enough.

Over the past 20 years, Zimbabwe has been experiencing political and economic upheaval. These include: a deteriorating health system, corrupt government officials, a decaying educational system, lack of revenue to pay civil servants, increased militarization, introduction of statutory instruments banning the import of certain goods perceived as locally produced, regardless of a defunct manufacturing sector. More recently, due to looming cash shortages—now a daily reality—the Reserve Bank Governor announced the introduction of bond notes, legal tender that can only be used in Zimbabwe.

Women are Bearing the Brunt

“We are hungry and we need food,” has become a mantra that is chanted every day in Zimbabwe. Women are among the most affected, but due to different socio-economic backgrounds, the brunt is experienced differently. For example, the cash crisis has seen escalated violence among sex workers and between sex workers and their clients. “Sister Winnet, I am so desperate, these days I am accepting clients who pay even if they refuse to put on a condom,” expressed Jane*

Women who survive through cross-border trading have also been affected by the introduction of the importation ban. This ban. which was introduced using statutory instrument number 64 of 2016, prohibits the importation of specific basic commodities such as food (cereals, baked beans, peanut butter etc.) without licenses. Mai Nzuma a cross-border trader lamented, “women are the ones who are mostly affected by the ban on importation of goods. Most women who are widows, single parents and married have been sustaining their families using proceeds from cross-border trading, but now how [will we] sustain [our] families?”

Women are also part of the Struggle

Women are adding their voices to the different campaigns and protests that have erupted throughout Zimbabwe in many ways, including on social media.

Maureen Kademaunga has participated in dialogues calling for Zimbabweans to think about a transitional government led by bureaucrats as a solution to the problems we currently face. She believes that a transitional government that can be in power for at least two years will help stabilize things as people prepare for an election.

Linda Masarira, a single mother of five who is currently awaiting trial, is one of the few people who occupied Africa Unity Square in Harare for 16 days, demanding for the government to step down and address the issues affecting the nation.

Lawyers such as Fadzayi Mahere and Lucy Chivasa have been offering their personal time by writing on the legality of some of the issues affecting Zimbabwe, such as the call to introduce bond notes.

More recently women gathered to show their frustration through beating pots – a symbol of the hunger facing the nation. The #beatthepots protest which was held in Zimbabwe’s 2nd largest city, Bulawayo has received its fair share of backlash for reinforcing stereotypes about women and their place in the home, particularly their role in cooking and taking care of the family.

However, it is critical to honor and celebrate the many women who have been speaking out, taking a stand and equally putting their lives and those of their loved ones at risk in the process.

Now What?

In the wake of the protest movements in Zimbabwe, the question that many keep asking is, now what? In one of her Facebook posts, Advocate Fadzayi Mahere notes that the even if the #ThisFlag movement does not culminate into anything more, it has managed to shift citizen apathy. Citizens in Zimbabwe are speaking, they have realized the power they have—power to voice and challenge. And that is important.

For feminist activist Rudo Chigudu, while the different protest movements have opened up space to break citizen apathy, they are also problematic. For example, the very foundation of #ThisFlag which is the national flag is a symbol of nationalism and nationalism is one of the greatest sites of patriarchy, misogyny and sexism. “…When we look at the #ThisFlag campaign for example, the national flag is our rallying point, we are all seen as equal citizens of this country, however, women and men are expected to uphold national norms that are very gendered. In a nationalist discourse, women are seen as child bearers and uphold a certain moral standard, while men are expected to be strong and take leadership. I am therefore concerned about how the #ThisFlag movement reflects the needs of women and many other marginalized groups of people” explains Rudo.

Having spoken to many women and also through following social media updates by various women, Rudo’s analysis left me thinking about this moment. Like many other Zimbabweans, I got caught up in the frenzy of the moment, the power I had to voice issues from my perspective, but I am left with a deep desire to stir conversation and thinking that allows for a movement that addresses my needs as a woman, and the needs of many other marginalized groups. And more importantly, a movement that challenges power and questions the many systems of oppression.

*Jane not her real name. Real name concealed for her privacy.

This blog was written by Winnet Shamuyarira

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by JASS on June 2, 2016 at 3:18 pm

The WoMin-JASS Southern Africa Feminist Movement Builders School (1-10 March) was a meeting like no other: 32 women from seven countries across Africa, representing a diversity of languages, ages, backgrounds and more. The one thing these women activists had in common is that all of them work in and fight against big business, corporate mining interests and other extractives industries.

On the first day, we sat together in a circle, each woman taking the floor to introduce themselves in song and dance, with laughter and stories about their activist journeys. Every single woman human rights defender (WHRD) in the room had a story of the violence they face in their fight against extractive industries. From Marange in Zimbabwe to the Democratic Republic of Congo to Nigeria, they each spoke about what it means to be women human rights defenders, wrestling with how to sustain themselves in the face of often overwhelming challenges. Their commitment to their “vocation” as defenders always brings to mind the words of Mexican ecologist, sociologist and activist, Gustavo Castro reflecting on the assassination of environmental and human rights campaigner, Berta Caceres, “Berta didn’t die for a river. Her work wasn’t limited to local issues. She died for something we’re all responsible for; the biodiversity of the planet. We can’t turn our backs on her cause.”

Making a space for women’s voices…

As women struggle for the biodiversity of the planet, defend livelihoods threatened by mining and extractives, and put their lives on the line, we need to prioritise the protection of WHRDs. This starts with creating safe spaces, real or virtual for defenders to learn, share and build solidarities together. The value of spaces to revitalise our activism, re-focus our strategies and reconnect with other defenders is immeasurable.  Aimée Espérance Matungulu Nduwa who works with the Rural Women for Development Collective in DRC to fight against extractive industries and their devastating impact on people and the environment despite facing threats from big mining companies highlights the need to carve out space for women’s voices to be heard:

Firstly, there’s an absence of women’s involvement in mining activities and resistance against such due to women’s lack of knowledge of extractives industries. Women are seen as ‘victims’ but not as people with a voice and stake in community decisions. But they are the most directly affected once these industries have settled in. For instance, women are forcibly removed from the places where minerals are found and lose the lands that are their means of subsistence. They become poor, displaced and often pushed into … marginal enterprises in order to survive.

The face of patriarchy…

WoMin-JASS schoolThe mining and extractives sector has the face of patriarchy, neo-colonialism and capitalism. While women human rights defenders’ contexts may look different, many of their struggles are the same. Whether you are talking about militarised diamond fields in Marange, Zimbabwe, oil pollution in the Niger Delta, coal mining in Mpumalanga South Africa, or hydro-power dam constructions in Bandundu, The Democratic Republic of Congo. In many cases, mining companies are predominantly owned by white males, with mostly Black male labourers in the mines. The mining companies are concerned with profits first and foremost. So it’s not surprising that women, particularly Black women and other women of colour, have no input in most deals and decisions, and that they bear the brunt of these industries.  

Take a look at Marange, Zimbabwe where diamond mining really does impact women miners differently to men.  Women are expected to ‘carry the kitchen down the mining shafts’ in other words, performing gender roles such as preparing food for the men on top of their expected work. Salary scales tend to be determined by gender rather than work done, for instance, women miners earn an average of $100-$200 for a job that would compensate their male counterparts with $400-$500. Sexual violence is rampant in Marange, a highly-militarised government-protected area in which there have been many reported cases of state security agents using rape to ‘punish’ women who are seen as ‘stubborn.’ There is high incidence of sexual harassment and almost complete lack of legal recourse for sexual violence survivors.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is another example of the devastating effects of extractivism on women. The INGA Dam project is set to be the biggest hydroelectric power generator in Africa by 2020. However, communities, particularly women, and their livelihoods and lands are at risk.  Challenging the INGA Dam initiative has become dangerous for activists who suffer threats, assassinations, sexualised violence and some have been forced into hiding to protect themselves.

Women’s agency; against all odds

WoMin-JASS schoolIn spite of the threats to their personhood, women human rights defenders continue to resist this narrative and demand accountability from their states and corporate interests. Their work challenges power and capitalism, and is often met with violent reprisals because activists are a threat to the status quo. For Aimée, giving up or walking away from this struggle is not an option: “We are activists and we are defending rights…. For us it is a vocation that we cannot abandon because of threats.”

During the school, Berta Caceres, a Honduran activist was assassinated for her work to protect her community and ancestral lands from transnational corporate interests. Berta’s assassination is a familiar story for many defenders who are challenging the system. The assassination resonated with many of the women in the WoMin-JASS school, some of whom remembered meeting Berta over the years—a comrade in the struggle. And others, like WHRDs from the DRC, who are facing high levels of violence in their fight against government-backed hydroelectricity projects. Many of the participants at the school shared their own tributes to Berta and messages of encouragement to defenders around the world, a reminder that in the face of violence we can and must find ways to reach out to strengthen our movements and build solidarity across borders.

Berta didn’t die for a river. Her work wasn’t limited to local issues. She died for something we’re all responsible for; the biodiversity of the planet. We can’t turn our backs on her cause….

This blog was written by Winnet Shamuyarira.

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