On Earth Day and Every Day, Women Protect the Planet

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CommonDreams.org

On Earth Day and Every Day, Women Protect the Planet

It’s easy to feel desolate about the terrible damage being done to our planet by resource exploitation, industrial agriculture, pollution, deforestation, fossil fuel consumption and more. The BP oil spill, the nuclear crisis in Japan and the mounting threat of climate change can leave us feeling hopeless about the fate of the planet.

MADRE, an international women’s human rights organization, works with women in communities around the globe who refuse to give in to despair. They’re focused on creating solutions, both local and systemic. So this year, for Earth Day, let’s take this chance to remind ourselves of the good news. In communities across the globe, our sisters are on the cutting edge of sustainable alternatives to climate change and environmental degradation.

Clean Water in Kenya

In Kenya, MADRE has partnered with the Indigenous Information Network (IIN) to pioneer improved ways to conserve and manage water in rural communities. We worked with women who knew well the threats they face: droughts intensifying Kenya’s water crisis, women losing hours each day in the search for water and diseases like cholera spreading when scarce water supplies are shared with livestock.

And they knew the solution. Working with IIN in multiple communities, we facilitated the repair of water tanks and pipelines to provide clean water for Indigenous women and families. We also built separate water troughs for their animals, to prevent the spread of disease and control soil erosion around water sources.

Seeds for Life in Nicaragua

In Nicaragua, MADRE helped create a seed bank for women farmers. Our Harvesting Hope Project also trains women in small-scale organic farming and livestock management.

Through the seed bank, women are now able to cultivate, save and share local, organic seeds from one growing season to the next. The program emphasizes sustainable land use and safeguards traditional Indigenous knowledge of how to conserve biodiversity and natural resources. We’ve also supported the creation of local farmers markets so that the women can earn income from the produce they grow.

Collective Organizing in Sudan

Women farmers in Sudan are often the backbone of their community, struggling to ensure food for their families in the midst of drought and unpredictable seasons triggered by climate change. But discrimination against women by government agencies often denies them access to the seeds, tools and training that could help them boost their harvests.

With the support of MADRE and our partner organization, Zenab for Women in Development, these women banded together. They formed the first Women Farmers’ Union in Sudan, sharing resources and combining their efforts to generate harvests that sustain their communities. They have built a cooperative model of land management and crop harvesting, and the ripple effects of their success have ensured that their communities thrive. With income from their harvests, women have been able to send their daughters to school and even to put a roof on a school where the women have come together to learn to read.

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These are local solutions that change women’s lives, over and over again. We must learn from these successes. They show us that the path to a sustainable, greener future is already being charted – by Indigenous women in rural Kenya, by small-scale organic farmers in Nicaragua, by unionized women in Sudan. They show us that women in communities hold the key to solutions that we all need.

Yifat Susskind

Yifat Susskind is the Executive Director of MADRE, an international women's human rights organization. She has worked with women’s human rights activists from Latin America, the Middle East, Asia and Africa to create programs in their communities to address women's health, violence against women, economic and environmental justice and peace building. She has also written extensively on US foreign policy and women’s human rights and her critical analysis has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy in Focus and elsewehere.

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