“It is difficult enough to be a rights defender. But it is more difficult when one is a woman.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – “Stay at home. Take care of your family and children.”
This is the usual advice to discourage women human rights defenders who take a stand against mining companies encroaching on their lands, said Argentinian Daniela Fonkatz of the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (Awid).
“It is difficult enough to be a rights defender. But it is more difficult when one is a woman,” she told Bulatlat.com at the sidelines of the recently-concluded International People’s Conference on Mining (IPCM). For those who refuse to take the advice, threats follow.
“When they threaten men, they would say: we will kill you. But when they threaten women, they’d say: we will rape you, then, we will kill you. Then, we will rape your family, then, we will kill them,” she told Bulatlat.com.
Fonkatz has been traveling from one country to another, talking to women activists to document their struggle.
In the declaration of the IPCM workshop on the Gendered Impacts of Mining, environmental activists noted the “very strong connection” of women human rights defenders to their lands and territories as it is “a source of life.” It added that women have taken leadership roles in defending their lands and communities.
Thirty-seven women rights defenders joined the workshop.
“They are building and strengthening their organizations and communities; creating spaces for the development of their capacities; leading protests and direct actions; asserting women’s voices in negotiation platforms, political and governance processes; and are building solidarity across communities and national borders to resist transgression on their rights,” the workshop declaration stated.
Cristina Lantao, 21, a member of the Matigsalog Tribe in Compostella Valley told Bulatlat.com that women led their community in Mangayon village, Compostela town against the exploration of the Agusan Petroleum and Mineral Corp. (Agpet) that would displace indigenous families from their ancestral domain.
She said they lobbied before local government officials to put a stop to the mining company from encroaching on their lands. They also barricaded their community in June. They continue to resist in spite of the heightened presence and operations of the military, and apparent support of government officials to the mining company.
But women’s active role against large-scale extractive industries is not without a cost.
Fonkatz said women activists have also been subjected to gender-related smear campaigns. She said they were being tagged not just as terrorists, but also “prostitutes” and “bad mothers.” But Fonkatz stressed that women have all the right to stand their ground against mining companies because “when their land is destroyed, they are the first to suffer.”
Worse, women rights activists said women have been subjected to killings and the use of criminal and civil cases as they resist so-called development projects in their respective communities, said the workshop resolution. They added that this is accompanied by smear campaigns that include gender-related defamations. Women are also at risk of sexual harassment by state security forces and private security guards deployed to look after mining companies.
Under President Aquino, human rights group Karapatan documented 23 women activists killed. There are also 48 women political prisoners, detained due to trumped-up cases.
Still, Fonkatz said women activists remain at the limelight to stop extractive industries that might displace them from their homes and livelihoods, conducting creative protest actions to bring their issues to public attention.
In Papua New Guinea, for one, women sat down and began knitting clothes in front of the military who was trying to disperse their barricade.
“It was a very peaceful protest and has lots of symbols as well. What they were knitting was part of their tribal identity. And if they were displaced from their homes, even the military, themselves, would lose their identity,” Fonkatz said.
Fonkatz said people need to hear more women’s voice.
The IPCM was held in Quezon City, organized by local and international environmental, human rights and lawyers groups.