International Women’s Day: Six stories of women who’ve defended the environment and resisted corporate power

International Women’s Day: Six stories of women who’ve defended the environment and resisted corporate power

By: Radhika Patel
Date: 4 March 2020
Campaigns: Climate

This International Women’s Day we’re taking time to learn about some of the women who’ve been at the forefront of radical movements around the world. As the impact of climate change continues to dispropotionately affect women and particularly those in the global south, some of us at Global Justice Now’s office wrote a few words on the women climate justice activists who’ve fought for their land, the environment, resisted the power of corporate giants and many of whom have risked and lost their lives doing so.

1. Berta Cáceres

(by Rosanna Wiseman)

In 2015 Berta Cáceres, the Honduran indigenous land defender, won ‘The Goldman Environmental Prize’. The award honoured her tireless efforts in leading a grassroots campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam. One year later she was murdered by people with links to the corporations she was fighting against.

As the climate movement grows we want to continue to celebrate Berta as someone who stood up for not only indigenous rights and land rights, but also for feminism and LGBT rights. Her acceptance speech at the environmental awards encapsulates how important it is to recognise the intersections of struggles in the environmental movement: “Let us wake up humankind, we are out of time. We must shake our conscience free from the rapacious capitalist, racist and patriarchal system that will only assure our own self destruction.”

2. Artemisa Xakriabá

(By Eleanor Williams)

Among the exciting surge of young people around the world taking action on the climate emergency is 19-year-old Artemisa Xakriabá. She’s of the Xakriabá indigenous people, from the southeastern Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, and standing up to environmental destruction in the Amazon.

Last year she addressed the New York climate strike of up to 250,000 people, calling out climate change, the forest fires, drought and destructive government policies, and highlighting this is a matter of life and death.

I think her activism is extremely brave. The Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro speaks violently about indigenous people in Brazil, and is aggressively removing protections for their territories. All to open up even more of the forests to corporate farming and mining, backed by Anglo-European financial investment. This has led to the murder of so many indigenous people in Brazil. Her speaking out in this context is really inspiring, and it’s great to hear her voice, especially in a world where indigenous voices are so often erased in discussion about the Amazon – their territory.

Youtube of her talk:

3. Lake Tyers Aboriginal Trust CFA

(By Alena Ivanova)

The Australian bushfires have been a destructive environmental force that’s also massively impacted on indigenous communities and their sacred sites. It has also exposed the colonising mentality behind the government’s insistence on fossil fuels. But aboriginal women are organised and fighting.

The Lake Tyers Aboriginal Trust CFA is the only all-female aboriginal fire crew in Australia. Lake Tyers is an isolated aboriginal community with no public services provision to protect the 500 inhabitants from brutal bushfires and droughts. So the women of the community have organised to defend their land, their people and their heritage, spread across the bush. Indigenous communities have old and established practices when it comes to environmental protection and fire managementpractices that may prove invaluable. But the women of the Lake Tyers CFA are campaigning for a radical shift away from the fossil fuel dependency, as well as for their rightful place in decision making and resource distribution for their communities.

Such heroes. <3

4. Lidy Nacpil

(By Liz Murray)

There are so many inspiring women around the world, and over the years, who have been fighting for climate justice that it’s really hard to choose just one. But I’ve chosen Lidy Nacpil, a lifelong activist and amazing organiser from the Philippines.

I first met Lidy when she visited Scotland in 2013 and spoke at an event on climate justice. There I was struck by the clarity with which she showed the intimate links between climate justice and gender justice and even more so by her ability to be both radically outspoken and totally calm.

Perhaps that calmness comes from having lived through the years under dictator Ferdinand Marcos – where any kind of activism meant risking your life and where quiet determination may have been the only way to survive let alone succeed. Lidy’s dedication, perseverance and energy are a real inspiration to me.

5. Nanas against fracking!

(By Jane Herbstritt)

As a rather long-in-the-tooth campaigner myself, it’s been really heartening recently to see the number of older people getting involved in climate activism in the UK, taking part in direct action for the sake of their children and grandchildren. One long time Global Justice Now local group member was arrested as part of the Extinction Rebellion’s ‘October Rebellion’ aged 91 and the inexorable peace activist, Angie Zelter now aged 68 was arrested more than once during the same action.

So the badass climate justice campaigners I want to celebrate on International Women’s Day are Lancashire’s own ‘anti-fracking nanas’ who took on multinational fossil fuel company Cuadrilla at their Preston New Road site. The dirtiest form of fossil fuel extraction, fracking is also dangerous to surrounding communities. In 2019 nearby homes were shaken by the UKs largest fracking induced tremor at the Preston Road site. This led to fracking being suspended and this later became an England-wide moratorium.

But by the time of the moratorium, the Nanas had been fighting the fracking behemoth Cuadrilla for more than four years. Their first action was to capture a field under planning application by Cuadrilla. They set up camp for three weeks, claiming squatters’ rights but were later arrested and taken to court. While their role as mothers and grandmothers concerned for their children’s futures, was the impetus to set up the group, they are clear that they want to make activism accessible and fun. At the entrance to the Preston New Road site, the Nanas could regularly be found singing, dancing, knitting, reading poems, and they even acquired their own samba band. Cuadrilla has stopped fracking – for now – but the Nanas remain ready to resume their fight if the moratorium lifts.

6. The Indigenous Women of the Cordillera, Philippines

(By Dorothy Guerrero)

The Martial Law period (1970s) in the Philippines was particularly brutal to the indigenous population of the country. Huge hydropower dams and mining projects were constructed to provide electricity that favoured industrial urban cities and the capital region of Manila. A series of four dam projects along Chico river in the Cordillera mountains in northern Philippines would have grabbed ancestral lands, forests and territories from the indigenous people without consultation and just compensation. But big corporations supported by the military were stopped by the protests of the indigenous population there.

The protests and petitions by the villagers to stop the projects were met by heavy military actions. Heads of families and indigenous leaders were arrested, detained, tortured and murdered. The women decided to take action and marched to the construction site to face the military, engineers and construction crew. After reaching the site, they undressed and bared their breasts to shame the military and construction crew and launched civil disobedience actions afterwards. The dams were never built.

Image: Street art in Honduras dedicated to environmental activist, Berta Cáceres who was murdered in 2016
Credit: disoniador/ Pixabay