Women human rights defenders find support and inspiration in ReSisters Dialogue

29 November 2019

Last September, women community leaders and activists defending the rights of their community against harmful developments came together during a ReSisters Dialogue in Thailand. They discussed the challenges and threats they face in defending their access to natural resources and shared valuable strategies, lessons and insights.   

The 4-day event brought together women from rural and indigenous communities in Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand.  “While we discuss external factors affecting our lives, it is important that we also look at ourselves, reflect on own ways of organizing, of mobilizing, of creating and strengthening our movements,” says Judy Pasimo of IUCN NL partner organization LILAK (Purple Action for Indigenous Women’s Rights) in the Philippines, who is one of the organisations that initiated the ReSisters Dialogue in 2017.

Defending their right to natural resources

Facing threats such as mining, illegal logging and expansion of oil palm plantations, these women feel the need to protect the natural resources their communities depend upon. They resist eviction from their communal lands, they resist pollution of their rivers, they resist the disappearance of their forests, they resist developments affecting their livelihoods.

Growing resistance among rural and indigenous women

“The first Resisters Dialogue in 2017 showed that similar trends are happening across the various countries,” Judy Pasimo states. “There were many similarities in terms of expansion of minerals extraction, the profiles of the corporations behind it, the supply chains, the tightening collaboration between local elites and corporations, the intensifying influence of companies in national policy-making. At the same time, another significant trend is the growing intensity of rural and indigenous women’s participation in the resistance against these forms of encroachment into their ancestral domains, their lands and their lives.”

Violence, threats and intimidations

Their resistance is not without risks. The women regularly face violence, threats and intimidations from parties that hope to silence their defense. Some of them have been arrested or had lawsuits filed against them. The criminalization of environmental defenders and their communities was also flagged by Global Witness in their latest report on how governments and businesses silence land and environmental defenders.

Learning from victories, losses and pitfalls

During the ReSisters Dialogue, the participants learn from each other’s victories, even if they are small or short-lived, but also learn from the losses and pitfalls. “It is important that we collectively reflect on how we analyse our situations at the community level, and connect these all the way to the regional and international level,” Judy Pasimo explains.  

Inspiration and support

In addition, it strengthens these women human rights defenders to know that they are not alone in this. As one of the participants puts it: “Getting to hear about the struggles of other women, in different countries, inspires me to continue my battle.”

“These conversations among resisters need to happen every now and then,” Pasimo states. “To give ourselves a pause, but also to inspire each other, and to lend much needed support for each other, and each other’s struggles.

The second ReSisters Dialogue took place in Klong Sai Pattana, Thailand, from September 13 to 16, 2019. The dialogue was convened by LILAK (Purple Action for Indigenous Women’s Rights) together with civil society organisations from Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Thailand.

In strategic partnership with the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, IUCN NL supports the ReSisters Dialogue as it is instrumental in strengthening the voice and position of human and environmental rights defenders. 

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