Vulnerable Women in Asia Build Solidarity Against Impacts from Mining

Women across Asia face major barriers when campaigning for gender equality and women’s participation in extractive industry governance

Ra Venpleur, an indigenous Cambodian woman of the Tompun ethnic group, is an inspiring example of persistence and commitment. A widow, farmer and mother to her three-year-old son, she is also an activist and community liaison helping her village navigate the impacts of mining in her home province of Ratanakiri.

One of her major challenges is to mobilize women in defense of their community and culture, which are under threat from growing mining exploration and exploitation in a region populated with indigenous groups. Mining is particularly disruptive for women, who often bear the brunt, such as environmental damage and social disruption, without sharing in any of the benefits. Her outreach activities and community engagement efforts targeting women challenge gender expectations and cultural norms – and are not always welcomed by male elders, other village leaders or local authorities. As an activist, Ra faces intimidation and harassment and other forms of threats.

Ra is not alone. Women across Asia face major barriers when campaigning for gender equality and women’s participation in extractive industry governance.

Marilou Verano, a resident of the Bicol region, located in the southern part of Luzon island in the Philippines, has defended local livelihoods, human rights and the environment since 1997. For her work she faces numerous threats. Despite the challenges, she continues her fight to increase public access to information and expand citizen participation in environmental decisions with mining companies.

Ra and Marilou met for the first time in July 2019 at the fourth regional network and skill share of Women in Action on Mining in Asia (WAMA). In Siem Reap, the famous cultural capital of Cambodia home to Angkor Wat, over 60 indigenous women and human right defenders gathered from Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia, India and Mongolia.

They shared their stories and discussed how their experiences could be documented and shared, at the global, regional and local levels, to encourage or support governments and companies to address the social and environmental ramifications of mining.

While workshop attendees shared specific issues and experiences of how mining affects women’s livelihoods and rights in each of their five countries, there were common challenges such as women struggle to meaningfully participate in local decision-making, which includes the right to access information and scrutinize social impact assessments processes; and women are not empowered to access and control natural resources near mining sites.

To address problems where women human right defenders in Asia have been facing, Oxfam and partners such as the Non Timber Forest Product-Exchange Program (NTFP-EP) in the Philippines and the Dhaatri Resource Centre for Women and Children in India[ii], together with other allies such as the Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action (GAGGA) have been forming a partnership to support the platform on Women in Action on Mining in Asia (WAMA). Together, we support the WAMA network to promote skills and knowledge sharing by grassroots women; develop and apply gender monitoring and assessment tools, fact finding, and advocacy through peer-peer learning processes; and develop joint strategies and actions.

At regional and global levels, Oxfam works to uphold our belief that gender justice must be at the forefront of the extractive industries reform agenda. We, thus, recommend that companies should also develop clear and overarching commitments to gender that respect the rights of both women and men and involve both women and men in consultation and decision-making processes.

Ra’s story and Marilou’s story began almost 2,000 kilometers apart but they are sisters connected in a common struggle where Women Environmental Human Rights Defenders in Asia face serious threats as a direct result of their human rights work. In their struggles to protect the local ecosystems upon which their communities depend for livelihoods and identity (right to food, right to water, right to clean air, right to non-discrimination, right to land and right housing), they will not stop. They are united in seeking remedies and solutions and will continue their actions until they win respect of their rights and a sustainable future.

Photo credit: NTFP-EP