Link­ing gen­der jus­tice to Earth jus­tice

Wisconsin Gazette - - Opinion - JAMAKAYA

Many ex­tra­or­di­nary women have played im­por­tant roles in the en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ment. For the two women pro­filed here, de­vo­tion to earth jus­tice is con­nected to the em­pow­er­ment of women and indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties.


In 1977, Wangari Maathai of Kenya ini­ti­ated the Green Belt Move­ment, which mo­bi­lized ru­ral women to plant trees to al­le­vi­ate de­for­esta­tion and soil ero­sion. Tree planters earned a stipend for their work in a move­ment that ex­panded across Africa.

“In Kenya,” Maathai said, “women are the first vic­tims of en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion, be­cause they are the ones who walk for hours look­ing for wa­ter, who fetch fire­wood, who pro­vide food for their fam­i­lies.”

The Green Belt Move­ment pro­moted eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment for women in their vil­lages. The United Na­tions funded train­ing pro­grams in bee-keep­ing, food pro­cess­ing and other lo­cal trades. The move­ment also ad­vo­cated for women to be in­cluded in more de­ci­sion-mak­ing bodies at the lo­cal and na­tional lev­els.

Through her work, Maathai be­gan to un­der­stand how il­le­gal log­ging, re­stric­tions on landown­ing and im­proper waste dis­posal were re­lated to cor­rup­tion and dic­ta­tor­ship.

Kenya’s long­time pres­i­dent, Daniel Arap Moi, presided over fi­nan­cial cor­rup­tion, elec­toral fraud and hu­man-rights abuses. Maathai be­came a leader of Kenya’s democ­racy move­ment. She par­tic­i­pated in many non­vi­o­lent protests and hunger strikes. She was ar­rested re­peat­edly and was hos­pi­tal­ized once af­ter a beat­ing by po­lice.

Maathai per­sisted in her ac­tivism, gar­ner­ing in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion as a speaker at the U.N.’s Earth Sum­mit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. She won elec­tion to Par­lia­ment in 2002, serv­ing un­til 2007, dur­ing which time she was As­sis­tant Min­is­ter of En­vi­ron­ment and Nat­u­ral Re­sources.

In 2005, she was awarded the No­bel Peace Prize. In her No­bel speech, Maathai ac­knowl­edged ac­tivists world­wide who “work qui­etly and of­ten with­out recog­ni­tion to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment, pro­mote democ­racy, de­fend hu­man rights and en­sure equal­ity be­tween women and men. By so do­ing, they plant seeds of peace.”


In­dia’s Vandana Shiva has been ac­tive for decades through her writ­ing, lec­tures, le­gal ac­tion and com­mu­nity organizing.

Shiva fights against agribusi­ness for im­pos­ing crop mono­cul­tures de­pen­dent on ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied seeds. She de­cries the threat to bio­di­ver­sity and the im­pact on farm­ers, who are ru­ined by debt and land con­fis­ca­tion.

Shiva is dis­turbed by the “biopiracy” of cor­po­ra­tions claim­ing patents on indige­nous plants. In 2005, her re­search foun­da­tion — along with the Euro­pean Green Party and a fed­er­a­tion of or­ganic farm­ers — won a patent case against W.R. Grace and the USDA. They proved the fungi­ci­dal qual­i­ties of the neem tree, which is ubiq­ui­tous on the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent, were known for cen­turies.

“The free tree will stay free,” Shiva said of the vic­tory at the Euro­pean Patent Of­fice.

Shiva sees women as vic­tims of eco­log­i­cal de­struc­tion and agents of re­newal. She ties the growth of In­dia’s un­bal­anced gen­der ra­tio to the growth of mech­a­nized and cor­po­rate agri­cul­ture in the 20th cen­tury. Women have be­come more “dis­pens­able” as their value to agri­cul­ture has de­creased.

Sur­veys in­di­cate women world­wide place a higher pri­or­ity than men on san­i­ta­tion, clean wa­ter, nu­tri­tious food and in­fra­struc­ture pro­vid­ing those ne­ces­si­ties. Women ex­ploited by agribusi­ness are help­ing to save and store indige­nous seed stocks. With in­creased ed­u­ca­tion and rep­re­sen­ta­tion on de­ci­sion-mak­ing bodies, women will play a crit­i­cal role in re-mak­ing our en­vi­ron­ment.

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