Summary of the International gathering “Women Resisting Extractivism”
Montreal, April 30th 2018 – From April 27th to 29th 2018, approximately forty Indigenous women, farmers and defenders of human rights and territories met in Montreal for the International gathering “Women resisting extractivism”. For three days, these women coming from various regions of Canada and approximately 15 countries of Latin America, Africa and Asia, exchanged about their experiences and their strategies for resistance, and denounced the threats they are facing.
Around the world, women are at the forefront of the struggles to defend life, the environment, water and the ancestral cultures and territories. While extractive projects have devastating consequences on livelihoods around the world, which affect women in particular, they play a fundamental role in mobilization and resistance.
Assessment of the gathering
The participants explained how the extractive industry contaminates and eliminates essential water sources in their regions. Facing the loss of this vital resource, women feel they are losing their autonomy. Food sovereignty has become harder and harder to attain when mining or hydroelectric megaprojects settle nearby. Often times, the installation of a mining company prevents communities from practising agriculture. Women are then deprived of their mode of subsistence and of the financial resources necessary for their autonomy.
Several women have been criminalised for trying to protect their territory and for continuing to work the land. When they defend their lands, they are victims of repression and deprived of their fundamental rights. Often, they are left with a criminal file and are the target of prejudice. They are accused of being opposed to “progress” and “development”. In many regions of the world, they are event accused of terrorism by virtue of the anti terrorism laws, which are an efficient way of repressing social mobilisation.
The exploitation of resources by the extractive sector is a political issue, but women in resistance must often fight to be perceived as political subjects. They tend to be excluded from decision-making and negocation spaces. Political training, reinforcement of self-organization for women and the participation in public debates have been at the heart of their actions to better defend their territories.
Participants also noted the social consequences of extractive projects, including the increase in sexual violence. Indeed, the settlement of mining companies causes a transformation in affected communities. The arrival of workers, mostly men, in mining regions leads to an increase in alcohol consumption and prostitution. In a climate of conflit, many women have been victims of rapes committed by the mines’ security agents. Their bodies are often the first territory they need to defend, and access to justice is difficult, often impossible, despite the severity of the crimes committed.
Women are therefore affected physically and spiritually by the actions undertaken by mining companies, which aim to break resistance and divide communities. As the first defenders of the land, they experience a great deal of guilt and indignation when their territories are affected by extractive industries.
“There is no justice or reparation possible when the damages are irreversible. When there are no more trees, water or free women, there is no more life. We, the Indigenous peoples, don’t want mines. We don’t want that kind of development.”
– Norma Sancir, Maya q’aqchiq’el, community journalist for the defense of Indigenous peoples in Guatemala, and participant at the international gathering.
Although participants come from all over the world, there are strong commonalities in their testimonies and their experiences of resistance. Everywhere, women who fight extractivism face similar issues. This space for exchange allowed participants to gather their strengths and feel inspired by other women who fight in different areas of the world.
An important observation from this gathering was the similarity between the impact of several Canadian mining companies on Indigenous communities abroad, and the oppression that First Nations experience here in Canada. Participants brought to light the severity of this double oppression, and a strong solidarity was developed between Indigenous women of Canada and abroad.
Gatherings such as these are also healing spaces. Women were able to care for themselves and each other, and express themselves freely in a safe space focused on open minds and active listening. Having often experienced isolation and powerlessness, they were able to create new alliances and reinforce their joint actions.
“Too often, women are kept in silence. Women who are the guardians of culture, Indigenous women across the world, are living a tragedy. […] They have a major role to play in their community, in their family and in their society. They are at the heart of their community, and they carry life, just like Mother Earth.”
– Adrienne Jérôme, Anishnabe, Lac Simon, member of the elected women of the Assembly of First Nations Québec-Labrador (AFNQL) and participant at the international gathering.
Julia Couture-Glassco, Communication Officer
Tel.: 450-632-0088 ex. 232