Mother Earth and Resource Extraction: Women Defending Land and Water

Corporate Accountability and Gender

Leer la versión en español de este contenido: Responsabilidad Corporativa y Género.

Corporate accountability is a gender justice issue.

Women land and water defenders are stigmatized for their work protecting the environment and collective rights and experience ostracization and multiple forms of violence, from their community, local governments, and actors linked to the extractive sector. They report how law enforcement and private security frequently work together, with the knowledge and sometimes even under the direction of governments and corporations, to harass women land and water protectors. These forces make women the targets of smear campaigns by questioning their morals and behavior, which affect women’s social status within their communities; other times, women are cast as being anti-development or deemed terrorists.

All the more appalling, private and state actors have been known to sexually violate, physically attack, and kill women land and water protectors with impunity. Berta Cáceres’ well known case is just one of countless examples of the dangers women face when protecting Mother Earth. A Lenca woman from Honduras, Berta mobilized her community in the protection of the Río Gualcarque, which was under threat from a major dam project. She won the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for her leadership and work; a year later, she was killed. The intellectual corporate actors behind her murder have yet to be brought to justice.

More recently, Francia Márquez, an Afro-Colombian woman and the 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize recipient, survived an armed attack; Francia was targeted for organizing women in a community facing large-scale gold extraction. Across the globe, there are many Francias and Bertas—Afro-descendant and Indigenous women safeguarding the environment and collective rights in the midst of extractive projects with targets on their backs for doing so.

There are also everyday women who endure the physical consequences of lax corporate and governmental regulations. “Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls” outlines the various ways that extractive labor practices impact women. The use of work or man camps, where non-Indigenous men are brought in from outside communities for two-week periods, have dire consequences on Indigenous women working on or living near these camps. Socio-economic disparities between high-paid local, and specifically external, employees and local Indigenous women have been shown to have a range of gendered impacts—higher rates of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and other forms of violence linked to gray markets that accompany work camps.

“Reclaiming Power and Place” makes it clear that work camps’ fly-in, fly-out schedule “deters women from participating in these industries, since it is not compatible with raising a family and meaningful participation in family and community life.” When women are employed in the extractive sector, they are often hired for the lowest-paying jobs and workplace discrimination and harassment are rampant. Extractive companies seem to have little to no labor policies in effect to account for either the systemic reasons for gender disparities in the labor force or the social transformation wrought by the influx of mostly male employees in and around Indigenous communities.  As “Reclaiming Power and Place” further discloses, “These camps are also often far from law enforcement, and therefore are largely unpoliced.” A climate of male dominance and lawlessness characterizes the extractive sector’s workplace culture.

Equal gender representation in the extractive labor force is important. However, as long as the basic tenets of corporate accountability are merely suggestions and the dynamics that support resource extraction simulate a patronizing understanding of the world, diversification accomplishes nothing.

Governments must require corporations to abide by local, national, and international laws and enforce the implementation of these legal frameworks. And if and when Indigenous women bring forth allegations and independent investigations reveal corporate misconduct, those affected by extractive projects must have access to courts of laws, and corporations and their subsidiaries must be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.

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