Upholding Human Rights: Bridging the Gender-Environment Divide

The project Upholding Human Rights: Bridging the Gender-Environment Divide (2014–2017), funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, set out to achieve recognition and effective protection of women’s human right to water, food, and a healthy environment in India, Kenya, and South Africa. The following publications are part of a joint project with Both ENDS and project partners ActionAid Netherlands, ActionAid Kenya, ActionAid South Africa, Both ENDS Netherlands (Project Coordinator), and India-based organizations Dhaatri (Adivasi Resource Centre for Women and Children) and Keystone Foundation.

Globally, unsustainable economic development and the run on natural resources put communities dependent on these resources under immense pressure. Women suffer disproportionally from the negative impacts of large-scale development projects. Women’s Human Rights to Water, Food and a Healthy Environment aims to shed some light on the question why, and on possible ways to turn the tide and enable women to claim their human rights to water, food, and a healthy environment.

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South Africa is one of the thirty driest countries in the world. This is due to its geographical location and low annual rainfall; however, large-scale mining operations also have an increasingly negative impact on the country’s water quality and availability. Communities in Mpumalanga province, where the coal mining business is flourishing, struggle daily to get access to clean and safe water for drinking and cultivating their crops. Women are the most severely affected. Meanwhile, the mining companies as well as the South African government shy away from their responsibility to respect and protect people’s rights to water, food, and a clean environment.

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The traditional way of life of many forest-dwelling indigenous people is threatened by external commercial interests. People who have lived in harmony with their natural surroundings for centuries are evicted from their lands to make place for large-scale industrial agriculture, mining, or cattle-keeping enterprises. Increasingly, forest people are also evicted in the name of government-sanctioned conservation efforts. Those who have for generations been the true custodians of the forest are suddenly portrayed as a threat to the very ecosystem on which they depend for their food, health, well-being, and cultural and spiritual heritage.

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The adivasi communities in Panna district in Madhya Pradesh are losing their access to safe drinking water, food, medicine, and other produce from the forest due to increasing mining activities and the establishment of wildlife reserves. They are evicted from their villages and left with few other options than to work in the same mines that are destroying their traditional livelihoods. Women and children work in the mines under dangerous health and safety conditions and are underpaid. Thanks to local partners, efforts are being made to ensure adivasi rights to a sustainable livelihood and a clean environment.

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To progress towards the targets of its ‘Vision 2030’ development program, the Kenyan government is keen to tap any energy source available in the country. A coal mining concession awarded to a Chinese company is threatening the livelihoods of farmers and pastoralists in the Kitui County. Women especially are affected. The community speaks out to claim their rights to water, food, and a clean environment.

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