About this Story
This article is the outcome of an initiative World Pulse launched on our online community platform, inviting global grassroots women leaders to outline their personal experiences and recommendations on equitable and sustainable development.
In partnership with Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), we gathered 55 statements representing women from 28 countries ranging from Papua New Guinea to the Democratic Republic of Congo. The stories were delivered via the Women's Major Group to top world leaders at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) that will take place June 20-22, 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This conference marks the 20th anniversary of the first 'Earth Summit' in 1992—a landmark UN summit organized in response to the growing ecological crisis.
Rio+20: Highlighting the Voices of Women
"And I hope that as world leaders look for global solutions, the voices and specific needs of women will be highlighted to make sustainable development a reality for them."
Amie Bojang-Sissoho, The Gambia
Recommendation: Land Stewardship Starts with Land Rights for Women
CANADA: Homeless in Our Homeland
CANADA: Homeless in Our Homeland
I am a woman of Kichesipirini Algonquin First Nation descent, an Indigenous Peoples of Canada. My homeland is unceded Algonquin Nation territory, located within the watershed of the Ottawa River, under the administration of Ontario and Quebec.
Despite records that go back 400 years documenting my family’s history in this land, the “official” state administration does not recognize the existence of my people. The colonial administration removed us from the “Indian” list when we refused to relocate from our traditional territory to incorporated reserves.
For traditional Kichesipirini women, home and homeland meant an attachment to life cycles and systems. We greatly valued our independent lifestyle, our food sovereignty, and our security. We prioritized childrearing that established strong emotional bonds—to each other, to our home, and to our land.
Today, Kichesipirini women still uphold the health of families, but our culture has become progressively difficult to maintain. Continuing colonial assertions have meant that I have become homeless in my own land.
As an invisible and “unrecognized” Indigenous Peoples, we were able to live largely undisturbed in our territory for many years. We continued to harvest directly from our land to provide for our families. Then, the nuclear industry took hold in our territory. When the Chalk River nuclear site was established, we became an invisible and vulnerable population—exposed to a long legacy of contamination and health risks.
In complete ignorance, we continued much of our traditional lifestyle of hunting, fishing, gathering, farming, and nursing our children, all in one of the most contaminated regions known to the world. My own health experience—the loss of five pregnancies and unusual neurological and autoimmune problems—seems to support the fears of many: that there have been an unusually high degree of health problems in this area. As long as we remain “unrecognized,” the world will never fully know the long-term intergenerational effects of the nuclear industry.
I strongly recommend that the current Algonquin Land Claim process be modified to protect all natural persons against encroachments that negatively affect human rights, intergenerational responsibilities, environmental integrity, and social justice principles. When human families are not respected, nationhood, sovereignty, economy, health, and even international peace are compromised.
Paula LaPierre | International Aboriginal Rights Activist | Canada
THE GAMBIA: One Square Meter of Land
I am the oldest of my father’s six surviving children. In our family system, it is understood that men are the decision makers. As a woman, I was not a threat when my father died, as it was understood I would not inherit his property. It took me 23 years of silence and one year of battling to finally gain ownership. As a human rights activist, I had to take a stand, even if it meant risking my own family.
Many have recognized that women’s land tenure, property rights, and control over natural resources are keys to sustainable development, yet cultural norms stand in the way of making this a reality. Doing so requires steadfastness, determination, and women knowing and demanding their rights to landed property.
I learned about my right as a Muslim woman to have a share of my father’s property. Knowing that the teachings of Islam were behind me, I felt empowered to approach religious scholars about my inheritance. To my great disappointment, I was met with arguments from these scholars, from the men—and yes, women—in my family:
“Your uncle took care of the land for your father and now that he is dead, his children want to have a share of the land.”
“Why are you bothering yourself with this knowing that your share as a girl is half that of your brothers’?”
“You don’t need this land, all you’re trying to do is prove your point about women’s rights issues.”
Perhaps this last question was fair. I was trying to prove a point: that women’s land ownership is an important issue for our communities and for our planet. Even if I were to have only one square meter of land, I would be happy.
I met with a group of patriarchs and gave them the option to settle the matter at the family level, instead of facing a legal battle. I had all the evidence to support my case. After a year long ‘fight’, my father’s property was divided. All the children got their piece, be they male or female. Even my father’s two widows were included. We now have control over what belongs rightfully to us.
I share my struggle to access my right to inherit to motivate the many silent women in similar positions to speak out against social and cultural attitudes that continue to deny women their rights. And I hope that as world leaders look for global solutions, the voices and specific needs of women will be highlighted to make sustainable development a reality for them. I anticipate that after all the investment to make ‘sustainable development’ meaningful to the majority of the world’s citizens, strategies to overcome negative socio-cultural norms that disempower women in developing countries will not be over looked.
Amie Bojang-Sissoho | Program Coordinator-IEC, Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children | The Gambia
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