Challenges for Rural Young Women Activists in Space for Struggle Around Environmental Justice.
In Central America organised young women are playing a role that is increasingly important in denouncing, protesting and carrying out public advocacy to hold back megaprojects by large-scale capital. These projects, camouflaged as development and supported by the State in each country, are destroying the environment and entire communities. Both the private corporations and the State are responsible for an increase in inequalities, violence and environmental pillage, and for the criminalisation and persecution of activists and people defending their territories.
Young women continue to be discriminated against for their gender and age, and invisibilised in decision-making processes. In a panorama that is more and more complex and high risk, they also risk their lives in defending their rights and struggling for environmental justice. María Antonia Recinos Ayala, president of the Santa Marta Women’s Organisation in El Salvador, knows about this reality from first hand experience.
Since she was 15 years old, María Antonia has been an activist and spokesperson for young women’s rights in Central America. She has promoted the organisation, education, and political empowerment of young women in the community of Santa Marta, whose population was exiled as a result of the civil war in El Salvador. Over the last few years she has focused her energies on addressing environmental conflicts, particularly in relation to mining projects in her home country. She has taken denunciations to several national and international bodies about the threats, appropriations and negative actions carried out by multinational corporations in El Salvador, along with the impact of these actions oon the environment and local communities.
María Antonia participated recently in the 22nd Conference of the Signatories of the United Nations Climate Change Convention (COP 22), as one of the presenters of the session “Climate Change and young women’s leadership: links, opportunities and challenges from the trenches”, organised by FCAM, The FRIDA Young Feminist Fund and GAGGA. She shares her reflections with us about the session and her impressions of the international event.
What did you talk about in the session?
I did an overview of the situation of the anti-mining struggle in Cabañas, El Salvador and about the activism of young women in environmental justice. I also spoke about the challenges involved in being a young, rural woman in these spaces.
On the panel we also reflected about the criminalisation and lack of safety we face because of being connected to defenders’ spaces, about the role of complicity that the State plays in these attacks, and the shelter of impunity that is protecting those who cause the violence against defenders.
Do you think that young women are more involved in activities like the one in which you took part?
I think so, there are more and more of us young women participating in these spaces. Although we have a long way to go to strengthen our voices. We have to keep on breaking through the barriers that stop us entering decision-making spaces that intervene either positively or negatively in our lives. I believe firmly that as young women we can contribute a lot of strength to these struggles, with our joyfulness, hope, with our art, to transform lives.
What do you think we should do as women to participate in spaces like these?
First of all believe in our ability to get into wider spaces and then struggle for the possibility to be these spaces that historically have been used mostly by men and adults.
Of course it implies taking on our participation with a lot of responsibility and clarity about what it means to be in these events, in which so many decisions are made about which the civil society members present are not consulted effectively. Also it means understanding that this is an opportunity to intensify the work we’re doing in defending our territories against megaprojects that are making business and profit from life itself.
COP22 was a huge event about which its own President Salaheddine Mezouar said: “it’s an opportunity to raise the voices of the most vulnerable countries against climate change”. What impressions do you have and what reflections does COP22 generate for you?
I felt like I was in a luxurious gallery exhibition, in which the multinationals are trying to show off, giving recipes about how to care for the world the way they do, something that is completely illogical, because they are the ones, with their endless ambition, who are one of the main people responsible for the destruction of the environment.
At present, the environment is being targeted by the multinationals who are pillaging without measure all our natural resources, displacing entire communities, contaminating irreversibly their environments, breaking living systems and putting life itself at risk in all its diverse expressions.
I think civil society should have a more active role and we should create our own conditions for participation. There should be a “COP IN RESISTANCE”, in which civil society organisations put forward their visions and intervene in the decisions that are made in these events and prepare their own proposals, trace their own lines of action to defend life.
The organizations that work for the rights of women and environmental justice are facing huge challenges faced with threatening and rapidly changing contexts, but there are also opportunities. COP is one of those global events that, even though it has many weaknesses, is a space where decisions are being made. It’s the space where decisions are being made that have a high level of repercussion for the planet and also some advances are being achieved. It is fundamental that the organisations that make up the movements for women’s rights and environmental justice get to know each other, link up and are well informed about the dynamics of these spaces for global advocacy, in order to be able to intervene in them with greater strength and effectiveness.