Meet Patricia Ardón, Co-founder and Regional Co-Director at Just Associates Mesoamerica (JASS). Patricia is a Guatemalan feminist and Anthropologist with over 30 years experience working with grassroots movements throughout Central America. We had the pleasure of interviewing Patricia as part of our storytelling on Climate ReSisters under WEDO’s #OurSolutions Campaign. Read about Patricia’s analysis of climate and environmental justice concerns in her region and her proposed feminist solutions below!
Q: What drove your involvement in the work you that you do?
A: I am based in Guatemala where the majority of the population consists of indigenous communities and women. I have worked with indigenous women for many years in Guatemala and Central America. I began my involvement in advocacy and organizing while working to strengthen leadership of indigenous women. Now, I am the Co-Founder and Co-Director at Just Associates (JASS) Mesoamerica continuing the mission of that work by supporting and strengthening the voices and work of indigenous women. We are trying to amplify the proposals of these women-proposals of alternative ways of living. Particularly, women who are struggling for land and territory across Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico. We have recently also been involved in international level advocacy, especially after the assassination of human rights and environmental activist Berta Caceres.
We are trying to integrate protection of communities and our environment while strengthening movements. We are working in two primary ways: denouncing and helping to ensure women’s voices are heard nationally and strengthening leadership capacities.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the intersections of gender, poverty and climate change? Why is it important to you to make these connections?
A: Women are the ones who primarily take care of the environment in their daily lives. Look at water for example; women are the ones who carry the water and use it for many tasks. This is why you often see women at the front lines defending territories and land; because they are the ones taking care of the goods and domestic matters. Although men work in the field, women also administer the daily food, and take care of the family’s well being. This is especially true of impoverished women who are observing the direct impact climate change is having on daily life.
Climate change is inflicting damage in our communities in many ways, though one of the most important is our food. It is altering the type of food people can have because of drought, or excessive rain that impacts the harvest. Here in Guatemala, the risk with excessive rains is very high due to extractive projects and tourism which have affected the ecosystem through mountaintop removal processes which have also broken apart territories. These are factors that often disproportionately affect impoverished women because in many instances it is their houses and land that are impacted. For women in impoverished neighborhoods, the environment is much more vulnerable than for those who can afford better living standards and live in cities.
Mining projects consume copious amounts of water daily. In regards to food sovereignty, women can’t cultivate crops with their seeds of origin any longer, forcing them to resort to transgenic (GMO) seeds which are more expensive and disruptive of small, local economies.
Q: What is your experience with climate justice either directly or through the work that you do?
A: There are some legislations and some countries that have adapted women’s rights, but in reality the effectiveness of rights implementation is entirely controlled by transnational companies. In fact, what you see is that immediate economic interests will dominate governmental decisions and legislation. Governments and private sector industries are adapting the roles of managing the resources of transnational companies and their interests are very much beyond the recognition of climate rights or climate justice. However, we are starting to see a pushback in terms of people really claiming and demonstrating the damage that climate change is provoking. In some countries of the region there have been some achievements in terms of recognizing the damage incurred by extractive industries but we are really lacking solution oriented momentum. Much more support is needed for these efforts and support in articulating the analysis and complexity of this issue.
Climate justice is a generalized term that is often used arbitrarily, so the claim for justice for the environment is more difficult. Also, we need to consider the fact that a lot of the damage inflicted by mega companies is usually analyzed from the perspective of the environment, but it’s not only linked to climate or the environment. The displacement of people and communities caused by extractive activities disrupts the social and territorial fabrics of communities and their cultures. We need efforts on the climate and environmental action front to be more integrative and to illustrate how the impact is multi-dimensional at every level.
It is also important to mention that this is not exclusive to Guatemala-in some countries throughout this region more than 40% of the territory have been negotiated for extractive industry.
Q: What is your feminist perspective on climate justice/injustice? What do you see as the feminist alternative response to climate injustice? This can be solutions, whether practical or at a policy level, resistance strategies, or a combination of both.
A: You can see more women struggling for survival and for a paradigm shift in relationships of power against their male counterparts. The same can be said for several oppressive power dynamics including racism and discrimination. Feminism has a key role in having a more integral analysis, and places at the center the need to change those relationships of power. This involves the need to diminish and reevaluate those power dynamics and look at the interests of women and the needs of the population rather than corporate interests. This type of change necessitates a multi-level analysis and requires international support and solidarity. This could be represented by a combination of legislation and collective organizing which aims to strengthens and elevated women’s power and capacity to articulate proposals for taking care of the planet. Feminist women have been very important in talking about climate and environmental issues while also strengthening the capacities of the women from the communities who have these daily experiences. The key is to continue elevating these daily experiences to illustrate the impact of climate change on women at the front lines of this crisis.
In order to achieve this, it is crucial that we see ourselves as parts of a holistic model to integrate different roles into a global stance to fight these issues. There is a tendency to say the ones who implement policy and those who engage in grassroots work are opposite and even contradictory, but they need to be more integrated so as to provide a more durable and sustainable solution.
Q: What do you want to see change or happen in the future? What does a climate just future look like to you?
A: I (and many people) would like to see a world where human beings forge a symbiotic relationship with nature. Humans should be part of the ecosystem and no longer depleting the Earth’s resources for their well being, but rather conceiving that we are all part of this ecosystem and have a responsibility to conserve and respect it. We would take care of the land, mountains, and rivers, as much as they would provide us with life.
It has to do with different dimensions: governments that protect the environment, the rights of people to live in a healthy environment- but also more mindful societies that internalize the need to take care of our land and things that give us life and embed these values in their cultural and political processes. That implies a change in terms of the invincible powers that tyrannize our societies and lands, as well as the media and it’s influence on our practices. I don’t think it will change unless the civil societies and movements and organizations pressure for this type of change, especially considering our political environment.
There is also a need in these countries for more information and analysis. People understand the impact that climate and environmental injustice has because of their everyday lives, but less information is present regarding what’s going on in the world as a whole. It is difficult to build these movements and mobilize people if those connections are not made. We need to strengthen leadership, movements and people to understand more critically why this crisis is happening, how it’s operating, and the interests behind it.
Q: Why is it important for women to be included in climate solution discourse? How can environmental organizations and decision makers make these spaces/conversations more intentional and inclusive?
A: Women must be included in these conversations because women are the ones bearing the implications of climate change everyday. They must be part of the solution. We must also consider that women are talking about solutions and changing relationships of power and building a different world as we speak, even if they aren’t recognized for it. We have to see women as protagonists in this change and we must continue to uplift their voices and proposals.