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Contexto Internacional

versão impressa ISSN 0102-8529versão On-line ISSN 1982-0240

Contexto int. vol.41 no.2 Rio de Janeiro maio/ago. 2019  Epub 29-Jul-2019

https://doi.org/10.1590/s0102-8529.2019410200004 

Special Issue Gender in the Global South

Women’s Struggles Against Extractivism in Latin America and the Caribbean

A Luta das Mulheres contra o Extrativismo na América Latina e no Caribe

Enara Echart Muñoz* 
http://orcid.org/0000-0002-0636-0301

Maria del Carmen Villarreal** 
http://orcid.org/0000-0002-7255-2432

*Federal University of the State of Rio de Janeiro (UNIRIO), Rio de Janeiro-RJ, Brazil; enara.munoz@unirio.br. ORCID iD 0000-0002-0636-0301.

**Federal University of the State of Rio de Janeiro (UNIRIO), Rio de Janeiro-RJ, Brazil; mariavillarreal85@gmail.com. ORCID iD 0000-0002-7255-2432.


Abstract

Since Cynthia Enloe asked, ‘Where are the women?’ in 1989, studies about the place of women in International Relations have increased. However, most of the analyses since then have focused on the participation of women in international organisations, events and institutional spaces, making invisible other practices and places occupied by black or indigenous women from the South. This article aims to highlight the role of women at the international level, analysing their performance in disputes over the meanings of development in Latin America and the Caribbean, based on struggles against extractivism. In addition to denouncing the impacts of this development model, these struggles seek to construct alternatives that, although they could be essentially local, have been multiplied and articulated throughout the Latin American and the Caribbean territory, as part of a broader resistance to the dominant extractivism in the region. These struggles will be mapped using a database of 259 conflicts around mining activities, developed by the Research Group on International Relations and Global South (GRISUL).

Keywords women’s struggles; social movements; development; extractivism; Latin America and the Caribbean

Resumo

Desde que Cynthia Enloe perguntou, “Onde estão as mulheres?”, em 1989, os estudos sobre o lugar das mulheres nas Relações Internacionais aumentaram. Contudo, a maioria das análises desde então tem focado na participação das mulheres nas organizações internacionais, eventos e espaços institucionais, tornando invisíveis outras práticas e lugares ocupados por mulheres negras ou indígenas do Sul. Este artigo tem como objetivo destacar o papel das mulheres no nível internacional, analisando seu desempenho nas disputas sobre os significados do desenvolvimento na América Latina e Caribe, a partir de lutas contra o extrativismo. Além de denunciar os impactos desse modelo de desenvolvimento, essas lutas visam construir alternativas que, embora possam ser essencialmente locais, têm se multiplicado e articulado em todo o território Latino Americano e Caribenho, como parte de uma resistência mais ampla ao extrativismo na região. Essas lutas serão mapeadas usando um banco de dados de 259 conflitos acerca de atividades de mineração, desenvolvido pelo Grupo de Pesquisa em Relações Internacionais e Sul Global (GRISUL).

Palavras-chave luta das mulheres; movimentos sociais; desenvolvimento; extrativismo; América Latina e Caribe

Introduction

Since 1989, when Cynthia Enloe asked, ‘Where are the women?,’ studies on the place of women in International Relations have increased. However, most of these analyses have had and continue to have a focus on women’s participation in organisations, events, and institutional spaces, making other practices and places occupied by black or indigenous women from the South, invisible. These are the practices that we seek to retrieve in this article, which intends to show the role of women’s movements in disputes over the meanings of development, such as the generation of spaces for debate, focusing more specifically on models and development policies implemented in Latin America and the Caribbean (Echart 2017). As we shall see, the field of development is an area of construction and dispute in which social movements from the South have played an important role, creating and proposing not only alternatives of, but also for capitalist development, uniting theory and political practice creatively (Bringel and Echart 2017). And within these movements, the action of women must be recognised.

Analysing the action of women in the field of development requires that we consider that the systemic violence against women is both physical and epistemic, particularly against indigenous, migrant, black or young women of the South. This violence is imposed through the dynamics of the coloniality of power (Quijano 2000, 2012) that define the boundaries of the zones of being and not being (Fanon [1951] 2009), as a function of gender, class and race inequalities. Retrieving the voices of women in order to build their own conception of development and offer their alternative proposals involves questioning the belated recognition of women in International Relations and filling a gap in the discussions on international politics that has historically made their roles, daily practices of resistance1, resilience and creativity invisible. This choice implies deconstructing dominant discourses about the role of women from their places of speech to their tradition of struggle.

But to do this, several difficulties must be faced: theoretically, the structural epistemological subordination of women already emphasised by Enloe (1989, 2004) and Spivak (2010) is made worse when we look for black or indigenous women authors from the South, which are even more absent from academic production, due to a system of circulation of knowledge (Beigel 2014) that favours the centres of the northern and western authors, who are predominately white men. Nevertheless, in a historical context in which the subaltern, in particular subaltern women, have been denied the possibility of speaking, it is the responsibility of intellectuals, especially in the South, to recognise their voices and protagonism (Spivak 2010). In turn, the dominant methodologies in development studies when focusing on institutional spaces and public policies hinder the visibility of social movements in general, and the women within them. As the roles played by these social actors are not limited to these spaces, making them more visible requires a holistic view that takes into account other forms of participation in development processes, such as, for example, their own struggles, complaints, citizen awareness campaigns, etc. In the case of women, there is a third difficulty, together with the non-existence of an institutional/non-institutional separation, which is in the patriarchal division of labour, where a division lies between public space (considered to be the only place of political construction and knowledge) and the private sector. This has led an important part of action by women to be relegated, hidden and denied, making it even more difficult to access information if we do not use creative methodologies and case studies. Furthermore, as this article will show, it is often in these spaces, where women work and build resistance, where the supports for the mapping of diverse experiences are.

On a methodological level, our research is exploratory and descriptive and aims to offer a general approach to the role of women in socio-environmental conflicts caused by extractivism and disputes over development in Latin America and the Caribbean. The article is part of a broader research framework that seeks to analyse and map these elements in the region, using as one of its main sources the database of the Environmental Justice Atlas (EJATLAS)2, a platform that brings together 2,390 global socio-environmental conflicts in the 1970-2018 period. From this database we have selected 259 environmental conflict cases, resulting from extractive mining projects in Latin America and the Caribbean (GRISUL 2018). Such conflicts were chosen because they represent the cases with larger impacts on the environment and the forced displacement of population, which includes women, indigenous people and Afro-descendants. In relation to women, the indigenous and Afro-descendants, an additional criterion for the selection of cases was the role of collective works in opposition to extractivism and the defence of territories. Therefore, matrices that describe the main axes of socio-environmental conflicts in Latin America were elaborated, presenting: the main actors (public and private) and participant movements, agenda, and main demands; their main operations (campaigns, mobilisations, institutions, etc.); the more detached effects from the conflict in scope and scale; and the conflict results and the generation (or not) of alternatives. The preparation of the matrices allowed for the creation of several maps that serve to support the argument of the article.

On the other hand, our study also examines several secondary sources: political and normative texts on development, impacts of extractivism in the region and socio-environmental conflicts; reports and campaigns of movements and social networks around these processes; and scientific literature. The article also includes a quantitative dimension which analyses and compares the structural conditions of the region in social and economic terms and the effects of extractivism, making use of indicators of international organisations such as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

The importance of understanding the ramifications of these trends is clear. According to the UN (2017), three out of every four murders of human rights defenders occur in the Americas, of which 41% were opposing extractive projects or defending the right to land and to natural resources of indigenous peoples. Furthermore, women are a collective of people who are highly vulnerable to this violence but are also protagonists in opposition to this model who generate alternatives capable of competing for the development directions in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The article is structured in three parts. In the first, we recover the historic presence of women in struggles over the meanings and practices of development, showing the various forms of organisation that they have adopted to affect these agendas and processes. In the second, we contextualise the specificities of the extractivist model of development in Latin America and the Caribbean and their effects on nature, territory and people. Thirdly, we provide an overview of the role of women in Latin America and the Caribbean – especially peasants, the indigenous and Afro-descendants, analysing their roles in the mobilisation, struggle and resistance against extractivism, as well as in the formulation of alternatives to this development model that are intended to be universal and indisputable.

Women in struggles over the meanings and practices of development

The concept of development is closely linked to the western notion of progress and, throughout history, has been preceded by terms like civilisation, progress, wealth and growth (Rist 2002). The contemporary idea of development is relatively recent, emerging with the inaugural speech, in 1949, of US President Harry Truman, who, when referring to the foundations for world peace, used the expression of underdeveloped nations, positioning development as a model and goal to be achieved by all countries. From that speech onwards, the use of the term and its diffusion were not neutral but served to consolidate the idea of a division of the world between developed and not developed countries (Esteva 2000). The so-called underdeveloped societies began to be judged on the basis of their shortcomings, with the consequent dual conception establishing differences between developed and underdeveloped, rich and poor, traditional and modern, etc. (Escobar 1996).

Despite the wide international acceptance of this idea, the definitions, characteristics and purposes of development have historically been the object of dispute. Since the classical conceptions of development, the term has been redesigned from the theory of growth and modernisation, structuralist criticism, dependence, world-systems and, more recently, by neoliberal and neo-statist proposals (Payne and Phillips 2012). On the other hand, since the 1970s, international inequalities and the limits of classical perspectives of development based on industrialisation and economic growth began to be questioned by analysts, politicians and activists from both the North and the global South (Unceta 2009). The discussions about the impacts of the term, allowed, for example, the denouncing of effects on the environment or the differentiated impact of development strategies by gender and typology of territory (rural/urban), in turn allowing the understanding of the role of women in the process and the importance of local development. In the same way, the limits of natural resources and the need to think about future generations began to be discussed, favouring the conception of sustainable development models. In parallel, the negative effects and the failures of development plans in the countries of the South generated radical criticism that questioned the universality of the concept and the ethnocentric and colonial assumptions that guided it, inaugurating a new phase: that of post-development and the construction of alternatives (Porto-Gonçalves 2008; Unceta 2009; Acosta 2016).

These changes not only took place in the field of ideas, but were accompanied by strong disputes in practice, in which social movements played an important role (Bringel and Echart 2015, 2017). We are interested here in emphasising these disputes, with a focus on women’s movements (Echart 2017), which have historically required greater participation in the course of development in relation to discussions concerning the design and implementation of policies and programmes. Therefore, various strategies were used, such as conducting campaigns, demonstrations, protests, creating transnational networks, and participation in institutional spaces and forums of civil society, as non-exclusive but cumulative action experiences.

An important turning point in the disputes over development came with the theories of dependency (Bambirra 1974; Dos Santos 1998) questioning the vision of a development achievable in stages, breaking away from the modernising imaginary prevailing in the development field. They rethought the systemic position of the countries of the South, denouncing the permanence of structures and relations of dependency in an international division of labour which benefitted the economies of the centre while relegating the periphery to the production of raw materials. These theories strongly influenced (and in turn were influenced by) the struggles against colonisation and imperialism that required a new international economic order and in which the strong presence of women was highlighted3 (Bambirra, interview by Diaz and Krisch 1978). The international institutional framework recognised the importance of the role of women in development, calling the first World Conference on Women, in Mexico City (1975), which started the Decade of Women of the United Nations (1976-1985), and the creation of various institutions and spaces dedicated to women, both at national and international levels (among them the Voluntary Fund for the UN Decade for Women, today restructured as UN Women), to promote the rights of women, eradicating discrimination and violence against them.

In these spaces, women focused on international agendas, participating, in the 1990s, in the pressure for a development that could be described as human, sustainable and with a gender perspective. This renewed vision put women in an important acting role in the conferences of the United Nations, emphasising their relevance on the gender agenda for the conference of Women in Beijing (1995) – where they formed a parallel forum with close to 30,000 participants from civil society4 – but also in other areas, such as the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. Transnational social networks were being created with the aim of focusing on institutional spaces to include the demands of women5 (Echart 2008).

In addition to the institutional framework, the international group of women Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN n.d.), with headquarters in Fiji, marked a change of strategy by demanding the recognition not only of the work of civil society organisations that participated in these institutional spaces, but also the role of women’s grassroots organisations, incorporating the work of feminists from the South (Sen and Keith 1988). This implied, in turn, discussing and including the broader context of material inequalities of power and domination relations, which maintained the subordination of women (Tickner 2001; Marchand 1996), demanding the transformation of the social, political and economic structures of patriarchy. Among them, for example, were the overcoming of public/private and productive/reproductive dichotomies upon which the major development projects were based and that continued to punish women.

In fact, despite some progress, the limits of institutional participation in barring neoliberal policies generated resistances and broader protests against globalisation, through the creation of solidarities and transnational networks, which denounced the effects of neoliberal policies of structural adjustment plans and free trade treaties, specifically affecting women who had to take responsibility for the spheres abandoned by the state. As a consequence, the social movements began to create their own transnational spaces of convergence and debate to re(set) the practices of development from the collective action, with emphasis on the World Social Forum of 2001. The anti-globalisation movement arose, then, as a network denouncing the consequences of neoliberal globalisation, bringing together several social movements (ecologists, feminists, indigenous peoples, human rights activists, etc.), with a critical and structural vision for combating capitalism, which bound the local and the global to propose alternatives to capitalism (Echart et al 2005; Echart 2008). Within this network, the World March of Women6 was a great reference for the struggle of women against poverty and sexist violence. Also, on the regional level, the Latin American and Caribbean Feminist Meetings stand out.7 This leap of scale to the transnational sphere allowed the internationalisation of traditionally territorialised movements to share resources and experiences and to strengthen their local claims and struggles, and to better visualise the conflicts generated by the extractivist capitalist development impacts, often driven by increasingly close public-private partnerships.

In these spaces a broader critique was being elaborated based on a western model of development that disrespects other realities and modes of living. Alternative proposals to development then arose that attempt to break with the assumptions of progress that sustain the very idea of development, criticising the impacts and limits of a renewed developmentalist vision that continues to be heavily extractivist because of being intrinsically linked to the capitalist mode of production (Wallerstein 2006; Quijano 2000), including in countries with supposedly progressive governments.

The focus here is on emancipatory initiatives, on breaking away from capitalism, on finding new ways of life that respect the experience and the role of local communities, as well as their autonomy in defining their identity, their form of collective action and their knowledge, avoiding the usual mediations in the field of development cooperation. One example is the indigenous communities of the Andean region, with proposals for Sumak Kawsay/Good Living, which transforms the ways of understanding the relationships between people, territory and nature. They thus reject both the practices of extractivist development, which only see territory in terms of efficiency and profitability and as a provider of resources, and the definitions of sustainable development and green capitalism.

These new proposals can be understood as part of the so-called Environmentalism of the Poor, or movement for Environmental Justice (Martínez Alier 2007), which contests the hegemonic model of development as modernising, neoliberal, state-centric, patriarchal and extractivist. Here again, the role of women is central, because of their experience with the territory and the environment, as shown in the struggles against mining companies in Latin America and the Caribbean, which will be analysed in this article.

Extractivism as the historical model of development in Latin America and the Caribbean

Before showing the struggles and resistances against extractivism, it is important to understand the dynamics of this model of production and development in Latin America and the Caribbean. From a structural-historical perspective, dependency theory has shown that underdevelopment, in its various expressions, is closely linked to the expansion of developed economies that benefit from the dual and unequal design of the economic system. In this system, the periphery fulfils the role of producer and exporter of raw materials and is dependent on the countries of the centre, which are the ones that organise it, decide its rules of operation, and have an industrial production with high added value that they sell to the peripheral countries (Dos Santos 1998). It is a model of the organisation of the economy, of the international division of labour and production that has, therefore, a historical and structural character. Within this process of unequal exchange, extractivism represents a form of combination formed by various activities that remove large volumes of natural resources (unprocessed or processed only partially), which are intended for export. Usually it involves mineral resources and petroleum, but also land resources, forestry and fishing, without considering the sustainability of practices or the limits of natural resources (Acosta 2017: 50).

As a primary economic-exporting model, extractivism, both in its classical and neo-developmental versions – which includes greater state control and social programmes to limit its harmful effects – renews and consolidates the dependence of commodity-exporting countries in relation to the world market. As such, it continues to be adopted by governments of different ideological tendencies – which see in it the most important source of funds to finance their policies – while being challenged and massively rejected by those who suffer directly from its consequences (Porto-Gonçalves 2008; Gudynas 2017; Svampa 2017).

The effects of extractivism on nature and the lives of people acquire greater proportions in countries marked by heterogeneous problems of a structural nature, for example, in Latin American countries. In fact, despite the economic and social advances made during the first decade of the 21st century, according to organisations such as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the region of Latin America and the Caribbean is currently considered the most unequal in the world and one with the highest concentration of wealth, land and income. As an example, according to the ECLAC (2017a), despite the advances of the last decade, the Gini index in the region is 0.467, with relevant differences among countries with the highest level of inequality, such as Brazil and Mexico, and those which, like Uruguay and Argentina, still record lower levels. At the same time, the richest 10% of the population has an income equivalent to the income of 60% of the inhabitants of the region.

These data relate historically to the constitution of the Latin American countries which, since their foundation, have focused on the dominant elites and their allies at the expense of the large majorities. A significant percentage of the growth and the wealth of Latin America is, in fact, concentrated in the hands of the richest people, which significantly harms the middle class and the poor in the region.8 This problem is reinforced by the existence of highly regressive tax systems focused on taxing, above all, consumption and incomes – which contributes to a stronger concentration of wealth – and the serious tax evasion that, year after year, deprives the region of important funds (ECLAC 2017b).

Historically, the Latin American elites, rural or not, are linked directly or indirectly with extractive activities aimed at the export of products and their participation in activities in this sector, from the commodities boom of the years 2000, which is growing (ECLAC 2016). In this context, the extractivist capitalism that generates enclave economies focused on exports contributes to the increase, for example, in the already high concentration of land. Latin America is the region with the greatest inequality in land distribution in the world. According to Oxfam (2016: 5), it is estimated that more than half of the productive land in the region is concentrated in 1% of the properties of larger size, dedicated to farming activities linked to the production and export of raw materials. As a consequence, the struggle for land, but also for water and forests, has led to several socio-environmental conflicts as shown on Figure 1, which brings together 259 cases of socio-environmental conflicts caused by extractive mining projects in the region, internal and international forced displacements, and numerous violations of human rights (EJATLAS 2018).

Source: adapted from GRISUL 2018

Figure 1 Conflicts against Mining and Extractivism in Latin America and the Caribbean 

In this context, the expansion of extractivism in all the countries of the region (Acosta 2017; Gudynas 2017), with the consequent increase in mining and oil exploration concessions, agribusiness and cattle raising on a large scale, has aggravated this situation, further concentrating wealth, land and other natural resources in a few hands. Today Latin America is one of the main territories of global mining exploration, and its poorly diversified export structure concentrates more than half of its value in the sale of primary products and manufactured products based on natural resources (ECLAC 2016: 94). The deepening of extractivism is proportional to the increase in global demand for food, raw materials and energy, especially from countries like China, the USA and Canada and blocs like the European Union. Thus, until the beginning of the recent global crisis in 2008, the importance of exports of agricultural products, minerals and energy as a motor of growth was 17.3% (in the period 1990-2001) and 16.1% (in the period 2002-2008) and was associated with the region’s highest growth stage (3.7% in the period 2001-2008) since the 1970s (ECLAC 2017c).

Extractivism allows the conquest and control of territories where its projects are developed. Therefore, in addition to social conflicts, factors such as the increase in rates of deforestation and pollution of the territories by mining or large-scale agricultural activities have affected the local economies and the means of survival of the regions involved. As an illustration, according to FAO (2016), agribusiness accounted for more than 70% of deforestation in the period 2000-2010 and, after 1990, was the main cause of deforestation in the Amazon, while gold mining was responsible for the destruction of approximately 1,680 km² of tropical forests in the period 2001-2013 (Alvarez and Mitchell 2015).

With the worsening of environmental impacts caused by climate change, as well as the fraudulent purchase and occupation of land or the violence used by various actors (multinationals, states, organised crime networks) in defence of these projects, other consequences of the advance of extractivism in Latin America and the Caribbean are also the numerous forced human displacements recorded in the region year by year (Martínez Alier 2007; IACHR 2015; Svampa 2017). The severity of this process lies in the fact that the displacement is not only physical, but social, economic, political and cultural, often causing the destruction of traditional practices and the end of heterogeneous ways of living and interpreting the world (Porto-Gonçalves 2008).

The effects of extractivism on the environment and the people are multiple and heterogeneous. Nevertheless, due to the structural characteristics of Latin America and the Caribbean, the impacts of this model on the social movements and communities ‘affected’ or ‘hit’ is huge due to gender, colour and scale. In fact, these differential impacts are the result of gender and race inequalities in the region (Gargallo 2014; Aguinaga et al 2017), many of them inherited from the colonial era and advanced by internal colonialism (González Casanova [1963] 2007). These groups are vulnerable because they are more exposed to poverty and social exclusion and, according to the IACHR (2015), extractivism exacerbates this situation by violating their rights and, in a special way, the right to own and cultivate land. Thus, according to OXFAM (2016: 52) one of every three hectares that are awarded in concession for mining, oil, agroindustry and forestry in Latin America belongs to indigenous peoples, while in countries like Colombia, one of the main groups affected by the expansion of monoculture are the Afro-Colombians.

However, these groups cannot be considered solely as passively affected. The explicit opposition of the people considered as ‘objects’ of development regarding the projects and the advancement of this model makes them essential agents for understanding the direction of development in the region. Their struggles and resistances ‘For water, dignity, sovereignty and life,’ ‘Defence of Mother Earth and ancestral territories,’ ‘End of mining’ and ‘Against the advance of agribusiness’ can thus be seen not as isolated actions, but as expressions of a transnational movement called Environmentalism of the Poor or Movement for Environmental Justice (Martínez Alier 2007). This movement represents the collective voice of social actors who suffer the consequences of boundless economic growth and depredation of natural resources and calls for a more equitable distribution of development costs. This movement also denounces the existence of an ecological debt, criticises environmental racism,9 and opposes western-based development projects grounded in the promotion of modernisation and economic growth. In addition, the Environmental Justice Movement questions the origins and principles of development, as well as its colonial, ethnocentric, patriarchal and anti-ecological roots, promoting alternatives that emerge from self-determination, popular sovereignty and the knowledge and worldviews of all peoples.

From these dynamics, different proposals emerge from the western models of development that recover the worldviews of the indigenous peoples of the region and adopt more inclusive perspectives. One of the most widespread formulations, incorporated in constitutional texts such as the Ecuadorian and Bolivian, is Sumak Kawsay or Good Living, a concept derived from Andean traditions that includes variables such as the rights of nature and the need to live in harmony with it, or happiness and solidarity between peoples (Acosta 2016). Other approaches also recover the traditions, struggles and resistances of women and peasant communities and the contributions of Afro-descendant peoples of Latin America in favour of the construction of new choices and post-extractive projects (Escobar 1996; Svampa 2017; Lang 2017; Acosta 2017; Gudynas 2017).

But these proposals face a more and more worrying scenario due to the increasing criminalisation of protests and local resistance, which includes multiple attempts to silence critical and opposition voices, as well as heterogeneous rights violations (IACHR 2015). In fact, according to the Global Witness (2017), Latin America and the Caribbean today comprise the region considered to be the most dangerous for leaders and defenders of the environment. Of the 197 environmentalists murdered in the world in 2017, 116 died in the region and 60% of the murders are related to extractivist activities in agribusiness or mining. Social leaders, such as Nilce de Souza Magalhães, an environmental activist and member of the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB) assassinated in 2016, were physically eliminated for denouncing and facing the advance of extractivism in their territories and for legitimately defending their traditional forms of life or alternatives to the current model of development. However, widespread impunity in the countries of the region and lack of access to justice mean that many homicides are not recorded, much less solved. All countries in the region have high rates of violence against land defenders, including threats and various forms of stigmatisation and intimidation, but the persecution and, above all, the number of murders of these activists is increasing in countries such as Brazil (46), Colombia (32), Mexico (15) and Peru (6), coinciding with the deepening in the last decades of the extractivist model (Global Witness 2017).

Women’s protagonism in the struggle against extractivism in Latin America and the Caribbean

Berta Cáceres,10 leader of the indigenous Lenca people and environmental activist from Honduras who received the prestigious Goldman Environmental Award for fighting for more than 20 years for the rights of her people and fellow women and for defending environmental justice and alternatives to the current development model, was murdered in 2016. Margarita Pérez Anchirayco, an important Peruvian figure in the fight against mining, in this case against the company Lisandro Proaño for the serious effects that derived from contamination by the extractivist project which affected the health of the population, was able to take the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which stopped the activities. The Latin American Network of Women Defenders of Social and Environmental Rights; the National Network of Women in Defence of Mother Earth in Bolivia – which managed to stop the Achachucani gold mining project; the Assembly of Women and Diverse Women of Ecuador – part of the March for Life, Water and Dignity of Peoples against mega-mining; the resistance of mestizo women and Maya Kaqchikel in Guatemala – who stopped the US Kappes Kassiday & Associates’ KCA mining project; and the Mãe Terra Movement and the Valle de Siria Environmental Committeein Honduras – all of these are just a few examples of how women have organised themselves to face the extractive model in the region (GRISUL 2018). However, as already stated, to show these experiences of struggle and resistance against extractivism that make up the Environmentalism of the Poor requires new forms of research. One example is a cartographic proposal of GRISUL, based on the Environmental Justice Atlas (EJATLAS 2017), from a multi-scale perspective, making the role of women (especially peasants, indigenous and Afro-descendants) visible in the struggles for the contestation of the extractivist development model based on their own practices and experiences.

According to UN Women (2017), Latin American and Caribbean women suffer various types of discrimination in relation to, for example, the use, ownership and work of the land. They account for less than 12% of the population benefitted by agrarian reform, administer percentages below 40% of the region’s land – with significant variations between countries – and have been historically excluded from and penalised in land ownership, distribution and inheritance policies, which consider them mothers, wives and helpers in agricultural tasks rather than autonomous producers, impairing their autonomy and survival (OXFAM 2016: 27). Due to factors such as the increase in extractive activity and the concentration of land that this model promotes, as well as the high percentage of poverty, unemployment and non-remuneration of women (with percentages varying between countries and urban and rural areas), their exclusion acquires greater consequences (IACHR 2015; FAU 2017).

At the same time, women still have lower levels of training relative to men, are less present in the formal labour market, carry out mostly specific and stigmatised jobs for which they receive lower wages, and, because of the uneven distribution of tasks in the reproductive sphere and care, face double and triple working hours daily. For example, in addition to having 19.7 hours of paid work, women spend 37.9 hours a week on unpaid work, without benefits or social protection, whereas men do only 12.7 hours of unpaid work and work at paid labour for 41.5 hours (UN Women 2017: 36).

The inequalities that affect women assume greater proportions when it comes to the indigenous, Afro-descendant, rural or diverse sexual identities of women. Indigenous and Afro-descendant women, for example, are the majority in the region’s domestic work, where 78% are in informal work and without access to any kind of social or labour rights. Afro-descendant women with paid work also have wages equivalent to less than four times the region’s poverty line, compared to white women who exceed five times the poverty line. In the case of indigenous women with more education, their wages are only twice the region’s poverty line, compared to indigenous men with equal levels of education who exceed three times the poverty line (UN Women 2017: 44). Due to the intersectionality, in these cases, the inequalities of class, ethnicity, sex and territory are added to the oppression of gender. The region of Latin America and the Caribbean also presents a panorama characterised by the feminisation of poverty, and women are the main victims of adjustment policies, diminishing the role of the state and highlighting the lack of social policies (UN Women 2017). Despite these indicators, Latin American and Caribbean women actively participate in the production and reproduction spheres in the societies of the region. As producers, peasants, paid workers or mothers, protectors and caregivers of families, communities and territories, their presence and participation are fundamental. At the same time, as we have pointed out, women are also protagonists in the processes of mobilisation, struggle and resistance against the installation and progress of extractivist projects.

Extractivism affects the lives, bodies and territories of women, both in the promotion of mining projects and in the expansion of monoculture or other activities of intensive exploitation of natural resources. From elements such as militarisation, occupation of territories, contamination of natural resources, disintegration of the social fabric, and disarticulation of local economies, women are especially affected as mothers and household providers, peasants, producers or community leaders (IACHR 2015). In this sense, activities linked to extractivism contribute to exacerbating gender inequalities in the region. Nevertheless, the effects of extractivism on women are important not only from a quantitative point of view, but also from a qualitative one. Thus, for example, the presence of extractive projects is associated with the increase of gender violence, including phenomena such as prostitution, trafficking of women and children, and the restriction of women’s freedom due to the increase in cases of harassment and rape in the vicinity of extractive projects (Solano Ortíz 2015). The levels of physical and sexual violence are especially visible during population evictions. In Guatemala, for example, the collective rape of Maya-Q’eqchis women during the looting processes carried out in 2007 by armed groups and public security forces at the service of the Compañía de Níquel (CGN), a subsidiary of the Canadian HudBay Minerals, is emblematic (IACHR 2015: 177). In fact, the multiple forms of violence (individual or collective) are carried out by public and private actors, including workers, police, paramilitaries or private security guards. In addition, the increase in child exploitation linked to extractive projects also affects women as mothers, relatives or victims of these processes (FAU 2017).

The increase in alcoholism and the use of drugs associated with the installation and expansion of extractive projects also has direct repercussions on the increase of gender, psychological and physical violence. In this respect, and because extractivist projects promote productive specialisation with jobs mainly directed towards men, they are considered as contributing towards the diminishing of the community role and autonomy of women by consolidating traditional gender roles, the sexual division of labour and the model of hegemonic masculinity, reinforcing the patriarchal culture of Latin America and the Caribbean (Solano Ortíz 2015; Lang 2017; GRISUL 2018).

As a consequence of the contamination of water and other natural resources, women also experience specific health problems and suffer directly from the effects of land occupation, crop decline and food insecurity (FAU 2017). In this context, in cases such as the mining projects of Coro Coro and Achachucani Challapata (in Bolivia), Panantza (in Ecuador), Pacific Rim El Dorado (El Salvador) or Conga (in Peru), the participation of women in resistance to projects has been and remains fundamental. In the conflicts for the defence of the land that affect the Kichwa Sarayaku people (in the Ecuadorian Amazon) the women – organised in a network – guard and protect the region with their physical presence against the entry of unauthorised persons, especially of the armed forces, into the traditional territories.

At the same time, women are numerous and often the majority of victims of forced displacement (FAU 2017). As evidenced by the mining conflicts studied in Piquiá de Baixo (Brazil), Aratirí (Uruguay), Támesis (Colombia) or La Puya-El Tambor (Guatemala), other important effects are the rupture of family and community relations and the increase of work and the overload they experience after the entry of men into the labour market associated with extractive projects. In addition, women take care of family members and members of sick communities due to the contamination of extractive projects, while they inherit the sole responsibility of the home after the murder of their partners (IACHR 2015).

In addition to symbolic, psychological and physical violence, women also face various forms of socio-political violence. In fact, they are socially invisible and marginalised, sometimes also by their fighting partners. They are often also excluded from land ownership and from the time of negotiating or making decisions that directly affect their lives. In this respect, it is common, for example, that companies linked to extractivism negotiate directly with men ignoring community decisions where women play a relevant role (Ruales 2015; IACHR 2015). Women also experience specific forms of criminalisation that include differentiated strategies such as verbal, psychological and physical violence, moral condemnation or stigmatisation towards them and their families (IACHR 2015; OXFAM 2016; FAU, 2017). In our research, these phenomena have been especially evident in numerous cases such as the Conga (Peru), El Escobal (Guatemala) and Glencore (Bolivia) mining projects.

However, women are at the forefront of the struggle for land and the defence of natural resources and are daily protagonists of numerous mobilisations and resistance projects, as shown by the cases of socio-environmental conflicts evidenced on Figure 2. It should be noted that the strategies of these struggles are multiple and differentiated, depending on the type of conflict, levels of violence on the part of companies, state or networks of organised crime, and forms of organisation. These strategies include, for example, mobilisation, political participation and the organisation of popular assemblies and consultations about the introduction of extractivist projects in their territory, as in the case of the Popular Consultation promoted in Piedras Tolimas against mining. In scenarios marked by imposition, women claim the right of affected communities to be consulted prior to the installation or expansion of extractive projects and require that the majority opinion of the communities directly involved are heard, and not only that of the economic interests or the arguments of the state on the ‘national interest’ of the holdings. Women also actively participate in strategies for requesting the preparation of national or international reports on the cases that affect them, mobilising environmental and human rights defenders or international bodies such as the UN and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and also claim, against their states, laws of protection of the territories and the end of the mining projects. An emblematic case in this respect was the Mesa Nacional contra la Minería Metálica, with a strong female role, which succeeded in stopping the Pacific Rim and Mina El Dorado in El Salvador and prompted the Central American country to approve a specific law in 2017 and be the first in the world to ban metal mining, open or underground, due to the environmental and human impacts it causes. As demonstrated by the experience of Piquiá de Baixo (in Brazil), Conga (in Peru), Intag (in Ecuador) or Women in Defence of the Valle de Siria (Syrian Valley, in Honduras), women are also protagonists in experiments of militant research, providing data and autonomous reports that serve to inform the communities in contrast to the official information of companies and governments. These researches and reports are important instruments of denunciation and visualisation of the harmful impacts generated in several spheres by the extractive projects.

Source: Adapted from GRISUL 2018

Figure 2 Women’s Struggles and Resistances 

In order to resist the advance of extractivism, women act collectively in women’s networks and organisations with their gender demands, linked to indigenous, Afro-descendant and peasant ethnic demands or in projects that integrate these and other ecological claims. This interaction is visible, for example, in the experiences of the Wayuu women in the El Cerrejón project (in Colombia), the Tuligtic project (in Mexico) or the El Escobal mining project (in Guatemala), where women (articulated around tables of national unity, in co-operatives or in groups such as ‘Madre Selva’ and other social movements) have defended the Xinca community from the threats of contamination and violations of human rights and collective property promoted by the Canadian companies Tahoe Resources Inc and Gold Corp.

In the processes of struggle and resistance against the installation and advancement of the extractive frontier, women’s work is especially focused on the defence of territories and natural resources such as water, which are fundamental to their survival and that of their communities. To this end, in addition to the organisation of marches, protests and occupations, women articulate with local, national or global social movements and women’s organisations, as in the cases of Intag (Ecuador) with the participation of local networks in the Assembly of Women and Diversity of Ecuador and its protagonism in the March for Life, Water and Dignity of Peoples promoted by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE). Their action and use of diverse forms of civil disobedience also implies the physical defence of the territory with the creation of ‘Environmental Belts,’ as shown in the project Támesis in Colombia or the initiatives articulated in the proposal of ‘Conga no va,’ headed by leaders such as Máxima Acuña in Peru. However, in addition to public involvement and political participation, women also play an essential role in the care and protection of children, the elderly and the wounded during demonstrations or expulsion proceedings, as well as in the preparation of food necessary to sustain encampments and occupations of territories threatened by extractivism. In the same way, they are protagonists in the creation of artistic activities and use their creativity in the conception of, for example, theatre or dance performances, with the aim of denouncing the effects of extractivism and sensitising public opinion in this regard. Finally, the solidarity of women’s groups and their articulation in struggles that transcend the territories affected by extractivism is expressed in the transnational denunciation of the impacts of this model in regional networks such as the Latin American Network of Defenders of Social and Environmental Rights. It also recovers the voices and perspectives of women affected in artistic and audio-visual projects, as shown in the documentary Otras voces por la tierra, produced within the framework of the resistance to the advance of extractivism in the Aratirí project (in Uruguay).

In many cases, defending a self-sufficient way of life and resisting the theft of the conditions that make this possible is already an alternative to development. Nonetheless, women’s proposals go further and, in articulation with other peasant, indigenous and Afro-descendant collective actors, include local planning and welfare projects, autonomy processes, and various sustainable production strategies aimed at achieving self-sufficiency and sovereignty (Svampa 2017). In the cases analysed, such as Intag and Zamora Chinchipe (in Ecuador), Conga (in Peru), Coro Coro and Achachucani Challapata (in Bolivia) Pedras Tolimas (in Colombia) and Valle de Siria (Honduras), women have been instrumental in agro-ecological co-operatives or community tourism programmes as resource generators as an alternative to extractivism. These projects, which include a gender perspective, often break with the separation between private and public spheres and provide for fair trade and exchange, based on respect for the value of labour and production, considering factors such as the cycles of nature or the finiteness of natural resources (FAU 2017). In this way, they recognise the role of women in the international arena and in the disputes over development.

Conclusions

Despite having historically been made invisible by the discipline of International Relations and in the discussions on international politics, women play a crucial role in the global scenario. As we have seen over the course of our work, in Latin America and the Caribbean, they resist daily, oppose specific policies, and construct their own proposals and alternatives to the prevailing development model. Ignoring this role involves having a partial vision of International Relations and giving continuity to the epistemic violence exerted on women that has relegated over half of the world’s population to silence, denying them their condition as subjects.

Retrieving women’s practices and enabling their roles are not simple tasks, and it requires the questioning of the roles of victims and passive beings which have traditionally been assigned to them, as well as studying their practices and struggle traditions. Through a study based on 259 cases of socio-environmental conflicts, our purpose was to provide an overview on how women (especially peasant, black and indigenous women) of Latin America and the Caribbean experience the harmful effects of extractivism in their bodies, lives and territories, and also to show the central role they play in the mobilisations and resistance against this model of development, as well as in the formulation of proposals and alternative models. Their participation happens through numerous practices that include protests, preparation of reports, promotion of awareness campaigns, foundation of and participation in organisations and platforms for action, complaints and petitions in the media and in international instances, articulation with other national and international movements, organisation of events of artistic and cultural character and collection of funds, preparation of material for disclosure of conflicts, etc. Nowadays, they are protagonists in the defence and the maintenance of life before, during and after conflicts.

As evidenced by the many examples mapped in this study, through complaints, organisation of participatory meetings, public consultations, the creation of reservation zones, legislative proposals and legal innovations such as the rights of nature, and movements in the struggle against the extractivism, where women are protagonists in several roles, they are also able to create alternative proposals open to the exercise of multiple identities and ways of deciding and self-organising and valuing concepts such as solidarity, self-reliance and cooperation. Thus, facing the universality and uniformity of the western matrix development model and its harmful effects, they propose new paradigms with alternative views of nature and well-being which adopt plural perspectives in constant definition.

Because development studies only favour women’s participation in institutional spaces and in the formulation of public policies, going beyond these spaces and adopting a more integral approach, as our work proposes, allows us to overcome their silence and invisibility. Thus, if they are considered as objects, beneficiaries or victims of development by states, companies, and sometimes by the movements themselves, their struggles can show that they have agency of their own and that they question and dispute on a daily basis the meanings and practices of development, proposing diverse and heterogeneous alternatives to it. In articulation with local, regional and international movements and as part of a global movement for Environmental Justice, women generate a polyphonic and diverse narrative, experience new ways of being, produce and organise, and offer the construction of emancipatory and alternative horizons for the peoples and societies of the region. Nevertheless, it is necessary to expand on the characteristics of these struggles and their protagonists within and outside the region, as well as in the international links that they assume with the movements of women from the South and the global North.

The challenges that women and other movements of opposition to extractivism face are enormous, as a consequence of several factors such as hegemonic preconceptions about modernisation and development, the legitimacy of the extractivist model and the collaboration of governments in their expansion, the asymmetry of power between states, companies and movements, the complexity of the organisation of the international economy, and the constant processes of criminalisation. However, the role of women and their constant questioning shows that extractivism is not and should not be seen as a condemnation for the countries of the South, but as a choice that can be overcome in favour of more inclusive models of well-being, formulated from the needs, interests and desires of all, without silencing or underestimating the role of women.

Notes

1In this article, we understand resistance as a form of opposition or rebellion against forces imposed on people’s lives that limit their freedom or the exercise of their rights, traditional ways of life and autonomous projects. We adopt the perspective of Scott (1985), who states that there are different forms of resistance related to different forms of domination: material, status and ideological. For Scott, resistance assumes various explicit forms, but it is also a daily resistance. His work transforms the understanding of ‘politics’, making the ordinary life of subalterns part of political affairs. Regarding women, considering their active protagonism in the fight against extractivism, we defend that there are interactions between their various practices of resistance. These have a great impact on social change and are proactive, since they generate alternatives to the current development model. 

2The Environmental Justice Atlas (EJATLAS) is a collaborative portal that brings together environmental conflicts of different typology (2,390 as at 3/27/2018) under the direction of Joan Martínez Alier and Leah Temper and the co-ordination of Daniela del Bene of the Autonomous University of Barcelona and the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA). For more information, see Temper, del Bene and Martinez-Alier (2015) and EJATLAS (2018).

3As examples, their participation in the struggles against dictatorships in Latin America, with the paradigmatic case of the Argentine Mothers, but also the Women’s Movement for Amnesty in Brazil, the Women’s Movement of Chile, or the Federation of Cuban Women, among others. 

4For more information, see UN WOMEN (n.d.). 

5As in Latin America, the Marcosur Feminist Articulation, created in 2000, is based on the experiences of Latin American women’s organisations in the preparation of the Beijing Summit, with the purpose of promoting feminism at a regional and global level. 

6Marcha Mundial de las Mujeres/Marcha Mundial das mulheres. For more information, see 9º Encontro Internacional da Marcha Mundial das Mulheres (n.d.). 

8As an example, between 2002 and 2015, the fortunes of Latin American billionaires grew by an average of 21% annually, that is, a six-fold increase over the region’s Gross Domestic Product (OXFAM 2016). In the same vein, it should be noted that most of this wealth is not in Latin American countries but outside the region, usually in tax havens. According to ECLAC (2017b: 6), tax evasion and tax avoidance constituted a loss of US$340 billion for Latin America and the Caribbean in 2015, equivalent to 6.7% of GDP in the region.

9This refers to social and environmental injustices, whether intentional or unintentional, that have greater effects on the most vulnerable ethnic groups and populations, such as Afro-descendants or indigenous peoples in Latin America and the Caribbean. In addition to making visible and denouncing the differentiated effects of environmental impacts by population groups, the concept is one of the main instruments of struggle of the Environmental Justice movement to demand a more equitable distribution of the costs of the current development model.

10For more information, see BertaCaceres.org (n.d.).

Acknowledgements

This article is the result of the research ‘South–South Cooperation and Models of Development in Latin America,’ carried out with the support of the Young Scientist Program of Our State of the Foundation for Research Support of the State of Rio de Janeiro (FAPERJ), Research Group on International Relations and Global South (GRISUL) of the Federal University of the State of Rio de Janeiro (UNIRIO). We are grateful to the GRISUL researchers for collecting and organising data on conflicts over extractivism (compiled in the booklet Pacha defending the land. Extractivism, conflicts and alternatives in Latin America and the Caribbean 2018), as well as to the Laboratory of Cartography of Labmundo/IESP for the elaboration of the maps that illustrate this article.

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Received: January 2, 2018; Accepted: January 22, 2019

Enara Echart Muñoz has a Ph.D. in International Relations from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. She is a Professor at the School of Political Science at the Federal University of the State of Rio de Janeiro (UNIRIO) and Coordinator of the Research Group on International Relations and Global South (GRISUL) and the Working Group ‘South–South Cooperation and Development Policies’ of the Latin American Council of Social Sciences. Her research lines are: social movements, development, international co-operation, human rights. Her publications include the books Movimientos sociales y Relaciones Internacionales. La irrupción de un nuevo actor (2008) and Cooperación Sur-Sur, política exterior y modelos de desarrollo en América Latina (2016, co-editor). Supported by the project Jovem Cientista do Nosso Estado of the Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (FAPERJ), 2016-2019.

María del Carmen Villarreal Villamar is a Postdoctoral Fellow (PDJ-CNPq) in Political Science at Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (UNIRIO) and Postdoctoral Researcher in Political Sociology at the Universidade Estadual do Norte Fluminense. She holds a PhD in Political Science from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. She is also a member of the International Relations and Global South research group (GRISUL)/UNIRIO and NIEM/UFRJ. Her lines of research are: international migration, development and international co-operation, comparative politics and regional integration. Some of her more recent works are: ‘Pacha defending the land. Extractivism, conflicts and alternatives in Latin America and the Caribbean’ (ed. with Echart, 2018) and ‘Regionalismos e Migracões Internacionais na América do Sul. Contexto e perspectivas futuras sobre as experiências na CAN, no Mercosul e na Unasul’ (Espaço Aberto, 2018).

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