(From "Case Studies: The Human Picture at the Micro Level," in Environment and Development: Grass Roots Women's Perspective, a publication of Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), Barbados, 1992.)
DAWN is a network of Third World women involved in research, action, policy making and communications, and seeking to promote Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era through global analysis of key development issues. Its current agenda focuses on the themes of environment, reproductive rights and population, and alternative economic frameworks.
The following are excerpts from a paper which was prepared for the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil. It characterizes some of the dilemmas and issues that are raised when one thinks about Environment and Development from the perspective of poor women from the South.
We invite you to share some of the perceptions of poor women from the South. Their experiences reflect the common pressures on basic survival resulting from inequitable social, political and economic systems. We have chosen cases based on their specific regional experiences. In Africa, women identified food security and desertification as pressing problems; Asian women saw increasing poverty, deforestation, loss of biodiversity and natural disasters as central to their crisis. Pacific women saw nuclear testing as the primary threat to their environment. For Latin Americans, increasing poverty, the absence of clean air, safe water, sanitation, and the imbalance of land settlements were central to the concerns of poor urban women. Caribbean women experienced growing poverty, negative environmental impacts of tourism, natural disasters and the overuse of pesticides and fertilisers.
The common thread which traces the wide-ranging environmental problems is the search for sustainable development.
KIRACOT: Legalised Plunder of the Productive Resources of the Poor
Kiracot Village in the Himalayas has a large land area and a relatively small population base. With limited usable area, the community has little manoeuverability for their agriculture and for grazing their animals, but the local government has given a licence to a mining company.
Women in the village have found that the dust deposits from the mining have destroyed their crops. Also, land has been cleared for the mining activity, forcing them to go miles to graze their animals. While mining has created employment for a few, it represents a direct assault on the livelihoods of the majority. This is worsened by the fact that the land is not even restored after mining.
The mineral is being used for cosmetics, not for food or essential consumption needs. However, because the mining lease is licenced under the law, the entire machinery of the law combines to suppress opposition.
SARAWAK: "Without the forest we are all dead"
The Sarawak area of Malaysia has been the center of intense conflict between a major government-commissioned logging project and the local people. Though this conflict has received worldwide attention, the government has not budged. The income for the export of timber has been of no benefit to the local people who continue to lose their sources of subsistence.
The indigenous nomadic Penan community of Sarawak have traditionally subsisted on grains and forest products for their food, shelter and housing. Their ecologically sound management of the forests is now being threatened by commercial logging. As a result, wild animals are becoming extinct, the water is polluted and the freshwater fish stocks reduced. Non-timber forest products have also been destroyed. In protest, the locals have tried to stop commercial exploitation of the forest by setting up blockades. Women and children have formed human barricades to prevent the timber lorries from operating. …