The Indigenous Women’s Association of Sarayaku

Context

In November 1993, inhabitants of the northern Oriente filed a $1.5 billion class-action lawsuit against Texaco in the U.S. federal courts protesting against the company’s intentional use of substandard technologies which they claimed resulted in contamination of the their land. [1] After ten years of petitioning to have the case relocated to Ecuador, the lawsuit was ultimately filed and began in Ecuador in May 2003. [2]

Many indigenous peoples were devastated by the consequences and impact of Texaco’s time in Ecuador. The oil company had devastating impacts on indigenous lands and severe injustices continued to plague rural communities as a result of Texaco’s continued appeals and government policies that ignored indigenous peoples’ rights. In response to this disaster, women especially began to mobilize and form organizations in order to better serve their communities and create a voice for themselves within the Ecuadorian government.

A Gendered Approach

The women’s mobilization may seem surprising for far “too often the traditional concept persists of women solely as ‘beneficiaries’ of social services in their circumscribed role of wives and mothers restricted to the home.” [3] The reduction of women as solely wives and mothers covers up the work women do in building and maintaining houses and improving community life as well as the roles they play as producers and community managers. This work ultimately further encourages men to become involved in community action as well, positioning women as the “principal actors in low-income communities.” [3] This integral role that women play in maintaining their communities became clear through the actions they took against Texaco.

Women were the first to deeply understand that by violently attacking the environment that rural communities depend on, the acts of Texaco also affected women’s own bodies, the bodies around them, and the livelihoods of their communities. Maria Garfalo, an indigenous woman from the Pastaza province living in San Carlos,  highlights the nature of this attack when reflecting on the uterine cancer she is suffering from as a result of the toxins contaminating her drinking, cooking, and bathing water: “if I could say something to the oil companies, I’d tell them not to contaminate the land because they are killing people, making people suffer with this continuation. I have six children, and it’s very sad for me to think that maybe my children will lose their mother.”  Since this very interview was conducted, doctors have further diagnosed her husband with stomach cancer and her daughter with liver cancer.[4] These very tragic and real health consequences highlight the fact that the attack on the earth conducted during the exploration for oil parallels attacks on indigenous bodies, especially female ones.

Agency and Activism

When understanding female indigenous agency we must first acknowledge the assumptions and truths of female agency in general and be wary of stereotyping. “Women are positioned on the dominated side of the dichotomy and seen as rather passive subjects in Western traditions, a passivity that is even amplified in the case of non- Western women, Third World, or minority women. However, postcolonial feminists such as Chandra Mohanty cogently critique this amplified passivity of women of color, poor women, or women in the Third World as a construction that served the political goal of elevating First World women to the category of liberated.”[5] By understanding this, we can now better consider how power dynamics such as these influence whose story is told and given legitimacy. Theorist María Moreno Parra notes that, “in such a context, the understanding of indigenous women as political actors has to be undertaken from an analytical standpoint that counters sustained stereotypes of indigenous women’s purported passivity.” [5]

But far from echoing this narrative of passivity, indigenous female groups in rural Ecuador were quickly able to recognize the need for action and the Indigenous Women’s Association of Sarayaku (AMIS) was formed. By doing this, these women – a minority within a minority –  simultaneously fought for their rights to a voice in government as well as their rights to their land, health, and livelihoods.

On July 7th, 2004, 30 leaders from various grassroots organization affected by the oil company occupied the Foreign Trade Ministry. The groups pressured Minister Ivonne Baki to respect the wishes of the rural Ecuadorian people that the environmental responsibility of Texaco’s action not be transferred to the state-owned company Petroecuador, an action which would dismiss the Texaco of responsibility, much to the favor of the US. [6]

Also at this meeting, AMIS expressed it’s collective solidarity with the women and children of the Yana Yaku community located in the Ancash Region of the Santa Province of Cáceres del Perú. This community has faced violent government militarization in response to their environmental activism in protesting the actions of the oil company. In a public message AMIS collectively declared itself “in solidarity with the women and children of the community of Yana Yaku.” [6] Along with this message, AMIS put forth proposals to the national government that included the immediate exit of armed military groups and an investigation into the violation of the indigenous rights of Pastaza. A document listing the entirety of the proposals can be found here.

The  ability of AMIS to organize and provide support was important for the creation of a collective indigenous front against oil company. AMIS closed their proposal with the following statement: “We reaffirm that our fight for the dignity of the people of Sarayaku, our territory, projects and dreams for an alternative form of development, is not an isolated fight, it is a joint decision of all the Kichwa communities…and other areas that identify themselves with this cause…[that we] will never allow any form of abuse in this sector, be these oil companies, government or military forces.” [6]

An Ecofeminist Framework and Limitations

Without taking away from the merits of these women’s activism, it is important to retain a critical lens and not romanticize the situation. “In rehabilitating women as agents, there is a romance with women’s activism. And finally, there is a general romance with the indigenous. Being at the intersection of different forms of romanticized understandings, one could easily assess indigenous women’s activism in rather triumphalist manners, as an ‘amplified’ resistance in the face of intersections that amplify domination. The tensions that pull the analysis toward poles of over-victimization or over-romanticization need to be tackled with appropriate conceptualizations of human agency and of the structures in which it takes place.” [6]

With this recognition in mind, however, I still argue that it is not a romanticization to claim that through their activism these women were able to defend their lands while simultaneously creating a platform for indigenous voices to be heard. By virtue of being the literal embodiment of the intersection between environmental degradation and physical, bodily health the women of AMIS were able to advance an inherently ecofeminist type of activism that led them to successfully and strongly defend themselves, their communities, and their natural lands against the attacks of big business, military, and government. Because the goals of AMIS were strikingly ecofeminist in a way other activists could never be, they were able to organize and add an integral and underrepresented voice to the national and global conversation about oil exploration and conservation.

 


[1] Sawyer, Suzana. “Indigenous Initiatives and Petroleum Politics in the Ecuadorian Amazon,” Cultural Survival Quarterly 20.1 (1996): 365.

[2] Chevron Toxico. “Historic Trial.” Chevron Toxico. Accessed May 1, 2016.

[3] United Nations Centre for Human Settlements. Human Settlements Development through Community Participation, Ecuador: Women and Low Income Housing. By Ana Falu. Nairobi: United Nations, 1991.

[4] Dematteis, Lou, and Kayana Szymczak. Crude Reflections: Oil, Ruin and Resistance in the Amazon Rainforest. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2008.

[5] Parra, María S. Moreno, and Sarah Lyon. “Warmikuna Juyayay!: Ecuadorian and Latin American Indigenous Women Gaining Spaces in Ethnic Politics.” PhD diss., University of Kentucky. Abstract in Theses & Dissertations – Anthropology, 2014.

[6] Alter OilWatch Ecuador 2004 (2004) (testimony of Marcia Gualinga and Marlon Santi to the Foreign Trade Minister of Ecuador).

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El Colectivo Chilpancingo Pro Justicia Ambiental

The border between the U.S. and Mexico is an important area for a variety of reasons—contention over immigration and illegal crossings, narcotics smuggling, and the subject of our analysis here: the somewhat recent phenomenon of maquiladoras. In 1965, Mexico’s central government began to institute incentive programs for international corporations to build and center their early phase manufacturing plants in Tijuana, nearly adjacent to the U.S.–Mexico border. These plants have become known as maquiladoras (“assembly plant”), a unique version of the typical maquila (“factory”) that almost exclusively refers to the border’s import-export facilities. [1]

Hilary Abell calls the general regions that house import-export plants “export processing zones” or EPZs. In her analysis of maquiladoras located in Mexico’s EPZs, Abell explains that Mexico has drawn hundreds of corporations due to substantial tax breaks, lax environmental regulation, a virtually unending stream of cheap labor, and active repression of union organizing. [2]

The documentary Maquilapolis tells the story of several women workers (obreras) of the maquiladoras and the different struggles they face. Women workers make up more than 80 percent of the maquiladora workforce. [3] Women are preferred for this factory work because they have the “required dexterity and patience for detailed manual work,” and the factory owners also assume that they have weaker organizing capacity and “will tolerate abusive working conditions.” [2] The 800 maquiladoras in Tijuana range from technology production from companies like Panasonic, Sanyo, and Sony to the other commodity production like batteries, IV tubes, and clothes. These factories supply a relatively constant stream of industrial jobs that usually pay better than the inconstant and cheaper positions in rural Mexican states, which leads to an influx of women from various parts of Mexico to Tijuana and other border cities. [3]

Sex-Based Discrimination and Workplace Conditions

Carmen Durán, one of the obreras featured in Maquilapolis, explains that she arrived to Tijuana when she was 13, encouraged by her parents to move away from her home state of Sinaloa and pursue a factory job. Now, she is in her late twenties, is a single mother to three children, and has worked in nine different maquiladoras. After only two years of working in a Sanyo factory, Durán was shocked at the abysmal health conditions and workplace discrimination that she soon learned to be commonplace in the maquiladoras. First, she was constantly exposed to toxic chemicals and odors—she reported that the adhesive she and other workers used to assemble the “flybacks” for television sets smelled like burnt plastic and made her lungs ache. The incessant mix of chemicals in the factory caused her nose to bleed after leaving her shift daily. Durán also began to develop problems with her kidney functioning because the factory managers did not permit the obreras to drink water or use the bathroom, even during the workers’ menstrual cycles. [3]

Durán’s story is not uncommon. Nearly all women workers face the same or similar workplace conditions, regardless of the owner of the maquiladora. Women have reported sexual discrimination, violence, and human rights violation in the workplace, from “refusal to hire applicants who are pregnant, mistreatment and forced ‘resignation’ of workers who become pregnant” to “requiring women to present used sanitary towels each month [or] punching them in the abdomen to prevent viable pregnancies.” [2]

After speaking with each other and discovering their shared plight that is undoubtedly gendered, the obreras decided to join together and become promotoras, self-defined as a “grassroots activist, [who] challeng[es] the usual illegal tactics of the powerful transnationals that are poisoning their workers and the barrios they inhabit.” [3]

Promotoras fight against not only their own working conditions and health/safety hazards, but the threats to their family and children that arise from workplace-to-home toxic contact and, most importantly, the unregulated and high-volume pollution of waterways that flow into the barrios. Lourdes Luján, another obrera featured in Maquilapolis, details her everyday struggle against environmental contamination in her neighborhood of Chilpancingo. Chilpancingo is home to El Río Alamar, a creek into which over 200 upstream plants deposit their hazardous wastes, which then flow down into the town.

Chilpancingo and El Río Alamar

In the 1980s and 1990s, one factory in particular caused most of Río Alamar’s pollution: a battery recycling plant and lead smelter called Metales y Derivados, located one mile away from the United States border. Called “Metales” by the workers and residents of Chilpancingo, the factory was abandoned in 1994 by its American owner, Jose Kahn, when the factory was ordered to be shut down by PROFEPA, Mexico’s equivalent to the EPA. Kahn fled back to the United States, evading Mexico’s arrest warrant and his responsibility to pay the multi-million dollar environmental damage that his abandoned factory was still causing. [4]

Andrea Pedro Aguilar, another resident of Chilpancingo, called the behemoth factory “her monster,” citing the lead dust that she finds daily on her kids’ toys and the toxic chemicals—arsenic, cadmium, and antimony—that seep into her family’s drinking water and the soil where her kids play. [4]

When Metales was still running in 1990, a Mexican university’s survey of the soil in Chilpancingo found lead levels to be over 3,000 times higher than USEPA standards. Even samples taken after almost a decade of the plant’s closure find the lead levels to be almost 100 times higher than USEPA standards. Aguilar’s four-year-old daughter, Lupita, shows clear signs of health risks from toxic exposure. Her hair falls out “by the brush full every day,” and her nose and throat begin to bleed spontaneously. [4] Luján’s son plays in the Río Alamar and has developed spots and sores all over his body. Both women have seen birth and reproductive defects throughout the town, seeing children born without fingernails and with enlarged heads. [3]

Lourdes Luján grew up in Chilpancingo and remembers how clear and clean the water was before the majority of the plants were constructed upstream, and long before Metales y Derivados shut down. Faced with the intolerable levels of toxics that come from Metales and travel down the Río Alamar directly to their homes, Luján, Aguilar and other women in the town decided to form an organization dedicated to grassroots activism, community education, and the ultimate goal of holding the United States and Mexican governments responsible for cleaning up the Metales sites. They named this organization El Colectivo Chilpancingo Pro Justicia Ambiental, or the Chilpancingo Collective for Environmental Justice.

El Colectivo Chilpancingo Pro Justicia Ambiental

One major goal of El Colectivo Chilpancingo is community education. Working with American scholars and scientists from the San Diego Environmental Health Coalition, the women have learned a great deal about the medical terms for the health risks and reproductive defects caused by the Metales pollution. Luján describes learning about putting names to the every day birth defects she saw—anonychia for children born without fingernails, hydrocephalus for children born with enlarged heads, a condition that is actually caused when the infant’s body is unable to drain spinal fluid from the brain cavity. [3] This education gave women like Luján and Aguilar credibility in the face of the government officials to whom they were petitioning—instead of positioning themselves as hypochondriac mothers who were concerned about rare and occasional birth defects, they supported their complaints with hard data on the levels of lead and other toxins in their blood and used medical terminology to categorize the phenomena they were witnessing. As mostly single mothers who are the primary caretakers of the family, they had a right to demand redress and remediation of the site.

Women of the Colectivo Chilpancingo fought for ten years, petitioning cross-border and intergovernmental organizations to listen to their story and commit to cleaning up the site. The women knew they were facing some of the largest and most impenetrable forces—the Mexican government, the United States government, and the interests of multinational corporations—yet continued to push. The women must have also known that, if they were successful, the decision of both governments to take environmental action would set a precedent for ending or curtailing Mexico’s promise of lax environmental regulations for multinational corporations, possibly serving as a deterrent for those corporations to site their factories at the border.

On June 24, 2004, after almost a decade of protests and petitioning, “Mexican federal, state, and municipal government agencies signed a coordination agreement defining their authority and commitment to work together to clean up and eliminate risks associated with the Metales site.” [5] Mexico’s environmental protection agency, PROFEPA, coordinated their actions with the United States government. An EPA report published a little more than a year later detailed a full list of the environmental hazards posed by the Metales plant, as well as a step-by-step plan for remediation and reduction of land contamination that involved cooperation between the EPA, Mexico’s Secretary for the Environment and Natural Resources, and a Mexican waste management company called Tetra Tech. In total, the cost of removal of all toxic waste from the Metales site was estimated to be between $1.5 and $3.3 million. [5]

A year following the EPA report, the women of the Colectivo Chilpancingo were still not finished. Still unsatisfied with the slow progress of the cleanup, the Colectivo wanted to keep organizing. They applied for and received a $4500 grant from the Global Greengrants Fund, an organization that has awarded over $10 million to grassroots environmental organizers across the world since 1993. The Global Greengrants Fund’s mission statement perfectly encapsulates the motivations of the Colectivo Chilpancingo: “The people whose health, cultures and livelihoods are most affected by problems of pollution and environmental degradation are the same people who must play a major role in solving the problems.” [6]

Ecofeminist Analysis

The problem of women’s work in maquiladoras is a double-edged sword. Globalization and the growing trend of factories and assembly plants in developing countries promises stronger and better-paying jobs that these women rely on to support themselves and their families. Their struggle for improved working conditions and less exposure to toxics and chemicals in the workplace poses a problem for the managers of the maquiladoras and the owners of the international corporations. To them, the promotoras are a pesky headache, one that can be easily solved by firing these women and replacing them with cheap, new labor—or even relocating their factories to one of the myriad other developing countries that also offers cheap labor, fiscal incentives, and lax environmental regulation.

However, the same “problems” would likely occur no matter the location of these factories, as long as the factories are located in countries that occupy the “Global South.” Echoing the sentiments of Hilary Abell [2], Sara Grineski and Timothy Collins connect the exploitation of women and natural resources by corporations that charter these maquiladoras to the larger pattern of environmental injustice that occurs in the global Southern hemisphere, making industrial pollution an ecofeminist issue. Because countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia are marginalized within the worldwide economic and political order and typically have lax regulatory schemes, they seem to be perfect targets for the short-term capitalist gains that corporations pursue. Grineski and Collins acknowledge the post-2001 recession exodus of a few corporations to Asian countries such as Indonesia, and hypothesize that women workers will continue to organize and protest abysmal working conditions as long as they negatively affect the workers’ children and families. [8]

The struggles and eventual victory of El Colectivo Chilpancingo shows how grassroots organizing can be successful even in the face of international powers—governments and corporations—that can seem daunting and undefeatable.

As we discuss in our post on pesticide use in Brazil, women, as caretakers and matriarchs of the family, have the right and responsibility to safeguard the health of their children. Environmental issues that differentially affect a woman’s reproductive capacity automatically take on an ecofeminist flavor. The women of the Colectivo Chilpancingo use undoubtedly ecofeminist language when petitioning to international governments and organizations, invoking their authority as mothers concerned with the excessive health risks from pollution.

The maquiladoras are situated in Tijuana for capitalist gains, attracted by the low taxes, cheap labor, and lax environmental regulation. Clearly, women and the natural world that must exist within this industrial complex are unduly burdened and harmed by the capitalist model that places profits—maximized by minimizing costs of properly paying women and dealing with hazardous waste—above all.

The women of El Colectivo Chilpancingo still work daily to defend the land and water that is constantly threatened by international, corporate interests. They worked tirelessly to block a recent proposal to re-channel the Río Alamar to construct a highway through Chilpancingo, a project that would have increased the flow of truck traffic through the town and caused a substantial increase in air pollution. In June 2015, their efforts again proved successful. The government of Baja California announced that it will not cement three kilometers of the river and will instead channel the river with stones to filter the water and maintain the existing aquifers that feed into a wooded area nearby, according to a report from the Vida Latina, a Spanish-language daily newspaper circulated in San Diego and Tijuana. [9]

The women of the San Diego Environmental Health Coalition still work with the women of el Colectivo Chilpancingo to maintain a strong community presence and teach them other vital skills, such as “empowerment, leadership, and resource management training.” Even in 2016, the women are still planning on building urban forests and clean soccer fields for their children to play in and explore, constantly concerned with mitigating the constant conflict between their own and their children’s health and the capitalist interests of multinational corporations. [9]


[1] Cravey, Altha J. Women and Work in Mexico’s Maquiladoras. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998.

[2] Abell, Hilary. “Endangering Women’s Health for Profit: Health and safety in Mexico’s maquiladoras.” Development in Practice 9, vol. 5 (1999): 595-600.

[3] Maquilapolis. Directed by Vicky Funari and Sergio De La Torre. San Francisco: California Newsreel, 2006. Transcript in: Aguirre, María Lourdes Luján, Olga Rendón, Carmen Durán, Magdalena Cerda, and Jaime Cota. “Maquilapolis: City of Factories.” In Mexican History: A Primary Source Reader. Edited by Nora E. Jaffary, Edward W. Osowski, and Susie S. Porter. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2009.

[4] Sullivan, Kevin. “A Toxic Legacy on the Mexican Border; Abandoned U.S.-Owned Smelter in Tijuana Blamed for Birth Defects, Health Ailments.” The Washington Post, February 16, 2003.

[5] United States. Environmental Protection Agency. Office of Land and Emergency Management. Summary Report for the Removal Action at the Metales Y Derivados Site, Tijuana, Mexico: RCRA Enforcement, Permitting, and Assistance Contract Region 9. By Emily Pimentel and Tetra Tech. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2004.

[6] Global Greengrants Fund. “Annual Grant Report.” News release, December 05, 2005. Global Greengrants Fund.

[7] Peterman, Amber, Shu Wen Ng, Tia Palermo, and I-Heng Emma Lee. “Managing the Double Burden: Pregnancy and Labor-Intensive Time Use in Rural China, Mexico, and Tanzania.” Studies in Family Planning 44 (2013): 411-430.

[8] Grineski, Sara E. and Timothy W. Collins. “Exploring patterns of environmental injustice in the Global South: Maquiladoras in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.” Population and Environment 29 (2008): 247-270.

[9] Cortes, Norma. “Organización Binacional Trabaja Por La Justicia Ambiental En Tijuana.” Vida Latina, August 29, 2015.
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One Million Cisterns (P1MC)

Context

If you click here, you will hear a performance of Lata d’agua, a popular Brazilian samba tune written in 1952 that tells the story of laundrywoman Maria carrying a large bucket of water on her head as she walks up the hill to the favela where she lives. Maria makes her living using this water to wash the clothes of people from the city, yet does not have access to water to use for herself on the hill. Instead she must carry it up there, her own access being extremely limited. The story of Maria as echoed and remembered through this song as it continues to be widely performed throughout Brazil represents the story of so many rural women still struggling to access water today.[1]

However, these stories do not all have unhappy endings. While it is true that many women still lack reliable access to clean water, effective water management policies have taken root and begun to mitigate water crises in Brazil with notable success thanks to the participation and leadership roles assumed by rural women. The empowerment of rural women as productive agents in water management specifically through their co-involvement in the One Million Cisterns (P1MC) project and other various feminist organizations has fundamentally changed the distribution of water resources in Brazil and continues to do so. [2] But to better understand how the stories of women like Maria the laundrywoman are beginning to change, we need to go back and critically analyze the water crisis in its entirety through an ecofeminist lens.

An Ecofeminist Framework

The Brazilian Semi-Arid is one of the poorest rural areas in Brazil and is home to an estimated 2 million families who suffer from no access to clean drinking water. [1] This water crisis is a serious environmental problem and it is incredibly important that we see it as inevitably gendered and thus inextricably linked to ecofeminism thought. Gender matters in water management as rural women in these indigenous communities are responsible for managing water and waste as it is their responsibility to fetch water from wells and ponds, manage drinking water, cook, wash, clean, and care for their families and communities. [1] Additionally, they are responsible for managing health, hygiene, and agricultural tasks that involve gardening and animal care. [1] All of these efforts require water and thus women make most of the decisions concerning water management in the household. Yet despite their critical roles as water managers within the family unit, as water preservers, as producers of crop, and keepers of household health, women are constantly excluded from water management policies and the roles they play consistently depreciated. This plays out such that women have less access to resources, land, credit, agricultural input, training, decision making, technology, and income compared to their male counterparts. [1] Ultimately, “the link of domestic water with social welfare and basic needs explicitly recognizes women’s demands for water and the legitimacy of women’s presence in the drinking water and sanitation policies despite their lack of voice in water management decisions or guarantee of rights.” [1]

Ecofeminism, which is defined by the intersection between environmentalism and feminism, is thus an important framework through which we can understand the gendered nature of the water crisis in Brazil. The abuse of the earth through consumption based models such that water shortages occur and the extreme exploitation of women located in these areas spur from the same patriarchal and consumption based systems that rule of the global economy. The lack of water stems from the privatization of water as it is a highly lucrative sector; it is exactly this privatization that abuses not only the earth but also ignores the livelihoods of rural women.  Leaving finding lasting solutions to the government will not bring effective change as political promises to bring water to rural communities have time and time again been broken. [1] Countering the water crisis must come from rural women themselves for they are the only ones who, by enacting upon their agency, can disrupt the system the effectively works to exploit the earth’s resources as well as their own livelihoods. By taking matters into their own hands, rural women’s fight to procure water is bound to become more than a fight solely about water—through our application of ecofeminism, we can see that their fight will encompass a struggle for social inclusion, environmental justice, and women’s rights in addition to food and water security.[3]

P1MC, Empowerment, and Activism

The implementation of the Program One Million Cisterns (P1MC) began as a solution to the water crisis initially implemented by Oxfam GB, a development, relief, and campaigning organization that finds solutions to poverty around the world, in coordination with the Semi-Arid Coordination Network (ASA) and the NGO Diaconia who cooperated with local, rural communities. [1] [4] The program, implemented in 2003, paid indigenous people suffering from water shortages to be trained in the construction and maintenance of tanks to store rainwater for drinking and cooking. [4] But very quickly women began to question why they were excluded from taking part in the actual cistern construction and being denied that paid labor. Actively organizing and working to put this as a topic of conversation on the agenda, women eventually were successful in their fight for access to these positions thus created identities as cisterneiras. Through their involvement in the P1MC these rural cisterneiras continued to organize and found themselves becoming more and more deeply involved with activism through other organizations they were previously not represented in such as the World Women’s March and Margarida March. [1] At these marches rural women were able to raise the issue of water management crises to much broader, well-known movements. [5] Chaguinha, a self-identified cisneira has explained forming this identity “changed everything” because “in the old days, I did not know my rights. Now I know more.” [1] Women like Chaguinha were able to take the P1MC project and transform it in such a way that created new spaces for rural women to join the public sphere and, by doing so, enable their own access to other opportunities related to work, education, knowledge, and personal growth. Through the actions of rural women, the P1MC became a “bottom-up, civil-society-driven initiative of mobilization and action.” [1] Ultimately, by recognizing the links between the water crisis and feminist issues and becoming agents of social change, rural women have been able to simultaneously bring clean water to their communities while fighting for their rights.

To Learn More:

For more information on the P1MC project, Oxfam’s informational pamphlet can be found here. It includes more detail on how the rainwater cisterns are implemented and what they can do for rural families. It is important to note, however, that while the cistern project supported by Oxfam has significantly changed the lives of rural women, much of this change should be attributed to the agency and leadership roles indigenous women in these communities have enacted upon and taken. Women like Chaguinha were able to use and transform the cistern project in ways that fundamentally changed the course of their own lives and the livelihoods of their communities—their actions should not be considered secondary to the philanthropy of organizations such Oxfam or Diaconia. Rather, it is important to recognize these women leaders as the strong cisterneiras and community activists they are.


[1] Antonio, Luis, and Junior, Jota. Lata d’Agua, 1952, mp3.

[2] Moraes, Andrea Ferreira Jacques de. “Gendered waters: The participation of women on the program ‘One Million Cisterns’ in the Brazilian semi-arid region.” PhD diss., University of Missouri-Columbia, 2011.

[3] Moraes, Andrea, and Patricia E. Perkins. “Women, equity and participatory water management in Brazil.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 9, no. 4 (2007): 485-493.

[4] Oxfam GB. Cisterns of Life. Oxford: Oxfam International, 2007.

[5] Marcha Das Margaridas’ Facebook page. Accessed March 16, 2016. https://www.facebook.com/Marchadasmargaridas/posts/966508823405338.

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