Women Take Centre Stage at the HLPF: An Interview with Joan Carling

By Stacey Zammit

In the midst of last week's High Level Political Forum, we took a few moments out and a few steps away from the conference rooms, to speak with women's land rights defender Ms. Joan Carling.  Having recently fallen victim to unfounded terrorist accusations, along with several of her colleague from the Philippines, her message is loud and clear.  Women such as herself, most particularly indigenous women, will continue to ensure that they are heard.  

1) Can you tell us a bit more about the Right Energy Partnership and how it emerged? What are the aspirations and goals of the partnership? 

When we talk about energy, we are not only talking about Goal 7.  Energy is also critical to reducing poverty, ending hunger, the provision of electricity and power that help to facilitate better education for children, so that they can use the appropriate technologies for their learning. Energy is also important for the empowerment of women.  When we tackle energy, we are addressing so many of the Goals. 

The idea for the Right Energy Partnership came from our experience on the ground, where we see renewable energy projects violating our rights, particularly to our lands and livelihoods.  For example, we see this in the windmill farms in Mexico, Kenya and Norway, but also the geothermal plants in the Philippines for example. Of course, large dams are still considered renewable energy, which has historically marginalized and displaced millions of indigenous peoples.  We took SDG 17, which offers partnerships as a means of implementation for the SDGs as a starting point.  We wanted to shift the public private partnerships, which we felt were still largely driven by the private sector, who continue to be assured profits. Once again, these partnerships were and are being carried out without any consultation or participation of indigenous peoples, even when our lands and resources are being affected. 

This is why we decided to try for a different form of partnership, that is clearly based on a human rights approach, that is bottom up, that puts women and community at the center.  This Right Energy Partnership is a shift from the prevailing type of partnership.  This is led by indigenous peoples as rights holders and as agents of change.  The goal of the Partnership is to ensure that renewable energy projects are fully aligned with the respect and protection of human rights; and provide at least 50 million indigenous peoples access to renewable energy by 2030 that is developed and managed in ways that are consistent with their self-determined needs and development aspirations.

2) How have women in particular played an important role in the emergence of this partnership? 

We made it clear at the outset that women would be at the center of this partnership.  In all of the consultations that we did, we made sure that women’s voices were heard and we have involved women in the design of the partnership.  A lot of the contributions of women through this partnership centers on their economic empowerment.  Through this partnership, we also want to highlight the important role that women play in food security and cooking, which of course, requires energy.  We want to make it more efficient for them so that they can do more activities, as a shared responsibility of women and men alike.

The truth is that women simply have a lot more to lose if we lose our lands and if our resources are not used in a proper way.  They are the ones working the land and at the forefront of land struggles. 

3) What are the impacts of land rights violations to women?

Customary land rights of indigenous peoples allow women to be able to carry out their roles and contributions in resource management and enhancing traditional knowledge, food production and gives them a role in the governance of our resources.  They have that role and this needs to be acknowledged.  When our lands are grabbed, you see women rising up because they are the ones that have the most to lose.  They are disproportionately negatively affected. 

In the case of displacement and eviction from our lands, it is like taking a fish out of water.  There are irreversible negative impacts on women and communities.  Underlying all of this is that social safety nets, sense of community and social support are all lost when we are uprooted from our lands.  The work that we do as women on our lands is both individual and collective. When we are displaced, however, we are left on our own. The responsibility now falls in the hands of women to find housing and shelter for their children, to find new ways of feeding their families and to seek out medicine, when they have traditionally turned to their gardens for natural remedies.  This leaves a heavy psychological burden on women who now have nowhere to go, as neighbors, friends and family may be miles away. 

What is worst, is that being in new and unfamiliar environments leaves women more prone to domestic violence, because they are outside of their territories and the prevailing culture outside is often patriarchal.  They are more vulnerable to exploitation, trafficking, sexual and physical abuse. Land displacement also directly impacts women’s reproductive health and rights, as there are often no provisions for toilets when young women get their menstruation, or when pregnant women need special care and attention. The support mechanism for them is completely undermined in so many devastating ways that would be too lengthy to detail here. 

4) What role do you feel that women can play specifically in leveraging the importance of land rights in the SDGs and at the specific HLPF meeting? 

When our livelihoods are criminalized for example, it is especially women that suffer.  For example, women that go to the forest to gather food or do shifting cultivation for their families continue to be criminalized for this. Sadly, there are even cases of sexual abuse and intimidation.  They continue to tell us that we are the ones destroying lands and the environment and so we should be out of conservation areas and that we are the ones causing deforestation.  This is not scientifically proven and true.  Evidence has shown that 60%-80% of biodiversity in the world is in indigenous territories, yet we continue to be accused and women’s roles continue to be completely undermined.  It is in this context that we need to raise our collective voices in global debates like this, especially those of women.   

Here right now we actually have more indigenous women participating in the HLPF, particularly young women.  It is critical that we ensure that women’s perspectives and aspirations are heard and most importantly, that women speak for themselves.  We have strong women leaders here! One woman from Indonesia stated to the delegates of this very Forum that no one can and should tell indigenous women how to manage our own resources.  The truth remains that it will never be for the outside world to tell us how to do this in a sustainable way.

Source: Land Portal

Related to SDG 5: Gender equality and SDG 10: Reduced inequalities

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