COP22 Marrakech: Women Rising for Climate Justice

Blog by Emily Arasim and Osprey Orielle Lake

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During WECAN’s public event, ‘Women Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change – Marrakech’ a group of attendees and speakers gather to raise their voices in solidarity with women Earth defenders across the globe

At the close of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP22 climate talks in Marrakech, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International reaffirms that women around the world stand at the forefront of the climate crisis, and are leading the way forward to address issues of social and ecologic justice, build a just transition to renewable energy, and to create a livable future for all. They stand in diversity, strength, resistance and love to denounce exploitation of the Earth and her peoples – taking action both within the UNFCCC and governmental processes, and with their communities, on the frontlines, in the streets, in the fields and in the forests. 

Women for climate justice will not wait for stagnated politicians nor rely on change within broken systems – we will continue to make our struggles and solutions known within the ‘halls of power’, and we will simultaneously push back and move forward to build the other world that we know is possible. Frontline, Indigenous and grassroots women from the Imider movement in Morocco to the Amazon rainforest in South America – from Standing Rock in the US, to Small Islands Nations of the Maldives and Marshall Islands, and countless places in between are all calling for an end to extractivism and immediate action to protect water, land and climate for all generations present and future.

There were several bright spots at the climate talks that will open doors in the process as we go forward, yet for the most part, as we have seen time and again, peoples and women’s movements worldwide are clearly stating that government action is not nearly ambitious enough given the urgency of the climate crisis we face. Despite being promoted as the “COP of action” – the past two weeks were filled with far too much familiar talk and hollow calls for ‘ambitious action’ left unfulfilled.

The United Nations itself confirms that under the Paris Climate Accord, which calls for action to limit global temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degree Celsius, current commitments by governments take us to a catastrophic 3 degrees rise. This is a reality that the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, and our frontline, grassroots and Indigenous women partners and  allies across the world simply refuse to accept.

Coming out of COP22, we denounce lack of action by wealthy countries and nations of the Global North, who continue to skirt their historic responsibility to act and provide meaningful support to those nations who are experiencing the life or death impact of the climate crisis now, and who have contributed the least to the accelerating degradation of the Earth’s ecosystems.

While many wealthy nations of the world continued to drag their feet and avoid serious commitment to climate action or financial support throughout COP22, forty seven developing nations united to create the Climate Vulnerable Forum and declare their intention to lead the green transition and work towards 100% renewable energy. We celebrate this positive momentum, and look forward to following this process to ensure that the transition that unfolds is just, decentralized, democratized and sustainable.

For a safe and livable world, we know there can be no more new fossil fuel development. Despite the ceaseless calls and actions of civil society leaders, this vital truth has not been fully acknowledged or acted upon by the majority of our world governments represented at COP22.

More over, climate talks in Morocco included unprecedented involvement of corporate interests who have consistently fought meaningful climate action, funded climate change denial and whose fundamental mission to extract and burn as much fossil fuels as possible stands in direct contradiction to the aims of the UNFCCC COP process.  Representatives of fossil fuel, mining, water privatization and industrial agriculture companies had a strong presence and access to most key meetings in Marrakech, including closed-door meetings with national representatives.

As we reflect on COP22, we are pleased to see some important forward momentum on the inclusion of gender-responsive climate action into the discourse of the climate negotiations. At long last, member states are no longer debating why gender is important, but rather seeking to understand how it can be acted upon. As member states seek to integrate gender into their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC’s), WECAN and our global partners and allies highlight the importance of projects not only designed for women, but by frontline women themselves.  The gender components of the Paris Agreement have been hard fought for over years by the dedicated efforts of the Women and Gender Constituency.

In light of the recent election of a climate skeptic and strong fossil fuel proponent as the next U.S. president, we also welcome the efforts and actions by the global community to reaffirm committed climate action despite political roadblocks and the dangerous implications of a Trump presidency. The Marrakech Action Proclamation is an important and strong show of global unity, however like the Paris Agreement itself,  it is not binding and represents goals that we have yet to see negotiators and members states put urgent and ambitious action behind given the rapid increase of global warming already being felt around the world.

We know that the international community and global peoples movements will move forward with or without full U.S. involvement, however, should the U.S. rescind on its Paris Agreement commitments, it will risk becoming a pariah state, and will show itself to be opposed to justice, peace, and the very life of future generations.  Even though the Paris Agreement is flawed and we do not support the false solutions promoted within it, it is imperative that the U.S. remain in the process and not abandon millions of people to accelerating climate chaos and disaster. Along with growing civil society networks, WECAN will continue to advocate ceaselessly for action by the U.S. regardless of the presidency.

We know our fight has just become exponentially larger, but we will never give up. We stand ever firmer in our commitment to protect and defend Mother Earth, courageous defenders of the land, all species, and the very web of life itself.  

Let it be known that diverse women around the world are not going to stop speaking out and demonstrating until we keep 80 % of fossil fuels reserves in the ground, stop deforestation and ocean pollution, implement gender equality, respect Indigenous rights and the rights of nature, and finance a just transition to 100% renewable energy. Our red line has been crossed, and we are rising. We will not stand idly by as temperatures continue to increase and Indigenous peoples and land defenders continue to be criminalized and persecuted.

It must be recognized that 80% of the bio-diversity left on Earth is in Indigenous lands and territories and Indigenous peoples put their bodies on the line every day to protect theses lands, forests and waterways. First and foremost we all should be supporting our Indigenous allies because they should not be facing brutal violence as they fight to stop the destruction of their homelands and life-ways, however, we also need to understand that everyone’s survival is interwoven and we cannot live without water, forests and air, and it is paramount that we fight together for Indigenous rights as a central climate solution. It is a tragedy that Indigenous rights was only left to the preamble of the Paris Accord and not the operative part of the text.

While our WECAN analysis places emphasis on the many flaws and failures of COP22 and the UNFCCC process, we reaffirm our continued commitment to action within and outside of climate talks and negotiations. We stand to make sure women’s voices are heard; to expose polluters and false solutions; to offer just solutions; and to spark vital conversation around topics including seed saving, soil and farming, tree planting, Indigenous sovereignty, ending market mechanisms and neoliberal economic models, rights of nature, Traditional Ecologic Knowledge, overconsumption and lifestyle change, and gender equality and women’s leadership at the forefront of all climate decision making.

EXPLORE this Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network blog for futher information on the actions, events and advocacy work that WECAN and allies participated in while on the ground in Morocco over the past two weeks.

Women Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change – Marrakech

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Women’s Leadership and Solutions in Facing Impacts of Climate Change Panel, featuring (left to right) Neema Namadamu (Democratic Republic of Congo) – Diana Donlon (USA) – Natalie Isaacs (Australia) – Amina El Hajjami (Amazigh Peoples, Morocco) – Nina Gualinga (Sarayaku Peoples, Ecuador)

On November 14th, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network held a large public event in downtown Marrakech, gathering together worldwide women leaders to speak out against environmental and social injustice, draw attention to root causes of the climate crisis, and present the diverse array of visions and strategies with which they are working to shape a healthy and equitable world.

Over the course of four panel discussions and several keynote speeches, women leaders from Morocco, sub-Saharan Africa, Pacific Island Nations, North America, South America, Europe and Continental Asia spoke on diverse issues including women, seeds and soils; women’s resistance to fossil fuel extraction; women and forests; oceans; Indigenous struggles for sovereignty and Earth protection; violence against women land defenders; Traditional Ecologic Knowledge; and women’s leadership in climate policy and strategy, amongst many vital topics.

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Women Speak from the Frontlines of Climate Change Panel, featuring (left to right) – Thilmeeza Hussain (Maldives) – Carmen Capriles (translating, Bolivia) – Alicia Cahuiya (Huaorani Peoples, Ecuador) – Ruth Nyambura (Kenya) – Rachida Outouchki (Amazigh Peoples, Morocco) and her translator Marwa Natsheh of Palestine

We send the deepest gratitude to all of the outstanding speakers who shared their stories, struggles, calls to action and plans for real just action to address the climate crisis and global violations of human, Indigenous and nature’s rights. The event filled us and many who attended with inspiration, collective power, collaborative strategies and strength to continue ahead with the enormous work we must all engage in order to build a healthy and just world.

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Call to Action for the Protection and Rights of Defenders of the Land Panel featuring (left to right) Nicole Oliveira (Brazil) – Kayla DeVault (Shawnee/Anishinaabe Peoples, USA) – Cecilia Flores (Aymara Peoples, Chile) with Carmen Capriles (Bolivia) providing translation.

‘Women Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change – Marrakech’ featured: Her Excellency Hilda C. Heine (President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands); Honorable Mary Robinson (Mary Robinson Foundation: Climate Justice; Former President of Ireland); Neema Namadamu (SAFECO; Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network Democratic Republic of Congo); Rachida Outouchki (Amazigh Representative of the High Atlas Foundation, Morocco); Amina El Hajjami (Amazigh Representative of the High Atlas Foundation, Morocco); Ruth Nyambura (African Eco-Feminists Collective; No REDD in Africa Network; Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Kenya); Alicia Cahuiya (Huaorani Peoples, Amazon Rainforest, Ecuador); Simone Lovera (Global Forest Coalition, Paraguay); Diana Lopez (Southwest Workers’ Union; Global Grassroots Justice Alliance, USA); Jacqui Patterson (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Environmental and Climate Justice Program, USA); Thilmeeza Hussain (Former Deputy Ambassador to the UN from the Maldives; Climate Wise Women; Voice of Women, Maldives); Kalyani Raj (UNFCCC Women and Gender Constituency Representative, India); Nicole Oliveira (350.org Latin America, Brazil); Natalie Isaacs (One Million Women, Australia); Diana Donlon (Center for Food Safety, USA); Cecilia Flores (Abya Yala Women Messengers, Aymara Peoples, Chile); Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner (Climate Change Activist / Poet, Marshall Islands); Kayla DeVault (Shawnee/Anishinaabe Peoples, SustainUS Delegation, the Diné Policy Institute, USA); and Osprey Orielle Lake (Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, USA).

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Women’s Strategic Analysis, Policy and Advocacy for Systemic Change and Climate Justice Panel. Pictured left to right – Osprey Orielle Lake (USA) – Kalyani Raj ( India) – Diana Lopez (USA) – Simone Lovera (Paraguay) – Jacqueline Patterson (USA)

The event was opened with traditional Amazigh (Berber) songs by Yamna Oulamine and Nejma Ait Mansour of Morocco. We were also very honored by the presence of Fatima Khalloufi  and Aicha Abouh, two Amazigh women leaders of the community of Imider, Morocco, who are at the heart of one of the countries most critical movements, working for over 5 years to protect the water, life and Indigenous rights of the people of Imider from a disastrous silver mining operation on their land.

Click here for a look into the event, through the powerful words and poetry of Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner of the Marshall Islands.

Click here to read coverage of the event from Pacific Standard Magazine – How Women Are Going From Climate Victims to Climate Leaders

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Fatima Khalloufi (right) and Aicha Abouh (left) – women leaders of the Imider, #300km South movement in Morocco

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Alicia Cahuiya of the Huaorani peoples of Ecuador greets Marshall Island President, H.E. Hilda Heine and speaks about her struggles to protect her people’s lifeway and the Amazon Rainforest from continued oil extraction

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Yamna Oulamine and Nejma Ait Mansour Amazigh (Berber) women of Morocco open the event with traditional song

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Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner (Climate Change Activist / Poet, Marshall Islands) shares her powerful poem ‘Dear Matafele Peinem’ – Photo via Kaliea Frederick

International Climate March

On November 13th, thousands of people from across Morocco and around the word took to the streets of Marrakech to visibilize their social and ecologic struggles and send a strong messages to world governments meeting at COP22 that the peoples movement for climate justice will forge ahead with resistance and solutions regardless of the action, or lack thereof, from the political leadership of our countries. Calls by civil society included, no more polluters inside the COP, respect for Indigenous and women’s rights, Keep It In the Ground, 1.5 to stay alive, solidarity with Standing Rock, Imider and global struggles for Indigenous sovereignty, among many vital calls.

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Local Amazigh peoples and global Indigenous allies lead thousands during the Climate March in Marrakech – Photo by Emily Arasim/WECAN International

The march was led by Amazigh Indigenous people of Morocco, and Indigenous allies from all continents. The WECAN delegation was honored to march with many extraordinary women’s delegations and women’s groups from across the world.

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Scenes from the International Climate March in Marrakech. WECAN was honored to march with many strong women’s groups from around the world

Women’s Caucus and Women and Gender Constituency Advocacy

As participants in the Women’s Caucus and an ally of the UNFCCC Women and Gender Constituency, WECAN International supported the Women and Gender Constituency Key Demands at COP22.

During COP22, we saw the next steps of mainstreaming gender-responsive language and increased space for the voices of Indigenous and women’s groups. Significantly, Parties adopted a decision on gender and climate change which extends the 2014 Lima Work Programme on Gender, and at long last moved from debating why gender is important, to discussions on how to design and implement gender-responsive climate policies. There were many strong conversations on women and gender by national representatives and civil society organizations, however we maintain a strong critique of the lack of concrete action and financial commitments for the support of women on the frontlines of climate change.

We particularly want to honor our hard-working allies, including the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, Women in Europe for a Common Future, the All India Women’s Conference and others, who have advocated ongoingly for just and gender-responsive action at the UNFCCC. We also honor Founder of Reaccion Climatica,  WECAN partner and WECAN COP22 delegation member, Carmen Capriles, who worked actively as part of the Women and Gender Constituency, and who delivered the Constituencies final official intervention on the last night of COP22.

Press Conference – Women for Climate Justice Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change

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Global women for climate justice speak out during WECAN’s official COP22 press conference. Pictured left to right: Carmen Capriles, Marta Ventura, Ruth Nyambura, Neema Namadamu, Thilmeeza Hussain and Osprey Orielle Lake

On November 16th, WECAN presented an UNFCCC COP22 press conference, during which powerful women leaders spoke out to present their climate change struggles and solutions, and to disrupt business as usual and demand system change, not climate change. WECAN was honored to have the opportunity to present this press conference and amplify the voices of frontline, grassroots and Indigenous women from around the world, who are too often not present to speak for themselves within spaces such as COP22.

Ruth Nyambura of the African Eco-Feminists Collective, NO REDD in Africa Network and Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Kenya spoke out as one of the outstanding press conference speakers, explaining, “It’s very clear the the issue of climate change is first and foremost an issue of systemic and structural inequalities that march together. So, we need to re-imagine and transform our economic systems. As women and as feminists, we know too well what happens when we have the externalization of the costs of a capitalist, patriarchal system – and especially with the extractive industries. We understand what it means to have our waters privatized, our soils contaminated, our foods privatized. And so we must imagine an economic system that doesn’t just benefit the few corporations, the North, but actually provides economic justice, because that is something that we rarely talk about…These are fundamental issues we must sort out if we really want to talk about what climate justice is. Climate justice is not a word in a vacuum…we really need to go back to the heart of the matter, and we really need to challenge market based techno-fixes. We cannot solve the climate crisis and the triple crisis of food, water and climate using the same tools that created the current crisis…As much as we are in a dangerous space, there are so many beautiful stories of resistance and we must allow those to carry us through in this period of time.”

We send the deepest thanks to press conference speakers – Thilmeeza Hussain (Voice of Women; Climate Wise Women, Maldives); Neema Namadamu (SAFECO; Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network Democratic Republic of Congo); Ruth Nyambura (African Eco-Feminists Collective; NO REDD in Africa Network; Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Kenya): Marta Ventura (Mayan Peoples, Abya Yala Women Messengers, Guatemala); and Osprey Orielle Lake (Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, USA).

Click here to watch the full WECAN COP22 press conference – Women for Climate Justice Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change  

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Neema Namadamu (left) of SAFECO and WECAN DR Congo and Thilmeeza Hussain of Climate Wise Women and Voice of Women, Maldives, speak out during WECAN’s frontline women press conference

Side Event – Women for Climate Justice Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change

During WECAN’s official COP22 side event, women leaders from around the world spoke truth to power, shared vital stories and climate solutions, and refused to shy away from the pressing realities about our global climate crisis and the need for just, women-led action NOW.  

During the event, Thilmeeza Hussain of the Maldives poignantly explained, “400,000 people are dying every year because of climate change – this is an ecocide that is happening, this is a genocide, this is criminal. We are letting this fossil fuel industry rule our planet and many of our politicians are in their pockets…there is no time to wait until tomorrow, all of us have a moral obligation and responsibility to stand up and speak out – this is not a fight between the developed and the developing, this is not a fight between rich and poor countries, this is a fight between those who are willing to act on climate and those who refuse to act. This is a fight between those who are speaking out and those who choose to stay silent. What we choose to do today will determine the course of the future, our children’s future. We must stand together.”

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Pictured left to right: Thilmeeza Hussain (Maldives), Neema Namadamu (DR Congo), Marta Ventura (Guatemala), Cecilia Flores (Chile), Precious Phiri (Zimbabwe), Sadie-Phoenix Lavoie (Canada) and Carmen Capriles (Bolivia)

We thank everyone who attended and packed this event to capacity, and honor the outstanding presenters – Neema Namadamu (SAFECO; Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network Democratic Republic of Congo); Thilmeeza Hussain (Voice of Women; Climate Wise Women, Maldives); Marta Ventura (Mayan Peoples, Abya Yala Women Messengers, Guatemala); Cecilia Flores (Aymara Peoples, Abya Yala Women Messengers, Chile); Precious Phiri (Regeneration International; EarthWisdom, Zimbabwe); Sadie-Phoenix Lavoie (Anishinaabe Peoples from Sagkeeng First Nation; Red Rising Magazine; University of Winnipeg Students’ Association, Canada); Carmen Capriles (Reacción Climática, Bolivia); Osprey Orielle Lake (Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, USA)

Click here to listen to the full audio of WECAN’s official COP22 side event and hear directly from extraordinary women for climate justice from around the world.

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WECAN COP22 side event speakers stand together in solidarity and action at the end of the event. Speakers and attendees together filled the room with cries of ‘act on climate’ and ‘water is life’

Press Conference – Indigenous Rights and Rights of Nature: Foundations for Systemic Change in Climate Solutions

Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, shared the critical work of the Rights of Nature movement during a COP22 press conference on November 17 – speaking out against the continued commodification of the Earth’s living systems within the UNFCCC process, and presenting an alternative vision for a legal and economic system founded upon respect for the inherent rights of our life giving mountains, forests, waters and soils.

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Osprey Orielle Lake of WECAN International presents a Rights of Nature press conference inside COP22

This press conference was originally to be presented in partnership with the Indigenous Environmental Network, however urgent matters in Standing Rock rightfully prevented their presence. As such, the dynamic press conference focused on Rights of Nature. WECAN International is honored to present this work in partnership with the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature.

Click here to watch the full WECAN COP22 press conference –  Indigenous Rights and Rights of Nature: Foundations for Systemic Change in Climate Solutions

Stand With Standing Rock Solidarity Action & Other Actions Inside COP22

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November 15 prayer circle and action. Photo via SustainUS.

From Morocco to North Dakota – we stand with Standing Rock. On the November 15th Day of Action for Standing Rock, held nationally in the U.S., WECAN was honored to join a prayer circle and solidarity action held at the entrance to the COP22 venue, with the leadership of Indigenous youth delegates and Indigenous allies with SustainUs.

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Global Indigenous leaders hold a Standing Rock Solidarity action inside of COP22 on Nov 17

On November 17th, we took action again inside of the formal UN space, uniting with allies from the Indigenous Environmental Network, Global Grassroots Justice Alliance, Climate Justice Alliance and global Indigenous peoples to support this Indigenous-lead action, and to hear testimony and strong messages to world governments and to connect Indigenous struggles for sovereignty, water and life across the globe.

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Niria Alicia of the SustainUs delegation speaks out during the Standing Rock action inside COP22

During COP22, WECAN team members and delegates also took part in direct actions to declare that ‘We’re still in’ and ‘We will move head’ – making clear that civil society members, and communities and countries around the world will forge ahead for climate action regardless of the deeply troubling results of the recent U.S. election.

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Members of U.S. delegations and global allies gather inside of COP22 to declare that the peoples movement for climate justice will take action on climate regardless of the results of the recent U.S. election

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Civil society members and international delegates gather to send a strong message at the close of COP22 – we will forge ahead for strong climate action no matter the roadblocks faced

WECAN Delegation Member Advocacy

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WECAN Executive Director, Osprey Orielle Lake, strategizes with WECAN allies & delegation members, Thilmeeza Hussain of the Maldives, & Carmen Capriles of Bolivia

WECAN International was thrilled to have a strong global delegation on the ground, who in addition to advocacy efforts, presentations and participating in WECAN actions and events, also led out individual work to meet with their regional representatives; build partnerships; and advocate and engage directly within the negotiating process.

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Carmen Capriles, WECAN COP22 delegation member and Founder of Reaccion Climatica presents the final Women and Gender Constituency intervention at 2:00 am on the last night of COP22

Carmen Capriles, longtime WECAN partner, delegation member, and Founder of Reaccion Climatica in Bolivia, was an active participant in the UNFCCC Women and Gender Constituency throughout the COP22 process. At 2:00 am on the final night of COP22, Carmen presented an inspiring final intervention on behalf of the Women and Gender Constituency, which can be read in full here. She also made a dynamic presentation at WECAN’s side event and kindly provided Spanish translation to various WECAN events and meetings, helping amplify the voices of women from across Latin America.

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Neema Namadamu of SAFECO and WECAN DR Congo shares her story and climate solutions with government officials, educators and journalists from around the world

Neema Namadamu, Director of SAFECO and WECAN Coordinator for the Democratic Republic of Congo was a main spokesperson during all WECAN events, and spent time meeting with African ministers and representatives, journalists and students to share her incredible work re-foresting the Itombwe Rainforest of Congo. Through this joint WECAN/SAFECO Women and Forest project, Neema and rural women from across the Itombwe region have planted more than 25,000  diverse trees, supporting the local women’s economy, health and sustenance base, while mitigating climate change and protecting the cultural and ecologic biodiversity of the region.

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Thilmeeza Hussain of the Maldives speaks out during a WECAN COP22 press conference

Thilmeeza Hussain, WECAN COP22 delegation member, representative of Climate Wise Women, and Founder of Voice of Women, Maldives, spoke out throughout COP22 as a representative of small Island Nations and other vulnerable communities who are experiencing the impacts of ‘climate genocide’ everyday.

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Fadoua Brour, WECAN Co-Coordinator in the MENA region and Founder of the Moroccan Youth Climate Movement and Osprey Orielle Lake of WECAN strategize over dinner in Marrakech

Fadour Brour, WECAN Co-Coordinator for the Middle East/North Africa Region, and Director of the Moroccan Youth Climate Movement was a key organizer of the Conference of the Youth (COY) gathering ,which took place in Marrakech in advance of the climate talks. During COP22, Fadoua led work to strengthen the voices of Moroccan and global youth within the negotiating process and during civil society events. WECAN looks forward to our ongoing work with Fadoua in the MENA region as we act for climate justice.

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Members of the Abya Yala Women’s Delegation from Ecuador, Colombia, Chile and Guatemala with WECAN’s Executive Director

WECAN was also honored to support and collaborate with members of the Abya Yala Women Messengers delegation from South America, including Alicia Cahuiya of the Huaorani Peoples of the Amazon Rainforest, Ecuador. We remain steadfast in our dedication to the protection of the Amazon Rainforest and the Living Forest Proposal presented by the Sarayaku Peoples of Ecuador.

With the Women of the Land

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WECAN team members visit the organic tree nurseries of High Atlas Foundation allies outside of Marrakech

In the days following COP22, members of the WECAN delegation were thrilled to have the opportunity to visit the Ourika Valley of the High Atlas mountains outside of Marrakech.

On one day, WECAN visited a cooperative of women leading the development of sustainable local economies and agriculture through productions of Argan oil. We were delighted to organize with and accompany Her Excellency Hilda Heine, President of the Marshall Islands and her daughter, poet and climate activist Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner on this excursion.

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WECAN team members with H.E. President Hilda Heine and Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner and Farhana Yamin at the women’s Argan oil cooperative in the Ourika Valley outside of Marrakech

During our time together, we learned more about the climate impacts and issues facing the Marshall Islands, including radiation from US nuclear testing; littering and ocean pollution; and rising seas, which pose an immediate and dire threat to the peoples of the Marshall Islands. It was a true pleasure to have time with the President and Kathy to learn more about their ever strengthening work for socio-ecologic justice in their homelands.

The following day, the WECAN team met with local women allies of the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) to visit one of their stunning nursery projects, learn more about their work, and explore points of collaboration and information exchange.

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Osprey Orielle Lake of WECAN and Amina El Hajjami of High Atlas Foundation discuss women’s leadership, biodynamic agriculture, and tree planting as a climate mitigation solution while visiting the nurseries of a local women’s cooperative in the Ourika Valley outside of Marrakech

Under the leadership of Amina El Hajjami, Project Manager for HAF, various women’s cooperative have been formed to work with Indigenous Amazigh (Berber) and rural women across Morocco to plant and distribute trees and medicinal plants to strengthen the local women’s economy and self sufficiency, and to mitigate the impacts of climate change and expanding desertification.

Click here to watch a short interview with Amina about the work of the women’s cooperatives.

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Indigenous Amazigh and rural women leaders meet with the WECAN International team to speak about their women’s cooperative and exchange ideas about women’s leadership and climate change

Women Act for Climate Justice: Ten Days of Global Mobilization

From October 28 to November 6, the days immediately proceeding the UNFCCC COP22 in Marrakech, diverse women and girls around the world in organized together to show our resistance to environmental and social degradation; highlight the climate impacts our communities are facing; demand drastic change away from unjust economic and development systems; and demonstrate the many effective, just and safe climate solutions, strategies and political calls that are being implemented by women and girls around the world on a daily basis.

Hundreds of women and allies from over 35 countries and all continents added powerful action photos and statements, and these messages were carried to Morocco by the WECAN delegation, and shared during various events and meetings. Click here to explore powerful actions from around the world collected in the ‘Women Act for Climate Justice – Ten Days of Global Mobilization’ gallery.

WECAN was honored to co-sponsor this campaign with the Women’s Global Call for Climate Justice.

The stories and calls to action shared in the gallery – like the strong voices shared by WECAN delegation members and global allies on the ground during COP22 – ring out with clarity and strength to declare that another world is possible, and that women around the world are already building it day by day. It is far past time for world governments to join women of the world in walking the path of climate justice and immediate, bold and equitable action on climate change.

Click here to explore a full album photo of WECAN Women for Climate Justice at COP22.

Media requests and comments about the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network on the ground during the UNFCCC COP22 Marrakech may be directed to emily@wecaninternational.org

WECAN COP22 Delegation and Women Act for Climate Justice Campaign in the media to date:

Bringing Women’s Leadership and Indigenous Rights to the Forefront of Conservation Issues and Climate Solutions: WECAN at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature 2016 World Conservation Congress

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Patricia Gualinga (Director of International Relations for the Pueblo of Sarayaku, Ecuador) presents her Living Forest proposal during a main event hosted by the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network and the IUCN Gender Program. Pictured with Leila Salazar Lopez of Amazon Watch and Osprey Orielle Lake of WECAN International 

During the recent September 2016 International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) ‘World Conservation Congress’, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network spoke out, advocated and engaged with global governments, businesses and civil society organization in order to lift up the climate justice framework and show why women’s leadership; Indigenous rights and frontline women’s struggles and solutions; and deep systemic change are key to just and effective conservation policy, and to all attempts to move forward on the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

IUCN is the world’s largest environmental organization, comprised of both governmental and civil society representatives. The IUCN World Conservation Congress, held once every four years, focused this year on the theme of ‘Planet at the Crossroads’ in an attempt to build forward motion to fulfill the Paris Climate Agreement, adopted by 195 world governments in 2015.

As a global network of women for climate justice, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International felt strongly that this was an important moment to highlight the voices of grassroots, frontline and Indigenous women community and Earth defenders to the Congress to share their struggles, experiences and solutions; demonstrate resistance to false solutions to the climate crisis while offering clear directives for a just and safe energy transition; and advocate for No Go Zones and Rights of Nature.

In advance and on the ground in Hawaii, WECAN was honored to be collaborate with Amazon Watch, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), Center for Earth Jurisprudence, the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature and diverse allies gathering at IUCN through the Sacred Lands Film network.

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Our Executive Director had the honor of meeting up with Dr. Jane Goodall. We are deeply honored that Dr. Goodall is on our Advisory Council.

Listed below, explore key engagement points of WECAN Interational’s participation at the World Conservation Congress this year.

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Patricia Gualinga speaks at an IUCN Press Conference.

  • ‘A Deep Dive on Gender and Environment: Exploring the Policy Landscape, Strategies in Action, and Women’s Frontlines Solutions’ – key event and panel presented by WECAN and the IUCN Gender team.
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Women standing for No Go Zones, Motion 26, Living Forests, and Keep It In the Ground at the World Conservation Congress. From left to right: Leila Salazar-López, Paty Gualinga, Osprey Orielle Lake, Aura Tegría, Sônia Bone Guajajara and Atossa Soltani.

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Sally Ranney, Co-Founder of WECAN speaking at the WECAN event at IUCN.

  • Press Conference 1- Women Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change
  • Press Conference 2 – Rights of Nature
  • Advocacy for the end to oil drilling and respect for Indigenous rights and territories in the Ecuadorian Amazon alongside Patricia Gualinga (Director of International Relations, Pueblo of Sarayaku, Ecuadorian Amazon); Leila Salazar Lopez (Amazon Watch) and Atossa Soltani (Amazon Watch)
  • Women’s Caucus Participation
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Women’s Caucus: No Climate Justice without Gender Justice
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Women’s Caucus morning meetings
  • March with local Hawaiian groups to bring visibility to their local issues and voices during the Congress
  • No Dakota Access Pipeline Solidarity Action
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At the World Conservation Congress we learned of dogs attacking #NoDAPL indigenous water and land protectors in North Dakota — we were appalled and enraged! Indigenous leaders and allies in Hawaii sent our love and solidarity.
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March at the IUCN Congress with Bridget Burns of WEDO and Osprey Orielle Lake of WECAN International
  • Oklahoma Fracking Awareness Action
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While at the WCC, Casey Camp Horenik, Ponca Nation leader from Oklahoma and WECAN Steering Committee and Advisory Council member informs us of largest earthquake yet in Oklahoma due to fracking. Indigenous leaders and allies stood in solidarity with Pawnee and Ponca nations after the terrible Earthquake. Casey told us that there had been 36 quakes just that one week.
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Solidarity with Standing Rock Sioux and all allies protecting water and stopping the Dakota Access Pipeline. Indigenous land defenders from over ten countries around the world and allies gathered at the World Conservation Congress demonstrate support.
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Meeting with Hawaiian allies.
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Left to right: Patricia Gualinga (Pueblo of Sarayaku), Leila Salazar Lopez (Amazon Watch), Nina Gualinga (Pueblo of Sarayaku) and Osprey Orielle Lake (WECAN International)
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Preparing for the IUCN conference to uplift frontline women and their communities, our WECAN Executive Director had the pleasure of celebrating with Sylvia Earle on her 81st birthday! She is an incredible elder – an ocean elder and we are very honored to have her on our WECAN Advisory Council.

Supporting Mediterranean Youth in the Fight Against Climate Change: The Role of WECAN MENA at the Mediterranean Youth Climate Forum (MYCF)

Blog by: Soumeya Lerari, WECAN MENA Network Member

On Sunday 17th, July 2016, the Youth Mediterranean Climate  Forum  began as a pre-event to the MEDCOP (The Convention of Climate Stakeholders in the Mediteranian Region), in the city of Tangier, Morocco. The aim of this forum was to bring young people from the 22 Mediterranean countries to voice the position of Mediterranean youth in the fight against climate change.

Around 200 participants attended the event representing a wide range of environmental associations and NGOs from across the region. The Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International was represented by its regional WECAN MENA team at two levels.

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Fadoua Brour presenting the objectives of the Forum

Along with representatives of 5 associations (CliMates, Arab Youth Climate Movement, Italian Climate Network, Leaders Club and the Moroccan Youth Climate Movement, recently joined by 350.org), WECAN MENA leaders Imene Bouchair and Fadoua Brour (also representing the Moroccan Youth Climate Movemen) served as co-Founder and organizers of the forum. This group of young women and men worked all together voluntarily and remotely  for three months with relentless and passionate commitment to make this event a success.

In addition to the deep organizing role, WECAN MENA members: Mouna Loubna Djeghri and Soumeya Lerari, provided a highly appreciated input during the forum.

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Fadoua Brour (left) and Imene Bouchair (right) discussing the outcomes of MYCF

The Mediterranean Youth Climate Forum had three main objectives for the forum and action moving forward.

  • Creation of the the Mediterranean Youth Climate Network in order to syncronize efforts and echo the voice of the Mediterranean youth during climate youth events and climate summits and conferences.
  • Allow participants to meet and discuss the challenges that climate change presents to the Mediterranean region ; discuss and create synergies through the projects that are currently carried out by the youth in the different countries; share experiences and present at initiatives such as the COY12 (Conference of the Youth 12, in Marrakesh next November.)
  • Train the participants to undertake efficient climate actions, through several workshops organized into the future
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Soumeya Lerari (right), participating to the Panel discussion on the creation of the  MYCN and the conclusions of the working groups on the topic.

At the end of the Forum, the founding associations and 350.org presented a Charter instituting the Mediterranean Youth Climate Network, strategic debates sessions on the Charter, long-term and short-term objectives of the Network and other aspects regarding this important project.

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Soumeya Lerari, during an interview with a Moroccan news channel

The MYCF and the creation of the Mediterranean Youth Climate Network (MYCN) will serve as an exciting doorway for WECAN MENA to expand on the ground and online climate solutions trainings, and to learn, strategize and collaborate into the future with Mediterranean region youth and women.

Most importantly, the establishment of the Mediterranean Youth Climate Network will serve as a platform to echo the voices of women of the region in the fight against climate change, working towards WECAN International’s mission to unite women worldwide as powerful stakeholders in sustainability solutions, policy advocacy, and worldwide movement building for social and ecologic justice.

Learn more about the Youth Mediterranean Climate  Forum here.

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Bringing Power to the People: Women for 100% Renewable Energy, 2016 WECAN Training Recap

Blog by Emily Arasim, WECAN International Communications Coordinator

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Wahleah Johns (Black Mesa Water Coalition), Diane Moss (Renewables 100 Policy Institute) and Lynn Benander (Co-op Power) – ‘Women for 100% Renewable Energy: From Installation to Advocacy’ 2016 speakers

In early May 2016, allies from across the US and the world united for ‘Women for 100% Renewable Energy: From Installation to Advocacy’, an open online training presented by the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network U.S. Women’s Climate Justice Initiative.

Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, opened the training with an overview of topics including women’s leadership in movements to end fossil fuel extraction and grow renewable energy, renewable energy within a climate justice framework, and the vital the concept of ‘just transition’.

According to Osprey, climate justice in the context of renewable energy means clean energy solutions that are safe and accessible to all people; that respect natures needs and diversity; that do not involve the pursuit of false solutions such as fracking and large scale hydro-dams; that do not involve the displacement of Indigenous people or local communities; and which give attention and resources first and foremost to frontline communities and those who have been historically sacrificed to dirty energy industries.

She explained that the ‘Just Transition’ to renewables must at its heart incorporate care for workers, families and communities currently involved in fossil fuel production, and be based upon models of decentralization and genuine democracy, with renewable systems planned, owned and benefiting local residents. For WECAN International, a Just Transition also means those with women at the forefront at all stages of planning and implementation.

Focusing in on the U.S., Osprey explained that women direct over 80% of all purchases – one of many potential sources of power to move the country, and the world as a whole, towards clean energy and democratic local economies.

“Power to the people is a very literal phrase,” Osprey explained, “we, and the incredible women you will hear from today, are challenging the status quo, taking back power in our communities, and providing for ourselves the clean power that will allow us to sustain present and future generations, and Earth herself.”

She also reminded all on the call that as less than 5% of the world population, the U.S. is responsible for over 27% of global climate change causing emissions. As women with immense power to effect change, Osprey explained, it is thus the collective and individual responsibility of U.S. women to take action for a just transition to renewable energy, and also pursue systemic change and deep solutions which address overconsumption and deeply unequal distribution – working together to “live better not more”. We must simultaneously transition to clean energy while seriously decreasing over-consumption and unsustainable lifestyles.

Diane Moss took the floor as the first guest speaker. 

Diane is a co-founder of the Renewables 100 Policy Institute and founder of Dima-Media, which specializes in sustainability-related projects, companies and campaigns. Diane is also an independent energy strategies consultant, and has worked with several non-profit organizations, including Friends of the Earth and Heinrich Boell Foundation, as well as various clean tech companies. She has served as US policy advisor to World Future Council, as environmental deputy to United States Congress-member Jane Harman, and as an intern to the Costa Rican Ambassador to UNESCO in Paris. Diane studied at Harvard and New York University, and completed a thesis program in political science in Paris.

Diane began with a bold statement, whose truth is becoming more apparent everyday: It is not a question of if we transition to renewable energy, but of when, how, and with whom leading the way and profiting?

She highlighted 2014/2015 as a “watershed” year for action and ambition for renewable energy, bringing the topic “from pipe-dream to main stream”, with groups as varied as large corporations, neighborhood groups, state governments, and international institutions such as the G7, UNESCO and United Nations beginning to discuss encourage and move towards implementation of 100% renewable energy targets.

According to recent reports, resources and maps by the Renewables 100 Policy Institute and allies, more than 8 countries, 55 cities, 61 regions, 9 utilities, and 10 nonprofits/educational/public representing over 54.9 million people have committed to going 100% renewable in at least one sector in coming years and decades.

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Image from Diane Moss 2016 PowerPoint

Diane discussed Vermont and Hawaii as two powerful examples of citizens ability to effect change and push for a just transitions in the U.S., and highlighted the vital fact that it is rarely political representatives that introduce renewable energy, but rather it is by the will and drive of strong local leaders that renewable energy gets on the table and is actualized.

Diane shared six basic tools available to advance renewable energy, including:

  • 100% renewable energy targets with implementation plans, procurement requirements, milestones (to be set within schools, neighborhoods, cities, place of worship and at other scales, big and small)
  • Renewable portfolio standards (state policies that set targets for how much renewable energy the local or regional utilities must have in their procurement – ex. Hawaii with the goal of a 100% renewable portfolio standard by 2045)
  • Community local choice programs
  • Net zero energy building targets and codes
  • Net metering (get credits for the renewable power you generate; major driver for rooftop solar but under attack by utility companies in some states)
  • Federal tax credits (great tool, but with problems in current form, which gives greatest benefit to those with high incomes)

She ended by stressing the importance of an integrated and holistic view as we seek to change policies, making clear that energy cannot be separated from other critical issues including food, water, consumption and daily decisions to pollute or protect the planet. 

Wahleah Johns, Solar Project Manager with the Black Mesa Water Coalition (BMWC), spoke next. Wahleah comes from the Dine (Navajo) Nation and the community of Forest Lake, one of many atop Black Mesa in what is now north-east Arizona, USA, Turtle Island. She is a founding member of the Black Mesa Water Coalition, and it’s longest standing staff member. In her several years at BMWC she has taken on various roles, helping lead groundbreaking legislative victories for groundwater protection, green jobs, and environmental justice across the Dine Nation, Arizona and the U.S. Southwest. Wahleah is also a member of the Navajo Green Economy Coalition, working to educate the local community and lobby at the federal, state and tribal levels on behalf of maintaining balance with nature and building self-sustaining Indigenous communities.

In her current role as BMWC’s Black Mesa Solar Project Coordinator, Wahleah is working out of the Bay Area, California to gain organizational expertise and support for transitioning Black Mesa’s reclaimed mining lands into solar farms.

Wahleah began her presentation with a background on the Dine (Navajo) Nation and it’s dark history with uranium, coal and other toxic mining.

There are more than 300,000 people living across the Dine Nation, which stretches some 27,000 square miles across what are now the U.S. states of New Mexico and Arizona. Wahleahs community of Forest Lake sits next to one of the largest coal mine strips in the country, touted for providing “affordable power” for the region. However, as Wahleah’s powerful presentation highlighted, the devastation wrought on the Earth and Dine communities like Forest Lake make clear that this power is not “affordable”, nor excusable.

Most of the energy created through exploitation of Dine lands is sent to power nearby cities in Arizona and California – while over 32% of Dine homes lack access to electricity and 38% go without running water. The Navajo Generating Station (not owned by the Dine people, despite the name) processes toxic coal to power the Central Arizona Project (CAP) water canals, which carry water across the dry state to booming cities, luxury residences and unsustainable agricultural areas.

Mining companies are adding insult to injury by sucking up billions of gallons of water from the pristine ice age Navajo Aquifer, the lifeline of the parched desert region. Wahleah reported that over 3.3 million gallons of water are used everyday by Peabody coal for operations on Dine lands, drying up sacred water springs, wells and rivers vital to cultural, spiritual, economic and physical survival.

The environmental racism and disregard for Indigenous rights and wellbeing is brutally apparent.

In 2006, Black Mesa Water Coalition and regional allies pressured tribal leaders to demand the end of the use of Peabody Coal’s slurry lines, citing dire threats and impacts on fresh water sources. Since initial struggles and victories, Wahleah and her colleagues have been spearheading growing discussions and action groups to figure out what it really means to shut down coal and uranium mines, generating stations and pipelines in communities that have been polluted and made dependent on extraction for decades.

BMWC, under the leadership of Wahleah and the outstanding climate woman, Jihan Gearon, is resisting new mining and infrastructure, and researching ways to repurpose brown and leach fields, with the goal of reclaiming a sizable portion of the 14 thousand acres of mined land for use in new solar projects. Arizona has 300+ days of sunshine a year, with seemingly endless renewable potential.

Among many goals, the Black Mesa Solar Project aims to replace the dirty Navajo Generating Station coal used to power the CAP with solar energy, owned by and benefiting Dine communities.

Wahleah and colleagues are learning how to deal with old infrastructure, roads and toxic dumping, and moving forward with an off grid solar install (like the amazing Lubicon Solar project in the middle of the Canadian Tar Sands), thus forging a path for the Dine people to have access to and lead the just next system that climate activists around the world are calling forth.

Groups and individuals across the Navajo nation are beginning to collaborate, collect recommendations and build action plans of how to move forward collectively and as a tribal nation, shedding a toxic legacy and seeking out a new path based on sustainable living and Indigenous sovereignty.

In starting solar power projects on reclaimed lands, held in community hands – Wahleah and other Dine leaders and community members are building hope and directly challenging the unsustainable status quo that has exploited their people for generations

As they build the transition on Dine lands, Wahleah and colleagues are drawing upon their rich culture and the knowledge and vision of their ancestors, building solar and passive energy homes in the style of traditional Dine hogans, and translating renewable energy resources and technical information into the Dine language.

Wahleah discussed renewable energy and the Just Transition as a way to enliven spiritual and cultural connection, touching on work to reach out to children, youth, adults and elders by connecting renewable energy information with traditional knowledge and storytelling about the sun and Dine thought on relationship to light and the sacred directions. According to Wahleah, Dine stories recount that the sun has always helped their people overcome challenges.

Wahleah ended by explaining that a Just Transition remands reciprocity and justice for those, such as the Dine (Navajo) Nation, who have had their lives, water, health and cultural and spiritual connection to their homelands denigrated by decades of fossil fuel extraction. She reminded participants that while much attention is given to exploitation and horror abroad, within the wealthy Northern Nation, Indigenous communities have also been and continue to be sacrificed to bring luxury, comfort, and energy those with institutionalized power and privilege.

Within this context, it is clear that the movement for renewables and just climate change solutions must be diverse and open, and shaped by Indigenous peoples, low-income communities and marginalized people of all forms.

“100% renewable energy really resonates with Indigenous communities – it means the ability to control our own destiny, to build self reliance and sovereignty – this is what clean energy can provide is it is done right,” Wahleah explained.

She emphasized that the team working on Black Mesa is still finding their way everyday, learning lessons for themselves and all communities on the frontlines struggling against extraction and the legacy of colonialism. She reflected on the many invaluable allies who have helped her and Black Mesa make model business plans, and grow their understanding of markets and potential for creating an effective renewable system.

“We do this work for future generations, for the health of our communities, and because of our deep understanding of our connection to everything, “ Wahleah reflected in her closing comments.

Her work, and that of Black Mesa Water Coalition as a whole, is part of a long line of Indigenous rights, environmental racism and anti-extraction work led by courageous Dine leaders over the decades.

Lynn Benander took the floor as the final presenter of the day.

Lynn Benander, CEO and President of Co-op Power, works tirelessly to build community ownership of renewable energy resources in New England and New York, USA. She has worked for many years to support the development of consumer, producer, worker-owned and other locally-controlled businesses that meet basic needs for energy, food, and shelter. Ms. Benander has raised more than $25 million in development grants, renewable energy grants, and financing for business development. She lives in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts and serves on numerous cooperative and community boards and on her town’s energy and finance committees.

Lynn shared the story of Co-op Power as a powerful example of what is possible when a “multi-race, multi-class movement” unites to build locally owned and operated renewable energy systems.

Co-op Power is a consumer-owned sustainable energy cooperative, which operated within a network of co-ops that together support 22 ‘Green Enterprises’, 200 ‘Good Green Jobs’ and a growing group of over 7,000 people across Massachusetts and Vermont.

Using the locally owned co-op model, every community involved with Co-op Power decides what approach and type of renewables they wish to use, and then works collectively to ensure that energy is created and distributed in a just and inclusive way. According to Lynn, women are playing a key role on every level of community renewable energy development, as project catalysts, investors, activists, policymakers, supporters, organizers, and builders.

Through their diverse network, Co-op Power members are learning how to reclaim their power and take back the commons through green job and installation training, environmentally sustainable renewable choices, just and open renewable financing options, and local planning, installation and benefit.

The transition to renewables is about the “power of the people to build local, living economies,” Lynn explained, stressing that truly effective systems must be firmly grounded and supportive of local resilience and sovereignty.

During her presentation, Lynn decried the current U.S. renewables tax incentive structure, which supports wealthy investors more than local communities, families and small scale projects, and stressed the need for new enabling legislation to make renewable energy accessible to all.

Despite the gap in policy support in much of the U.S., grassroots urban and rural solar projects are popping up in inspired communities across the country, from the rooftops of low-income housing units in New York City, to the tops of greenhouses in California and beyond.

In closing, Lynn drew attention to the Energy Democracy Movement and one of its key leaders, Denise Fairchild, and shared the Co-op Power ‘5 Years to Energy Freedom’ plan, which asks people to pledge to reduce energy consumption by 50%, and then work towards using renewables to supply the other half of their energy needs.

‘Women for 100% Renewable Energy: From Installation to Advocacy’ concluded with a Question and Answer session exploring topics including the sourcing of renewable, fairly traded materials for clean energy technology; the developing US solar market; energy efficiency; what reciprocity for frontline community looks like in action; and questions about the effectiveness of working inside the system versus outside the system (using tools such as non-violent civil disobedience) in pursuit of timely action to #KeepItInTheGround and transition to renewables.

Learn more about past and upcoming US Women’s Climate Justice Initiative Trainings here.

Training Resources

 

Indigenous Women of the Americas Protecting Mother Earth: Struggles and Climate Change Solutions

Blog by Emily Arasim and Osprey Orielle Lake

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Gloria Ushigua (Sápara Nation, Ecuador) and Casey Camp Horinek (Ponca Nation, Oklahoma, USA) joined in a moment of solidarity and love. These two outstanding Indigenous women leaders are uniting across continents to protect and defend the Earth and their communities from oil extraction – Photo by Joan Beard

Indigenous women around the world are impacted first and worst by the effects of environmental destruction and a rapidly changing climate, their disproportionate vulnerability the result of a brutal intersection of colonialism, racism and sexism whose effects continue largely unabated. However despite all odds and against great challenges, it is these very same Indigenous women who are rising up, challenging the status quo and taking action to build the vital solutions so desperately needed in order to chart an equitable and sustainable course for humanity.

On May 12, 2016, an outstanding group of Indigenous women leaders from South and North America (Turtle Island) united to share their concerns, struggles and plans for change at ‘Indigenous Women of the Americas Protecting Mother Earth: Struggles and Climate Solutions’, an afternoon event presented by the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International and our allies at Amazon Watch and the Indigenous Environmental Network.

‘Indigenous Women of the Americas Protecting Mother Earth: Struggles and Climate Solutions’ was held in New York City in parallel to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, with the expressed purpose of bringing public visibility to the diverse stories, solutions and demands of frontline women climate leaders.

While the sentiment and experiences shared by each speaker was unique and firmly rooted in their own homeland and place – there were two overriding themes that flowed from the women’s words: (1) respect for and implementation of Indigenous rights and knowledge is a prerequisite for climate justice and effective sustainability solutions and (2) in protecting the rights, health, lives and lands of Indigenous peoples, we ultimately safeguard the future not only of Indigenous nations (which is reason enough), but of the Earth and all it’s people. We are all unequivocally interdependent within the systems of life.

Throughout the presentations, the women also illuminated important points around the meaning of being an aware, respectful and diligent Indigenous ally, and shared a vision for the thriving future that we might still have if we learn to truly honor and uphold Indigenous rights at a global scale.

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Pictured left to right: Aura Tegria Cristancho (U’wa, Colombia), Leo Cerda (Kichwa, Ecuador), Gloria Ushigua (Sápara, Ecuador), Casey Camp Horinek (Ponca, USA), Crystal Lameman (Beaver Lake Cree, Canada), Osprey Orielle Lake (WECAN Executive Director) introducing the panel of speakers. Not pictured: Alicia Cahuilla (Huaorani, Ecuador) and Kandi Mossett (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, USA) – Photo by Joan Beard

In honoring the traditions of Indigenous allies, the event opened with prayers by Casey Camp Horinek, elder and a leader of the Ponca Nation (Oklahoma, Turtle Island, USA), who called for attention to the gift of the present day, and the capacity we all have to act, stand and relate to Mother Earth in a different way.

Casey reminded audience members that we are all relatives of each other and of the Earth, and that our greatest hope for the future lies in remembering this and growing together in strength and unity. She called upon all present to thank and honor the women and men who came before, standing in the face of adversity on behalf of the Earth, and through their brave actions allowing us to be here together today.

Osprey provided introductory remarks and a base for the day’s presentations by highlighting how Indigenous peoples, and Indigenous women in particular are the most vital voices and solutions bearers in the fight to address climate change and it’s roots in deep structural injustices within our social, economic and political systems. The audience was reminded that over 80% of the worlds remaining biodiversity lies in the hands of Indigenous communities, who have coexisted with and maintained these living systems for generations.

“We must make it very clear that we are interconnected. They [Indigenous women] are the ones on the frontlines defending our air, the mountains, forests, rivers. They are keeping the web of life alive, and if they go down we are all going down. People are putting their bodies on the line, people like Berta Cáceres… and we need to understand that this is directly our family. These women are on the frontline making possible the continuity of life for all of us, so let us listen deeply and engage,” Osprey commented.

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Gloria Ushigua – Photo by Joan Beard

Gloria Ushigua, President of the Association of Sapara Women, spoke first, with translation by Leo Cerda (Kichwa) of Amazon Watch. [All translated quotes should be considered translations, not direct quotations]

Gloria is a land and community defender from deep within the southeastern Ecuadorian Amazon, committed to maintaining the cultural identity and integrity of the Sápara peoples and promoting the rights of Indigenous women. She stands at the forefront of the regional movement to stop oil drilling – speaking out, advocating within the United Nations, and leading marches and demonstrations in response to violent policies that continue to open the Amazon of Ecuador to fossil fuel development and the subsequent pollution and displacement of Indigenous communities.

In January of 2016, the Ecuadorian government and Chinese state owned oil corporation Andes Petroleum signed a new oil lease handing over almost one million acres of pristine rainforest forest overlapping the traditional territories of the Sápara people, as well as their neighbors the Kichwa of Sarayaku and the Shuar. On March 8, 2016, International Women’s Day, Gloria and hundreds of other Indigenous women of seven regional nationalities took to the streets in Ecuador to denounce the new contract. Their resistance to the new oil leases has been ceaseless.

“Our lives and our spirits depend upon the land that we live on, and they [the oil companies] do not understand this relationship that we have between the land, our families, our ancestors and the spirits.”

Gloria provided background on the intense threats and pressures her peoples are feeling to cede to extraction on their homelands, which remain uncontaminated unlike their neighbors to the north.

“We are going through a lot in our territory. The government has been threatening us and trying to create division within our territory… They think that we are going to get weakened by the divisions, by all of the problems they are bringing into our community, but they don’t know that we are strong and we will still stand strong even though they want to try to create this struggle. We are very few people, only about 200 in our territory, but we are strong. This is our land, this is where we have our livelihoods, our medicine, our water, our food.”

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Gloria Ushigua marches against oil extraction in the Amazon of Ecuador

Article 57 of Ecuador’s constitution requires that the consent of Indigenous peoples is obtained before any projects that impact their ancestral land or exploit resources within their territory lands can proceed. Indigenous consent is also a requirement of international law under the auspices of Free, Prior, and Informed Consultation (FPIC).

While the Ecuadorian government has repeatedly claimed to have consulted the Sápara Nation about the new oil leases, in actuality, they have instigated a campaign to intimidate and divide the Sápara. As Gloria made clear, in spite of the government’s false claims of community approval and attempts to create a divided Sápara leadership body, the legitimate federation of the Sápara does not and will not recognize any consent for access to or development in their territory.

“I come here to bring the message from my people….the government thinks we are alone but we are not alone, we have an international community of supporters like you, like the people here…” Gloria continued, “The people in my community want to keep oil in the ground, and that is a consensus.”

In the month following the May 2016 event in New York City, Gloria Ushigua and her family members and community began suffering from escalated violence, intimidation and harassment. In solidarity with Gloria, Frontline Defenders and the Women’s Urgent Action Fund have both released urgent statements for organizational sign-on and wide spread public sharing and advocacy.

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Indigenous women leaders of seven Indigenous allies march against oil extraction in the Amazon in Puyo, Ecuador on International Women’s Day, March 8 2016. Gloria Ushigua (Sápara Nationality, Ecuador) and Casey Camp Horinek (Ponca Nation, Oklahoma, USA) pictured at left – Photo by Emily Arasim

Alicia Hueiya Cahuilla is Huoarani woman leader, born and living in what is now called Yasuni National Park, Ecuador, spoke next. Alicia is the Vice President of the NAWE, the Association of the Huaorani Nationality of Ecuador, and has also served as the President of AMWAUE, the Association of Huaorani Women of Ecuador. She is a foremost woman defender of Yasuni, and has received death threats and faced other intimidation for her work.

Alicia Hueiya believes that action to respect Indigenous rights and keep oil under the ground is the most vital, effective climate solution, and has delivered this message, and the story of her communities poisoning and resistance, with great conviction in front of grassroots leaders, concerned allies, news and media, international governments and policymakers and fellow Indigenous women land defenders across the globe. Alicia spoke at a WECAN International event in Lima, Peru in 2014 that ran parallel to the UNFCCC climate talks at COP20 – watch the powerful coverage on Democracy Now! here.

Unlike Gloria and the Sápara people in the Southern Ecuadorian Amazon, the land immediately surrounding Alicia’s homeland in the Northern Amazon has already been experiencing the horrendous impacts of oil extraction for several decades.

Alicia told the story of women in her community and other as rising as the voice of the Amazon herself. She denounced excursions for oil into supposedly protected national parks such as Yasuni, and made clear that it is the lands in Indigenous hands, free of oil extraction that continue to flourish, create real development, provide for their people and maintain the balance of the global climate.

At Alicia’s request, her direct comments, quotes and photos have not been shared publicly outside of the event, and are not included in this blog.

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Aura Tegria Cristancho (U’wa people of Colombia) and Leo Cerda (Kichwa people of Ecuador, Amazon Watch) – Photo by Joan Beard

Following the translation of Alicia’s powerful presentation, Leo Cerda, Amazon Watch Field Coordinator and Kichwa man from the city of Tena, Ecuador, shared more background and an update on the unfolding situation in Ecuador.

Leo explained that the Ecuadorian government is repeatedly violating the Rights of Nature officially enshrined in their 2008 constitution, and also failing to respect laws of Free, Prior and Informed Consent of Indigenous peoples regarding fossil fuel extraction and mining. Echoing Alicia, he explained that even the countries national reserves are no longer off limits.

Leo further detailed the story of the ‘11th round’ of oil concessions, which opens up over twelve million acres of vibrant forest to extraction in 16 ‘oil blocks’. The two blocks encompassing the lands of Gloria and the Sápara people represent just two of these sixteen potential disaster zones.

“The process of the government is to try to create division within organizations and communities. So the women in the past years have been the strongest ones to come up front – they are the frontlines,” Leo explained, referencing many past actions including the March 2016 International Women’s Day march in Puyo, Ecuador.

“We see an uprising of the women coming together…because their territories are going to be effected, because they take care about the land and they care about the future, the future of next generations. We are talking here about climate change, about human rights – and this is not only an Indigenous struggle anymore, this is a struggle of all of us, the people that breathe…if we don’t protect the Amazon and forests around the world, how will our children live?”

“I am honored as the next generation to be with such amazing women speaking out,” Leo reflected.

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Kandi Mosset (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara) leads a ‘toxic tour’ of a fracking spill site near the Fort Berthold Reservation, North Dakota, USA – Photo by Emily Arasim

Kandi Mossett spoke next, joining the event via Skype.

Kandi Mossett is a Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara women from what is now called the Fort Berthold Reservation, North Dakota, USA. Kandi stands on the frontlines of the fight to stop fracking and other forms of extreme energy extraction through powerful community organizing efforts and work as the Indigenous Environmental Network Extreme Energy and Just Transition Campaign Lead Organizer. She has emerged as a leading voice in the fight to bring visibility to the impacts that climate change and environmental injustice are having on Indigenous communities across North America, engaging in international advocacy work, including participation in several UN Forums and a testimony before the U.S. Congress on the climate issue and its links to issues of health, identity, and well being on tribal lands.

She introduced herself and began her presentation in her native language, “Hello relatives my name is Eagle Woman, my English name is Kandi Mossett.”

Kandi told a brief history of the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara peoples, three groups driven together following colonization and the brutal devastation of the smallpox epidemics inflicted by US settlers. After facing and surviving generations of colonization, Kandi explained that her people now face a new danger threatening to take their lands and livelihoods – the threat of hydraulic fracking.

Since the early 2000’s, a fracking epidemic in the Bakken region of North Dakota has rocketed the state to the position of second largest US oil producer after Texas, bringing a range of social and environmental impacts to the region, with particularly devastating effects on Indigenous women in North Dakota.

Kandi began her presentation by showing photos of turquoise lake water, the result of fracking runoff which has caused severe pollution, green-blue algae blooms and oxygen deprivation in Lake Sakakawea, a dam at the center of the at Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara lands, and at the headwaters of the Missouri River.

She also shared photos from a July 2014 fracking brine spill near the lake, which residents were told was nothing to worry about despite the visible dead zone and failure of the US Environmental Protection Agency to provide full reports and analysis.

Kandi recounted how local women leaders, including Lisa DeVille, spearheaded action and brought Duke University students out to take soil samples and analyze the spill site and dead land. Their report back told of high levels of benzenes and a wide range of cancer causing chemicals far exceeding safe consumption levels – all left sitting on the surface of the land.

“Own tribal council has sold out to corporations – they believe the lies, they believe it is safe without doing their own due diligence,” Kandi explained.

She detailed some of the horrendous environmental practices taking place in North Dakota, including largely unregulated direct flaring (burning) of natural gas. The open flares make the once dark plains of the state glow on satellite images like the lights of a major metropolis, and have made the Bakken the source of more that 2% of global methane emissions.

Kandi spoke solemnly, “No matter where you are in the world, you are still breathing this in.”

She recounted the rush of dangers experienced by local communities, including toxic air, poisoned water, oil truck explosions, and countless social ills brought by oil workers – ranging from vandalism and racist threats, to human trafficking, drug abuses and violent abuse of local women.

Many of the social dangers are centered in ‘man camps’, large trailer complexes housing hundreds, even thousands of oil workers. In a context of lawlessness and disregard for local Indigenous communities and the land, where Kandi reports that rapes have shot up roughly 168%, with the vast majority of abuses falling upon Indigenous women.

“Violence against women follows violence against the Earth. Them digging, flaring, polluting – this is violence against our Mother…We are facing so many social problems and we haven’t even begun to really see the environmental problems, that’s why I get so emotional. Twenty years down the line we will see it, the bone cancers from the radioactive materials… I am scared for our children and our future and this horrible legacy we are leaving behind. And so we are saying we wont do this anymore, lets get out and fight this.”

Even in the face of great pain, Kandi held out countless examples of reason for hope.

She told the story of the Standing Rock Sioux in the Southern part of the state, who had witnessed the devastation of Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara peoples to the north, and stood up to push back, block pipelines and ban fracking within their sovereign lands.

Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara youth in Fort Berthold are also standing up, joining local women like Kandi and Lisa DeVille who have been fighting to expose the extreme circumstances on their lands for years. As Kandi spoke via Skype, a group of young Fort Berthold youth had just mobilized and rode horses over a Lake Sakakawea bridge to interrupt a tribal council meeting and deliver their message against continued exploitation of the Earth and her peoples.

“People are starting to see it, youth are starting to stand up and say ‘What are we doing to our planet?… We are up against big money, big corporations, but over the past years we’ve seen more and more that all it takes is people power, our youth fighting back to make change.”

Kandi reflected that standing out and being an activist is often a frightening thing to do, but that “we are all we have…We as human beings taking action are the only ones that can change the problems that we humans have created…so use your voice, fight back.”

She provided more hopeful examples including a recently held water blessing on Fort Berthold reservation, which Kandi’s elders said was the first large collective water ceremony in over 20 years. She cited other important cases of Indigenous leadership and resistance, including the recent horse ride across South Dakota in opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline; the story of youth who ran over 500 miles to the Army Corps of Engineers in Nebraska to say no to fossil fuel infrastructure; and the broad and quickly growing global #KeepItInTheGround movement.

Kandi spoke to the great need for creative activism and community organizing, and for the peoples’ movement to get together, hold onto tradition and show our power. She called for simultaneously organizing locally and connecting across borders, recalling powerful work connecting pipeline fighters from the US Gulf Coast to North Dakota and the Canadian Tar Sands, as well as the ground breaking work of the Indigenous Women of the Americas Defenders of Mother Earth Treaty Compact signed between Indigenous women of the US, Canada and Ecuador in 2015 and now being signed by many Indigenous women worldwide.

“We have to make it so that it is no longer profitable and OK for them [oil companies] to continue their business as usual,” Kandi explained, emphasizing that rather that pursuing a ‘not in my back yard’ type of fight, we must stand together to stop extraction in North America, and the homes of all our global brothers and sisters.

“We are addicted, to oil, and it is no better that any other addiction people have. If we want to get off this addiction we need to come together, with Indigenous women leading all across the frontlines….We know we have to protect the water. It is no coincidence that our babies are born in water…. We know that water literally is life, and it has to be protected at all costs.”

Kandi ended by urging audience members to study and explore colonization of the mind.

“What we are really talking about is decolonizing, and changing our mindset, changing the way that people interact with each other…” Kandi explained, “We want to protect future generations, and protect seven generations ahead.”

Most politicians and corporate barons, she pointed out, don’t think of the past or future generations “because they have a sickness, and that sickness is called greed.”

To build a foundation of climate justice, she pointed to the need for decolonization and a move away from extractive capitalism, which both center on the idea that we can “take and take and never give back”, something explicitly discouraged in all Indigenous worldviews.

“As Indigenous people we have ‘Traditional Ecologic Knowledge’, but here is the secret – ‘common sense’. Whatever happens to one person happens to all of us.”

Crystal Lameman, Beaver Lake Cree of Treaty No. 6, Alberta, Canada took the floor next.

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Crystal Lameman – Photo by Joan Beard

Crystal Lameman is the Treaty Coordinator and Communications Manager for the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, working previously as a Climate and Energy Campaigner for Sierra Club Canada, Prairie Chapter and as the Canadian Tar Sands Campaigner for the Indigenous Environmental Network. Since 2008, Crystal has been at the forefront of legal action by the Beaver Lake Cree, calling for action to address infringement of their people’s inherent and Treaty Rights to hunt, fish, trap, and gather in perpetuity, due to over-industrialization and extraction in their territory.

Crystal opened in her traditional language, and provided background on her home in the lands of the Cree and Dene.

Today, Crystal reported that Alberta, Canada is the source of more than 37% of the countries greenhouse gas emissions. Roughly 22% of these emissions come from the Alberta tar sands, making them the single biggest source of climate change causing pollution in Canada, and one of the largest sources of emission in the world.

Crystal explained that tar sands extraction has a dire two-fold impact, contributing to long-term climate change, while also wreaking havoc through immediate environmental consequences. Both long term climate changes and direct pollution are having growing impact on the land and the Indigenous Nations, like Crystal’s, who maintain a close relationship with the land, and rely upon it directly for medicines, food and water. Because of this close relationship, Indigenous communities are often the first to see and experience the degradation of the land, and contamination and displacement of ecologic and social communities.

Crystal mapped out the three large tar sands oil deposits in Alberta (cumulatively the third largest global crude oil deposits after Saudi Arabia) and the three Indigenous treaty territories violated by their extraction.

“Through invasive energy extraction we have found ourselves, literally, in a fight over Mothers bones, her very core – playing environmental roulette with our lives… and there is one thing about that game, someone always looses, and right now it is our next generations that are loosing… Right now my biggest responsibility is that I am a mother, I am blessed to give life, and I have a responsibility to those children,”

In addition to speaking to the dire effect of tar sands air and water pollution, she also spoke to the dire situation around deforestation of Canada’s pristine Boreal forest.

According to Crystal, millions, if not billions of tons of ‘overburden’, the industry term for pristine forest and soil, and one of the worlds most important carbon sinks – is ripped away, moved and destroyed to make way for expanded extraction. In total, the amount of land destroyed and moved for extraction in Alberta is estimated to be more than for the Great Wall of China, the Suez Canal, Great Pyramid of Cheops and 10 largest dams in world – combined.

A large portion of tar sands expansion is happening in and around Indigenous First Nations territories, on lands being taken and violated without respect to internationally recognized rights of Indigenous peoples to Free, Prior and Informed Consent. Crystal additionally cited Article 32 of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous peoples, which declares Indigenous rights to determine and direct priorities for use of land and resources that fall within or affect their territories.

34,773 of the 38,972 square kilometers of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation’s traditional territory as been leased to oil and gas and is suffering the cumulative impacts of removal of forests, soil loss, oil pollution, toxic spills, run off, and disruption of migration patterns, to name but a few.

Contamination of traditional foods, including fish, beaver and moose, is growing threat, with arsenic levels in caribous recently found to be reaching 450 times higher than safe consumption levels.

“They [the government and oil companies] like to talk about ‘reclamation’, essentially trying to give back what was never theirs to take,” Crystal asserted. Despite this, only 0.2% of tar sands extraction lands have seen any type of restoration attempts.

Despite the great loss faced by her community and others across Alberta, Crystal continued on to provide incredible reasons for hope.

“Some of our last remaining forests, the planets biodiversity, rivers, lakes and streams are in Indigenous peoples territories…So in order to fight climate change, stop deforestation and meet sustainable development goals, there is an urgent need to recognize the collective land rights of Indigenous peoples,” Crystal explained, making the case for Indigenous rights as perhaps the most important, effective rights-based legal mechanisms for environmental and social defense.

“Through the rights of Indigenous peoples, we have the last remaining stronghold in protecting our environment.”

Through the ongoing Beaver Lake Cree legal case, Crystal and her colleagues and allies are seeking to demonstrate that Indigenous rights are the strongest possible legally binding strategy to halt the expansion of the tar sands.

“Many communities nations in our territories are moving towards determining what Indigenous economic sovereignty looks like by participating in the Just Transition and launching large renewable energy projections, exercising food security and sovereignty…we are growing and we are producing on our lands, while at the same time continuing to break down legislation that undermines our rights and labels us as bad people for wanting better for our children”

In closing her presentation, Crystal drew attention to the massive fires raging in Alberta, and the social justice components of work to end extraction.

“We need to stop pretending like genocide no longer exists. It continues, it is alive and well in extreme resource extraction. But we are here, as Indigenous people we are here and we are not going anywhere. And we continue to fight because the very essence of who we are is in the land and the water… so our land has not and will never be for sale,” Crystal concluded.

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Aura Tegria Cristancho – Photo by Joan Beard

Aura Tegria Cristancho, young woman leader and representative of the U’wa people of Colombia, spoke next, with Spanish translation by Leo Cerda.

At 18, Aura became the first ever Indigenous U’wa woman to attend university, receiving her law degree and going on to work as the legal advisor for the Asou’Wa Association of the U’wa people. Since then, Aura has worked extensively with EarthRights International, based out of Lima, Peru. In 2014, she traveled across the US to speak with hundreds of people at a host of public presentations, private advocacy meetings and media interviews – working to bring light to Caño Limón pipeline, Magallanes drilling project and other pushes to expand oil and gas drilling in U’wa territory, which has traditionally expanded across five Colombia provinces.

Aura began with reflections based upon the stories and prayers told to her by her grandparents. In the beginning, she recounted, the creator established and created the Earth in equilibrium, and in the heart of the U’wa people, left an original message – instructions to care and protect Mother Earth. Protecting the Earth thus became the mission and center of the U’wa mind, body and spirit.

When oil companies entered their territories, the U’wa knew automatically they had to speak out in defense of the land and had no misunderstanding about the perils of extraction.

The U’wa call oil “ruiria” and explain that this is the source of all plant and animal life, as well as the human spirit.

“For the U’wa, the oil is like the blood of Mother Earth, it is vital to life – if you take out the blood, the whole planet will die, including human beings. In this sense, we must gather our strength and unite in defense of the Earth, in defense of life. All of us together, black, white, Indigenous, old young, all of us,” Aura explained to the audience.

When Occidental Petroleum came to drill the oil from their lands in the 90s, the U’wa protested, stating that they preferred collective suicide than to watch the destruction of their community and lands. It would be a worthier death than at the hands of the exploiters, the U’wa reasoned.

The U’wa people had already witnessed the ruinous results of oil extractions in nearby territories. Their subsequent campaigns, in addition to support from international groups moved by the U’wa’s powerful dedication and message to the world, generated successful results. In 2002, Occidental Petroleum withdrew from U’wa territory. In part, the company claimed this was due economic problems and finding a dry well in an early phase of the project, however it is clear that the ardent protests weighed heavily on their decision. Unfortunately, this key victory was not long lasting and the U’wa have been and are facing many ongoing extraction threats in their territories from the fossil fuel industry.

Despite loses and struggles, Aura stated that the movement is only getting stronger. She and her people are fighting immediate environmental destruction, but also acting and teaching so that ‘little brother’ (the Western world) can come to understand again what life really is, namely the rivers, air, forests and all that sustains us.

On May 12, as Aura spoke to the crowd gathered in New York City, leaders in her community were taking direct action to protect their sacred Zizuma mountain, a critical source of water for the region.

In closing, Aura urged all present to engage with and support their ongoing struggle, and to think deeply on how we can change the dominant cultures way of living with the Earth.

“We need to change ideas around money. You cannot eat money. Without lands and water and territory, money serves no purpose. In this sense, this can be a huge contribution to change from all of us here today, to work to help change this philosophy– to return to the ancestral, the roots, to return to understanding of what is truly important in life – land, water, air and the sky.”

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Leo Cerda and Gloria Ushigua stand in solidarity with the U’wa people in their efforts to protect sacred Zizuma mountain– Photo by Joan Beard

Casey Camp-Horinek of the Ponca Nation, Oklahoma, Turtle Islands, USA took the floor as the last speaker of the day.

Casey Camp is a Ponca Nation tribal Councilwoman, Indigenous Environmental Network representative and WECAN Advisory Council member, amidst many other roles. She is a long-time Native rights activist, environmentalist, actress and traditional Drumkeeper for the Ponca Pa-tha-ta, Woman’s Scalp Dance Society, working to maintain the cultural identity of the Ponca Nation for herself, her family and her community. Casey has been at the forefront of grassroots community efforts to educate and empower both Native and non-Native community members on environmental and civil rights issues. In 2008 Camp-Horinek, as a delegate of the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), was chosen to speak to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and present IEN’s global platform regarding the environment and Native rights. Since then, she has led and participated in countless international and local actions, events and high level policy forums around climate justice, Indigenous rights and care for the Earth. Recently, she embarked on a journey as a leader of the Indigenous Women of the Americas Defenders of Mother Earth Treaty Compact.

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Casey Camp Horinek – Photo by Joan Beard

Casey began by commending and sharing her love with the young women who spoke before her; “I could rest, but I am not going to!” she laughed.

Casey told of the genocide inflicted upon her people, including days of forced removal, boarding schools, relocation and five signed and broken treaty’s. Like Kandi and Crystal, Casey likened the modern boom in fracking to a continuation of these genocidal and colonial processes.

Ponca lands in Oklahoma are now surrounded by underground toxic waste storage facilities, drilling rigs and a “nexus” of pipelines carrying oil across the US and down from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

Taking out a piece of paper, Casey explained that seven earthquakes had already happened in Oklahoma that very day. She reported 128 in the last thirty days and 2,388 in last year – all man-made and all directly linked to fracking injection wells, of which there are over 10,000 in the state.

Recently, Oklahoma’s new governor passed a law preventing communities within the state from passing local fracking moratoriums. In response, Casey, along with other leaders in her community, are working to organize the Ponca Nation to use their sovereign Indigenous rights to pass a resolution that stops injection wells, and puts a ban on fracking and dewatering.

The resolution points out that the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are the trustees of the Ponca Nation and its members, “with a fiduciary duty to protect tribal trust property and trust resources”, including federally reserved Indian water rights to a satisfactory supply of quality water.

Thus far, the BIA does not have a policy on fracking, injection wells and dewatering operations to guide the leasing of Ponca lands or to guide BIA approval of assignments of existing oil and gas leases for extraction. Even though there is not a policy in place, the BIA has been approving leases already, not taking into account Indian water rights or the public safety of the Ponca Nation and its members, amongst other destructive outcomes.

The BIA has also not obtained Free, Prior and Informed Consent from the Ponca Nation according to Article 19 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Upon these points and others, the Ponca Nation has called for a moratorium on fracking in their territories to override the Oklahoma governors law, and have requested that the BIA to design a plan to protect the Ponca Nation water rights, in direct consultation with the Ponca Nation.

In pursuing due implementation of Indigenous Rights– the Ponca and other Indigenous communities offer a strong, tangible solution that will protect them and their non-Indigenous neighbors. Casey is confident that their method of protection will hold up in a court of law when they have the means to carry their work forward to the courts.

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Casey Camp Horinek (Ponca Nation) speaks with allies at the start of ‘Indigenous Women of the Americas Protecting Mother Earth: Struggles and Climate Solutions’ – Photo by Joan Beard

Casey closed with reflections on the “cellular memory” and DNA of her people and all Indigenous people as fundamentally tied to the land.

“We are willing to do anything we have to do to protect our Mother, and to protect all that she provides us with.”

She held up a cup of water, “the guest of honor”, and asked why negotiators and ‘leaders’ in United Nations were not willing to sit with a cup of oil in front of them to quench their thirst as they negotiate the fate of the climate.

Casey’s last words that brought home a vital theme highlighted by all event speakers;

“We [Indigenous peoples] got your back – so what you need to do is jump on board and demand the implementation of the declaration of the Rights of Indigenous peoples, because we are going to save your ‘you know what’s’…Our issues are your issues, we really can’t separate them, and that is why we are here today… we understand the same air flows around Mother Earth, the same rain comes in the thunders and down the streams – the same breath, everything is within us and we share it all.”

Osprey of WECAN International moderated a Question and Answer session, and then closed the event with words on supporting Indigenous allies, and solidarity with the global #KeepItInTheGround and #BreakFree movement. 

“Break Free from infringements on Indigenous rights

Break Free 

Break Free from patriarchy

Break Free

Break Free from the commodification of Nature

Break Free

Break Free from sacrifice zones

Break Free 

Break Free from colonization

Break Free

 Break Free from fossil fuels

Break Free”

Special thanks to Harriet Sugarman of ClimateMama and all the amazing NYC volunteers for their tremendous support of this event.

Additional Event Photos by Joan Beard:

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Speakers and allies stand in solidarity with the U’wa people in their efforts to protect sacred Zizuma mountain– Photo by Joan Beard

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Crystal Lameman presents on tar sands extraction and Indigenous rights and community mobilization in Alberta, Canada – Photo via Harriet Shugarman

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Aura Tegria Cristancho speaks on the situation of the U’wa people of Colombia. Pictured with Leo Cerda (Kichwa of Tena, Ecuador; Amazon Watch) – Photo by Joan Beard

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Event attendees stand to demand immediate action to #KeepItInTheGround – Photo by Joan Beard

Uplifting Rights of Nature to Protect Our Living Earth: 2016 WECAN Training Recap

Blog by Emily Arasim, WECAN Communications Coordinator

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Living forests of the Ecuadorian Amazon – Photo by Emily Arasim

For just and effective climate change solutions, we must transform dominant economic, legal, social, political and cultural frameworks surrounding our relationship with each other and the living Earth.

On April 25, 2016, activists, educators, students, mothers and many other diverse allies joined together to explore this vital concept via an open online training, ‘Rights of Nature: Protecting and Defending the Places We Live’, presented by the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International.

Over the course of the training, presenters Shannon Biggs (Movement Rights) and Osprey Orielle Lake (WECAN) shared the paradigm-shifting work of Rights of Nature, and explained how it is already being used around the US and the world to challenge legal systems based on exploitation of the Earth, and instead usher in a new set of frameworks based upon the inherent rights and natural laws of Mother Earth.

Osprey Orielle Lake began the training by presenting an overview of the dynamic international Rights of Nature movement.

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WECAN presents at a Rights of Nature press conference in Paris during the UN 2015 COP21 Climate Negotiations. Pictured left to right: Tom Goldtooth (Indigenous Environmental Network), Osprey Orielle Lake (WECAN) and Pablo Solon (Fundación Solón) – Photo by Emily Arasim

Osprey is the Founder and Executive Director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, working internationally with grassroots and Indigenous leaders, policymakers and scientists to mobilize women for climate justice, resilient communities, systemic change, and a just transition to a clean energy future. Osprey serves as co-Chair of International Advocacy for the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature and as a member of the Bay Area Alliance for the Rights of Nature, acting as a judge and secretariat at numerous Rights of Nature Tribunals and events in recent years. She is the author of the award-winning book, ‘Uprisings for the Earth: Reconnecting Culture with Nature’.

For Osprey and WECAN International, encountering Rights of Nature was a breakthrough, defining moment which allowed the organization to begin to address climate change at the deep systemic level that crisis of this magnitude demands – a level that confronts and calls for changes in our entire way of being, from the personal to the political.

“Rights of Nature is a revolutionary and evolutionary concept – which at the heart, at a very deep level, can address the dysfunctional economic and legal frameworks that are currently destroying people and planet,” Osprey began.

“After decades of environmental protection laws, which have had some notable successes, we can see that modern legal frameworks overwhelmingly fail to prevent the threats of climate change, degradation of our ecosystems and the growing displacement of humans and other species. So to live sustainably, we really need to change the very DNA of our legal frameworks,” she continued.

Osprey explained that the vast majority of modern legal frameworks treat nature as property, meaning that life giving forests, mountains, rivers and lakes can be sold, consumed and devastated under the protection of trade, property rights and commerce laws.

Because the Earth is treated as property, it has no legal standing of it’s own, rendering violations and harms to the Earth invisible in the modern ‘justice’ system.

“Yes we have environmental laws, but who is writing them? Yes we have regulation, but they are just giving limits to pollution, not attempting to halt it.”

“It is clear that we cannot solve this crisis by further subjecting the Earth to the very same system and worldview that caused this crisis,” she explained, outlining how capitalism and extractive modern economies inherently and by their very nature rely upon this legalized ownership of the Earth.

According to Osprey, the consequences of dominant legal frameworks reach deeper than just empowerment of destructive economics and failure to protect the growing threats of climate change.

“In adhering to current structures of law, we are furthering a dangerous human relationship with the natural world, and a vision of exploitation that cannot be allowed to continue. It all comes from, and continues to support this old paradigm, based in patriarchy and colonialism. A paradigm of ‘dominion over’ – dominion over women, dominion over the Earth, and dominion over Indigenous cultures. This is why at WECAN our four founding principles are the Rights of Women, the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Rights of Nature and the Rights of Future Generations. ”

“Just as we recognize that it is wrong for men to consider women property, we really need to have an entirely different legal configuration that recognizes that Earth’s living systems are not the property of humans,” she continued.

Osprey went on to share inspiring news – action to challenge dominant systems of law and usher in a vision of rights and respect for the living Earth is not just theoretical, but rather is being put into action by a growing body of organizations, communities and countries.

Countries like Bolivia and Ecuador have adopted Rights of Nature measures within their national constitutions (albeit with serious problems in implementation). In New Zealand, a river has been giving legal rights and standing. Across the US and beyond, communities are passing local Rights of Nature ordinances to stop fracking, GMO’s, corporate theft of water and much more.

“Rights of Nature is a tool to directly stop corporate activities by raising human and Earth rights above those of the corporations,” Osprey emphasized, “We can change our laws, and we have the right to do that.”

With this strong vision, Rights of Nature thus emerges as a tool to challenge extractive industries, corrupt trade deals, carbon trading and false climate solutions, while also opening a door for personal and collective return to a life affirming relationship with the Earth.

“There is a real need to also change our fundamental personal values and what we uphold as meaningful in our lives…In this sense the development and implementation of Rights of Nature is best understood as a deep and necessary shift in our human understanding of our tie to Earth, as well as a change in legal and economic structures. It is about changing our values, our laws and our culture at the same time.”

In closing her presentation, Osprey highlighted a parallel and deeply interconnected movement from Indigenous leaders of South America.

“‘Sumak Kawsi’ or ‘Buen Vivir’, ‘good living’ has been described by Indigenous allies in many ways, including living in ecological and economic balance; harmony in relationships; personal and collective growth appropriate to local conditions; good health; living well in community, including the larger ecologic community; and a worldview centered on a “living cosmos that we are part and particle of.”

Sumak Kawsi is a worldview poised to helping bring life and actualization to the critical ideas encompassed within Rights of Nature.

Another avenue through which Rights of Nature are being put into action is International Rights of Nature Tribunals, a growing body of events in which expert judges and witnesses try diverse cases of Earth rights violations to demonstrate how Rights of Nature could be implemented, and the incredible momentum and results that can be engendered by their use. Osprey closed with a short video on the recent Tribunal in Paris during COP21 climate negotiations.

As the enchanting final words of Casey Camp Horinek (Ponca Nation) closed the video, Shannon Biggs took the floor.

Shannon Biggs is the Co-Founder and Director of Movement Rights, an organization born in 2015 out of 12 years of work with Global Exchange, where she served as Director of Development before beginning the Community and Nature’s Rights Program.

Shannon is a leading international speaker, author and activist on the growing movement for Rights of Nature, and is the co-author of two books and many reports, including ‘Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grass Roots’ and ‘The Rights of Nature’. She is a lecturer of weekend ‘Democracy Schools’ that explore the rights-based framework for change, and leads Rights of Nature trainings around the country and world.

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Shannon Biggs presents on fracking as a violation of the Rights of Nature at the International Rights of Nature Tribunal in Paris during COP21

Shannon began her presentation my framing two critical questions – ‘What would it look like to live in a world in which the Rights of Nature are upheld?’ and more importantly, ‘How do we get there?’.

Shannon’s reply to the second question was short and powerful; “System change starts where you live.”

Through Movement Rights and other allied organizations, Shannon is working to build towards system change by “shifting law and culture”.

Her works sits at the intersection of Rights of Nature and community rights, focused on helping communities take back power in their locale by writing new laws that recognize their right to protect the Earth and determine what happens in their community, effectively placing their rights and Earth Rights over the supposed ‘rights’ of corporations.

“We are told that things like fracking, or dams or water withdrawals or the many other things that makes our homes sacrifice zones, we are told that we don’t have the ability to say no to say to those things,” Shannon explained.

“…but the kind of rights we are talking about are not gifts from governments, the kind of rights we are talking about are inalienable – the right to clean water, clean air… We cannot give these away and this is not something the government can grant us.”

“So our work is about changing the rules. If the law is standing in the way of us protecting our children, protecting our families, protecting Nature – then it is time to change the law and change where decisions are made.”

“Imagine, for example, what would it look like for the Gulf coast if the ecosystem had rights in a court of law to sure BP for full restoration? How quickly would we have changed how deep sea drilling is done, or if it is done at all?” she questioned.

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Shannon Biggs and Osprey Orielle Lake pictured in front of open hydraulic fracking flares in North Dakota, USA – Photo by Emily Arasim

Shannon framed law as “how we use power to make real a worldview”. Currently, law is empowering a worldview based on patriarchy, rights and dominion over the Earth and endless material growth, but this need not be the case. In challenging and changing law, we break down structures of power and dangerous worldviews.

“History shows us again and again that culture changes law, and law in turn broadly changes culture,” Shannon explained, drawing attention to Right of Nature as a continuation of the trajectory of past peoples movement for rights, including movements to abolish slavery and fight for women’s rights.

Shannon also spoke deeply to the centrality of Indigenous rights and leadership within the context of Rights of Nature.

“This is a time for Indigenous leadership. This is about learning from the original instructions… and this is what we need most desperately – how do we begin to restore our relationship with the Earth – in our mind states, laws and cultures?” she reflected.

“Indigenous people are standing up at this time, all around the world, to showcase how to protect the Earth. They are the defenders and protectors of the most biodiverse places on Earth, and from them we have so much to learn about how to live in balance. As part of Rights of Nature we must support global communities to make sure that Indigenous lands stay in Indigenous hands.”

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Casey Camp Horinek (Ponca, Oklahoma) and Gloria Ushigua Santi (Sapara, Ecuador) standing in mutual solidarity in Paris for the COP 21 (in front of their respective portraits by Mona Caron. Photo via Movement Rights.

Shannon closed by sharing the case of Tamaqua Borough, Pennsylvania, USA, the first global community to enact a local Rights of Nature ordinance.

In the face of attempts to fill a nearby mine site with contaminated sludge, citizens organized successfully to create a local law declaring the right of the ecosystem to be free from further contamination. Since this 2006 victory, the movement has spread quickly.

“What started as a ripple in the pond in Tamaqua Borough went to Ecuador, to Bolivia, to New Zealand, to India and it also came back to countless small communities who began asking ‘how can we do that here?’.”

Shannon noted that most Tamaqua Borough residents did not necessarily see themselves as environmental defenders, or as beings spiritually connected to the Earth, but rather saw Rights of Nature as a practical and effective tool for community, home and land protection.

“This is very important to consider as we explore how this movement can grow and spread. We must meet and start where people are.”

Nonetheless, Shannon explained that recognizing Rights of Nature and the legal standing of the Earth does ultimately means taking responsibility for our personal stewardship, recognizing that we are part and parcel of the Earth, and involving ourselves in organizing and action to defend and ensure that her rights are effectively and justly upheld once recognized.

Shannon closed by sharing information about the Bay Area ‘What Would The Delta Say? Rights of Tribunal’, held in April 2016 in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The Tribunal was used as a stage to discuss and try corporate and state actors seeking to build tunnels to take water from Northern to Southern California to spur development and continued fracking and oil drilling.

“Through the Tribunal we want to give a voice to the Delta ecosystem. It is an opportunity for the fish to speak, for the marshes to speak, for us to truly look at how this affects the people and ecosystems of the Delta. It is an opportunity to pursue environmental justice and to envision a world in which rights were upheld.”

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Mobilizing to protect the Bay Area Delta. Photo via Movement Rights.

In closing the training, Osprey framed Rights of Nature as a powerful tool to take back power in our communities, reassert our democracy, and challenge corrupt ‘1%’ governance structures facilitating environmental and social abuses around the world.

The training ended with a fascinating Questions and Answer session in which participants delved into topics including the applicability of Rights of Nature to movements to protect seeds, farmers rights, and stop GMOs; connection between Rights of Nature and work to defend and support land defenders; Rights of Nature as an element of preparations and community capacity developments for Treaty negotiations of Indigenous peoples in US, Canada and beyond; problems with commodification of the Earth and assigning monetary value to ecosystem functions; and reflections on identity, “deep and ancient reciprocal relationship” and our sacred interconnection with the Earth.

More information about this and other recent WECAN US Women’s Climate Justice Initiative Education and Advocacy trainings available here.

Rights of Nature Training Resources (shared by presenters and training participants):

 

 

Women for Climate Justice Respond to Signing of the Paris Climate Accord – Earth Day – April 22, 2016

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Members of the WECAN delegation and allies present during the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris, France. Pictured left to right: Casey Camp Horinek (Ponca Nation leader, Indigenous Environmental Network representative, WECAN Special Projects Advisor) and Neema Namadamu (WECAN DR Congo Coordinator)

On December 12, 2015, representatives from 195 countries finalized the Paris Climate Accord, a historic document hailed as the most ambitious ever international plan for action on climate change. Today, Earth Day, April 22, 2016, more than 160 nations are gathered at the United Nations in New York City to officially sign the agreement and initiate domestic ratification processes.

The US and China, collectively responsible for over 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, have released statements vowing to sign the Paris Accord. The Accord will take effect when 55 nations representing at least 55% of global emissions have completed both the official signing and national ratification process.

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On the streets in Paris, France during COP21 highlighting the power of the growing people’s movement for climate justice.

The Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network recognizes the immense effort in the drafting and adoption of this historic document, and is invigorated by the critical global unity displayed in its creation. We celebrate world governments reaching for an aspirational target of no more than 1.5 degree Celsius temperature rise, noting that it was the pressure of civil society that ensured this critical target, and that it will be the power of people that will keep governments feet to the fire as we move forward towards this goal.

We recognize however, that for all of its historic strides, the Paris Accord is wholly insufficient given the urgency and the scale of the environmental and social devastation with which we are faced.

It is an agreement that rests on non-binding commitments, that skirts around historic responsibility, and which relies upon carbon markets and techno-fixes which will ultimately only push the Earth further towards climate crisis through dependence on destructive extractive economies. It is an agreement void of any direct mention of fossil fuels, despite clear scientific data that 84% of remaining fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

In choosing to continue down the path of economic disparity and commodification of nature, our world governments fail to see the stark reality of the climate crisis – a crisis that can only be addressed through confronting and transforming the systemic injustices of our political, social and economic systems from the ground, up.

The change that we seeks requires fundamental respect for human rights, Indigenous rights, women’s rights, rights of Mother Earth, and the rights of all generations to come – and these aspects are all missing from the binding section of the Paris Agreement.

The math of the Accord simply does not add up – we remain on a path towards a 3.2 to 3.7 degree global temperature rise. From where women stand on the frontlines, in the streets, in the homes, in the forests, on the farms, on the edges of the rising seas – we know that this is not a future that we can or will accept.

Today and everyday, we the people must speak up and take action without fail, pushing to ensure that our governments raise the bar and enact much more ambitious national policies, just action plans and strong Paris Agreement commitments.

Simultaneously, we must organize, reclaim our community power, and continue actively building the world that we envision, in resistance to the economic, social, and political institutions that refuse to break with the status quo.

We must continue to bring the voices of women to the forefront, acknowledging that they are at once both the most severely impacted by climate change, and also the key to just climate solutions, community strength and a living, thriving future.

Our work, the work that will define our time and the lives of generations to come, has just begun – and we have only a short window of time for meaningful action. We as a peoples movement must rise up like the immune system of the Earth herself, demanding just, decentralized and democratic systems, fighting false climate solutions, and actively building the world that we seek.

Press and media requests: emily@wecaninternational.org

Also available on the WECAN webpage here.

 

Direct Action and Non-Violent Civil Disobedience: Tools for Your Advocacy Work 2016 WECAN Training Recap

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Photo by Emily Arasim

On April 5, 2016, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network allies united for the second in a series of 2016 Education and Advocacy online trainings.

‘Direct Action and Non-Violent Civil Disobedience: Tools for your Advocacy Work’ featured three outstanding women leaders providing an overview of direct action and non-violent civil disobedience as key elements of the global movement for just climate justice and solutions, providing examples of successful actions across the US and the world, and sharing resources, tools and strategies for beginning direct action planning and execution.

Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, opened the call with a brief introduction to WECAN’s work, the reasons behind a focus on women, and the critical need for escalating action by diverse U.S women for climate justice. She framed the training as an introductory call, encouraging participants to reach out to the presenters’ respective organizations for in depth, in person trainings, or to contact local groups who have direct action expertise.

“We are here to protect the rights of Mother Earth, the rights of our communities, the rights of women and the rights of future generations, and direct action and non-violent civil disobedience is an absolutely crucial component of this work,” Osprey explained.

As opening inspiration, she provided a recap of the recent International Women’s Day/No Extraction in the Amazon actions taken by women of seven Indigenous Amazonian nationalities in Puyo, Ecuador.

Molly Dorozenski, Media Director at Greenpeace US, took the floor as the first training presenter.

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Molly Dorozenski, Media Director at Greenpeace US

Molly has worked with Greenpeace on public relations and creative and strategic communications for the past eight years, planning and executing comprehensive communications campaigns on climate, the Arctic, and the Gulf Oil Spill, as well as a variety of corporate campaigns that have helped move companies towards more sustainable practices.

Molly’s presentation centered around the question, ‘what would you risk?’ and the personal, moral and political choices involved in the decision to put our bodies on the line to protect the Earth and our communities.

She shared recent photos and thoughts from six Greenpeace women who climbed over 1,000 feet up the side of the highest building in London to send a message to the oil giants of Shell headquarters, and from female activist Faiza Oulahsen, one of the ‘Arctic 30’ jailed in Russia for their action to protect Arctic ecosystem against expanded oil drilling. In reflecting on Faiza’s story, Molly drew specific attention to the extra risks, and incredible power taken on by young women who choose to stand up for their rights, their homes and the future of life on Earth.

Molly also discussed ‘risk’ outside of concerns over arrest and legal charges, honoring the brave women and other leaders who risk their lives and health to stay in their communities amidst severe environmental pollution in order to document, expose and stop harms and injustices.

Other inspirational direct action examples shared by Molly included the #ShellNo Seattle kayak blockade, led by diverse Indigenous leaders and fantastic groups such as the Raging Grannies, and recent action by Greenpeace activists to publically confront and question U.S presidential candidates about their commitment to stop taking dirty money from the fossil fuel industry.

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From PowerPoint by Molly Dorozenski – Photo by Emily Arasim, 2014 People’s Climate March in NYC

Molly ended her presentation with a brief invitation for engagement with the incredible Democracy Awakening actions planned for April in Washington D.C., which focus on getting big money out of politics and protecting voter rights in advance of the upcoming US election.

Sharon Lungo, Executive Director of the Ruckus Society, spoke next.

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Sharon Lungo, Executive Director of the Ruckus Society

Sharon is a founding member of the Indigenous Peoples’ Power Project (IP3) Advisory Board, and has been a trainer with Ruckus Society since 2001 and key member since 2007. Sharon directs all Ruckus Programs, manages the implementation of strategic priorities, and cultivates and grows partnerships with allied organizations and frontline partners. She was a co-convener of the Mobilization for Climate Justice West (2008-2011) and has served on the coordinating committee of the Global Women’s Strike.

Throughout her more than 18 years of political and non violent direct action, she has held an unwavering commitment to racial justice analysis, and has extensive experience working with grassroots frontline communities and big NGO groups alike. She is the daughter of migrant parents from the Pipil nation, Indigenous to Cuzcatlan, El Salvador.

Sharon began by exploring the core tenants of Ruckus Society, a group focusing on building capacities, particularly of directly impacted frontline communities, to plan and implement effective direct action campaigns around climate, environmental racism and a host of other cross-sectional issues.

She then provided an overview of some of the key ways in which direct-action and non-violent civil disobedience can be used to create change, including:

  • Directly stopping a social, political or environmental injustice
  • Asserting our rights despite the consequences
  • Showing willful refusal to participate in an injustice
  • Sounding an alarm, alerting folks to an issue or problem
  • Amplifying People Power
  • Creating a Community based solution

Through her discussion of these main leverage points, Sharon touched on ongoing campaigns to block pipelines across the US and Canada, direct action to halt migrant deportation buses, campaigns to assert Indigenous rights to traditional hunting, farming and fishing grounds, the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and movements to protect urban farms and community spaces from development, among many examples.

One poignant story shared was that of the fight to save the South Central Farm in Los Angeles, an epic struggle that brought concerned residents together to physically resist the bulldozers coming to knock down community garden space which provided for over 350 low income families. In their non-violent civil disobedience to protect the farm, activists highlighted the dire problems facing their community, and also the showed the path towards solutions.

Sharon also shared an important list of key elements of strategic direct action, including:

  • Strategic timing and relevancy to key political moments
  • Reframing the debate
  • Making the invisible visible – overcome the corporate media, reclaim our language and storytelling
  • Hijacking spectacles, big events
  • Creativity
  • Choosing your tone – humor, anger, embarrassment
  • Stacking risk
  • ‘Show don’t tell’ – use powerful visual representations that will resonate far longer than words, and which bring a face to the myriad of injustices we hear about on a daily basis

‘Stacking risk’, which describes the critical step of planning and delegating action roles in a way that is cognizant of varying levels of privilege, risk and oppression, was a concept of particular importance to many on the call, prompting further discussion of this important justice framework.

Sharon pushed training participants to think about how actions can be designed in a way that best highlights the struggles of those on the ground, and which involve action and risk from allies from outside of effected communities without taking away from the local stories that should be at the forefront.

“As a movement, this is something we are still struggling with but really want to get right… how do we do it [direct action] in a way that allows us to express solidarity and take physical risk, to have a really effective action, but to also powerfully and effectively lift up the story of the people, through their own words. Our job is not to tell their stories through direct actions, but rather to have a framework, to have direct actions that have a strong place for impacted and frontline communities to tell their own stories in the context of these actions.”

Sharon closed her presentation by encouraging participants to cultivate long term, just and meaningful partnership with the frontline communities with whom they work, and to involve themselves in further on-the-ground direct-action workshops and training camps through local direct action training collectives, the Ruckus Society, or international groups such as Greenpeace.

Marla Marcum of the Climate Disobedience Center took the floor as the last presenter of the day.

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Marla Marcum of the Climate Disobedience Center

Marla is a United Methodist “committed to supporting people of all faiths and no particular faith to act boldly for justice”. An experienced campaigner, trainer, pastor and leader, Marla has over two decades of social justice organizing experience with faith-based, youth, and grassroots groups. Marla supported the launch of Climate Summer and is a Co-Founder of the Better Future Project and 350 Massachusetts. She has supported, organized, and participated in many direct action and civil disobedience efforts, including the Lobster Boat Blockade and ongoing resistance to Spectra Energy’s West Roxbury Lateral pipeline project.

Marla shared core principles of the Climate Disobedience Center, including the goal of using “creative conflict to break up business-as-usual, forcing attention to the underlying, fatal conflict between global survival and blind adherence to fossil fuel powered mass consumption, and unrestrained economic growth”.

She framed direct action as a way to “unmask” the social and ecologic violence happening all around us, and also bring forth as our capacity to unite and make change. She emphasized that recognizing and engaging in solidarity, unity and action with each other is one of the most powerful ways to overcome fear and despair in the face of climate change.

“We’re convinced that the kind of resilience that we need in the world going forward can be cultivated in doing this type of work together. And also, I am convinced that the best way to cope with the despair over what feels like an impossible challenge that we face everyday, is to take principled action with kindred spirits,” Marla explained, “Sometimes we are working and working on problems that seem intractable, challenges that make it seem like we really don’t have a chance to win, but we know we have to fight. And sometimes, if we just get together and put ourselves in the way, it can shift our own internal sense of power and our own groups sense of hope about what could be done.”

Direct action exampled shared by Marla included diverse actions to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, the Delta 5 oil train blockade, the Lobster Boat Blockade, and ‘Resist the Pipeline’ actions against Spectra Energy.

In her closing comments, she reminded participants that a key part of the work of those involved in direct action must be to tell the real and whole truth, and to demand action that is commensurate with the real crisis we face, not action which bows to that which is “politically feasible” and easy.

The training ended with a series of questions and answers around direct action timing and learning to seize the moment, the importance of continued training, and the importance of building cross-sector, intersectional movements, long term community relationships, and growing ‘cultures of resistance’.

Training Resources:

 

 

Health and Climate Change: What Is At Stake, What Can Be Done? 2016 Training Recap

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Fracking fields near agricultural land on the Fort Berthold Reservation, North Dakota, USA – Photo by Emily Arasim

Compiled by Emily Arasim, WECAN Communications Coordinator

On March 16, diverse women for climate justice united for the first session of the 2016 series of online U.S Women’s Climate Justice Initiative Education and Advocacy trainings presented by the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN International).

‘Health and Climate Change: What Is At Stake, What Can Be Done?’ featured four outstanding women leaders discussing the latest science and news on the climate change and health impacts that are effecting everyone; stories and solutions from frontline and Indigenous communities exposed to toxic pollution; and tools and strategies for engaging in education, advocacy, and direct action campaigns around health and climate issues in local communities, and at the national and international level.

Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director of WECAN International, opened the training will comments on the vital nature of women as climate leaders, and spoke to the training goal of building and empowering a strong constituency of women in the US taking bold action on climate change.

Osprey pointed to education, advocacy and action around matters of community, children and familial health as a powerful window through which we can demonstrate the reality, urgency and injustice of the climate crisis, and thus catalyze meaningful action from concerned allies across the globe.

Dr. Sylvia Hood Washington took the floor as the first speaker of the day. Dr. Hood Washington is an interdisciplinary scholar, project engineer and environmental health scientist with over 25 years of experience working with grassroots activists concerned with environmental and health inequalities tied to industrial operations.

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Dr. Sylvia Hood Washington

Her vital work has included time directing a project which utilized the oral history of black Catholics in Chicago and the input of physicians, engineers and theologians to develop relevant environmental literacy and educational material promoting environmental justice among marginalized urban communities, as well as work as the Principle Investigator for a grant developing and utilizing GIS models to examine environmental health disparities tied to sewage infrastructures in the Great Lakes region. Currently, she serves as Co-Advisor on the Environmental Justice Advisory Board of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, and as Editor in Chief of the Environmental Justice Journal.

Dr. Hood Washington provided an overview of the climate impacts effecting global communities and residents of Illinois communities, with a focus on asthma, particulate matter and pollutants, and heat waves and heat related illnesses.

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In her reflections, Dr. Hood Washington commented upon her time working during COP21 climate negotiations in Paris in December 2015, drawing attention to the important movement she witnessed being built around people uniting to listen to and respond to the poignant frontline stories of those who are experiencing the human and health impacts of a changing climate on a daily basis.

Through her presentation and the question and answer session, she also helped navigate issues of environmental racism, discussing connections between economic inequality and severity of exposure to pollution and other climate impacts.

“Who is bearing the costs of our lifestyle?”, she questioned, prompting participants to reflect on the double violence faced by many low income, immigrant, black and Indigenous communities across the US and the world, who experience the frontline impacts of pollution and extraction sources near their homes, as well as the effects of inadequate services, infrastructure and support during times of climate disaster and stress.

In her closing remarks, Dr. Hood Washington drew attention to the US Clean Power Plan as an important tool with which we must all engage to push for government action and environmental and social justice for all.

Cherri Foytlin, freelance journalist/photographer, speaker, artist, activist and mother of six living in south Louisiana, spoke next.

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Cherri Foytlin pictured at a direct action during the United Nations COP21 climate negotiations in Paris, France – Photo by Emily Arasim

Cherri is of Dine, African-American and Latina descent, and has been a leading voice for the health and ecosystems of Gulf Coast, and for global climate justice and solutions, leading and participating in thousands of international, national and local forums, events, protests and direct actions, including a 2011 walk to Washington D.C. from New Orleans (1,243 miles) to call for action to stop the BP drilling disaster. Cherri is a founding member of the Gulf Coast Chapter of The Mother’s Project – Mother’s for Sustainable Energy and Idle No More Gulf Coast, and has recently taken on a position as State Director with Bold Louisiana. She is the author of ‘Spill It! The Truth about the Deep Water Horizon Oil Rig Explosion’, and a regular contributor to http://www.BridgetheGulfProject.org, the Huffington Post, and other publications.

Her powerful presentation focused on climate and health impacts in the Gulf Coast region, where hundreds of acres of land are sinking into the ocean due to rising seas, climate and extreme weather disasters, and fossil fuel infrastructure which cuts channels into the regions critical wetlands and other fragile living systems.

As a result of years of toxic industry and environmental destruction, south Louisiana has one of the highest cancer rates in the United States. Cherri spoke to the dire health effects being felt amongst costal communities in the wake of the BP Gulf oil spill, including cancer, neurological disease, skin problems and respiratory issues that are a result of both the initial spill, and the toxic dispersants sprayed in the aftermath (see video resource – The Rising: Connecting Human Health and Oil Operations).

In addition to the damages done by the BP spill and the many industrial sites strewn across the Gulf region, she also drew attention to the growing effects of insect borne diseases, including zikia and other tropical virus once rare, but now appearing throughout changing ecosystems of the US.

Cherri presented critical information about unfolding plans to lease an additional 43 million acres of Gulf waters for oil drilling this year, followed by another 47 million in 2017 – all despite the clear and devastating human and environmental impacts, and the regions growing vulnerability to severe storms and climate disasters.

Cherri ended her presentation discussing the critical No New Leases campaign being led to block offshore drilling leasing plans in the Gulf, and a successful recent community organizing campaign led to remove a fracking well built next to her sons school.

She discussed the goals of the local community and Earth protection movement, which parallel the growing global call to #KeepItInTheGround, with action aiming to end all new oil leases and build a just renewable energy transition with powered by energy coops and a new economy industry by and for the people.

“This is not about if we can win, it is about when we win, because at a certain point the scale will tip. And I think it already has in some ways – they cannot deny us clean air, they can no longer deny us clean water – and they sure can’t deny our babies a clean future, especially as they rise to defend it themselves,” Cherri concluded, handing the floor to fellow presenter Pramilla Malick.

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Pramilla Malick

Pramilla Malick represents Protect Orange County and is the founder of Stop the Minisink Compressor Station. She is a journalist, blogger, mother, and grassroots community organizer working ceaselessly to expose and prevent the damages caused by the expansion of fracking and gas infrastructure in her community in upstate New York.

Through her presentation, Pramilla shared her towns experience and her work, demonstrating the vital role that each one of us can play in exposing and working to transform the social and environmental violations happening across our communities.

Four years ago, Pramilla’s upstate New York community was targeted for construction of a gas compressor station, part of a massive chain of infrastructure needed to extract and transport natural gas, much of which is now coming from hydraulic fracking.

“We realized our community was standing on the precipice of a local health and climate change emergency,” Pramilla recalled, explaining that compressor stations, needed every 40 to 100 miles along a gas pipeline, are a source of many dangerous volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxide, and methane emissions.

Compelled to action by the dangers facing her town, Pramilla began an ongoing campaign documenting the health impacts being felt by families around the compressor and metering stations, including rashes, nosebleeds, headaches and other signs of more serious long term physical and neurologic damage which have led many of those residents who are able to abandon their homes and move.

She emphasized that all communities across the US should be vigilant and ready to act to prevent construction and/or document violations stemming from similar infrastructure, being proposed in many states as a ‘bridge fuel’ away from coal.

“We are supposed to be on a path to a just transition, but instead governments are trying to embrace these false solutions,” she explained, framing the continued expansion of fracked gas as a violation of our human rights, right to clean air and water, and the rights of future generations to a livable future.

Perry Sheffield, Environmental Pediatrician, Public Health professional and assistant professor in the departments of pediatrics and preventive medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, spoke next.

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Dr. Perry Sheffield presents on fossil fuels and children’s environmental health. Photo source.

Dr. Sheffield is Deputy Director of the EPA Region II Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit and Lead Investigator for the Queens Vanguard Center of the National Children’s Study. She conducts diverse research on the health impacts of climate change and public understanding of these issues with a particular focus on children. Her publications include, ‘Emerging roles of health care providers to mitigate global warming impacts: A perspective from East Harlem, New York’, and ‘Modeling of Regional Climate Change Effects on Ground-Level Ozone and Childhood Asthma’.

Dr. Sheffield’s presentation focused on children’s health and climate change, providing a harrowing look into the impacts being felt by developing babies, infants and young children, who beginning in the womb, are faced with a host of challenges amplified by intensifying pollution and environmental degradation.

According to Dr.Sheffield, apart from injuries, the principal causes of illness, hospitalization and death among children in America today are asthma, cancer, neuro-developmental disabilities, obesity and diabetes, and birth defects – all conditions related to industrial toxins and the condition of our climate, food and water systems.

Dr. Sheffield drew attention to climate-health impacts including those from increased extreme weather events, wildfire, decreased air quality, worsened allergies, threats to mental health, declines in nutrition and food quality, and illnesses transmitted by food, water, and disease-carriers such as mosquitoes and ticks.

She also shared some of the strides made in protecting children’s health and the integrity of our living Earth – including incredible drops in levels of lead exposure, decreased air pollution in many major US towns and cities, and growing education and advocacy around impacts on children, and the dire need for action to revitalize healthy food access, active lifestyles, and clean energy systems.

For more detailed information on this topic, please see our two-part ‘Health and Climate Change’ 2015 blog series:

Training Resources:

Learn more and join future U.S Women’s Climate Justice Initiative online Education and Advocacy trainings: wecaninternational.org/pages/us-climate-initiative

Women In Defense Of Territories, From Their Bodies – Mujeres En Defense De Territorios Desde Sus Cuerpos

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Women land and community defenders of the Ecuadorian Amazon stand for justice and an end to oil extraction during an International Women’s Day March – March 8, 2016 – Photo by Emily Arasim

English – WOMEN IN DEFENSE OF TERRITORIES, FROM THEIR BODIES

Throughout memory and history, women have always fought shoulder to shoulder, weaving movements, building roads and reducing inequalities

By Kiyomi Nagumo, WECAN Coordinator for the Latin America/Caribbean Region

National commitments made under the Paris Agreement, aiming to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and avoid climate crisis, focus on providing mechanisms for adaptation and mitigation, and work to quantify losses and damages. Structures of global governance have the same focus, hoping that participating countries will meet their goals and objective.

Global activists however, are demanding systemic change, a transition of our energy models and above all, an end to exploitation of natural resources and intensive production systems, all with focus on gender equity and equality, inter-generational justice, respect for Indigenous territories, Indigenous rights, human rights, and a guarantee of access to participation and climate justice for all.

Despite all this – countries like Honduras, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil and Peru have opened their development policies in favor transnational corporations under the structure of overexploitation of natural resources and the opening of its tropical forests for exploration and extraction of hydrocarbons, construction of mega energy projects, etc. These energy policies pollute, emit high levels of greenhouse gases, and critically violate fundamental rights of Indigenous peoples and rights of women and their communities, causing environmental disasters, generating environmental violence and deeply affecting Mother Earth.

It is these same women who are violated that come to fight for respect for themselves and their territories – seeking equality and the reduction of inequalities, and working to create real governance regarding the management and conservation of natural resources located in their territories. They are the ones who have come repeatedly to the defense of water, forests, and the biodiversity of their lands, ecosystems, communities and peoples.

From the core of their bodies, out from under the social and familial roles ascribed to them by a patriarchal system, women have raised their voices, have mobilized, organized, revealed and fought, but they still too often remain violated, silenced, intimidated, arrested, raped and murdered.

So to talk about a systemic change necessitates self-questioning and questioning of others; if these development policies disguise themselves as global governance and exert themselves above local territories and rights – how will they affect and violate women and their environment?

Español – MUJERES, EN DEFENSA DE LOS TERRITORIOS DESDE SUS CUERPOS

Desde la memoria y la historia, las mujeres siempre han luchado hombro a hombro, tejiendo movimiento, construyendo caminos, disminuyendo desigualdades

Por Kiyomi Nagumo –  Cordinadora Regional Latino America y el Caribe

Los compromisos nacionales adquiridos bajo el acuerdo de París, con el objetivo de disminuir las emisiones de los gases de efecto invernadero y evitar una crisis climática, enfocadas aportando con mecanismos de adaptación y mitigación, así como cuantificar las perdidas y daños. La gobernanza global, se centra en estos mismos con la esperanza de cumplir las metas y objetivos adquiridos por los países participantes.

Activistas del mundo reclaman un cambio sistémico, una transición de los modelos energéticos y sobre todo, evitar la sobre explotación de los recursos naturales y sistemas productivos intensivos; enfocados en la equidad e igualdad de genero y generacional, respeto a los territorios indígenas, derechos humanos e indígenas y sobre todo garantizar el acceso a la participación y justicia climática.

Países como Honduras, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brasil y Perú han abierto sus políticas de desarrollo en favor a empresas transnacionales bajo la estructura de sobre aprovechamiento de sus recursos naturales y la apertura de sus selvas tropicales para la exploración y extracción de hidrocarburos, construcción de mega proyectos energéticos, etc. Estas políticas energéticas contaminantes y altamente emisoras de gases de efecto invernadero, violan derechos fundamentales sobre todo de indígenas, derechos de las mujeres y sus comunidades, ocasionando desastres ambientales, generando violencia ambiental y afectando a la madre tierra.

Son las mismas mujeres, las que salen a la lucha por el respeto de ellas y sus territorios buscando la igualdad, la disminución de inequidades, y conseguir una verdadera gobernanza sobre el manejo y conservación de los recursos naturales ubicados en sus territorios. Son quienes han salido a la defensa del agua, los bosques, y la biodiversidad de sus tierras, ecosistemas, comunidades y sus pueblos.

Desde sus cuerpos, con las cargas sociales y familiares de un sistema patriarcal, que les son atribuidas como roles, las mujeres han levantado sus voces, se han movilizado, organizado, revelado y luchado, pero aun así siguen siendo vulneradas, acalladas, amedrentadas, arrestadas, violentadas y asesinadas.

Entonces, para hablar de un cambio sistémico es necesario auto-cuestionarse y cuestionar; sí las políticas de desarrollo se disfrazan de gobernanza global y estas se sobreponen a la territorialidad, a los derechos, y cómo éstas afectan y vulneran a las mujeres y a su entorno.