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5 key takeaways from launch of ‘Women Taking the Lead’ report

26 February 2020

Trócaire has launched its annual Lent campaign with a report that reveals how women are impacted by climate change and corporate human rights violations

Bertha Zúñiga Caceres, daughter of environmental activist Berta Caceras murdered in 2016, is pictured with Trócaire CEO Caoimhe de Barra at a mural of her mother at the launch of Trocaire's Lenten campaign in Dublin. PHOTO: Mark Stedman / Trócaire

“I believe that we deserve a life of justice, freedom and peace. We want a country built according to Honduran needs and not those of companies.”

This was the strong call from keynote speaker Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres at yesterday’s launch of Trócaire’s new report ‘Women Taking the Lead: Defending Human Rights and the Environment’.

The report details the experiences of courageous women, many of whom are engaged in defending their communities against the effects of corporate greed and the devastating environmental impact of climate change.

Bertha Zúñiga gave a powerful keynote speech, which detailed how her mother, Berta Cáceres, an internationally renowned activist and winner of the environmental Goldman Prize, was shot dead in 2016 after a long battle to stop construction of an internationally financed hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque river, which the indigenous Lenca people consider sacred.

Here are our 5 key takeaways from the launch event in Dublin :

1. The murder of Berta Caceres highlights the need for stronger regulation of business

“My greatest hope, as the daughter of Berta Cáceres and member of COPINH, her organisation, is that this crime never happens again” said Bertha Zúñiga. “However, the situation in Honduras is not unique, this pattern of investment can be seen repeatedly across several Latin America countries and in other regions of the world”.

Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres has followed in her mother’s footsteps as leader of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (COPINH) – an organisation supported by Trócaire.

Bertha Zúñiga spoke about her own experience of violence inflicted on female human rights defenders and the indigenous community’s long struggle to defend their land from corporate abuse.

Bertha made a strong call for stronger international regulation of companies to ensure they respect human rights in their operations.

Bertha Zuniga Cáceres (28) stands beside a mural of her mother, murdered human rights activist, Berta Cáceres. Photo : Garry Walsh / Trócaire

2. Climate change & natural disasters affect women disproportionately

Key facts highlighted in the report:

  • Disasters resulting from climate change are estimated to kill 14 times more females than males.
  • Natural disasters increase young girls’ chances of being trafficked. Young girls are 20-30% more at risk of human trafficking following environmental disasters.
  • More than 70% of women in crisis situations such as natural disasters have experienced direct violence.

"Business as usual is not the answer” said panel speaker Dr. Tara Shine, Director of Change by Degrees. “It's all going to have to change, and has to change in the next ten years".

Tara spoke about her work to improve gender equality within UN Climate negotiations. Despite the challenges of the lack of female political representation, she also noted how “70% of household decisions in the EU are made by women. Women have huge decision making power around consumer choices.”

Even though women face additional barriers to participation in decisions to address climate change and corporate accountability, the report highlights how women are often at the forefront of tackling climate change and corporate human rights abuses.

Mardris Nginya is from Eastern Kenya which has been badly affected by drought due to Climate Change. She has to take a 3 hour trip to collect water for her family. Photo: Gary Moore : Trócaire

3. Women are affected by lands grabs and violence related to big business

Key facts highlighted in the report:

  • Worldwide less than 13% of agricultural land is owned by women, making them more vulnerable to eviction.
     
  • Attacks on female human rights defenders are increasing. Last year 137 women were attacked for opposing big business and defending their communities.

As the climate crisis unfolds, transnational corporations are taking over huge areas of land in developing countries to generate profits through extractive industries and mega-development projects. This is often at the expense of human rights and the environment, and with a disproportionate impact on women.

The case of Berta Caceres highlights how women face huge risks in standing up for their rights in the face of injustice perpetrated by big business taking advantage of vulnerable communities. Trócaire CEO Caoimhe de Barra said : “The threat of assault and murder is a daily reality for many of these women, who are fighting for their families to live better lives”.

Speakers at the launch event. Mary Lawlor (Centre for Social Innovation, School of Business, Trinity College Dublin), Anita Ramasastry (Vice-chair, UN Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises), Michelle Winthrop (Climate and Resilience Policy Lead, Irish Aid), Bertha Zuniga Cáceres (COPINH),  Swann Bommier (CCFD), Caoimhe de Barra (Trócaire CEO), Dr. Tara Shine (Director of Change by Degrees). Photo : Garry Walsh / Trócaire

4. Our government can take action on corporate human rights abuses

Most of the panellists echoed Bertha Zúñiga’s call for greater regulation of business, both at the international level through a binding UN treaty on business and human rights, but also at the national level.

One example of how this can be done at the national level through mandatory human rights due diligence, which would help ensure companies respect human rights, was given by panellist Swann Bommier, Advocacy Officer with CCFD.

Swann highlighted the example of the French Duty of Vigilance Law. According to Swann, the French law is a "simple idea" to prevent corporate human rights abuses by French companies operating overseas. As a company you must "prevent your impacts on human rights and the environment, and if you fail to prevent you will be held liable".

Swann added that "Ireland is so important as Ireland is the door to so many global corporations like Apple, Google, and Facebook" and if there was a similar law introduced in Ireland, it should be carefully constructed to ensure there are no loopholes for corporations to evade accountability.

Bertha Zuniga Caceres (right), daughter of environmental activist Berta Caceras murdered in 2016, is pictured at a mural of her mother with artist Emmalene Blake. Photo : Mark Stedman / Trócaire.

5. Women defenders around the world need our support

Bertha Zúñiga spoke about the importance of the support her community and her organisation has received: “Trócaire supporters in Ireland have helped us by giving visibility to the fight for justice, as well as financial support. This will help to keep the work going in the search for justice and in defence of all human-rights defenders and indigenous communities.”

Trócaire has chosen to focus its 2020 Lent Campaign on the experiences of women in the face of these escalating global threats, the continued inequalities and barriers they face in responding to them, and equally their power, resilience and leadership in creating transformative change. 

“This year, Trócaire’s Lent campaign will help to support women around the world who are struggling to protect their families from intimidation, violence, hunger and drought” said Caoimhe de Barra. “By contributing to our Lenten Appeal, people in Ireland will be providing vital aid, care and support to these brave women.”

You can download the full ‘Women Taking the Lead’ report here

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