The Importance of Land for Women Confronting Patriarchy and Climate Change

Source: E-International Relations

“It is women who have the job of going to collect water, and sometimes the children; we [women] suffer because there’s no water.” (Woman from the community Totoral, Bolivia, 16 may 2013) [1].

These are the words of a woman living in Totoral in Oruro, Bolivia, where the community only gets drinking water piped in for one hour a week, from another community nearby. This is because their local water is highly polluted by heavy metals. It is under these difficult conditions that women must ensure there is water for the community’s domestic and small scale agriculture needs. This is on top of the extra burden of work they already carry as women and mothers living in deprived circumstances, exacerbated by the fact that many of the men in the area are obliged to work in the mines and/or migrate temporarily to Bolivia’s largest cities, amongst them Cochabamba.

For many people who live in the global North and have never experienced having access to running water for only one hour a week, it is difficult to imagine how climate change impacts on places like these – whose reality is akin to that of many communities living in the Bolivian altiplano (the high, arid plains of the Andean region), and indeed that of many precarious land-based communities across the global South.

Such communities are not only more exposed to the impacts of climate change because of their geographical location but also they often bear the burdens of the impacts of extractivism, a fact of life that characterizes many areas across the Latin American continent. This brings other socio-environmental factors which affect the lives of people living there. Water scarcity is a crucial such factor – water is diminishing not only as a result of climate change but also due to mining use and contamination.

Not everyone is affected equally by climate change impacts. Such impacts imply more work for women, on top of the heavy workload they already bear. This is due to their assigned social role, centered on the cares, tasks and basic needs that reproduce daily life. And this applies not only in rural but also urban settings.

Climate impacts do not exist in isolation from the economic, political, social and environmental situations in which we live in each country; the causes of climate change are in tight relation to capitalism’s dominant model of economic development. The theme of how women are impacted by climate change in periurban areas specifically is not separate from that of the capitalist model – it relates to a patriarchal system which for centuries has oppressed women, stripping them of their territory and subjugating their labor and their bodies for its benefit. As such, climate change impacts sharpen current social injustices against women, both environmentally and in terms of the violence they are exposed to. How women are affected in periurban areas by the violence they live with – together with economic and climatic crisis, racism and social exclusion – and why land is a key factor in the possibility of struggle and resistance against this oppressive model is what we will go on to examine here, looking at the experience of ‘María Auxiliadora’, a women-led community on the outskirts of Cochabamba.

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