Luz Aquilante: “There are so many women who are resisting, planning strategies that differ from this model”

“Our role as a women’s fund is to mobilise financial resources to provide economic, technical and political support in the region and subregion, and contribute to dismantling hegemonic narratives about the environment”.

Luz Aquilante, our Executive Director, participated in the panel called The Resistance of Women Environmental Defenders in South America and the Keys to Feminist Funding, organised by Fondo de Mujeres del Sur (FMS) at CSW66. We would like to share what she had to say.

Good afternoon everyone! We are very happy to be part of this event about climate crisis and feminist financing, on a day as important as World Water Day. A day in which we pay tribute to a vital common good for humanity, and access to which is a fundamental human right, as my colleagues have already mentioned.

Today we want to honour the transforming force from the territories, the strength of the women that we have just heard from, who resist agribusiness, mining, deforestation. We also want to celebrate the different proposals that they bring us in the face of a development model that is destructive and unjust.

We believe that raising awareness about the problems associated with access to safe water for millions of people on our continent is key.  In the American Chaco region, the puna and the wetlands of Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay, where FMS works, it is estimated that around seven million people do not have access to drinking water and sanitation.

Environmental justice linked to gender justice is a strategic priority for FMS. That is why our programme Leading from the South includes projects on climate justice amongst other areas. Leading from the South is a broader global initiative we’ve implemented for more than five years together with other women’s funds in the region. It spans across more than 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. We also have a specific programme we’ve been implementing for eight years, Strengthening Women Environmental Defenders, through which we support organised groups of women defenders in Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia.

Over all these years, we have been in direct contact with the issues territories are facing, we have learned about the comprehensive view of women’s bodies and nature. Today, we want to honour all of them, the indigenous, peasant, rural, Afro-descendant, and urban women that we support through these two initiatives.

We do not talk about climate change as though the cause of the problems we are experiencing were nature itself or something external to people, we talk about climate crisis and extractivism. We talk about a paradigm of climate crisis and extractivism that causes all the crises we are going through.

Extractivism in Latin America continues to be a threat to the sustainability of the territories, and the dynamics it imposes leave scars that go very, very deep. We have seen it in the bodies and in the lives of hundreds of thousands of women we support.

As we all know, the impacts of the crisis are much greater on women’s bodies. Due to the role of care assigned, women are more exposed to pollution, they have to deal with multiple diseases, foetal malformations, birth problems.

Also, women are exposed to high levels of violence in all spheres: domestically, on the water routes (because they are the ones who walk between two and six hours a day to fetch it), and politically and socially. They are criminalised for defending the environment and being the guardians of rivers, forests, mountains and soils. They experience cultural identity loss because they are expelled from their territories and also due to the lack of recognition of their ancestral knowledge, among a great number of other injustices that my colleagues have spoken about.

We know that all governments in Latin America, some to a greater extent than others, are counting on extractivism as a way out of the health and economic crisis caused by COVID-19.  They go into debt with international financial institutions to insert the region into international markets, and thus they are combining old extractivism, such as mining and agribusiness, with green extractivism, such as wind and solar energy, as well as hydroelectric energy and biofuels, which emerge tied to the idea of producing “clean” energy to reduce carbon emissions.

But we know very well that these methods exploit large areas of territory. The projects are launched without preliminary consultations with the communities, as is the case with lithium in Catamarca, as Luciana Fernández from Antofagasta Resiste told us. This only makes things worse and aggravates the multidimensional crisis that we are experiencing as a region.

In this context, our role as a women’s fund is to mobilise financial resources to provide economic, technical and political support in the region and subregion, and contribute to dismantling hegemonic narratives about the environment.

Over the last eight years we have mobilised more than two million euros in defence of the environment and gender justice. We’ve supported 71 groups and provided 216 grants. We’ve reached more than four thousand women defenders directly and more than twenty thousand indirectly.  All this is a huge effort for us, but we know that it is not enough, that more is needed.

Our Strengthening Women Environmental Defenders programme focuses mainly on issues of access to and management of safe water, the right to land, sovereignty and food security.

In the face of these conflicts, we want to give visibility to the diverse strategies that women defenders are implementing, such as constructing reservoirs and cisterns to collect water, reforestation with native species, building solar water heaters, establishing networks and alliances, strategic litigation and, above all, political advocacy at the local level and we also support cases at the international level.

There are many women who are resisting, planning strategies that differ from this model. We trust in these women and want those other possible worlds that look at life from a collective perspective, that salvage ancestral knowledge, that respect the times of nature, native seeds, local knowledge.

They are the ones who are leading, the ones who are there, on the front line, resisting, attending to cases of violence in the absence of the State, running soup kitchens, community gardens, and everything that my colleagues have discussed today.

Their critical perspectives are what inspire us as an organisation. We know that these are very unequal power struggles and that they require money, that is why our main role is to seek funding from international cooperation and also from donors at the local level.

Our support is flexible, it is feminist. The women themselves define their own priorities and what they want to do in each of their territories. We seek to provide long-term grants, because we know what these processes are like and that support for one or two years does not resolve anything. We need ten years of support, and there aren’t any donors that support us for that long. Therefore, our fundraising task is permanent. We do not do this work alone, but rather with other allied organisations, our sisters, such as Fundación Plurales and Colectivo Casa because we understand that we need networks to keep doing this work.

I think that this whole panel has been an invitation to think differently, to think about a paradigm shift and how to deal in a more humane and more careful way with the new crises, because there will surely be new crises.

Thank you all for being here and for everything we learned today. Thank you!