How a mobile app can help safeguard and connect women environmental defenders

The COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated the dangers faced by environmental defenders all over the world.  This is also the case for women environmental defenders in Latin America. To strengthen their capacity to access important information and report threats, IUCN NL’s partner Fundación Plurales developed a mobile application.

Header photo: A group of women environmental defenders © Fundación Plurales

‘In Latin America, indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) have become even more isolated and forgotten by their government since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis,’ says Mariel Cabero, expert environmental justice at IUCN NL. ‘On the one hand, IPLCs are more vulnerable to the pandemic, because they have become disconnected from urban areas with little to no access to health information or services,’ Cabero explains.

‘On the other hand, they are now more vulnerable to extractive activities, and they have no opportunity to protest against this because of strict lockdowns and little to no communication with the outside world.’ In addition to these threats, the violence against environmental defenders continues. At least six defenders have been killed in different Latin American countries since the declaration of the pandemic on 11 March.

Additionally, the upcoming economic crisis caused by the pandemic will lead to an increase of activities that extract natural resources, such as mining and intensive agriculture as countries will try to boost their economies. Cabero: ‘Environmental defenders are and will be in the first line of defense of their territories against the post-COVID threats, and we need to facilitate tools which contribute to their safety and their resistance.’

Capacity strengthening

In the current context, strengthening the capacities of women environmental defenders to improve their security and advocacy strategies is a high priority. ‘To do this, our partner Fundación Plurales, together with Women’s Funds of the South, developed a mobile application for women environmental defenders,’ says Cabero. The goal of the app is to expand the flow of communication and action between environmental defenders in Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay.

‘We have found that these women increasingly access the internet through mobile devices, creating an opportunity to improve the flow of communication between them, their peers and the rest of the world,’ explains Nicolás Avellaneda, program manager at Fundación Plurales.

Connecting woman defenders with UN mechanisms

With the app, defenders can find and share relevant information, including geo-referenced data, photos and voice notes, as well as relevant news on the issues of environmental justice and gender.

The app will also collect complaints and data by defenders about threats to their environment. Avellaneda explains: ‘These will be systemized and forwarded to the right people, organizations and platforms. We hope this will enable us to quickly and easily collect demands from women defenders.’ When necessary, the information will be forwarded to the UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights issues, through the special mechanisms of the Human Rights Commission. 

Access to new tools

‘When designing the app, we took into account the specific needs of the defenders whom we work with in the field, to make sure it is easy to install and user-friendly,’ says Avellaneda.

‘So far, the app has been downloaded more than 120 times, and has proven a useful tool for women defenders to bridge the communication gap during the pandemic,’ says Avellaneda.

The women defenders were also positive about their first experiences with the app: ‘Having access to new tools’ and ‘an application only for us, which allows us to grow’, are some of the phrases that emerged from the rounds of consultation that Fundación Plurales did with women defenders. ‘We believe this initiative will be of great help to the defenders and their efforts to protect their territories and nature,’ Avellaneda concludes.

Mariel Cabero
Expert Environmental Justice