For International Women's Day, and in homage to women who have been killed or are at risk because of their struggles, the Rural Women and Land Rights Initiative presents this special issue on women defending land and territory in Latin America and to raise awareness about the risks they face, their work, and the difficult conditions they face when it comes to defending the right to a dignified life in their territories. It also follows their call for a life free of all forms of violence and discrimination for women.
March 2 marked the fourth anniversary of the murder of Honduran activist Berta Cáceres, who had dedicated much of her life to protecting the ancestral territory of Intibucá. Despite the indignation and international mobilization that the crime provoked against this defender, the panorama in Latin America for those who work for the protection of land and territory is alarming; for women and men, defending the rights to inhabit the territory in dignity and to own land has become a death sentence.
WOMEN DEFENDERS BEAR THE BRUNT OF THIS, SINCE THEY ARE NOT ONLY VICTIMS OF THE MULTIPLE FORMS OF VIOLENCE RESULTING FROM THEIR EXERCISE OF DEFENDING THE LAND AND TERRITORY, BUT THEY ALSO SUFFER, OFTEN IN SILENCE, OTHER FORMS OF VIOLENCE THAT ARE MANIFESTED IN EVERYDAY LIFE AND THAT ARE EXERCISED SIMPLY BECAUSE THEY ARE WOMEN.
Mariana Vilarim, from Espacio Feminista in Brazil, reaffirms this, since in her country the risks of being violated in the same home have increased considerably in recent years more in rural than in urban spaces: "domestic violence is one of the risks and also the difficulty in accessing basic rights such as water". In addition, the intensification of national politics has made it more common for women to be at risk because they are the ones demanding land and water rights.
One of the main risks for the defense of land and territory has to do with the constant criminalization of these people who are indigenous, peasants and human rights defenders in general. "If we do a mapping exercise, where women land defenders have been threatened and killed, we realize that it is in territories where there are multinational interests, which intend to extract all the resources that are in those lands," explains Liliana Vargas of the International Indigenous Women's Forum in Mexico.
In Colombia, the situation is similar to other countries in the region. Edilma Loperena Plata, an indigenous member of the Wiwa people and member of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), regarding the constant threat that black, indigenous and peasant communities are experiencing due to the armed conflict, states that when women demand a state presence "we are not talking about a guarantee that they will be people who will take care of us with weapons, but rather that the state will guarantee that there will be no displacement, that there will be no other person who will claim the land that is assigned to us.
Three days before the commemoration of International Women's Day in 2020, Dominga Ramos, a defender of women workers' rights on agricultural farms in the municipality of Santo Domingo Suchitepéquez - Guatemala, was murdered. Dominga had been linked to the campaign of the Peasant Development Committee - CODECA in defence of water against the diversion of rivers due to the monoculture of sugar cane and African palm and was also the wife of Miguel Ixcal, from the national political leadership of the same organisation.
This special issue presents different voices and stories of women who are recognized in their territories and communities for their hard work in defense of the land and the environment. Likewise, their stories make visible the threats, violence and discrimination they have suffered and are suffering when carrying out their work, as well as their strategies for self-protection.
STORIES OF EARTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENDERS WHO ARE WOMEN
ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENDERS AGAINST EVICTIONS
In a context of numerous conflicts over land, family farmers must exert pressure and develop struggles in defence of their right of access to land. The organization Unión y Progreso was at the forefront of numerous struggles, and in particular the president of this organization, Lucía Ruiz, who together with colleagues from different organizations in 2012 fought for the extension of Article 9 of Law 7658 to stop the eviction of peasant families, becoming protagonists in the defense of the environment and the right to land.
ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENDERS AGAINST EVICTIONS IN ARGENTINA
RECOVERY OF ANCESTRAL LANDS AND PERMANENCE IN THE TERRITORY
History of the struggles of the community organization Tolan Juyu' Taqaj' against the Project PET-1-2009 of the company Transportadora de Energía de Centroamérica (TRECSA), which constitutes a threat to 30 families, the majority of which are women, legitimate owners of these lands, farmers, weavers and illiterate, among them widows who survive from their crops and weaving to support the family.
RECOVERY OF ANCESTRAL LANDS AND PERMANENCE IN THE TERRITORY. TOLAN JUYU' TAQAJ' COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION
DEFENCE OF THE TERRITORY AND RESISTANCE TO WIND ENERGY MEGA-PROJECTS
This publication narrates the struggle and defense of the territory of local resistance organizations of La Venta Juchitán Oaxaca (an indigenous and rural community of the Zapotec ethnic group in Mexico) against wind projects in their territories. It highlights the actions of Bettina Cruz Velásquez, defender of land and environment, who had to leave her home and community and remain as a refugee in other places due to the permanent risk of attempts on her life.
DEFENSE OF THE TERRITORY AND RESISTANCE TO WIND ENERGY MEGA-PROJECTS. ASSEMBLY OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES OF THE ISTHMUS FOR THE DEFENSE OF LAND AND TERRITORY
ARMED CONFLICT AND MULTIPLE VIOLENCE AGAINST BLACK AND AFROCOLOMBIAN WOMEN
Black women living in some territories in Colombia suffer all kinds of violence. They have been direct victims of the armed conflict and have suffered profound human rights violations in their individuality and in their communities, by all legal and illegal armed actors. The National Network of Kambirí Afro-Colombian Women works for the elimination of racism and the different forms of discrimination to which not only Afro-Colombian women but the population in general are subjected in the country.
ARMED CONFLICT AND MULTIPLE VIOLENCE AGAINST BLACK AND AFRO-COLOMBIAN WOMEN. NATIONAL NETWORK OF KAMBIRÍ AFROCOLOMBIAN WOMEN
THE STRUGGLE OF THE PANKARARU INDIGENOUS TERRITORY
This document highlights the actions of the Indigenous Territory of Pankararu to remove the squatters from their lands. After the right-wing extremist presidential elections, the violence of the squatters against the indigenous people worsened. The leaders live in a constant state of alert. Among the 12 leaders under protection, 3 of them are women, the most vulnerable and doubly affected by racism and machismo.
PANKARARU INDIGENOUS TERRITORY. ARTICULATION OF THE PEOPLES AND INDIGENOUS ORGANIZATIONS OF THE NORTHEAST, MINAS GERAIS AND ESPIRITU SANTO
THREATS AGAINST WOMEN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS
INTERVIEW TO LEIRIA VAY
INVISIBLE WORK AND THE RISKS OF BEING A WOMAN DEFENDER OF THE LAND IN GUATEMALA
In an interview with Leiria Vay, member of the national political leadership of the Guatemalan Peasant Development Committee - Codeca, and coordinator of the Protection of Defenders Initiative of the ILC LAC, we wanted to reconstruct the current panorama of the risk situation faced by women defenders of land and territory in Guatemala, in addition to establishing some recommendations for states and social organizations to address these risks.
Leiria states that one of the strongest repression mechanisms against women is to attack their dignity, damaging the reputation and image of women defenders. This is a strategy to prevent women from taking the lead in their struggles. In 2018, six members of CODECA were murdered. One of them was a woman. The defender was raped and tortured before being killed.
"THE MEN WERE SHOT AND HACKED TO DEATH, BUT THE WOMAN WAS KIDNAPPED, RAPED, TORTURED AND THEN KILLED"
Photo: Laura Inés Contreras
As part of this special, women from several of the member organizations that make up the Rural Women and Land Rights Initiative tell us about their experience working for gender-just land governance and for the rights of rural women and also explain, from the realities of their different countries, why the work of women land defenders is important, what risks they face and what measures exist at the national level for their protection.
"With our hands". Access the photo gallery and learn about the stories and experiences of more women here.
ADRIANA SIGCHA, SIPAE (ECUADOR)
"Women have difficult living conditions that force them to defend their living space. Their land. They are forced to defend your territory. They become defenders in the face of threats from the economic, productive, social and cultural systems. Therefore, they need to position themselves, it is their vital condition of survival".
"With my hands, my learning and my capacities what I have done is participatory research with local actors. To put this knowledge and know-how into texts, documentaries or events, so that it can be disseminated with them in the first place. I believe that what I have done is to accompany processes, very respectfully, from my place.
Photo: Laura Inés Contreras
MARTA IRENE MAMANI, EARTH FOUNDATION (BOLIVIA)
"Women have a direct link to the earth, since it is more than a means of work, it is a source of life. This is a very strong conception of rural women. That's why they defend the land at all costs, it's the source of production of life itself, so it's very important for them to defend the territory.
"What I have done with my hands is to make the presence of rural women visible; making these actors visible means getting into the communities, talking to them and systematizing, making their livelihoods visible. What I have done so far is to do short investigations, reports, to show the presence of these actors who are there every day, fighting".
Photo: Laura Inés Contreras