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Colonialism, Capitalism & Patriarchy – some words from the Galway Feminist Collective

Posted by Guest Blogger on June 22, 2020 at 05:14 PM

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As an intersectional feminist group we think it is important to organise around environmental issues. We recognise that the same system of domination that harms us also harms the planet and that the struggles against sexism, racism and climate change are connected.

We see that the root of a lot of different crises can be found in the systems of capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy.

While thinking about these struggles isn’t new to feminism - ecofeminism includes nonhuman nature in the discussion so it is about emancipation or freedom from domination for all oppressed groups - including nature. It is vital to shift from seeing the earth as an object to extract natural resources from to a living landscape full of memories, stories, ancestors and nonhuman life. This webinar, we hosted with Friends of the Earth, was an opportunity to connect with and learn from our sisters who are fighting these struggles elsewhere.

Extracted resources from the Global South are imported into and used in the Global North, including Ireland. Indigenous communities are forced off their lands and their livelihoods are taken from them while capitalism thrives on the stolen resources. We have a duty to be aware of this continuation of colonialism and resist the destruction of communities and the ecosystems they are part of.

Ireland may be a postcolonial country but we benefit from power relations between the Global North and South which originated in colonialism. The proposed Liquefied Natural Gas terminals in Kerry and Cork are good examples. We have banned fracking so it’s not acceptable here but it is fine if it happens somewhere far away and we import it. These fracking projects threaten indigenous communities’ ways of life, livelihoods and safety. Another example is Moneypoint power station burning coal from the Cerrejon mine in Columbia which is rife with human rights abuses against local indigenous communities and workers.

Of late, climate change has been presented as a new threat that’s coming for us but it is something that people in the Global South have been resisting for years. They are the experts as they are on the frontlines of the struggle against climate change. These are the voices we need to be listening to and learning from. These struggles may not be framed in the language of environmental activism, but these struggles are the frontline of defence of the earth. They may be about territory, air, land and spiritual connection to the earth. It is important that we do not impose our Western framing onto struggles. We need to listen to people who are involved in those struggles who may call themselves water protectors, earth defenders, First Nations activists or indigenous rights defenders.

We need to challenge solutions which come from a colonial framework like conservation work which has kicked indigenous people off their land. If we focus on solutions without a decolonial perspective then we will continue to use extractivism. Resources will be extracted from the Global South only this time it will be for the minerals needed for green energy rather than fossil fuels. People will continue to be pushed off their fertile lands into marginal lands or the ‘final frontiers’/ ‘the new enclosures’ due to this extractivism.

Feminism unfortunately can also be co-opted for neo-colonial and capitalist ends. The Galway Feminist Collective recognises that ‘white western feminism’ often ignores the multifaceted ways that capitalism and patriarchy primarily oppress Black and Ethnic Minority women globally, which is being compounded by the environmental crisis. Grassroots environmental organisations are dominated by women, mainly women of colour while institutional organisations are dominated by Western professional men. Environmental defenders are killed at a rate of almost 4 per week across the world, mostly women indigenous leaders. Despite the danger still women stand up for land rights, indigenous rights, reproductive rights, against gendered violence and for a liveable environment. Berta Caceres, who was murdered as a result of her activism, has become an emblem for this struggle with the saying “Berta didn’t die, she multiplied”.

Lolita and Zeinab, our speakers, shared their experiences of being part of this global resistance.

Aura Lolita Chávez Ixcaquic is a Maya K’iche indigenous educator and human rights defender from Guatemala. She is leader of the Council of K’iche’ Peoples in Defense of Life, Mother Nature, Earth and Territory (CPK) and member of the TZ'KAT Network of Ancestral Healers of Community Feminism, an indigenous led organisation that supports women activists and human rights defenders involved in community struggles. She was forced to leave Guatemala in 2017 due to threats against her life and has yet been unable to return.

Lolita spoke about how the systematic and permanent persecution that her community experiences in Guatemala is part of the predatory exterminating model of patriarchal and racist neoliberalism. It silences, tortures and makes the invisible to oppressive governments such as that of Guatemala. Her case, like thousands of other Human Rights Defenders (HRDs), it is not an isolated one. Women and indigenous people are those most affected by these projects. She described how women HRDs, including her, have faced terrible criminalisation. The governments use arrest warrants & preventive imprisonment, women are defamed with misogynistic, patriarchal arguments, with sexually violent overtones, the last step is murder.

Loltia herself, as a feminist and Maya K'iche’ ancestral authority, has continued to confront criminal networks that seek to strip the Kiche people of the natural resources that are essential for our life, water, land and forest, and spirituality according to the worldview of the K'iche communities through logging, mining and massive hydroelectrical dams. These networks have continuously committed criminal acts to the detriment of the fundamental rights of K’iche’s communities. Crimes which have been left in total and absolute impunity. Lolita has multiple accusations of criminal offenses against her, all of which have been fabricated. In June 2017 she survived the sixth assassination attempt against her and was forced to flee the country, leaving her children behind. To date she has been unable to return. Nevertheless, she continues to fight for justice for the K’iche people, to clear her name and hopes to be able to return to Guatemala when it is safe for her to do so. In the meantime she has asked for support for her case: for charges against her to be dropped and to have the aggressions against her investigated.

She also shared the tremendous situation faced by the indigenous communities of her native Quiche region as a result of the COVID19 pandemic and, along with the Galway Feminist Collective and the Latin American Solidarity Centre, has asked for support in raising funds to respond to the crisis through this GoFundMe Campaign.  

Zeinab Ghadhamfar is the environmental legal officer for the Save Lamu community organisation in Kenya. The site is also a UNESCO world heritage site including a mangrove forest which would help to protect the community from the impacts of climate change. Save Lamu is part of the deCOALonize campaign; a movement committed to stopping the development of coal and coal-related industries for a clean and sustainable energy future in Kenya and the region. It is also a member of WoMin, an African gender and extractives alliance, which works to advance an African post-extractivist eco-just women-centred alternative to the dominant destructive model of development.

Zeinab has a background in law and works with communities to save her local area of Lamu from the destruction of a coal plant. The proposed plant is a threat to the communities’ health and their livelihoods. The communities’ main sources of income would be from fishing, farming and tourism. 80 % of the population rely on fishing and other marine resources for their livelihood. Zeinab recounted how the maps of the area the company uses do not include the local villages. The company still has the colonial mindset that it is empty land despite it being the communities’ customary land which they rely on for survival.

The campaign began with community outreach and education efforts where the community came together to learn about the proposed development and what it would mean for their community. Save Lamu visited 40 villages to hold community meetings and also broadcast on local radio to reach out to the community. They set up a petition to the county assembly and the governor and also have an online petition on their website.

They also visited other communities challenging similar projects in India and South Africa and took inspiration from their campaigns. She recounted the many challenges the campaign has faced such as being dismissed and labelled as anti development by the government. She also describes some of the barriers facing women in terms of being involved in community organising such as balancing caring responsibilities and challenging taboos around being engaged in protest.

The campaign has had a recent legal victory as the environmental tribunal revoked the license to construct the power plant because of inadequacies in the environmental impact assessment and the public participation process. However, the company has appealed the decision, so the struggle continues.

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