Happy International Women’s Day – 8 March 2018

On International Women’s Day 2018, CIRDI is reflecting on a number of valued opportunities we have recently had to help advance gender equality in Canada and abroad.

We open this reflection by respectfully acknowledging women like La Flaca who depend upon fragile ecosystems as our inspiration, and at the heart of our approach to advancing gender equality in natural resource governance.

In Colombia’s Chocó, rivers, forests and local culture are inseparably connected. The Atrato River (Río Atrato) rises in slopes of the Western Cordillera and flows due north to the Gulf of Darién, dividing the Choco. Due to unsustainable resource development along the Atrato and its tributaries, the gravity of contamination has begun to affect ecosystem health and adjacent riverine communities. In 2017, the Atrato captured the attention of higher judicial powers where the river was awarded bio-cultural rights recognized for what it provides for human life. These unique rights now include the river’s protection, conservation, maintenance and restoration. Here, the direct and narrow relation between biodiversity and culture is revealed.

La Flaca panning at her mine in Chocó, Colombia.

The Chocó is home primarily to Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities with deep cultural ties to the local ecology, landscape and its biodiversity. It is here that the CIRDI project team first connected with La Flaca. She is the only sole-female mine owner in the region and her title as such is no small accomplishment to address the root cause of women’s economic marginalization and exclusion in the artisanal and small-scale gold (ASGM) value chain.

Following the decades-long conflict in Colombia,  communities reliant on artisanal gold production became vulnerable to armed actors wishing to exploit their high-value mineral resources and finance the war effort. Formalization of artisanal mining in Chocó represents an opportunity to not only decrease rural poverty and safeguard environmental resources but engage historically marginalized populations in post-conflict reconstruction. However, deeply unequal and gendered power dynamics mean that women are typically streamed into low-paying, precarious and hazardous work in the artisanal gold value chain.  Bucking these trends through prudent financial acumen and persistence makes La Flaca’s social position all the more impressive along the River Atrato, where women face economic discrimination.

In Colombia, we are working with women like La Flaca to support women’s entrepreneurship and entry into decent and sustainable employment to reduce poverty, while safeguarding natural resources. In collaboration with national government institutions, local authorities, and FARC leadership, CIRDI’s work in Colombia aims to address issues impeding the formalization and long-term viability of the sector for miners and vulnerable populations, particularly Afro-Colombian women in the Chocó region.

La Flaca, like many other women leaders we meet, represents a catalyzing force for change in her own community, while serving as an exemplar of what women can achieve when they are empowered to thrive. The privilege of sharing her story and leaning on her example to inspire change locally and globally is one of many drivers that motivates our team to continue working to advance gender equality in natural resource governance.

 Women like La Flaca are also represented in Canada’s new Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP).

Earlier this month, we were invited to provide feedback on the draft policy framework underpinning the Feminist International Assistance Policy.  We congratulate Global Affairs Canada on a diligent and far-reaching draft framework, that has tremendous potential to improve the lives of millions of women.

Gold found at La Flaca’s mine in Chocó, Colombia

In CIRDI’s view, the draft framework’s emphasis on women as agents of transformation is excellent. Our work in resource-dependent communities targets women and girls via that better equips them to act as effective and autonomous environmental stewards, resource-governance decision-makers and productive contributors to resource-driven economies. We similarly welcomed the draft framework’s emphasis on effective partnerships, particularly in fragile and conflict-affected areas, as well as the policy’s recognition that greater political inclusion is essential for women’s economic empowerment. In line with this approach, much of CIRDI’s work to improve social and environmental outcomes in resource-dependent communities includes a governance component. Examples of policy interventions that we have used with success are gender-inclusive participatory environmental monitoring committees, women’s leadership circles and gender mainstreaming initiatives across resource-centric government ministries (Ministry of Mines, Ministry of the Environment).

Through this FIAP policy consultation we also advocated for strengthening the draft framework in relation to recognizing the needs, vulnerabilities and urgency of attention to advancing the rights of Indigenous women. Indigenous women have unique social roles and are endowed with traditional knowledge systems about social structures and environmental stewardship. CIRDI’s ability to act as efficient catalysts for development assistance is contingent on a sincere and deep recognition of these roles and expertise, and their value for advancing gender equality.

CIRDI believes that policy-advocacy is a key pathway through which the micro-level needs and aspirations of women and girls in resource-dependent communities are conveyed to those in positions of power and influence. As such policy engagement is part of our responsibility to witness, voice and affect change in partnership with vulnerable and marginalized populations in resource-dependent communities.

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