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This study illustrates how, despite the diversity of women environmental defenders and their movements around the world, there are near-universal patterns of violence threatening their survival. Violence against women environmental defenders, often perpetrated by government-backed corporations, remains overlooked. Research on this issue importantly contributes to discussions about environmental justice because women defenders make up a large proportion of those at the frontlines of ecological distribution conflicts. Through comparative political ecology, this research analyzes cases from the Environmental Justice Atlas, an online open-access inventory of environmental distribution conflicts, in which one or more women were assassinated while fighting a diverse array of extractive and polluting projects. Although the stories showcase a breadth of places, conflicts, social-class backgrounds, and other circumstances between women defenders, most cases featured multinational large-scale extractive companies supported by governments violently targeting women defenders with impunity. Keywords: Violence, murder, women environmental defenders, EJAtlas, comparative political ecology
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Gendered geographies of violence: a multiple case study
analysis of murdered women environmental defenders
Dalena Tran1
Joan Martínez-Alier
Grettel Navas
Sara Mingorría
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
Abstract
This study illustrates how, despite the diversity of women environmental defenders and their movements
around the world, there are near-universal patterns of violence threatening their survival. Violence against
women environmental defenders, often perpetrated by government-backed corporations, remains overlooked.
Research on this issue importantly contributes to discussions about environmental justice because women
defenders make up a large proportion of those at the frontlines of ecological distribution conflicts. Through
comparative political ecology, this research analyzes cases from the Environmental Justice Atlas, an online
open-access inventory of environmental distribution conflicts, in which one or more women were assassinated
while fighting a diverse array of extractive and polluting projects. Although the stories showcase a breadth of
places, conflicts, social-class backgrounds, and other circumstances between women defenders, most cases
featured multinational large-scale extractive companies supported by governments violently targeting women
defenders with impunity.
Keywords: Violence, murder, women environmental defenders, EJAtlas, comparative political ecology
Resumé
Cette étude illustre comment, malgré la diversité des femmes défenseurs de l'environnement et de leurs
mouvements à travers le monde, il existe des schémas de violence quasi universels qui menacent leur survie.
La violence contre les femmes défenseurs de l'environnement, souvent perpétrée par des entreprises soutenues
par le gouvernement, reste relativement invisible. Une telle question c'est une contribution importante aux
discussions sur la justice environnementale car les femmes défenseurs représentent une grande partie tous ceux
qui sont en première ligne de conflits de distribution environnementale. Parmit l'ecologie politique comparative
cette recherche analyse des cas de l'Atlas de la Justice Environnementale, un inventaire en ligne à accès libre
des conflits de distribution environnementale, dans lequel une ou plusieurs femmes ont éassassinées en
combattant une variété de projets extractifs et polluants. Bien que les histoires mettent en évidence une
multitude de lieux, de conflits, de classe sociale et d'autres circonstances entre les femmes défenseurs, la plupart
des cas montrent des entreprises multinationales d'extraction soutenues par le gouvernement qui ciblent
violemment des femmes dirigeantes en toute impunité.
Mots clés: Violence, meurtre, femmes défenseurs de l'environnement, EJAtlas, écologie politique comparée
1 The authors are at Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia Ambientals (ICTA-UAB), Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, 08193
Bellaterra (Cerdanyola del Vallès), Barcelona, Spain. E-mail: dalenale.tran "at" e-campus.uab.cat. An early-stage Spanish
draft was presented at the seminar on "Protection of biodiversity as a philosophical-legal problem", Universidad de
Medellín (Colombia), March 18, 2017, reviewed in March 2018. Translated by Martha Moncada. This article is a spin-off
of the initial draft and contributes many additional cases and insights. We dedicate this work to all women defenders
fighting for environmental justice. Grettel Navas, Sara Mingorría, and Joan Martínez-Alier acknowlege support from the
European Research Council for the EnvJustice project (GA 695446). Dalena Tran recieved support from "La Caixa"
Foundation (ID 100010434). The fellowship code is LCF/BQ/DI19/11730049. Thankyou to referees and JPE editors.
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Resumen
Este estudio ilustra cómo, a pesar de la diversidad de las defensoras del medio ambiente y sus movimientos
alrededor mundo, hay patrones universales de violencia que amenazan su supervivencia. La violencia contra
las defensoras del medio ambiente por empresas extractivas, en colaboración con los gobiernos, sigue siendo
relativamente invisible. Este tema contribuye importantemente a las discusiones sobre el extractivismo porque
las activistas constituyen una gran proporción de las personas que están en la primera línea de los conflictos de
distribución ecológica. Esta investigación analiza casos del Atlas de Justicia Ambiental, un inventario en línea
de acceso abierto de conflictos de distribución ecológica, en el que una o más mujeres fueron asesinadas
mientras luchaban contra diversos proyectos extractivos y contaminantes. Aunque las historias muestran una
gran variedad de lugares, conflictos, clase social y otras circunstancias entre defensoras, la mayoría de los casos
presentan conflictos creados por compañías multinacionales, respaldados por los gobiernos para imponer la
extracción a gran escala y ejercer violencia contra mujeres defensoras en total impunidad.
Palabras clave: Violencia, asesinato, defensoras del medio ambiente, EJAtlas, ecología política comparada
1.
Introduction
On March 2, 2016, news of woman environmental defender (henceforth WED) Berta Cáceres's
assassination shocked the world, especially resonating within Latin America. Thousands of mourners followed
the bearers carrying her coffin throughout the streets, holding up signs with her image forever remembering
her as the protector of the Indigenous Lenca people against the Agua Zarca hydropower dam in Honduras.
Silencing such a prominent activist is, in our view, part of a pattern of global violent repression against
defenders in ecological distribution conflicts (henceforth EDCs) (Scheidel et al., 2020). EDCs refer to disputes
arising from the unequal distribution of environmental benefits and costs of projects such as extractive
industries, transport facilities, or waste dumping (Martinez-Alier and O'Connor, 1996). The origin of such
conflicts is often unequal ecological exchange (UEE) (Hornborg, 1998). Some countries or communities within
the same country are less or more privileged than others in the economic system, creating inequality from
plundering resources and shifting the burdens to those with less power (Hornborg and Martinez-Alier, 2016).
Furthermore, Martinez-Alier (1996) adds that such inequality often results from government-backed
transnational corporations pursuing a capitalist model of economic development seeking rapid profit
accumulation through large-scale over-exploitation of natural resources. Because no one willingly forfeits the
land and water supporting their livelihoods, resources are often forcefully taken.
Current literature on EDCs is gradually bringing more attention to violence against environmental
defenders (Butt et al., 2019; Del Bene, et al. 2018; Le Billon and Lujala, 2020; Navas et al., 2018; Scheidel et
al., 2020). Yet little research addresses violence against WEDs, whose roles in environmental conflicts are still
understudied and who are often simultaneously the most unnoticed and the worst impacted (Veuthey and
Gerber, 2012; Martínez Alier and Navas, 2017; Deonandan and Bell, 2019). Furthermore, women are essential
to environmental justice movements and global transformations as protectors of sustainability and community
rights; they are not merely victims but rather political subjects able to transform and resist negative aspects of
contemporary industrial practices (Bolados and Sánchez, 2017; Morgan, 2017; Katy, 2015). Such invisibility
and vulnerability come from how WEDs additionally combat misogyny (Shiva, 1994; Veuthey and Gerber,
2012; Jenkins, 2017). As Paredes (2010) elaborates, women activists are often delegitimized based on their
gender. Trying to enter public, political spaces for debate turns them into targets for multiple forms of violence.
Murder is the most visible of these in environmental conflicts (Navas et al., 2018), but all threats to women
defenders are difficult to document owing to intersecting marginalities and stakeholder interest in covering up
abuses, as well as the fact that literature on violence in environmental conflicts does not separate data by gender
(Deonandan and Bell, 2019).
It is imperative to fill this literature gap because, as Spivak (2010) argues, scholars must recognize the
voices and leadership of the subaltern. Women defenders often remain voiceless. Abramovitz (1994) also states
that knowledge is a form of power, and unless we improve documentation and understanding of womens'
contributions to environmental movements, women will continue to remain unrecognized. Inspired by the
legacies of Berta Cáceres and many other murdered WEDs, the following article presents the gruesome
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circumstances of assassinations of 35 WEDs around the world. The purpose of this exploratory study is not
only to pay tribute to heroines often erased from history, but also to introduce and illustrate the understudied
problem of violence against women environmental defenders. The argument is that the routine assassination
of women environmental defenders reflects a distinctly gendered manifestation of violence in EDCs. Despite
WEDs' diverse positionalities, circumstances, and advocacy methods, this gendered pattern of violence remains
disturbingly universal. The novel contribution of this article to comparative political ecology is using many
cases from diverse contexts to illuminate the politics shaping globally recurring patterns of violence against
women in environmental conflicts. Whereas political ecology often follows in-depth analyses of case studies
using ethnographic methods, we instead examine a global pattern in a multiple case study approach. Our
research is a well-informed critique, empirically and analytically based on the EJAtlas and inviting deeper
studies of environmental and gender justice. To do so, the study addresses the following questions: 1) Under
which circumstances have women defenders been killed in environmental conflicts? 2) How were their
circumstances similar and different across diverse geographies and sociopolitical contexts?
Section 2 presents feminist political ecology as the main theory informing data interpretation and the
overall study. The next section, 3, explains the methods used to gather case studies, which are then listed in
section 4 in a table and reviewed to reveal patterns of violence across diverse sociopolitical and geographical
contexts. The article concludes by situating these findings in the larger global picture of repression and
resistance in environmental conflicts.
2.
Theoretical framework
One of the central influences informing this study is feminist political ecology (henceforth FPE).
Whereas political ecology often remains within colonial spaces of knowledge production, FPE is distinct in its
aims to render visible the often-overlooked situated knowledges and struggles, especially of those at the
margins (Sultana, 2020; Elmhirst et al., 2017; Rocheleau et al., 1996). Although women and gender oppression
are not its only focus, FPE does often concern a decolonization of gender as well as broader issues of social
justice, wherein gender as well as class, race, sexuality, ability, age, and more are also central axes of difference
across societies (Sultana, 2020). Applied to unequal resource access in environmental conflicts, FPE analyzes
the uneven gendered power relations informing social phenomena such as gendered environmental
knowledges, rights, and practices as well as gendered environmental movements (Rocheleau et al., 1996).
Rocheleau et al. (1996), Elmhirst et al. (2017) and Bradshaw et al. (2017) elaborate that in patriarchal societies,
expected performances of masculinity and femininity restrict men and women to gendered forms of labor and
power, leading to differences in prioritizing and perceiving market intrusion and natural resource degradation.
Agarwal for example, working in rural India, criticizes how analysts assume stereotypical perceptions of nature
by women, and their roles in natural resource management and community politics, instead of investigating
what women actually do and how they suffer (1992).
A FPE interpretation of violence against women in the context of extractive industrial activity also
highlights gender oppression between male elites controlling and benefitting from extractivism. Violence
occurs at multiple scales, asserting patriarchal power over women and the environment (Sultana, 2020).
'Disciplining dissent' refers to the violent punishment of women defenders, not only to exclude and repress
them, but also its use as a political tactic controlling their bodies in gender-specific ways (Deonandan and Bell,
2019). For example, even when gender is not explicitly at issue, extractive industries and their supporters
benefit and even rely on gender norms to support their projects. WEDs can be violently repressed for acting
outside of sanctioned gender roles (Deonandan and Bell, 2019). Those hegemonic gender roles contribute to
masculine domination over women in decision-making, mobilizations by women are frequently made more
difficult because they have to be balanced with their reproductive and social responsibilities. When
mobilizations are organized, for example during environmental conflicts, they threaten the male-imposed status
quo, which characterizes those projects. There is a lack of empirical research on violence against women in
extractive conflicts (Bradshaw et al., 2017) and this study will draw upon FPE to highlight the uneven
privileging and repression of diverse women who experience lethal violence in EDCs, tracing this to systemic
patriarchal domination.
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Because the case study population used in this article includes women from around the world selected
specifically for showcasing the diversity of their circumstances, attention must also be paid to intersectionality,
another key concept in FPE. Intersectionality refers to how race, class, gender, sexuality, disability, age,
education, location (rural versus urban), and other identifiers interact to create complex, overlapping,
intersecting experiences of social structure, politics, and representation (Crenshaw, 2016). As central axes of
difference across societies, such identities, when combined with other subject positions, create contextual,
ambiguous, and coexisting differences of privilege and marginalization within interlocking systems of power
and oppression. Intersectionality is important because mainstream feminism often homogenizes diverse
women's experiences (Leopeng and Langa, 2020). Women of color, for instance, are especially subject to
distinct forms of violence, silencing, and disempowerment. Being aware of the different layers of WEDs'
identities is thus crucial to understanding the complexity of their positionalities beyond the often-fragmented
general overviews or single case study analyses of 'women defenders' in current literature. The present study
thus considers how intersectional differences of class, gender, race, and more create a more nuanced view of
women defenders, their circumstances, and global patterns motivating their murders.
3.
Materials and methods
This article analyzes 35 cases in which one or more WEDS were assassinated while fighting
environmental injustices. The statistics of (different forms of) violence against environmental defenders are
difficult to obtain, and there are no official UN statistics available. As generally acknowledged among
researchers in the field, Global Witness and the EJAtlas are the best sources (Le Billon and Lujala, 2020), and
we rely on them for our sample of killed WEDs. The cases were first recorded in detail in the Environmental
Justice
Atlas
(E
JAtlas),
an
online
open-source
inventory
of
EDCs
(Temper
et
al
.,
2015,
2018;
Martinez-Alier
et al., 2016) with over 3,330 documented cases as of December 2020. To file EJAtlas cases, names of known
assassinated WEDs were collected from secondary sources such as AWID's Women's Human Rights Defenders
list, Global Witness's annual reports on assassinated HRDs, and Frontline Defender's records of violence
against activists. The press often highlights isolated events that do not reflect the full extent of repression. More
information was then compiled from sources such as news articles, blogs, videos, legal documents, and
academic articles to flesh out a comprehensive report. EJAtlas cases are then moderated by ICTA-UAB
researchers for quality and accuracy. An example is shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Example of EJAtlas activist entry page. Source: h ttps://ejatlas.org/conflict/betty-
c arino-oaxaca-mexico
This article uses stricter definitions of murdered women environmental defenders than Global Witness,
AWID, and other sources. Firstly, whereas these sources include land disputes and loosely-related causes as
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'environmental', this article only discusses EDCs in which accomplishing the movement's goals would improve
some form of environmental degradation and/or redress environmental justice. Furthermore, we use the
UNEP's definition of environmental defenders as those who act in personal or professional capacities to defend
threats to the right to a clean and healthy environment (UNEP n.d.). Finally, women defenders in this study
must have at least been suspected to have been killed for their activism rather than for other reasons.
The case studies are analyzed using comparative political ecology methods, which Taylor and Hurley
(2016) explain as analyzing case studies from different regions together to better understand how similar
outcomes can be produced across the globe in a wide variety of regional contexts. Comparative political
ecology is useful because commonalities between diverse events or experiences are often difficult to see. These
commonalities are important for highlighting recurring patterns in the behaviors of authorities and companies
in enacting violence against women across time and space.
4.
Findings and discussion
Table 1 is an overview of 35 cases of WEDs likely assassinated for their environmental advocacy. These
cases are a small sample of the unknown number of all killed WEDs. Further investigation of cases already
recorded in the EJAtlas and other sources on killed environmental defenders (women and men) (Scheidel et
al., 2020) could increase the sample to a few hundred cases. However, our sample still showcases the diversity
of these heroines, indicating that there is no homogenous WED archetype because every individual and every
conflict has contextual particularities. While many WED killed fit into the category of "the environmentalism
of the poor and the Indigenous" as will be further elaborated upon below (Martinez-Alier, 2002), others in our
sample were conservationists preserving a notion of nature without people. The cases were selected for being
notable, diverse examples of deadly EDCs common to their respective contexts, though there are many more
conflicts showing similar evidence for global patterns of violence beyond the scope of this study and current
documentation in EJAtlas and other databases. Case summaries for each of the WEDs are available in the
Appendix.
Africa (10 WEDs)
WEDs + links Location Conflict Race* Occupation Violences Outcomes
D ian Fossey,
mobilization
leader
Rwanda Conservation White Researcher Death threats,
burglary,
machete attack
Crime
unresolved,
conservation
success
F ikile
N tshangase,
mobilization
leader
South Africa Mining Black Activist Shot by hitmen Crime and
conflict
unresolved
I laria Alpi,
independent
activist
Somalia Waste
dumping
White Journalist Shot by hitmen Crime and
conflict
unresolved
J oan Root,
mobilization
leader
Kenya Overfishing White Filmmaker Burglary, death
threats, shot by
hitmen
Crime and
conflict
unresolved
K ananwa
S ibomana, Ila
M uranda,
R achel
M asika; group
members
Congo
(DRC)
Conservation Black Rangers Attacks, killed
by bandits
Crime and
conflict
unresolved
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M usu Conteh,
unnamed
woman;
group
members
Sierra Leone Mining Black Miner Shot by police Crime and
conflict
unresolved
U nnamed
w oman; group
member
Nigeria Oil refining Black,
Indigenous
Farmer Shot by police Crime and
conflict
unresolved
Asia (10 WEDs)
WEDs + links Country Conflict Race* Occupation Violences Outcomes
A ysin
B üyüknohutçu
independent
activist
Turkey Mining Farmer Shot by hitmen Crime
unresolved,
project
stopped
G erlie
M enchie,
group member
Philippines Overfishing Secretary Death threats,
shot by hitmen
Crime and
conflict
unresolved
G loria
C apitán,
mobilization
leader
Philippines Coal power Karaoke bar
owner
Shot by hitmen Crime and
conflict
unresolved
K arunamoyee
S ardar,
mobilization
leader
Bangladesh Aquaculture Farmer Death threats,
shot by hitmen
Crime and
conflict
unresolved,
project
blocked
M ontha
C hukaew,
P ranee
B oonrat;
mobilization
leaders
Thailand Agriculture Activists Shot by hitmen Crime and
conflict
unresolved
N asreen
P ervin, group
member
Bangladesh Mining Activist Legal
harassment, car
crash
Crime
unresolved,
project
stopped
S hehla
M asood,
mobilization
leader
India Mining Activist Death threats,
legal
harassment, shot
by hitmen
Crime and
conflict
unresolved
T eresita
N avacilla,
mobilization
leader
Philippines Mining Indigenous Small
business
owner
Death threats,
shot by hitmen
Crime and
conflict
unresolved
Valsa John,
mobilization
leader
India Mining Nun Shot by hitmen Crime and
conflict
unresolved
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Latin America (10 WEDs)
WEDs + links Country Conflict Race* Occupation Violences Outcomes
A lberta
C ariño,
mobilization
leader
Mexico Hydropower Indigenous Farmer Legal
harassment,
death threats,
shot by hitmen
Crime and
conflict
unresolved
A delinda
G ómez,
mobilization
leader
Colombia Mining Multiple
part-time
jobs
Death threats,
shot by hitmen
Crime and
conflict
unresolved
B erta
C áceres,
mobilization
leader
Honduras Hydropower Indigenous Teacher Death threats,
legal
harassment, shot
by hitmen
Crime
unresolved,
project
funding
revoked
D orothy
S tang,
mobilization
leader
Brazil Logging White Nun Death threats,
shot by hitmen
Hitmen
jailed,
conflict
unresolved
G uadalupe
C ampanur,
mobilization
leader
Mexico Logging Indigenous Ranger Kidnapping,
rape
Crime and
conflict
unresolved
J eannette
K awas,
mobilization
leader
Honduras Conservation Accountant Shot by hitmen Crime and
conflict
unresolved
K imberley
B lackwell,
independent
activist
Costa Rica Conservation White Artisan
chocolatier
Death threats,
attacks,
strangling
Crime and
conflict
unresolved
L aura Leonor,
mobilization
leader;
Merilyn
Topacio,
group member
Guatemala Mining Indigenous Small
business
owner and
high school
student
Military attack,
shot by hitmen,
death threats,
legal harassment
Crime
unresolved,
project
stopped
temporarily
M acarena
V aldés,
mobilization
leader
Chile Hydropower Teacher Legal
harassment,
military attack,
hanging
Crime and
conflict
unresolved
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North America and Europe (5 WEDs)
WEDs + links Country Conflict Race* Occupation Violences Outcomes
G ladys del
E stal, group
member
Spain Nuclear power White
College
student
Shot by police Lenient
prison
sentence,
project
stopped,
moratorium
H ilda Murrell,
group member
England Nuclear power White Botanist Death threats,
military
surveillance,
rape, stabbing
Crime and
conflict
unresolved
J ane Tipson,
mobilization
leader
Saint Lucia Conservation White Restaurant
owner
Shot by hitmen Crime and
conflict
unresolved
K aren
S ilkwood,
mobilization
leader
United
States
Nuclear power White Technician Death threats,
legal
harassment, car
crash
Crime
unresolved,
project
stopped
K ateryna
H andziuk,
independent
activist
Ukraine Logging White Politician Legal
harassment,
death threats,
acid attack
Lenient
prison
sentence,
conflict
unresolved
Table 1: Overview of WEDs. *Race left blank when the woman was of the titular, "mainstream"
ethnic group of the nation she was from without distinct marginalizations or privileges from
being black/Indigenous/person of color (BIPOC) or white. Information on race is taken directly
from how the women are described in news articles from EJAtlas case source material.
An intersectional breakdown of regional disparities
Most notably, even when combined, North America and Europe only include five cases compared to
the ten showcased for every other region. This discrepancy also corresponds to the proportions of
environmental defenders (men and women) killed by continent (for instance, as recorded by Global Witness).
Frequencies might also reflect the uneven burdens and silencing of women worldwide depending on not only
regional context, but also intersectional power disparities between certain female demographics. Consequently,
much fewer cases of women defender assassinations are reported in countries benefiting from extractivism,
versus countries exporting extractivist goods and labor.
Firstly, considering contexts, more information is available about WED killings in Latin America and
Southeast Asia compared to Africa owing perhaps to differences in reporting culture. Subsequently, there were
an abundance of possible cases to select from, making the Latin American and Asian cases a more diverse and
inclusive sample of possible types of cases than those for Africa, which were difficult to find and thus had less
to choose from. As Global Witness (2019) explains, variance in political tolerance toward civil society
organizations and journalists documenting attacks means that depending on region, not only are there fewer
strong networks of contacts, but there is also less ability to speak out without brutal consequences. Rural and
urban divides also mean there is weaker information exchange between existing groups, causing difficulty in
obtaining evidence from many African countries. There may additionally be less murder cases to report on in
North America and Europe as countries benefitting from extractivism elsewhere owing to various factors, such
as a difference in governance practices compared to regions that may have more authoritatian regimes enabling
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widespread armed conflict and criminal impunity as well as there being fewer EDCs and resulting resource
conflicts in their own countries (Butt et al., 2019; Le Billon and Lujala, 2020; Temper et al., 2015; Scheidel et
al., 2020).
Secondly, a feminist political ecology understanding of regional variance in reporting WED deaths
reveals how their intersectionally differing circumstances were affected by uneven power relations between
diverse women. White women are overrepresented among African and North American/European cases despite
BIPOC (black/Indigenous/people of color) shouldering more of the burden in EDCs to mobilize and bear
consequences, as is reflected in the listed cases (AWID, 2017). BIPOC women are perhaps excluded from
public debate because their involvement in environmental protests is grounded in their experiences of racial
discrimination (Bullard, 1990; Krauss, 1993). The same may also apply to those in extractivist exporter
countries, whose marginality exposing them to EDCs in the first place means they have little power to control
and criticize the discourse. Meanwhile, white women, who typically are not victims of systemic discrimination,
have an entirely different relationship with governments or formal organizations, having more leverage to raise
their voices (Krauss, 1993; Joshi et al., 2020; Sultana, 2020). Indeed, white ecofeminists have also long been
criticized for the appropriation and erasure of their nonwhite peers' knowledge and experiences, taking up much
of the space for debate (Agarwal, 1992; Buckingham and Kulcur, 2009). In contrast, violence against and
murders of women of color are normalized in contexts where their lives are treated as disposable and their
environmental justice contributions are undervalued (England, 2018; Gqola, 2007). Subsequently, as the listed
cases reflect, murders of white WEDs often overshadow deaths of their BIPOC peers not only because they
had more reputation, but also because their deaths were considered more newsworthy. This is evident among
the African cases, where the white women achieved celebrity status before and even more so after death, as
every single one of them had documentaries or even movies made in their honor. Meanwhile, cases of lethal
violence against black women were much more obscure, and sometimes not even their names are recorded;
they were just another fatality of routinized killings. Further research with larger samples of WEDs killed
might confirm such hypotheses.
The role of status in WED advocacy and its diverse manifestations
Political ecology discourse often theorizes environmental justice advocacy as stemming from
environmentalism of the poor (and the Indigenous), which Martinez-Alier (2002, 2013) explains as everyday
(often impoverished or otherwise vulnerable) people being motivated to resist extractive projects by
governments and corporations, which disproportionately use resources and directly harm the land and water
their livelihoods depend on. This is a counternarrative to other schools of environmental thought positioning
upper and middle-class people as more environmentally conscious owing to their "modern" efficiency and
knowledge whereas the "underdeveloped" poor are responsible for environmental degradation. A feminist
political ecology interpretation of WED mobilizations, however, further complicates the debate because not all
the defenders could be cleanly categorized as either peasants protecting their own land or as saviors
enlightening people toward better environmental practices. Their movements were diverse, and though some
are similar enough to loosely group together, there are always exceptions. Advocacy in the sample ranged from
defending livelihoods, the environment, and wildlife from mining, fossil fuels, hydroelectric projects, nuclear
power, logging, waste dumping, poaching, fishing, environmental degradation for infrastructure construction,
and more. All the cases have therefore in common the "materiality" of the origins of the conflict, but they
respond to different strands in the global environmental movement, namely some belong more to
"conservationism" and some belong to "the environmentalism of the poor and the Indigenous."
Among the listed WEDs, twenty, more than half of the total, were Indigenous peasants or low-income
women with informal or blue-collar jobs. As with the environmentalism of the poor, logging, mining,
agribusiness, fishing, and hydroelectric conflicts often occurred on their lands or in their territories,
necessitating struggle against transnational corporations in countries promoting extractivism, mostly involving
Indigenous or local leaders. Movements against logging, mining, agribusiness, fishing, dams, and conservation
often used protests or blockades as their main strategy, often also in combination with legal retaliation such as
petitions or filing claims against companies violating ILO Convention 169 protecting Indigenous peoples' right
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to informed and prior consent. Peasant WEDs such as Cariño, Conteh, Sardar, and the unnamed women
especially resorted to putting their bodies on the line at protests and dying in action. This is a reflection of how
much they struggled to have their voices heard not just as environmentalists, but as people at the intersection
of marginalities emanating from their status as poor women of color. Some (like the two nuns murdered, one
in Brazil and one in India) were not peasants, but they were ready to sacrifice themselves for poor rural peoples.
We could easily expand the list of WED killed already recorded in the EJAtlas in Latin America on the side of
the "environmentalism of the poor" – for instance, in Brazil, Nicinha was a leader of the MAB fighting for the
rights of the people displaced by the Jirau dam near Porto Vlho, denouncing the effects of the dam on fishing
activity in the Madeira River. She was killed on January 7, 2016. Additionally, in Brazil, illegal logging and
land grabbing led to the deaths of well-known environmental defenders Zé Claudio and Maria do Espirito Santo
in Pará, in 2011.
On the other hand, some murdered WEDs were middle-class or well-off, ten held degrees (even multiple
masters or PhDs), and some like Root were celebrities. For instance, Blackwell, Stang, Tipson, Root, Fossey,
and Alpi were white defenders from the North who used their privilege to fight injustices observed in the places
they relocated to, defending communities they were not born into. Those fighting against nuclear power were
also white, educated women, reflecting the growing nuclear industry in wealthy countries in the 1970s and
1980s. The nuclear, waste dumping, and conservation cases in this study focused more on legal action or
exposure of corruption over physical protests, though the Sizewell B movement did have protests that Murrell
could not participate in before her murder and Gladys del Estal's antinuclear involvement was mainly through
protest. Tipson, Root, Fossey, and Blackwell were white women who moved to commodity frontiers and
promoted conservationism. Their relative privilege is reflected in their advocacy tactics having less of a
grassroots protest movement approach. As white women, they had different tools, literacies, and voices at their
disposal to navigate formal courses of action in legal, professional, and public spheres. However, they were all
critical of the "development" projects they witnessed causing injustices. Thus, Nawas in Honduras was killed
while defending nature and also the local Indigenous Garifuna people.
One outlier to the class narrative was Handziuk, who focused on legal action and corruption exposure
on behalf of her own people as a defender, using her political power to incite action against a corrupt
corporation and a government that was targeting vulnerable communities. Silkwood, meanwhile, did not have
as much clout as a blue-collar worker yet still sought to confront a corporation harming her community much
in the way "environmentalism of the poor" manifests elsewhere. Gómez and Valdés also did not fit any mold
as professional and educated experts working within their home countries, but socially they were outsiders
sympathizing with Indigenous groups they personally were not members of. An intersectional analysis thus
illuminates the somewhat unpredictable nature of WED advocacies in that while many did follow the
environmentalism of the poor and Indigenous peoples, women defenders do not face a homogenous, or even
form of marginalization. Their diverse positionalities and circumstances interacted to create complex
interactions between the various facets of who they are and what they fought for, evident in which mobilization
strategies were available to differently and simultaneously privileged –yet alienated – women.
Diverse women versus universal violence
Although the cases in the article encompass a breadth of places, conflicts, and circumstances, there are
several key similarities revealing a universal pattern of violence. Almost all WEDs founded or took part in
environmental justice organizations often allied with larger networks. They struggled not only against the
project they were killed for, but also other ongoing projects and exploitation. Most cases also featured conflicts
against multinational companies, while in some cases, they were local but still served the global market
(domestic companies and bandits exporting to the Global North). In every case, these operations are backed by
governments to impose large-scale extraction for capitalist profit accumulation. The cases in this article support
Glazebrook and Opoku's (2018) findings that governments often do not hold international stakeholders
accountable for their environmental and human rights violations, despite criminalizing defenders. "Corporate
social irresponsibility" and a lack of liability are the rules rather than the exceptions. In line with patterns of
unequal ecological distribution (Hornborg, 1998), these WEDs thus struggled against the disproportionate
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burden shouldered for those more powerful in a capitalist system. Whether the female leaders were poor or not
themselves, their advocacy very often reflects an environmentalism of the poor (Martinez-Alier, 2002) because
the communities they defended had their resources and land forcefully taken, exploited, and degraded by
corporations and states. Moreover, the killers were almost always hired assassins. The murderers usually go
unpunished, but those convicted for their crimes increase case visibility.
FPE readings of these cases also reveal gender-specific violence underlying the overall circumstances
behind each conflict. As with disciplined dissent, all violent targeting, explicitly gender-specific or not,
occurred within contexts that marginalizing each defender and undermining her (and her movement's) capacity
to keep fighting by deeming them terrorists, making their duties as mothers and grandmothers more difficult
and riskier, obstructing justice, and in many other ways (Deonandan and Bell, 2019). It is well-documented
that women are much more vulnerable and aware of EDC consequences to begin with, owing to a gendered
division of labor, unequal power distribution, as well as moral and behavioral expectations (Arora-Jonsson,
2011; Peek, 2007; Agarwal, 1992). On top of the barriers WEDs already face as stewards for vulnerable
communities, gender repression also hinders their efforts, manifesting in gendered physical violence such as
the rapes of Campanur and Murray as well as discursive violence such as with Masood, alleged to be a
'seductress.'
This was particularly salient for the unnamed woman killed during protests against Chevron in Nigeria.
The case itself is a classic example of an EDC, as Chevron wrought havoc on the land and livelihoods of
villagers in Escravos, who did not receive economic benefits from their industrial scale oil activities in return.
Yet a closer FPE examination reveals that the EDC unevenly affected women, who were additionally
devastated by the environmental degradation that prevents their subsistence activities as well as being victim
to the forced prostitution, rapes, and other physically violent abuses that arrived with the industrial workforce,
and then later with the police brutality against their protests. Chevron could commit such injustices in the first
place owing to "male deals" that village men made with the companies without consent from women, whose
knowledge and awareness of consequences were dismissed first during consultation and again when making
demands to Chevron. These distinct forms of gendered violence and silencing are thus a direct result of the
complex interactions between uneven power relations, different knowledges, and more that come with gender
role expectations, especially for multiply marginalized women (Elmhirst et al., 2017; Rocheleau et al., 1996;
Sultana, 2020).
An intersectional view also does not neglect that, as women, they were all subject to marginality and its
subsequent disturbingly universal patterns of violence against WEDs, they did not experience such marginality
in the same way (Leopeng and Langa, 2020). Such a diverse pool of women and contexts indeed had varying
levels of privilege that affected how they could intervene in EDCs and how people in turn reacted to them. For
instance, this is notable among WEDs who were not always unambiguously "right", sometimes even enacting
violence themselves. Examples include the Virunga rangers and "green militarism", Fossey and Blackwell's
hostility toward some humans, and Root's Task Force that worsened corruption. In each of these cases, the
WEDs had a position of leverage above ordinary people. The Virunga rangers in the Congo were employees
of a paramilitary initiative infringing upon Indigenous rights while also ambiguously claiming to defend them
through the conservation of the land that Indigenous lives depended on. Fossey, Blackwell, and Root, white
wealthy conservationists, used their privilege to establish programs meant to help communities and wildlife,
yet their well-intentioned actions were also their downfall as outsiders whose privilege also meant they were
at times insensitive or ill-advised in inadvertedly enacting or enabling violence themselves rather than breaking
or criticizing cycles of violence altogether. Meanwhile, there were also peasant Indigenous WEDs who were
widely ridiculed, yet other fellow peasant Indigenous women who were celebrated as underdog heroes of their
people; such polarizing receptions could coexist even for the same woman. All these different manifestations
of direct as well as discursive violence were still, however, ultimately drawing from the same universal patterns
enabling violence against WEDs at multiple scales.
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5.
Conclusion
Across unique contexts worldwide, Women Environmental Defenders have mobilized using an
abundant combination of strategies, and in collaboration with diverse networks, towards implementing their
own ideas of environmental justice. Our results show that violence against WEDs is not always motivated by
sheer necessity (as it is with an "environmentalism of the poor"), but rather there is a variety of motivations, as
shaped by and also transcending different positionalities of class, race, and more. Yet WEDs continue to be
routinely raped, beaten, shot, strangled, hit by cars, and sliced to death to prevent them from exposing and
shutting down collaboration between states, corporations, and criminal elements that facilitate ecological
degradation. Each story points to the tenacity of women at the frontlines, despite intersectionally experienced
barriers. The cases showcase the severe forms of violence that female environmentalists suffer. For each
woman killed, there are presumably many more who are wounded and many more who are displaced and
threatened. Violence often succeeds in dismantling WED-led movements through targeted killing to alarm
others into choking on their words. While many studies in political ecology limit their scope to one or a few
cases, this article's comparative analysis of multiple case studies across various regions is critical to current
work on environmental conflicts because the 35 diverse stories come together to reveal a pattern of violence
universal across time, space, and circumstance, embedded in geographies of land, resources, and communities.
Given that the stories in this article represent just a small sample of a vast unknown, the point is not to
offer a closed typology of women defenders. Instead, this research showcases not only how diverse their
movements can be, but also emphasizes how despite the range of circumstances in each case, there were still
the same disturbing patterns of global capitalist and patriarchal violence in each story. These are the systematic
issues that we need to address. None of these WEDs wanted to die, but they were acutely aware of the need to
set an example, giving up their lives for the sake of their communities and the environment. For each activist
killed, how many are injured? How many are scared into submission, and how many disappear? How many go
into hiding, and how many are discouraged from further protest or advocacy for the rest of their lives? There
is no need for repression where activism has ceased because of fear. Just some examples of women singled out
in wider campaigns of violence include Gloria Ushigua Santi or Wendy Mutegi, Indigenous women in Ecuador
and Kenya respectively, who have been brutally beaten for their advocacy but not defeated (Tran, 2021a). A
broader campaign of discursive violence against women occurs in places such as South Africa, where WEDs
struggle to have their voices heard and to be taken seriously beyond homogenizing, harmful stereotypes (Tran,
2021b). As such, no matter how diverse these 35 cases were, the fact that each death followed from the same
global patterns of exploitation, extortion, and extermination mean that it is more critical than ever to question
the corporate activity that we are complicit with every day, and to increase the visibility of those risking
everything to open our eyes.
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Appendix: Summaries of EJAtlas cases
Africa
Dian Fossey (Rwanda): Conservation
Dian Fossey was one of the world's most famous primatologists. On September 24, 1967, she founded the
Karisoke Research Center (KRC) within the Volcanoes National Park, which had been seriously threatened by
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illegal mining, land-grabbing, logging, poaching, and agribusiness along with their accompanying violence,
deforestation, and pollution. Fossey also advocated against foreign companies' extractivism for environmental
degradation and violating Indigenous land rights. She paid for equipment, food, and wages for park staff to
encourage them to enforce anti-poaching laws, but felt betrayed by officials complicit in poaching and other
injustices behind her back. In retaliation, she used increasingly aggressive tactics drawing much controversy.
Death threats multiplied against Fossey before her body was found in her cabin on December 27, 1985. She
had been slashed in the head and the inside of her skull was visible. The police investigation was poorly
handled. On June 9, 2001, Belgian police captured Protais Zigiranyirazo, who ordered the killings of over
800,000 people during the Rwandan Genocide. He allegedly commanded Fosey's murder because she was
about to leak information about gold and animal smuggling rings among Rwandan elites, and for her efforts to
restrict poaching. However, Zigiranyirazo was never charged and the case remains open.
Fikile Ntshangase (South Africa): Mining
Ntshangase was the Vice-Chairperson of a sub-committee of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice
Organisation (MCEJO) in KwaZuluNatal. On October 22, 2020, after having already narrowly survived a
previous assassination attempt, four hitmen shot and killed her in front of her young grandson in her home. It
is suspected that the killing was in retaliation for her refusal to sign an agreement with Tendele to cease
MCEJO's court challenges against its Somkhele coal mine. These court challenges were for a review of
Tendele's new mining rights to expand 222 square kilometres in Mpukunyoni, due for hearing at the high court
in March 2021. At the time, Tendele was pressuring 145 families to give up their ancestral land for the
expansion, subjecting them to months of violent intimidation including death threats and open fire on one
family's home. Days before her assassination, Ntshangase had intended to write an affidavit exposing sub-
committee members bribing her to sign the agreement. Police have opened a murder case investigating the
incident, which has yet to be resolved.
Ilaria Alpi (Somalia): Waste dumping
On December 20, 1992, Italian investigative reporter Ilaria Alpi, accompanied by cameraman Miran Krovatin,
flew to Somalia to write a story about Italian humanitarian organizations donating money to developing
countries for building roads and improving infrastructure. However, Alpi soon discovered that these
organizations were fronts for Italian mafia groups (backed by Italian governmental agencies) trading weapons
to Somalian warlords for permission to dump toxic waste. In Bosaso, Alpi found, documented, and filmed
waste smuggling ships, watching thugs unload toxic waste for burial in the desert. Alpi then began investigating
a complex system of arms and waste trafficking involving various warlods, Bosaso's sultan, the Italian-Somali
Chamber of Commerce, Italian secret service, and Swiss bankers. On March 20, 1994, Alpi and Krovatin were
in Mogadishu to submit their reports at the Italian embassy when they were intercepted by several submachine
gun-wielding assassins on an off-road vehicle. Both were shot dead and their documents were never recovered.
After public pressure, the Italian Parliament started an inquiry for the murder in January 1998, which concluded
that the pair was killed by a bandit in a botched kidnapping and burglary attempt. However, this explanation
was widely criticized. Investigators asserted that Alpi was silenced from revealing the arms and waste ring,
accusing the Italian secret services of playing a major role in the illegal dumping trade. As of 2019, courts keep
rejecting demands for new investigations.
Joan Root (Kenya): Overfishing
Lake Naivasha is a critical source of livelihood for its human inhabitants, dependent on the fishing economy.
In 2000, the fish population collapsed when unlicensed fishing exceeding legal catch limits became
problematic. Nature documentary filmmaker Joan Root decided to reform poachers and began her own group
called the Task Force, mostly comprised of counter-poachers but also including local police and government
officials curbing and patrolling poaching on the whole lake. She paid all the counter-poachers salaries. The ex-
poachers, who knew how other poachers worked and where they would be, would go out onto the lake to round
up illegal fishermen. The Task Force was initially effective in eliminating almost all poaching. Problems started
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when one of the main counter-poachers began confiscating poacher boats and selling them for his own profit,
taking bribes from some to allow poaching. In January 2005, Root and the Fisheries Department gradually cut
support for the Task Force and then shut it down completely, leaving the former poachers angry and destitute.
She was carjacked and received threatening text messages until she was eventually shot dead in her home the
following year on January 13. It is unknown whether the hitmen were working for those fighting to loosen
environmental regulations, unlicensed fishers, former Task Force members, or other enemies opposed to her
environmentalism.
Kananwa Sibomana, Ila Muranda, Rachel Masika Baraka (Democratic Republic of Congo): Conservation
Virunga National Park is home to some of Africa's richest biodiversity. However, owing to eastern DRC's long
history of armed conflict, it is also known as the world's most dangerous conservation project. Many park
rangers have been killed while defending Virunga. On April 9, 2018, the deadliest attack in the park's history
occurred when six rangers were killed in an ambush near the center of the park. Victims included female
rangers Kananwa Sibomana and Ila Muranda. Only a few months later, on May 13, 2018, Rachel Masika
Baraka also died at the hospital after being mortally wounded while fighting armed bandits. Many bandit
groups are in the area. They are associated with a wide variety of crimes such as poaching, ransom kidnapping,
mineral and animal smuggling, and especially illegal logging to make charcoal. The park rangers have made
huge strides lowering civilian attacks and contributing to the mountain gorilla's population increase, who may
have gone extinct without such efforts. Yet the park's "green militarism" has also led to controversies. Current
management emphasizes strict law enforcement, harshly cracking down on poaching, fishing, agriculture, and
charcoal production. Most local Indigenous groups lost access to their lands and livelihoods without consent
or compensation. Displaced peasants sneak back onto park grounds to obtain survival necessities. Bandit
groups take advantage of this situation by forcing them to pay protection and escorting fees as they collect
needed materials. Because the armed bandits have trained combat experience, it is much easier for park guards
to police the local scavengers than the actual criminals doing more serious resource extraction. A cycle of
violence is constantly reinforced because steep fines, arrests, and brutal treatment from park authorities make
the locals even poorer and force them to enter the park yet again to get subsistence materials. Feeling
marginalized does not stop the local populations from still defending the park, however.
Musu Conteh, unnamed woman (Sierra Leone): Mining
In 2010, African Minerals Ltd. (AML) formally leased land from the government to mine iron ore near the
village of Bumbuna. Despite locals' attempts to resist being moved and refusal of offers to buy their property,
AML bulldozed their homes and fields while police shot at the people, forcibly sending them away to a barren
wasteland. Villagers protested against AML for land grabbing. AML subsequently sent the police to falsely
imprison and beat the villagers. On April 17 and 18, 2012, at the height of tension, a group of 50 women called
the "secret society" urged men to stay indoors as they marched through the streets toward the police station
carrying green twigs in a peace ritual meant to calm down the violence. The women were shot at, and Musu
Conteh and a 28-year-old woman died while 8 others were injured and 29 were arrested. Later that day, a
delegation of senior government ministers from Freetown arrived in Bumbuna to calm the situation. A week
later after negotiations, AML agreed to a 16% wage increase, setting minimum wages, and building training
centers as well as giving damage compensation to the market women. By October 2013, however, the market
women had never received the monetary compensation. They resorted to blockading rail lines out of
desperation. The police brutality continued throughout 2013, as officers shot anyone seen as threatening the
mine, and AML workers hid the bodies. On November 30, 2015, 142 anonymous villagers filed a lawsuit
against AML for its responsibility in causing police violence. The court ruled that African Minerals was not
liable. As of 2020, attempts to appeal the decision are still unresolved.
Unnamed woman (Nigeria): Oil refining
On July 8, 2002, a group of middle-aged women activists known as the Escravos Women Coalition (EWC) led
more than 600 women from local Indigenous communities in a ten-day occupation protest at Chevron's main
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oil terminal in Escravos, protesting Chevron's long history of exploitation, landgrabbing, and refusal to
compensate or to provide jobs to displaced locals. During the following days, over 1,000 women occupied six
oil stations belonging to Chevron. On Wednesday July 10, 2002, two days after the occupation began, about
100 police officers and soldiers armed with assault rifles stormed the terminal to protect the facility. Rapes,
beatings, and murder were all tactics that soldiers employed to take down female protesters, with at least one
confirmed killing of an unnamed woman and more suspected. After ten days of the blockade, the women signed
a memorandum ending the occupation in exchange for the company's promise to provide amenities and to
employ locals. The promises are still unfulfilled, however.
Asia
Aysin Büyüknohutçu (Turkey): Mining
Elderly activist couple Aysin and Ali Büyüknohutçu were environmentalists leading a six-year long campaign
against destructive stone and marble quarries in Finike, an agricultural district that suffered adverse
environmental effects from the open-pit mining. The couple managed to shut down the Bartu Mermer marble
quarry, for which they were victim to constant legal harassment, smear campaigns, and death threats. A month
after the court decision taking away the mining license and setting a precedent for future cases taking away
other companies' permits, their dogs were poisoned and their property was burned. Two weeks later, on May
10, 2017, the couple was shot dead by a hitman, who was caught and confessed he was hired by an anonymous
quarry owner. The lawsuit is still ongoing.
Gerlie Menchie Alpajora (Philippines): Overfishing
In Bicol, fish populations have been decimated by decades of overfishing. Consequently, fishermen catch
increasingly smaller fish, restricted species, go to prohibited zones, and use ecologically destructive, illegal
methods violating Section 92 of Republic Act 10654 (banning fishing with explosives, poisons, or electricity).
Large trawling boats poach fish at night in areas reserved only for small municipal boats, leaving little left for
marginalized legal village fishers and destroying the ocean floor. Mayors often receive millions in bribes to
turn a blind eye to illegal fishing. The Sagñay Tuna Fishers Association (STFA) has been monitoring and
reporting illegal fishing activities despite widespread hostility. Many association members receive death
threats. STFA's secretary, Gerlie Menchie Alpajora, was threatened for a week for her campaigns, as well as
for reporting illegal fishing before she was shot dead on July 29, 2015 while sleeping beside her two young
sons at home. She was killed just after her reports led to the arrest of several illegal fishers. Death threats
against other members of the STFA continued after her assassination. Although a case was filed against a
possible suspect, police inaction and significant court delays mean that environmental organizations continue
to fight for justice to resolve her case.
Gloria Capitán (Philippines): Coal power
Gloria Capitán ("Ate Glo") was a grandmother and karaoke bar owner as well as part of the Philippine
Movement for Climate Justice. She was also the leader of the Coal-Free Bataan Movement (CFB) and president
of the United Citizens of Lucanin Association. She led her community in a campaign against the open coal
storage owned by Limay Bulk and Handling Terminals Inc. located inside the Sea Front Shipyard Port Services
compound in Lucanin. Many believe that open coal storage causes the heavy dust storms and severe pollution
the community in Bataan is suffering from, causing skin allergies, upper respiratory tract infection, and other
health hazards. This has also damaged the coastlines and seabed. Most notably, Capitán led a group of activists
demanding the permanent closure of GNPower's Mariveles Power Plant in a context where the local
government and national policy hugely favors coal energy and violently represses anyone speaking out. On
July 1, 2016, she had been in her karaoke bar with her 8-year-old grandson when two hitmen on motorcycles
with bandanas covering their faces shot her once in the arm and twice in the neck. When her family called the
police, no one came. Capitán was likely murdered for her opposition to the Mariveles Power Plant. Police
investigating Capitan's murder have not been seriously pursuing the shooters, who have never been identified.
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Karunamoyee Sardar (Bangladesh): Aquaculture
Landless peasant Karunamoyee Sardar fought the shrimp industry in Horinkala, one of the largest villages of
Polder 22. During the second half of the 1980s, international banks and development agencies began financing
projects promoting large-scale commercial shrimp farming in Bangladesh. One of the methods politicians used
to grab land from locals was intentionally flooding the area using sluice gates as armed guards stood watch.
Villagers had little power to drain the water. Consequently, the flooding devastated their communities by
making the subsistence farming they relied on near-impossible owing to soil and groundwater salination. The
villagers would often have no choice but to sell their lands to shrimp thugs for extremely low prices, sparking
conflicts. Sardar had been leading protests preventing shrimp boss Wajad Ali from opening Polder 22 to the
shrimp industry. Previously, most peasant movements defending against shrimp industry intrusion had been
unsuccessful. On November 7, 1990, she was shot dead by shrimp goons at a demonstration. Her legacy
inspired many of her supporters and fellow anti-shrimp activists to come together in further protesting, resulting
in successfully preventing all attempts to bring the shrimp industry into the polder. However, the struggle is
far from over, because armed thugs continue to violently repress the activists and threaten them.
Montha Chukaew, Pranee Boonrat (Thailand): Agriculture, Oil Palm
Montha Chukaew and Pranee Boonrat were both human rights activists for the Southern Peasant's Federation
of Thailand (SPFT), defending land rights for the Khlong Sai Pattana community. A palm oil company, Jiew
Kang Jue Pattana Co. Ltd., illegally occupied land, displacing peasants over 30 years after their lease expired
thanks to government complicity. Attempts have been made to take the company to court for land theft, and
the community received Supreme Court support in 2007. Still, the court order failed to expel the private
company from the land. Instead, they issued an order to forcibly push the private company and their workers
out. Yet no land was redistributed among the peasants and Jiew Kang Jue Pattana sued the government as well
as SPFT members. In retaliation to their activism, on November 19, 2012, Chukaew and Boonrat were shot
approximately 800 meters from town while going to the market. The Bangkok Post reported that more than 30
environmental defenders have been killed in the country since 2001. Nevertheless, only about one-fifth of the
total number of cases have had judicial consequences.
Nasreen Pervin Huq (Bangladesh): Coal mining
Nasreen Pervin Huq was a masters-educated human rights and women's rights activist for the organizations
Action Aid and the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC). She was well-known for her
involvement in many causes, but most notably fought against British company Asia Energy's (a subsidiary of
GCM Resources) Phulbari project proposal for an open-pit coal mine and 500MW thermal power plant. The
project could have displaced as many as 220,000 people, including tribal groups, because the operations drain
away groundwater. Huq had started raising concerns about Asia Energy's plan from February 2006 and had
been contacting lawyers from London to collaborate on challenging the company in an international court. Her
sister said that Nasreen had been compiling a dossier on the case and was preparing to distribute it to legal
contacts and the press. Action Aid at the time had not been very supportive of her efforts owing to concerns
that they would lose funding if she continued. Many others such as the UK Department for International
Development and the department chief in Dhaka also asked her to drop her campaign. On April 24, 2006, Huq
died in a suspicious accident when another car slammed her own into a wall. This was the first of a chain of
mysterious deaths during a season of widespread protests that year. The police initially dismissed the case as
merely an accident caused by the other driver's foot slipping onto the accelerator instead of the brake. However,
Huq's supporters pushed the police to investigate a possible murder. The police kept the driver under
investigation as a suspect but did not charge him. On August 26, 2006, 50,000 protesters marched in the streets
against the Phulbari coal project, and three people were killed and at least a hundred more were injured by the
Bangladesh Rifles, a paramilitary group. Protesters continued to fight despite violent repression for years, until
the project was finally abandoned in 2014.
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Shehla Masood (India): Diamond mining
The Chattarpur district of Madhya Pradesh is home to the Panna Tiger Reserve within the Buxwaha forest.
This ecosystem has been threatened by transnational British-run Rio Tinto's Bunder Diamond Mine, which as
to open in Buxwaha a few kilometers away from the tiger reserve and affecting some of the poorest peoples in
the region. One of the first to fight this mine was Shehla Masood, a tiger conservationist and president of the
Progressive Muslim Women's Association (PMWA). She received constant death threats, smear campaigns,
and harassment for her efforts, particularly those against the Rio Tinto mine. Masood had been working on a
legal case against Rio Tinto's illegal operations when, on August 16, 2011, hitman Imran Ali shot Masood in
the neck. Masood's father found her body shortly afterward, but suspiciously, no other witnesses confirmed
seeing or hearing the shot despite the murder occurring in broad daylight on a busy street. According to the
Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), she was murdered by interior designer Zahida Pervez. Pervez was
allegedly driven to insanity over jealousy after seeing Masood negotiating with legislative politician Dhruv
Narayan Singh, with whom Pervez imagined herself in an affair. Many people challenged the CBI's conclusion.
In 2019, journalist Hemender Sharma uncovered evidence suggesting that the jealousy story was a coverup for
Singh trying to eliminate Masood. However, the court decision has not changed and many fear her real
assailants will never be apprehended.
Teresita Navacilla (Philippines): Copper and gold mining
Grandmother Teresita Navacilla was part of the Save Pantukan Movement (SPM), a local network fighting for
Indigenous land rights. In 1992, Filipino-owned Nadecor and US-owned St. Augustine received rights from
the government to explore, develop, and extract materials from their proposed King-King Copper-Gold Project,
a large-scale open pit mine in Pankutan. The site is the nation's second largest copper and gold deposit. Yet not
only is Pantukan Indigenous territory, but the mining project also seriously threatens marine ecosystems, which
are home to 253 highly vulnerable or endangered species. Navacilla had been directly opposing the King-King
mine, advocating for stricter policies and denouncing extractivism by foreign corporations. On January 27,
2016, two men on motorcycles entered Navacilla's store in Purok Bardown and shot her dead. It is widely
believed they were soldiers of the Infantry Battalion 46, which had been assigned to secure the King-King
mining project (Suazo 2016). She died three days later in the hospital. The battalion's commander, Seigfred
Tubalado, denied accusations that his soldiers were involved. Yet many residents have reported that the soldiers
have arrested and assaulted various Indigenous and civilian groups in the area voicing opposition to the mining
project.
Valsa John (India): Coal mining
Catholic nun Valsa John, from Kerala, who was involved in a movement against displacement of tribal
people by coal mining companies in Jharkhand, was shot dead in November 2011. She was a member of the
Rajmahal Pahar Bachao Andolan (RPBA), an Indigenous rights organization. The murder happened at
Bachuwari village in Pakur district. The police suspect the coal mafia to be behind it. In the immediate context,
she had been protesting the functioning of a private coal mine in Pakur district. She was seeking to protect the
interests of the Santhal tribe, some members of which were displaced by the Panem Coal Mines. Locals had
been protesting the mines and threatening to blockade it until the families were recompensated. However, the
case and murder are still unresolved.
Latin America
Alberta "Betty" Cariño Trujillo (Mexico): Hydropower
Alberta Cariño, an Indigenous peasant, was the director of CACTUS (Centro de Apoyo Comunitario
Trabajando Unidos), a nonprofit in Oaxaca. Most notably, she supported an Indigenous rights movement
against a dam megaproject in San Juan Copala. On April 27, 2010, while heading to San Juan Copala to deliver
supplies to about 700 Triqui people during their peaceful protest for territorial rights, Cariño and other activists
were ambushed by shooters. More than ten people were injured, and Finnish activist Jyri Jaakkola also died
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during the attack. Cariño's husband, her lawyer, and other activists report that authorities have not only been
delaying legal processes and investigations, but also been failing to protect witnesses. Many involved in the
still pending legal battles have also been receiving threatening phone calls.
Adelinda Gómez Gaviria (Colombia): Mining
Adelinda Gómez was a mother of three juggling multiple jobs along with anti-mining activism as leader of the
Macizo Colombiano Integration Committee (MCIC). Macizo Colombiano is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve,
an important water source for major rivers, and one of Colombia's poorest regions. Nowadays, agribusiness
and mining have heavily polluted the area. In 2003, the Mining and Energy Ministry granted 64 mining licenses
in the area while many others had fraudulent permits (Proceso Campesino 2009). Mining representatives
attempted to gain the communities' goodwill through community parties, giving away branded sportswear, and
promising jobs, housing, and reforestation. Wary of the corporations' historical exploitation, however, Gómez
contested the mining industry through various resistance activities. In February 2013, Gómez led a protest
against companies such as Anglo Gold Ashanti and Continental Gold, denouncing mining's social and
environmental impacts. She soon received death threats. On September 30, 2013, she was shot by two hooded
hitmen. She died instantly while her 16-year-old stepson was badly hurt. Authorities held a public hearing, but
her killers remain unknown and there has been no progress solving the case.
Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores (Honduras): Hydropower
University-educated teacher Berta Cáceres was an Indigenous rights activist for her people, the Lenca, and
founder of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). In 2010, Honduran
company Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA) got approval to build the Agua Zarca Hydroelectric Project on
Lenca territory a few kilometers from a wildlife reserve. This project, four hydroelectric dams on the culturally
sacred Gualcarque River, aimed to generate 21.3 MW over 20 years. DESA subcontracted Chinese-owned
Sinohydro, which already had a history of land grabbing worldwide, and German company Voith Hydro
Holding to build turbines. Despite objections that the work began without prior and informed consent, as the
169 ILO requires in Indigenous territories, construction moved forward as companies violently threatened them
and the Lenca were banned from their own water. In retaliation, on April 1, 2013, Cáceres and companions led
a blockade on the road to the project site. They demanded the removal of all dam equipment. Protests continued
throughout the year as officers forcibly removed protestors from the site. Participants reported frequent threats
and harassment from company employees, security guards, and the military, who also shot dead COPINH
member Tomás Guardia and injured three others. Escalating conflict caused Sinohydro to cancel their contract
and the International Finance Corporation to revoke financing. After years of death threats, hitmen shot Cáceres
in her home on March 2, 2016. Attempts to blame her death on COPINH failed and banks withdrew their
investments from the dam.
Dorothy Stang (Brazil): Logging
Originally from Ohio, USA, from 1982, Sister Dorothy Stang worked in Anapu, Pará for the Pastoral
Comission for the Earth (CPT), a group of clergy and nuns addressing increased violence resulting from land
grabbing for the timber trade on Amazonian Indigenous land. Throughout her mission, Stang tried to persuade
local and state governments to protect the peasants. Yet violence escalated as land grabbers hired gunmen to
murder anti-loggers. In 2004, Stang went to Brazilia, the capital of the country, to testify in Congress about the
deforestation and violence with the support of environmental groups, claiming around 90% of Pará's timber
exports were illegal and named timber companies working in Indigenous territory. Loggers described her as a
terrorist and accused her of arming peasants. She and other local leaders received death threats. However, Stang
continued to work for peasants' land rights. On February 14, 2006, hitmen assassinated her. Although most
crimes against WEDs go unpunished, her murderers were jailed. Of the 1,270 murders from land conflicts in
Pará documented by the CPT between 1985 and 2013, less than 10% went to court.
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Guadalupe "Lupita" Campanur Tapia (Mexico): Logging
Guadalupe Campanur fought for Indigenous rights of the Cherán community in Michoacán. In 2008,
indiscriminate logging exacerbated wildfires destroying 20,000 out of 27,000 hectares of Cherán land. The
conflict intensified in 2008 when Roberto Bautista became municipality president and granted logging
privileges to drug cartel La Familia Michoacana. Consequently, criminal logging increased violence, extortion,
and eviction, destroying livelihoods, and murdering or 'disappearing' any opposition. Environmental
consequences included water shortages, wildlife loss, and plant loss including vital medical herbs. Campanur
then founded Ronda Comunitaria (RC), an organization of forest rangers protecting the area and demanding
the state and federal government for help (but got no responses). On April 15, 2011, local women blocked
timber trucks, resulting in a violent confrontation killing two people. The Cherán then switched their
mobilization strategy toward reforestation. The government also granted their right to self-determination. Yet
they were still threatened. On January 17, 2018, Campanur's naked, raped corpse was found in the forest after
she had been missing for days. The case remains unresolved and violence against the Cherán and their land
continues.
Jeannette Kawas (Honduras): Conservation
Accountant Jeannette Kawas was not only a conservationist, but she also fought for Garifuna (Afrodescendant
peoples), whose small-scale fishing livelihoods are threatened by industry encroachment, waste contamination,
ranchers, and poachers, as well as internal problems from firewood gathering, overfishing, and population
pressures. Concerned with threats to the land such as the sugar, palm oil, tourism, livestock, and timber
industries, she created the Foundation for the Protection of Lancetilla, Punta Sal, Punta Izopo and Texiguat
(PROLANSATE). She was then able to declare Punta Sal and its other neighboring forests as protected national
parks. On February 6, 1995, at 7:30pm, Kawas was shot to death in her house. The Inter-American Court of
Human Rights (IACHR) officially stated that her murder was directly caused by opposition to her
environmental activism against private appropriation of Punta Sal.
Kimberley Blackwell (Costa Rica): Conservation
Canadian Kimberley Ann Blackwell moved to a farm next to Corcovado National Park in 1993 and started a
project with local women called Samaritan Xocolata, making fair-trade sustainable chocolates at double the
average wage to empower female workers and give them a pathway to avoiding eco-criminals. Although
Corcovado has protected status and Costa Rica has legislation such as the mining code, a biodiversity law, and
national parks law, it has not stopped (often wealthy) criminal organizations, miners, smugglers, and poachers
from going after its natural resources and using the area for cocaine and human trafficking. Criminals are not
only dangerous to wildlife and environment, but also to park rangers, who are subject to daily death threats and
violent targeting. In response to criminals trespassing onto her property to infiltrate Corcovado and kill animals
she rehabilitated, Blackwell advocated against the ecological and ethical effects of the environmental crimes
around the park, for which she was often badly beaten. Once, Blackwell used a toy gun to shoot a poacher in
the arm with a plastic bead. Just a few days after the incident and filing numerous complaints against him and
other illegal hunters, on February 2, 2011, park rangers found her strangled corpse on the ground outside her
house. The investigation remains inconclusive despite pressure on both Costa Rican and Canadian authorities
to investigate. Supporters continue fighting against illegal activities, especially hunting, in Corcovado.
Laura Leonor Vásquez Pineda, Merilyn Topacio Reynoso (Guatemala): Mining
Indigenous Xinca grandmother Laura Leonor Vásquez Pineda ran a small business in San Rafael Las Flores,
Santa Rosa when in 2010, Gold Corp sold Tahoe Resources Inc. (both from Canada) silver, gold, lead, and
zinc exploration and exploitation licences to start the 40 km2 El Escobal mining project. Vásquez founded the
Committee for the Defence of Life and Peace in San Rafael Las Flores (CDVPSRLF), which fought the
proposal on the grounds that the Xinca did not consent, and there was possible damage to water sources, land,
and people's health unaccounted for in Tahoe Resources' Environmental Impact Analysis (EIA). She led
protests, sit-ins, and demonstrations, during which protestors were injured by rubber bullets. During one of the
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demonstrations, on April 27, 2013, an attack left several injured and 16-year-old Merilyn Topacio from the
Youth Movement of Mataquescuintla (MJM) dead. Military force suppressed the movement. In 2013, after
250 appeals were filed against the mine, courts suspended Tahoe Resources' license thanks to legal advice from
the Guatemala Legal, Environmental and Social Action Center (CALAS). However, the project restarted in
2014 as lawyers and many others associated with the case received constant death threats and were sometimes
killed. The mining company hired Grupo Golan as part of its violent security plan against continued protesting,
even killing a local farmer in April 2015. On January 16, 2017, Vásquez was fatally shot in the head when
hitmen broke into her house. Tahoe Resources later sold the mine to Pan American Silver.
Macarena Valdés (Chile): Hydropower
Macarena Valdés, an environmental educator, her husband Rubén Collío, a Mapuche environmental engineer,
and her children lived in the Newen-Tranguil Indigenous Mapuche community in Liquiñe, where Valdés
emerged as a leader teaching environmentalism, defending the territory, and promoting public health. At the
time, multinational energy corporation RP Global, with help from regional authorities, was building a
hydroelectric dam on the Tranguil River without consent. In response, on August 1, 2016, Valdés blockaded a
road where RP Global attempted to install cables. The local governor met with community members and
ordered RP Global to leave, though the governor postponed their eviction, making several excuses. On August
21, RP Global came to start construction where Valdés's family had been living, which the family blocked. The
day after, Collío found his wife's body hanging in their kitchen. Although her death was registered as a suicide,
physicians questioned the autopsy and Collío filed a criminal complaint. The following morning, Collío was
retrieving the body when RP Global came and tried to restart construction on the property accompanied by
Chilean Special Forces in armored vehicles. Locals resisted with more anger and grief than before. Police
violence ensued. Macarena's funeral took place the next day, on August 25. On October 13, the company
returned, this time with many more police cars and tanks. Violating the law and previous agreements to leave,
they installed the cables anyway. In January 2017, community members delivered a petition demanding a full
investigation of the Tranguil hydroelectric project and its role in Macarena's death. Her family has yet to resolve
the case or find much legal support, and are continuing to push for justice in Chile.
North America and Europe
Gladys del Estal (Spain): Nuclear power
Gladys del Estal was a university student and part of the Egia Ecologist Group and Euskadi's Anti-Nuclear
Committee (ANC). On June 3, 1979, she and 4,000 fellow activists peacefully protested to celebrate the
International Day against Nuclear Energy in Tudela. The Civil Guard raided the event. Civil Guard José
Martínez Salas allegedly made an obscene comment toward del Estal, to which she responded with an insult.
The officer shot her in the head, and she died on the way to the hospital. Martínez was later sentenced to only
18 months of prison because the court claimed the shooting was an accident. Following her murder, protesters
held demonstrations and strikes throughout Euskadi against Spain's plan to build even more nuclear plants in
the Basque Coast and along the Ebro riverbank. In 1980, many people gathered to commemorate the
anniversary of her death and the International Day against Nuclear Energy with a demonstration. Since then,
every year in the Basque Country, people commemorate her death. A few years later, in 1982, there was finally
a moratorium on nuclear power plants throughout Spain. The Tudela plant was never built.
Hilda Murrell (United Kingdom): Nuclear power
Botanist and researcher Hilda Murrell was a prominent member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
(CND) during the 1980s, when anyone associated with the antinuclear movement was under Police Special
Branch surveillance, and those probing deeper or known to recruit other protesters were regularly intimidated
by MI5. She campaigned against a proposal to build nuclear power plant Sizewell B next to the small, rural
fishing village of Sizewell along the coast of Suffolk, a critical ecosystem. When Murrell was in her late 70s,
she was scheduled to present a report at a public planning inquiry about the site. Murrell never arrived, however.
On March 24, 1984, a local farmer discovered Murrell's body naked from below the waist dumped in a thicket
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of trees nearly 10 kilometers away from her home. An autopsy showed that she was sexually assaulted, beaten,
and stabbed before dying from hypothermia. The case remained unsolved for nearly 20 years, during which
Sizewell B was eventually completed in 1995. In June 2003, local laborer Andrew George was arrested after
advances in DNA and fingerprinting testing technology linked him to the murder. The court closed the case,
though various independent investigators claim that they are being intimidated to prevent them from releasing
further information challenging what is still widely believed to be a very suspicious case likely covering up
secret services involvement.
Jane Tipson (Saint Lucia): Conservation
British-born Jane Tipson was a restaurant owner, founder of the St. Lucia Animal Protection Society (SLAPS),
and co-founder of the Eastern Caribbean Coalition for Environmental Awareness (ECCEA), among a wide
variety of other advocacy activities. In 2003, Dolphin Fantaseas proposed a dolphinarium at Pigeon Island
National Park, an important ecological, cultural, and historical site. Locals consistently resisted such plans,
which would devastate local marine habitats and the livelihoods of over 100 fisher people. Tipson was
campaigning against the dolphinarium as well as exposing illegal pilot whale poaching for several months,
when she began receiving death threats over the phone. She continued her activism despite continuing threats
for the next several weeks. On September 17, 2003, Tipson was ambushed in her car on the way home from
work, dying instantly from a gunshot to the neck. Although the assassination is still under investigation, many
speculate that it was to silence her activism owing the suspicious circumstances surrounding her death, the
unprofessional investigations, as well as the company's violent history. Public opposition and legal action
following Tipson's death led to Dolphin Fantaseas losing their permits to build the park in February 2004, but
unfortunately, the project was instead taken over by another dubious Mexican company Dolphin Discovery,
which activist groups are still fighting.
Karen Silkwood (United States): Nuclear power
Karen Silkwood was a technician manufacturing plutonium pellets at the Cimarron Fuel Fabrication Site in
Oklahoma, owned by the Kerr-McGee Corporation (KMC). On November 5, 1974, a plutonium contamination
detector read that she was contaminated with almost 400 times the legal limit. KMC accused Silkwood of
contaminating herself to stir trouble. During this time, Silkwood was also investigating how the plant had been
breaking federal labor, building, and machine regulations. She collected evidence in a binder also documenting
how the management had been illegally selling enough plutonium to make a nuclear bomb to a smuggling ring.
After days of threatening phone calls, on November 13, 1974, she arranged to meet New York Times reporter
David Burnham that evening. However, she never arrived because of her death in a mysterious car crash. Her
binder was missing from the wreckage. An autopsy indicated that not only was she highly contaminated with
plutonium, but she had also been drugged with an excessive dosage of sleeping pills. After her death,
supporters filed a lawsuit against KMC, which was settled two years later in the Supreme Court for US$1.38
million, though KMC refused to admit liability. Various witnesses received death threats and were blacklisted
from jobs after the incidents. The plant was shut down in 1976 after bankruptcy caused by negative press,
investor withdrawals, and fraud convictions.
Kateryna Handziuk (Ukraine): Logging
Kateryna "Katja" Handziuk was the advisor to the mayor of Kherson as well as a civic activist well-known for
exposing corruption among the government and police, publishing her investigations on social media and on
MOST, a citizen journalism website she founded in 2012. She received frequent death threats and surveillance
because of her activism against illegal logging. Over 40% of Ukrainian timber is illegally cut, enabled by
Ukraine's widespread corruption at every step of the wood supply chain among politicians, forestry officials,
and even the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). On May 27, 2018, arsonists backed by politicians ignited a
600-hectare forest fire at the Oleshky Forest, where logging is legally prohibited, so that they could collect
remaining tree trunks for huge profits justified by a legal loophole permitting harvesting wood from nature
reserves as long as the trees fell by "accident." Similar incidences continued to occur all around the region of
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Kherson, and Handziuk was determined to investigate and prosecute everyone responsible. On July 31, 2018,
hitmen attacked Handziuk outside her apartment on her way to work, pouring a liter of sulfuric acid all over
her back. Over 40% of her body was severely burned. She survived the initial attack and made it to a nearby
hospital, where she worked and gave interviews from her bed until dying on November 4. Police investigations
were suspiciously unfruitful. Eventually, six men were charged with murder and received lenient prison
sentences. Politicians who ordered the killing were not arrested until February 2019, though there is allegedly
not enough evidence to charge them. Supporters continue to protest the timber trade as well as government
attempts to obstruct justice.
... 2018: 653). In particular, the most recent analyses of the EJAtlas data warn about the ways in which numerous violent crimes against women EDs tend to be overlooked both by official investigations and by academic research (Tran et al. 2020). Violent acts targeting the "first line of defense against the causes and impact of climate breakdown" (Global Witness 2020: 6) have been mentioned since the early studies on "resourse curse" (Sachs and Warner 2001) and on "addictive economies" (Freudenburg 1992) in mining regions, but gained importance in more recent and detailed studies on the social and territorial impact of mining (Bebbington et al. 2018, Oriheula 2018, oil&gas (Bridge 2009;Watts 2015) and other extractive industries (Tsing 2011). ...
... The threat or killings of environmental defenders in many contexts, especially in Latin America, has been generating waves of local, national and transnational activism (White 2009(White -2010. It has not only taken the form of demonstrations and campaigns, but has also triggered the collection and mapping of data about direct environmental violence through activist-researchers outputs, such as the annual Global Witness reports or the Environmental Justice Atlas (Navas et al. 2018;Tran et al. 2020). International organizations for human rights have also been recognising the issue of direct environmental violence in recent years, as shown by the landmark resolution to protect environmental defenders, adopted on March 21 st , 2019 by the United Nations Human Rights Council. ...
... In order to navigate across the multiple perspectives on environmental violence, it is still useful to go back to the classification of violence proposed by the Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung (1969Galtung ( , 1990, i.e. direct violence, structural violence and cultural violence. Such categories help us recognise different forms of environmental violence (Navas et al. 2018), such as direct violent acts against environmental defenders (Global Witness 2020; Tran et al. 2020) and less visible forms of violence, which are the main focus of this chapter: slow violence due to contamination in marginal territories and communities (Davies 2019;Lerner 2004;Nixon 2011), infrastructural violence through the creation of large-scale projects with high socio-environmental impacts (Rodgers, O'Neill 2012) and narrative violence (Barca 2014). The interplay between theories, definitions and real territories, bodies and stories in different parts of the world leads to more complex views on the topic, hopefully pushing sholars and activists to be ready to rethink their approach and research methods in the course of the analyses, while finetuning them to real socio-political and territorial specificities. ...
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Elaborating on the literature on environmental violence produced by a variety of disciplines (e.g. political ecology, peace and conflict studies, environmental history, sociology of science, urban and territorial planning), this chapter gives an overview of the multiple facets of the concept before focusing on less visible forms of environmental violence, such as slow/infrastructural/narrative violence. Such forms of violence are investigated in their relation to social inequalities, spatial injustice, environmental racism, and legal procrastination. By recognising the importance of territorial specificities in their interplay with conceptual development, the chapter draws on real examples from a variety of contexts around the world, thus showing the complexity of the observed phenomena. As these cases show, environmental violence is contrasted by a vast repertoire of forms of resistance, from grassroots initiatives promoted by local inhabitants turned into activists to legal innovations at the international level. Eventually, the chapter calls for a reflection on the role of social science in contrasting environmental violence and in producing critical theory against new technocratic and exploitative forms of control of nature.
... We imagine this as a collective re-affirmation of human relationships that occur in both physical and digital interactions that we have deemed "the reinvention of the commons." Theoretically, along with the literature on social innovations mentioned above, we draw on critical scholarship on grassroots activism, social-environmental movements and the spatialities of resistance (Cortes-Vazquez and Featherstone, 2015;Tran et al., 2020;Martin et al., 2020;Martinez-Alier et al., 2014;Nicholls et al., 2016;Pellenc et al., 2019;Scheidel et al., 2020;Temper et al., 2015Temper et al., , 2018 as well as on emerging activist discourses. 6 By bringing these literatures and discourses together, we aim to contribute in bringing political ecology research on social-environmental movements closer to critical geographical research on social struggles over access to and control of space, place, and territory. ...
... To explore how grassroots innovations relate to practices of purposeful alterity in counterpoint to hegemonic norms and social activities, we use analytical distinction between 'practices of resistance, reworking and resilience as a theoretical and a methodological tool.' Empirically, we draw on 12 cases from nine countries that we selected with the aim of moving beyond South/North and urban/rural divides. By drawing on postcolonial geographies (Hart, 2018), countertopography (Katz, 2011) and comparative political ecology (Tran et al., 2020;Taylor and Hurley, 2016), we uncover broadly shared resemblances across places as different as the village of Stagiates in Greece, and the Cabo Delgado province in Mozambique. Countertopographies, similarly to comparative political ecology methods, invoke unexpected connections among disparate places by analyzing case studies from different regions. ...
... The second form of inequality refers to the social-environmental impacts caused by the encroachment and settlement of capitalist forces in specific areas, primarily in the form of extractive, agribusiness, renewable energy and real estate industries, without the consent and approval of local communities but authorized by the state (see also Horowitz, 2012). The grabbing of land and resources has given rise to significant opposition movements across the Global South and North, constituting major sources of environmental conflicts that have led even to the assassination of activists (Dressler, 2021; Le Billon and Lujala, 2020; Prause and Le Billon, 2021;Tran et al., 2020). In Colombia, the small municipality of Piedras organized a popular consultation to give local people a say on whether a South African-based multinational, AngloGold Ashanti S.A., could build the mine tailings dam for the La Colosa mine in their territory. ...
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In this article, by drawing on empirical evidence from twelve case studies from nine countries from across the Global South and North, we ask how radical grassroots social innovations that are part of social movements and struggles can offer pathways for tackling socio-spatial and socio-environmental inequality and for reinventing the commons. We define radical grassroots social innovations as a set of practices initiated by formal or informal community-led initiatives or/and social movements which aim to generate novel, democratic, socially, spatially and environmentally just solutions to address social needs that are otherwise ignored or marginalised. To address our research questions, we draw on the work of Cindi Katz to explore how grassroots innovations relate to practices of resilience, reworking and resistance. We identify possibilities and limitations as well as patterns of spatial practices and pathways of re-scaling and radical praxis, uncovering broadly-shared resemblances across different places. Through this analysis we aim to make a twofold contribution to political ecology and human geography scholarship on grassroots radical activism, social innovation and the spatialities of resistance. First, to reveal the connections between social-environmental struggles, emerging grassroots innovations and broader structural factors that cause, enable or limit them. Second, to explore how grassroots radical innovations stemming from place-based community struggles can relate to resistance practices that would not only successfully oppose inequality and the withering of the commons in the short-term, but would also open long-term pathways to alternative modes of social organization, and a new commons, based on social needs and social rights that are currently unaddressed.
... Environmental defenders are those who mobilize for these communities' environmental and human rights (Simbulan, 2016;Singh and Camba, 2016). Such dissent, however, is often violently repressed through human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings (Delina, 2021;Tran et al., 2020). There is a worldwide pattern of environmental defender assassinations, though the murders are a small portion of other less reported violence leading up to killings, such as evictions or militarization (Moreano Venegas and van Teijlingen, 2022). ...
... Codes were generated by case rather than by frequency. Coding was then used to identify patterns specific to the Philippines, expanding upon previous global analyses of WED violence and killings (Tran, 2021;Tran et al., 2020). Owing to the underreported and obscure nature of many of the conflicts, some EJAtlas cases additionally did not have enough detail to draw conclusions about gender relations or other intersecting factors. ...
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This article contributes to discussions of extractive violence by exploring how gender influences violent circumstances under which women were assassinated during environmental conflicts. Partnership with local activists facilitated the reporting of cases of martyred Filipina women environmental defenders on the Environmental Justice Atlas (EJAtlas). Twenty cases from the EJAtlas involving thirty-one women environmental defenders martyred for their activism were analyzed qualitatively examining why and how differences and similarities emerge based on intersectional factors with special attention to gender. Findings suggest that 1) impoverished, rural, Indigenous, and otherwise multiply marginalized women were at high risk of vulnerability and retaliation in environmental conflicts because of their loss of agency and status; 2) mining and logging were deadliest partly because such industries institutionalize and exacerbate violent, gendered subordination 3) the circumstances of their murders were subtly gendered, including their exposure and vulnerability to conflicts, mobilization opportunities, and experienced violence.
... While literature is bringing more attention to violence against environmental defenders [5][6][7] , extractive violence also has gendered aspects 8, 9. Corporations and states typically concentrate power among men during project negotiations. Such imbalance reinforces gender hegemonies rendering WEDs vulnerable to institutional misogyny, limiting their autonomy and normalizing their oppression [10][11][12][13][14] . ...
... The results support ndings showing that cases involving mining, biomass, and industrialization were the most dangerous for not only WEDs, but also defenders generally 7,34 . Copper, gold, and other rare metals derived from mineral extraction had the highest proportions of violence against WEDs. ...
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This study contributes empirical data tracking gender in extractive violence cases from the Environmental Justice Atlas (EJAtlas). The study also fills a gap in coverage on environmental assassinations not considering other factors of violence leading up to murders. Through log-linear and binominal regressions, this study analyzes gendered distributions of displacement, repression, criminalization, violent targeting, and murders worldwide. We found that 1) violence against women defenders is concentrated among mining, agribusiness, and industrial conflicts in the geographical South; 2) repression, criminalization, and violent targeting typically appeared together, whereas displacement and murder appeared as extreme outcomes when conflict violence worsened; 3) women defenders experience high rates of violence regardless of their countries’ levels of rule of law and gender equality. Reflecting global patterns of impunity, nearly all of the women defenders’ murders are still unresolved in courts, and their conflicts are still under negotiation.
... Even more significantly, as an Indigenous institution, the TAA is an expression of Maya political agency and selfdetermination that is vital to recognize, because communities who are on the front lines of environmental defense across the globe must constantly find ways to build solidarity and maintain cohesion to avoid being splintered into smaller bodies. The fragmentation of communities and alienation of village residents from one another are well-documented force multipliers of exploitation and harm that is perpetrated by states and corporate extractors (Fent and Kojola, 2020;Tran et al., 2020). ...
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After decades of organising and a protracted legal battle, Maya communities of southern Belize won a watershed land rights victory in the Caribbean Court of Justice in 2015. Since then, the state has criminalised environmental defenders, violated communal land rights, and is argued by Maya activists and alcaldes (village leaders) from Toledo District to be operating in bad faith. This Grassroots article––which explicitly draws from the grounded knowledge of Indigenous resistance, an autonomous social movement, and engaged “accompliceship”––casts critical light on a recent flashpoint conflict between the Government of Belize and Maya communities related to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent. The analysis we offer from an anticolonial standpoint is instructive about broader social, political, and environmental challenges related to capitalist “development,” (postcolonial) state power, and struggles for Indigenous self-determination.
... For example, many corporations maintain armed 'security' forces and/or work closely with states' police and military personnel to 'secure' their operations (Böhm & Pascucci, 2020;Schmalz et al., 2022). The rapidly increasing number of assassinations and criminal prosecutions of local environmental defenders (Dunlap, 2021;Hadad et al. 2021;Tran et al. 2020), also in territories occupied by 'green' and 'sustainable' industries (Dunlap & Correa Acre, 2021;Schmalz et al., 2022), are bleak examples of this brute OWW violence. ...
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This article examines corporate social responsibility (CSR) through the lens of political ontology. We contend that CSR is not only a discursive mean of legitimization but an inherently ontological practice through which particular worlds become real. CSR enables the politics of place-making, connecting humans and nonhumans in specific territorial configurations in accordance with corporate needs and interests. We discuss three CSR mechanisms of singularization that create a particular corporate ontology in place: (1) community engagements that form ‘stakeholders’; (2) CSR standards and certifications that produce singular sustainable environments; and (3) CSR reporting that erases ontological conflicts and enables the singularized representation (of the environment and the community) to travel to other locations of the corporate world. We argue that these ontological CSR practices obscure the pluriverse of other world and place-making practices that would create different kinds of sustainabilities based on less extractive and non-corporate ways of being in place.
... Environmental defenders protect environmental and human rights typically threatened by government-backed multinational business projects (Philippe Le Billon and Päivi Lujala 2020;Arnim Scheidel, Arnim Scheidel, et al. 2020;Dalena Le Tran, Dalena Le Tran, et al. 2021). Extractive industries' search for profits and resources leads to ecological distribution conflicts (also EDCs or environmental conflicts), or confrontations against corporations over disproportionate burdens and benefits from industrial activities (J Martinez-Alier and M O'Connor 1996). ...
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Women environmental defenders continue to face marginalization despite their growing significance in ecological conflicts. The media’s role in empowering or further rendering them invisible is unclear. This study thus examines depictions of South African women defenders in news articles. A feminist critical discourse analysis of 98 media reports about 48 conflicts suggests a typology of the conflicts and the women involved. I argue that media depictions of women defenders can sometimes enact discursive violence by imposing agendas and stereotypes that do not reflect their lived realities. This study identifies two tropes depicting women defenders as desperate mothers or underdogs, which empowers yet silences diverse women in diverse ways. The implications of such archetypes are that reporting may not only oversimplify the complexity of their experiences, but also contribute to pressures on women to be self-sacrificing and docile.
... Sin embargo, en muchas ocasiones el papel de las mujeres en estos espacios de activismo y movilización tiende a ser invisibilizado: las voces de los hombres pueden ser las más escuchadas o tener más tiempo o más visibilidad, mientras que las tareas relacionadas con los cuidados, remuneradas o no, en los colectivos tienden a ser asumidas por las mujeres (Agüera-Cabo, 2010). Pero además, en muchos lugares del mundo, estar al frente de las movilizaciones implica estar expuestas a la criminalización y a la violencia (Tran et al., 2020). Por ejemplo, la persecución y el asesinato de las mujeres que luchan contra el capitalismo, el colonialismo, el extractivismo y en defensa de la tierra y el agua han aumentado significativamente en América Latina. ...
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Este artículo explora cómo las perspectivas feministas, en relación a las dinámicas de género y poder, aportan a las formas transformadoras de abordar la actual crisis climática. En la primera parte del artículo introducimos la necesidad de una mirada feminista a la hora de analizar los impactos diferenciales del cambio climático en relación al género, la clase, la et-nia, etcétera, así como el papel de los liderazgos de las mujeres en el activismo, las negociaciones y toma de decisiones políticas, y en la ciencia. En la segunda parte, presentamos cómo la facilitación de conversaciones públicas y colectivas que incorporan estas cuestiones, a partir de la experiencia de foros abiertos en Madrid, permite reflexiones en torno al cambio climático como una experiencia cotidiana, la atención a las emociones y las experiencias vividas, la interseccionalidad y la ecodependencia e interdependencia, así como respecto a diferentes formas de liderazgo. Este tipo de conversaciones y encuentros pretenden aportar al trabajo necesario de seguir ampliando las aproximaciones feministas al cambio climático.
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The economy is not circular, it is increasingly entropic. Energy from the photosynthesis of the distant past, fossil fuels, is burned and dissipated. Even without further economic growth the industrial economy would need new supplies of energy and materials extracted from the “commodity frontiers”, producing also more waste (including excessive amounts of greenhouse gases). Therefore, new ecological distribution conflicts (EDC) arise all the time. Such EDCs are often “valuation contests” displaying incommensurable plural values. Examples from the Atlas of Environmental Justice are given of coal, oil and gas-related conflicts in several countries combining local and global complaints. Claims for climate justice and recognition of an ecological debt have been put forward by environmentalists from the South since 1991, together with a strategy of leaving fossil fuels underground (LFFU) through bottom-up movements. This could make a substantial contribution to the decrease in carbon dioxide emissions.
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In this article, we explore what intersectionality, as an analytic tool, can contribute to business and human rights (BHR) scholarship. To date, few BHR scholars have explicitly engaged in intersectional analysis. While gender analysis of BHR issues remains crucial to expose inequality in business activity, we argue that engagement with intersectionality can enrich and support this and other BHR scholarship. Intersectional approaches allow us to move beyond single-axis analysis, contest simplistic representations about gender issues and expose the complexity of human relations. It draws our attention to structures that sustain disadvantage such as racism, colonialism, social and economic marginalization and systematic discrimination. Moreover, intersectionality emphasizes the need to centre the contributions of those who have been marginalized. It can be used to challenge the legitimacy of the state and support subaltern, decolonized or postcolonial, including indigenous, perspectives. Adopting an intersectional approach can help problematize the neoliberal capitalist system and its constructs, in which the BHR normative framework is embedded, calling into question the reification of economic growth and its impact on individuals, communities and the planet. We must, however, remain cautious of attempts to co-opt intersectionality in the service of neoliberalism and remain conscious of our own privilege and discursive practices.
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Recent research and policies recognize the importance of environmental defenders for global sustainability and emphasize their need for protection against violence and repression. However, effective support may benefit from a more systematic understanding of the underlying environmental conflicts, as well as from better knowledge on the factors that enable environmental defenders to mobilize successfully. We have created the global Environmental Justice Atlas to address this knowledge gap. Here we present a large-n analysis of 2743 cases that sheds light on the characteristics of environmental conflicts and the environmental defenders involved, as well as on successful mobilization strategies. We find that bottom-up mobilizations for more sustainable and socially just uses of the environment occur worldwide across all income groups, testifying to the global existence of various forms of grassroots environmentalism as a promising force for sustainability. Environmental defenders are frequently members of vulnerable groups who employ largely non-violent protest forms. In 11% of cases globally, they contributed to halt environmentally destructive and socially conflictive projects, defending the environment and livelihoods. Combining strategies of preventive mobilization, protest diversification and litigation can increase this success rate significantly to up to 27%. However, defenders face globally also high rates of criminalization (20% of cases), physical violence (18%), and assassinations (13%), which significantly increase when Indigenous people are involved. Our results call for targeted actions to enhance the conditions enabling successful mobilizations, and for specific support for Indigenous environmental defenders.
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Every year, more people are killed defending the environment than are soldiers from the United Kingdom and Australia on overseas deployments in war zones combined. During the last 15 years, the number of both deaths of environmental defenders, and the countries where they occur, have increased. Recorded deaths have increased from two per week to four per week over this period. These deaths are primarily related to conflict over natural resources, across a range of sectors. Of 683 total deaths, >230 were related to mining and agribusiness between 2014 and 2017. We find that rule of law and corruption indices are closely linked to patterns of killings. Using spatial data, we investigate the drivers of these conflicts and violence and seek to identify who may be most at risk and why. We argue that businesses, investors and national governments at both ends of the chain of violence need to be more accountable.
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The environmental movement may be “the most comprehensive and influential movement of our time” (Castells 1997: 67), representing for the ‘post-industrial’ age what the workers’ movement was for the industrial period. Yet while strike statistics have been collected for many countries since the late nineteenth century (van der Velden 2007),1 until the present no administrative body tracks the occurrence and frequency of mobilizations or protests related to environmental issues at the global scale, in the way that the World Labour Organization tracks the occurrence of strike action.2 Thus until the present it has been impossible to properly document the prevalence and incidence of contentious activity related to environmental issues or to track the ebb and flow of protest activity. Such an exercise is necessary because if the twentieth century has been the one of workers struggles, the twenty-first century could well be the one of environmentalists. This Special Feature presents the results from such an exercise—The Global Atlas of Environmental Justice—a unique global inventory of cases of socio-environmental conflicts built through a collaborative process between academics and activist groups which includes both qualitative and quantitative data on thousands of conflictive projects as well as on the social response. This Special Feature applies the lenses of political ecology and ecological economics to unpack and understand these socio-environmental conflicts, otherwise known as ‘ecological distribution conflicts’, (hereafter EDCs, Martinez-Alier 1995, 2002). The contributions in this special feature explore the why, what, how and who of these contentious processes within a new comparative political ecology. The articles in this special issue underline the need for a politicization of socio-environmental debates, whereby political refers to the struggle over the kinds of worlds the people want to create and the types of ecologies they want to live in. We put the focus on who gains and who loses in ecological processes arguing that these issues need to be at the center of sustainability science. Secondly, we demonstrate how environmental justice groups and movements coming out of those conflicts play a fundamental role in redefining and promoting sustainability. We contend that protests are not disruptions to smooth governance that need to be managed and resolved, but that they express grievances as well as aspirations and demands and in this way may serve as potent forces that can lead to the transformation towards sustainability of our economies, societies and ecologies. The articles in this collection contribute to a core question of sustainability science—why and through what political, social and economic processes some are denied the right to a safe environment, and how to support the necessary social and political transformation to enact environmental justice.
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The present article analyses a unique database of 220 dam-related environmental conflicts, retrieved from the Global Atlas on Environmental Justice (EJAtlas), and based on knowledge co-production between academics and activists. Despite well-known controversial, social, and environmental impacts of dams, efforts to increase renewable energy generation have reinstated the interest into hydropower development globally. People affected by dams have largely denounced such ‘unsustainabilities’ through collective non-violent actions. Nevertheless, we found that repression, criminalization, violent targeting of activists and assassinations are recurrent features of conflictive dams. Violent repression is particularly high when indigenous people are involved. Indirect forms of violence are also analysed through socio-economic, environmental, and health impacts. We argue that increasing repression of the opposition against unwanted energy infrastructures does not only serve to curb specific protest actions, but also aims to delegitimize and undermine differing understanding of sustainability, epistemologies, and world views. This analysis cautions that allegedly sustainable renewables such as hydropower often replicates patterns of violence within a frame of an ‘extractivism of renewables’. We finally suggest that co-production of knowledge between scientists, activists, and communities should be largely encouraged to investigate sensitive and contentious topics in sustainability studies.
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Although studies on environmental conflicts have engaged with the subject of violence, a multidimensional approach has been lacking. Using data from 95 environmental conflicts in Central America, we show how different forms of violence appear and overlap. We focus on direct, structural, cultural, slow, and ecological forms of violence. Results suggest that the common understanding of violence in environmental conflicts as a direct event in time and space is only the tip of the iceberg and that violence can reach not only environmental defenders, but also communities, nature, and the sustainability of their relations.
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Environmental and land defenders play a crucial role in attempts to slow down environmental change and address power inequalities in land-use and resource development. Yet, they frequently face repression, including defamation, criminalization, and assassination. Recent policy and media coverage initiatives have provided much needed attention to the protection and support of defenders, but there has so far been little systematic analysis of patterns and determinants of repression at multiple scales. Here, we use databases providing the best available worldwide record of cases of socio-environmental conflicts and killings of defenders to identify patterns of repression and potential determinants of killings. Globally, about a third of socio-environmental conflicts involve mass mobilization, arrests and direct forms of violence. These ‘high intensity’ conflicts are more frequent in Asia and Latin America. At least 1734 killings of environmental and land defenders took place in a total of 53 countries between 2002 and 2018, most of them occurring in Brazil, the Philippines, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico and Peru. Our multivariate analysis indicates that major country-level determinants of killings include income level, foreign direct investment, dependency on mineral extraction, regime type, frequency of protest movements, and size of Indigenous populations. We suggest that more systematic reporting and analysis of repression – including through subnational level studies for which we provide testable hypotheses – can help protect and support defenders, notably through conflict-sensitive investment policies and greater accountability for abuses.
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Previous research finds mass media often frames female members of parliament (FMPs) as novelties, violators, or deviants intruding in a masculine domain. However, most of these studies have focused on a small number of primarily Western nations. Inspired by new research on the normalization of women in politics, intersectionality, and violence against women in politics, this study undertakes a broad examination of how global newspapers represent FMPs to the public. Taking an inductive approach and drawing on a collection of 772 articles drawn from 265 newspapers in 48 countries over thirty years (from 1985 to 2014), we assess how media framed the “female member of parliament” as being violators, virtuous, or victims and whether it made (in)visible their various intersectional identities. We found general support for the normalization thesis, but observed significant differences between Western and non-Western countries and between Asian and African media framing of FMPs as violators, virtuous, or victims.
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This article offers a multimodal discourse analysis of the representation of masculinity and its relation to femininity in Destiny Man, a popular South African magazine for men. The approach taken looked at the content in the magazine and identified themes that were present in most of the issues. Through the lens of hegemonic masculinity and feminism, discursive practices that Destiny Man employs when discussing issues of gender relations are explored. Furthermore, these discursive practices are also considered in the context of race in post-apartheid South Africa. To understand how women are spoken about and represented in the man-targeted magazine, three articles and five images published in the eight 2014 issues were analysed using a multimodal text analysis (Lindy). We conclude that the discourses presented in the magazine tend to portray women as needy, emotionally dependent and possessing limited agency in relationships. We argue that these portrayals have implications for man/woman relations in contemporary South Africa and require a rethinking in order to advance both feminist and masculinity studies.
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La violence et la répression exercées à l’encontre des militantes des droits du sol et de l’environnement qui s’opposent au développement de l’industrie de l’extraction (un groupe classé par les Nations Unies comme défenseurs des droits de la personne) ont été bien documentées par plusieurs organismes non gouvernementaux œuvrant dans le domaine. Malgré leur importance équivalente, des formes indirectes de violence touchant ces mêmes défenseurs, ainsi que leur nature genrée et leurs répercussions, sont moins connues. Le présent texte analyse le concept d’« institution disciplinaire », qui repose sur le concept de pouvoir disciplinaire de Michel Foucault, englobant tous les outils disciplinaires mobilisés contre les militantes contre l’exploitation minière, avec leurs conséquences genrées. L’« institution disciplinaire » renvoie aux pratiques qui neutralisent ou empêchent carrément l’opposition et la résistance politiques. Il s’agit d’un type de violence qui est à la fois implicite et explicite, et qui opère dans un continuum, depuis la délégitimation des militantes, par des campagnes de salissage, jusqu’au recours à des agents provocateurs locaux pour diriger la violence contre elles. Bien que de nombreux acteurs soient mobilisés dans cette campagne de surveillance et de punition, le présent article se penche plus spécifiquement sur le rôle joué par l’État et ses alliés (en particulier les sociétés minières transnationales et les forces paramilitaires qui les soutiennent). L’analyse s’appuie sur des exemples de situations partout dans le monde, mais plus spécifiquement sur les exploitations minières au cœur de la résistance au Guatemala.
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This paper argues that the activities of environmental protectors often mitigate climate change, and therefore the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Human Rights Council (HRC) should extend explicit protection to land and environmental defenders on this basis. First, we overview who and where protectors are, what they are protecting, and annual data on protector murders. Next, we examine the case of Berta Cáceres, murdered in Honduras in 2016, to show collusion of state and capital in defender silencing. Then we show how criminalization of defenders is a strategy to undermine their public support, followed by assessment of the powerlessness of international law to hold oppressors accountable. Next, we connect protectors to climate change by indicating mitigation consequences of their work. Finally, we explain a factor common to the UNFCCC and the HRC that precludes their recognition of protectors' activities as mitigation, particularly with respect to women defenders, and make recommendations concerning how international law might more effectively protect defenders.