Written by Sarah Huang
As we begin to wrap up our time here in Hawaii and as the World Conservation Congress concludes, motions and the programme will be decided on today. This programme sets the agenda for the next four years for the IUCN and member organizations. Today, Laura asked me what I wanted to see happen after the WCC. I responded with something about wanting to see more meaningful engagement of the youth, as stated in the IUCN's goals. But, after thinking about it a little longer, I began to dream a little harder about where the conservation world could go.
This year's WCC theme, "Planet at the Crossroads", has been used to describe the the current crisis that we have on our hands, as the planet is warming, species are becoming extinct, and the natural world is collapsing. The speed and intensity at which this is occurring has put humans at a crossroads; in our decisions to do or not do something - and if we do, then what exactly should we do? I consider myself one very, very small part of this crossroads, but I, along with the other 10,000 or so folks here, have big dreams for this planet.
So back to Laura's question, what do I want to see happen after the WCC? I want to see the planet at the crossroads to meaningfully include all people within this crossroads, especially those who have been silenced, left off the agenda, and not invited to the conservation table. My own interests in gender based violence in environmental development have revealed the ways in which women are criminalized for protecting their environments and live in communities where their bodies are no longer safe as industrial development moves into their homes. And yet their crossroads, and the agenda that is meant to address their challenges, is not represented here at WCC.
I turn to a gender and environment event that I attended a few days ago. The Women's Environment and Climate Action Network (WECAN) implored us to consider our relationship to women, violence, and the environment. Indigenous women put their bodies on the line and the increase in violence and murders of indigenous women for the benefit of all of us is increasing. We wouldn't be able to live without the waters and forests that surround us, and yet we often don't consider who is on the front lines, ensuring that these resources are there for us and our future generations. We see this currently happening in the NoDAPL, North Dakota Access Pipeline, where indigenous women were putting their bodies in harm's way to protect their sacred burial sites. And yet long history of the violence against indigenous women goes unrecognized, and women are continuously silenced, criminalized, and forgotten.
Looking at the current 2017-2020 programme for the IUCN and then also thinking about this event that I attended on violence, as well as the countless stories of violence that I heard at COP21 in Paris, on various activist news outlets from North Dakota, Honduras, and other places; I can't help but wonder why violence is exacerbated on certain actors more than others. The politics and systems that allow for violence on our environment and the raping of land by mining companies and dam construction are the same ones that allow for indigenous women to be raped, abused, and murdered.
At the opening ceremony here at WCC just a mere 10 days ago, a representative from United Nations Environment Programme said that we need to stop playing the blame game; blaming countries and blaming industry. Well, in the next four years after this WCC, I want to see more of the blame game. I want to see more member nations and organizations calling out the actors who allow for a perpetuation of colonialism on our environments and on indigenous women. It is only by pointing the finger and calling attention to the actors, actions, and frameworks that colonize our environments and women that we may begin to address these violent acts. We need a disruption of the current ways that we define and address our crossroads; one that brings indigenous women, their violent experiences and realities to the forefront, much in the way that they have put themselves at the forefront of protecting the natural resources that we depend on.
As we leave Hawaii and the World Conservation Congress, I only hope that the next four years will not replicate the past four years of indigenous women disappearing in mining towns and indigenous women activists being murdered and terrorized by their governments. Instead, I hope that we being to push the bounds on our governments and projects and programs that allow for these types of violence to occur in order for a more safe environment.
In the field...
Follow our team as we cover international environmental policy making meetings.
Dr. Kimberly R. Marion Suiseeya, Department of Political Science, Northwestern University
Dr. Laura Zanotti, Department of Anthropology, Purdue University
Follow us on Twitter