For those of us who have worked in development since quite some time certain stories have become a little too familiar. Whether in Latin America, South East Asia or Sub Saharan Africa, it is women and their special connection to land and water that are greatly impacted when the thirsty mining, hydropower or agribusiness industries move into their communities. The stories tell of loss of access to land and forests, of contamination of the water used for drinking, cooking and bathing; of the much longer and more dangerous journeys to get water and the increased vulnerability to sextortion and gender-based violence. The painful accounts of gender-based violence are only beginning to emerge as trauma and cultural taboos are gradually giving way to women’s re-emerging trust in solidarity with other women and rising engagement in the defence of the environment. The “We, women, are water” campaign by GAGGA is just one of many examples of how women are rising and organizing despite of the increasing risks of violence and death to Women Environmental Human Rights Defenders (WEHRD).
In the context of growing commercial and climate change pressures and threats towards WEHRDs, we must gain better understanding of how women are differently affected by large scale investments and how they can be better supported. The Irish NGO Trócaire has commissioned the scoping study on “The Gendered Impacts of the Large Scale Land Based Investments and Women’s Responses” to enhance evidence and learn from existing gender transformative approaches promoting women’s rights and gender equality in tenure of land, fisheries and forests. Based on a wide-ranging literature review and numerous interviews with experts and practitioners from across the globe, our study confirms that large scale land-based investments continue to exacerbate existing gender inequalities.
The hidden impacts: the increased burden of unpaid care and mental health.
We have found a wide range of impacts on women’s voice and agency, their socio-economic position, as well as their health and bodily integrity. Existing gender norms, roles and power dynamics combined with gender-blind policies and highly male dominated industries provide for a perilous mix. Women are rarely consulted and have limited opportunities of benefitting from employment or compensation. Meanwhile, their unpaid care work increases as a result of reduced access to and pollution of the natural resources that they rely on as well as due to their increased responsibilities, especially in the cases of male out-migration and care needs for the ill or injured workers. While the current Covid 19 pandemic is exposing the crisis of women’s unpaid social and reproductive work, this issue remains largely invisible from the perspective of mainstream economic assessments of large scale land-based extractive and hydropower projects.
Where displacement from land is involved, women not only report loss of past livelihood support activities, but also trauma related to the loss of community cohesion and culture. The variety of impacts of extractives and similar investments on women’s opportunities, incomes, agency as well as their physical and mental health remain often underestimated or overlooked. The stress, fear and increased exposure to gender-based violence , especially where large influx of male workers and armed security occurs, remain largely “hidden” despite their long term, multigenerational mental health consequences. It is becoming evident that as long as governments and investors don’t take gender impact assessments into careful consideration, many projects can become counterproductive to human development and achievement of the SDGs.
Supporting Women in Finding Their Own Responses and Solutions
Our study clearly demonstrates that women play major roles in defending resource rights, enacting policy changes and strengthening human rights frameworks across the globe. From community empowerment and organising to calling for greater political participation and recognition of women’s rights, from setting precedents for non-violent protests to more recently building a so-called “ecofeminist movement.” All such engagements require reshaping of traditional views on gender roles and can come at great personal cost as women continue to face discrimination, stigmatization, violence, criminalization and increasing threat for life of their own or their family members. Through our research we have found an overall lack of women’s own diverse perspectives and voices in most of the academic literature. There is, however, a lot to learn from existing research and experiences of a growing number of organisations that adopt gender transformative approaches. There are remarkable examples of using participatory research in Tanzania and Mongolia by the Women’s Land Tenure Security Project (WOLTS), of women-led action research by WOMIN and of women’s own power analyses and strategizing as documented by JASS. The experts interviewed for this study have emphasized the importance of safe spaces and supporting women in articulation of their own voices, concerns and solutions. This is especially important since so many women around the world have been socialized to focus on the needs of others rather than on their own.
Our scoping study recognizes the importance of building on existing best practices and tools for gendered, intersectional and feminist approaches. We encourage continued education and awareness of the importance of generating gender differentiated data by all development actors. We also advocate for the use of impact assessments based on women’s active and meaningful participation. In documenting and addressing gendered impacts, we need to pay more attention to the hidden, more sensitive and ‘non-material’ issues such as psychological pressures, power dynamics as well as risks and experiences of gender-based violence. This begins by placing all women’s and girl’s safety and livelihoods as central in research, policy and action.
This scoping study analyses gendered impacts of large-scale extractives, hydropower and agribusiness investments that result in communities’ changed access to and control over land, water and other natural resources. Large-scale commercial pressures on natural resources have been on the rise over the course of the past decade leading to growing concerns on their costs, benefits and human rights impacts.