Thursday, June 01, 2017

Embarrassing, Unjust, Tyrannical: Women Climate Warriors on Trump Quitting Paris Agreement

The worst fear has just come true: US President Donald Trump has just announced that he will make US abandon the historic climate deal - the Paris Agreement - because 1) he thinks the agreement is bad for American economy and 2) It was something he had promised to do during his election campaign.

A snapshot of the infamous California drought that affected millions. Credit : LA Times

As expected, reactions are pouring out from all corners of the world. Here is a compilation of some of the world's most vocal Women climate leaders:

Lidy Nacpil, Asian Peoples Movement on Debt and Development
"... a U.S. pull-out reveals utter disregard for the fate of humanity in favor of continued hegemony of U.S. elites and big corporate interests. Not to mention a tyrannical refusal to accept scientific findings."

Sunita Narain, Centre for Science and Environment, India
Climate change is a global challenge. The US cannot continue to keep the world hostage. Pulling out of the Paris Agreement would mean that with 5 per cent of the world population, the US will continue to jeopardise the remaining 95 per cent. Countries need to hold the US accountable for decisions that have a global impact,” said Narain.

 Rachel Smolker, BiofuelWatch USA
 "I am ashamed ... hope our allies will let their voices be heard at U.S. embassies - to both isolate Donald Trump and his ilk - and apply pressure on the U.S. to step up and take responsibility for real and equitable solutions to the escalating climate catastrophe."

Angela Adrar, Climate Justice Alliance USA

"Trump's erroneous and embarrassing decision to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement - proves more than ever that communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis are the ones to lead us toward a renewable and regenerative future. "

Catherine Abreu, Executive Director, Climate Action Network Canada
“Trump may be ready to abandon the benefits associated with climate action, including improved air quality and human health, job creation in emerging industries, and international influence. Yet it is clear that American states, communities, and businesses are not willing to make the same sacrifice."

A woman and a child in the Philippines  stand in what was their home once - destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan  Credit: AFP-Getty

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director, Oxfam International
 “The world’s biggest historic emitter walking away from its climate change commitments is gravely unjust, but we must respond by redoubling our efforts. Those on the frontlines of climate change demand nothing less.” 

Keya Chatterjee, Executive Director, US Climate Action Network

 “Trump has no mandate from the US public to weaken the Paris Agreement, and should not be making big decisions while under investigation.  This cowardly failure to lead will only make us stronger as a movement as we push harder for just and equitable climate action.”

Women in Honduras set up solar panels. Credit: UNDP


But even as they lash out At Trump's decision, some leaders are already looking at the Post US Paris Agreement as glass-half- full situation. Here are some examples:

Susann Scherbarth,  Friends of the Earth Europe
 “Trump has cast America adrift from the global community and the reality of climate change. This should be a trigger for increased action on climate in Europe, to end fossil fuel dependency by 2030.”

Jennifer Morgan, Greenpeace International Executive Director

“Almost 200 countries committed to climate action in Paris and only one has decided to withdraw. This is how far out of step Trump is with the rest of the world. It is the changing of the global guard - as the US bows out, world leaders, CEOs and people across the world can and are moving forward into the future.”

Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director, Women's Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN International)
 "In the face of a dangerous and failing Trump administration, and its withdrawal of the US from the Paris Climate Accord, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network stands in solidarity with our partners.... Women worldwide are working everyday to protect our lands, waters, climate and children’s futures - and though the challenges and injustices we face are many - women will be undeterred in our action and advocacy for a just and livable world. "
  Farhana Yamin, Founder and CEO, Track 0
 "President Trump’s decision to withdraw from Paris will not bring prosperity to the US. It will create further injustice for those who have contributed little to climate change" .


And Finally, a voice that speaks out the obvious truth: the fightmust and can go on 

Erika Lennon, Senior Attorney, Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)
"Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US out of Paris will not save the coal industry or fossil fuels, but instead will slow the urgent action that is needed and undermine the ability of the US to negotiate any international agreement, leaving it isolated and irrelevant.  Mr. Trump may be out, but he doesn’t speak for the world.  The rest of us are still in.  The future demands nothing less.”

Friday, April 14, 2017

Investing in Women: Saving Wildlife the Lankan Way

At a time when governments worldwide are struggling to protect an ever-dwindling wildlife population, in Sri Lanka, a dramatically simple strategy seems to bring good results: pay local women incentives for having their husbands abandon the illegal business.

The roads are wide, the houses are spacious and the yards adorned with flowering bushes. There is a motorbike in each yard and a dish tv antenna on every roof - the first look of  Serakkulia - a fishing village by the ocean in North west Sri Lanka - is truly impressive.

 "This is the richest and most prosperous fishing village I have seen anywhere," I think.

 And then I quickly learn, most of the richness and the prosperity has come through illegal fishing.

I am in Serakkulia on a media tour organized by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The UN agency, along with a few other national and international organizations including the IUCN, is trying to protect a highly endangered sea animal called the Dugong. The biggest threat to the Dugong are fishing nets that catch (and kill) any marine creature. Locally known as "Surukku"  and "Laila" - these nets have been recently (2016), but fishermen with a strong greed for money and little regard for law or environment use them anyway. Serakkulia, I hear, was notorious for that.

But today, this is where the Dugong protectors are trying out a never-before strategy: roping in women of illegal fishers and giving them fund to turn entrepreneurs, so their husbands won't feel compelled to earn a lot of money - by hook or by crook.

Our first visit is to a house that has a signboard outside the main gate -parched on a hedge of dried coconut leaf. It reads, "Reshmi Tailors".  Reshmi, I later learn, is the 5 year old daughter of Mureen Renuka - owner of the house and leader of a team of tailors. Inside the house, in one of the 3 rooms, there are 6 sewing machines. Working with those sewing machines are 8 women. Behind them, hanging on the wall, are a number of pieces they stitched: frocks, tunics, trousers. The machines - each costing about 30,000 Lankan rupee - were given by the Dugong conservation team.

Nilmini, a member of the tailoring collective is busy at work.

There are 400 fishermen in Serakkulia. While everyone is trying stopped using the banned nets, 10 have so far gone public, pledging their support to the conservation team to help save the Dugong. This means not only using the legal fishing methods but also avoiding fishing in areas that are likely to have any endangered species and also informing the authorities if they spot any illegal activities by others.

Typically, in a fisherman community, the man catches the fish while the woman cleans, guts, dry and sometimes help sell in the local market. In Serakkulia most of the catch is loaded in a truck and sold in bigger markets of Puttalam and Colombo, so a woman's job entails mending the nets and other household chores. So, at Reshmi Tailors, women are getting their first shot at turning entrepreneurs and earning some money of their own.

Renuka tells me. "There are 8 of us right now working here full time. We take orders to stitch dresses. But we also train others in tailoring," she says.  
At present she earns about  25-28,000 Sri Lankan rupee ($160-$180) from tailoring. Of that, 18,000 is spent on three of her children's school fees alone. Also, as a non-farming community, they buy all their foods - oi, rice, meat, spices, fruits etc- from the market.

Mureen Renuka (left) with her fisherman husband who has given up illegal fishing and Rinjhani -a relative. Both Renuka and Rinjhani now are part of a women's tailoring collective.

 So, what is the cost of adopting sustainable fishing?  Sirimal Santha - Renuka's husband says that his income has been halved. Would he consider returning to illegal fishing again? No way, he says, "the risk is too high - if I get caught, I will lose my nets and also my boat for sure."

But above all, Santha says that his wife would never allow him to turn back on his pledge. "She is working very hard and I don't want to hurt her (by returning to illegal fishing). We are happy," he says. All the other women tailors - Nilmini, Upaka, Ranjani, Tamali - say that their husbands feel the same way.

Later, I meet Niluka Damayanthi and her husband Pradip Prasanna of the same village who are untangling a net in their backyard.

  I ask Damayanthi if she has joined the tailoring cooperative yet. "I joined it 3 months ago and also learnt to stitch. But there is not enough work. So I stopped going there," she says.

Niluka Damayanthi with her husband Pradip Prasanna. Damayanthi - now a trained tailor,  could not find enough work at the tailoring collective

So this seems to be the biggest challenge for this alternative livelihood project: low volume of orders.

Dhamshika Maharana, a local marine conservationist agrees. But he also tells me that the women here are in talks with World Vision for marketing their products to a bigger clientele. Once this deal comes through, they will take orders from the big cities and earn much more, he says.

Finally, I notice that the number of the converted fishermen is too small. But Arjan Rajasurya, local Project Manager at IUCN - tells me that they have just begun to work with the fishermen and for a beginning, the number is quite encouraging. "We wanted to see if incentivizing women would work. Now, we have got an inroad to get into the local community. For us, that's important. We can now replicate this model in other places"

As I get to leave the village, I think that across the world, big and exotic wildlife species are always targeted by illegal hunters and traders. Different countries are adopting different strategies to tackle that: employing former poachers as forest guards, giving more sophisticated weapons to the guards, tagging animals with GPS trackers and many more. 

Upaka - a fisherman's wife, is working full time at the tailoring collective. She hopes that soon they will get more orders from the cities.
Now here in Sri Lanka, to save the endangered marine creatures, they are investing into women - a strategy that is simple and actually working. Could it not work elsewhere?

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

On Women's Day, Celebrate These 5 "Invisible" Leaders

As a journalist who looks at an issue through a gender lens, I meet hundreds of women each year. While I see a change maker in each of them, there have been a few women who have especially inspired me with their grit and passion to turn the tide. On this International Women's Day, I wanted to salute five of  those harbingers of change.

1. From Sexual Violence Victim to Anti-GBV Warrior

There was a time Ramvati Bai thought of nothing but killing herself.  A widowed mother of two, the 20 something tribal woman in Bakud village of India's Madhya Pradesh state was sexually harassed and assaulted by her father-in-law for three years. Yet, when she finally gathered the courage to file a complaint, the police dismissed her, calling it a “family matter”. To make things worse, Ramvati's mother in law threw her out of the house for bad naming her father in-law.  With two young children and no place to go, Ramvati thought ending her life was the only option.

But today Ramvati can be seen consoling and supporting other women victims of sexual and gender based violence. In fact, she informs such women of the existing laws against violence against women and how to seek legal justice.

According to Ramvati, it happened when she joined Narmada Mahila Sangh - a network of  fellow tribal women that helps victims of domestic violence seek justice. The members of  the network are trained paralegals and they in turn run workshops for other women in the villages on a range of issues from understanding existing laws and policies, to learning how to conduct a basic investigation before approaching the police. They also counsel, provide moral support and often, a sympathetic sister's shoulder to cry on.

“We want a life of dignity, free of violence,” Ramvati Bai told me when we met. “Nothing else matters more than that. You can read my story on her here.

2. From disability and abandonment to water leadership

Saturday, February 13, 2016

In Photos: A Day With Rural India's Barefoot Radio Producers

Last summer, in a tiny town called Orccha in central India, I met Ekta, Gauri and Kausalya - three women working for a community radio station called 'Radio Bundelkhand'. The radio station, now in its 8th year, serves farmers in about a dozen villages within a radius of about 70 km.
For two days, I followed these three women as they traveled around villages, interviewing farmers, recording their stories and later, broadcasting content that they created just for these farming community. Here are 10 photographs that describe the journey I took along with these barefoot journalists and their amazing audience.

1. It was a very hot summer day with the mercury hitting almost 40 degree Celsius. We had hired a car, so the journey was relatively easier. 

But on a normal day, the reporters travel in an auto rickshaw (also known as Tuk Tuk to some) from their office in Orchha to the entrance of a village. From their, its a long walk to the inside of the village.With them they carry a voice recorder, a notebook and, often a radio which they play for the entertainment of the villagers, many of whom do not have the money to buy a radio.

"We go everywhere - the field, the community pond or the backyard where people usually gather and rest during the hot afternoon. We don't expect them to leave their work and come, talk to us. So, we go them.," said Ekta the oldest of the three reporters. 

And just as she had said, I saw them walking right though a village called Vaswan, to a field where they interviewed two elderly farmers the challenges they were facing: lack of water, pest attacks etc. Every interview ended with the reporters promising the farmers to address the problems in their next week's program.

3. During these interviews, I had some mixed feelings: "Men are talking about their problems and that is good. But where are the women?" I was thinking and wondering if this was yet another place where women were barred from talking to outsiders.

I was wrong! Once the three women finished talking to the men, they walked to another part of the village. Someone called them and asked them to follow.  Soon, we were at the backyard of a house where, under a Neem tree, women and girls of all ages were gathering, all of them eager to talk!

4. Soon, the interviews began. Gauri - the youngest of the three radio reporters - began by talking to younger women about their opinion on the radio station and its program. Did they have any suggestions for improvement? They sure did!

"We want more news about vocational training and competitive examinations. Also,  please play more 'modern' songs on the radio," the young women urged.

5. The girls soon had to give way to older women who had been waiting patiently until now. They had a lot of to say! But first,  they all wanted to sing a song for other listeners of the radio station.

 Here - you can listen to a folk song the women sang. It is about a woman asking her father, why did he marry her off so early and then goes on to describe the problems she has had because of this early marriage. 

6. Their song over, the women turned to discussing the role of the radio in development of a farming community : "We don't have TV (because they don't have enough electricity to run  a TV). There are no cinema halls. The radio is our source of entertainment, information and education. This is our media, said the women. They then discussed how the radio's program was helping them become better farmers and also smarter businesswomen.
"We now know what is the market rate of each vegetable we grow because the radio gives us that information. Earlier, retailers used to fool us into selling at a very low price, but now they can't," they said.

7. From Vaswan, they proceeded to another village called Chitawar

Here, to my utter delight and surprise, the gathering included the village's oldest women. They sat with a radio in the middle, while young women and girls surrounded them. A few feet away, there was a buffalo chewing cud with a content look on its face. '

"Here, even the buffalo listens to a radio," the women joked.

8. And then there was some more singing and some more story telling. Men joined in the conversation with their own stories. 

One of them talked about the ill affect of child marriage and how the media (in this case, the radio) could and must help end that practice. Reporter Ekta recorded this. "There are still a lot of child marriages in this region, so we will definitely play this message," she said

9. And then everyone turned to me: "come, sit with us," some said. Others asked me to sing with them. "This is our radio, our program," they said again and again. 
So, I grabbed the opportunity to take a picture with these women who are keeping the media of radio alive and kicking in their region!

10. By evening, we were back at Orchha - the studio of the radio. The reporters immediately got busy editing their stories and recording the voice overs. Soon, it would be dark and they would go home - traveling for a minimum one hour in a rickety bus.

But right now, each one of them - including Kausalya who was 7 months pregnant - looked as though this studio and these stories was her entire world.

Months later, I still vividly see those faces - serious, full of concentration, trying to tell a story of the ground in a powerful way. And I hear the echo of what the women said "The radio is our source of entertainment, information and education."

 You can read my story on the community radio and the impact that it has been making by clicking on this link: Farmers Find their Voice Through Radio in the Badlands of India. 

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: The Year That It Was

 How was 2015? Sharing here a few leaves out of my diary that's full of memories - of traveling and story-telling.

With Village Women who Fight Traffickers

The first trip of the year took me to the villages of Lambadi people (a Nomadic tribe) in Mahabubnagar district of Telangana. Not so long ago, these villages were a notorious hub for sale and trafficking of baby girls. But today, local women are ensuring that every girl goes to school. They also fighting against child labor and child marriage. Here you can read their inspiring story - Not Without Our Daughters: Lambada Women Fight Infanticide and Child Trafficking.

Telling stories of India’s Development Refugees

In February, I met men, women and children of Koya and Konda – primitive forest tribes living in India’s Eastern Ghat mountain. Soon, thousands of them will become refugees as a mega dam is coming up in their homeland. Here is the link to their story  'Development refugees' resist Indian dam

But even as uncertainty is looming large over their future, the tribal community is learning skills that will keep them food-secure even in the most adverse situation. Here you can read that story "In the Shadow of Displacement, Forest Tribes Look to Sustainable Farming"

Saturday, December 05, 2015

COP21 : What can it do for Rina - a climate change refugee?

21st UNFCCC Conference of the Parties or COP21 has just begun. Its THE most important climate summit of our lifetime where we expect the world to strike a climate deal - one that will be "gender responsive". On the occasion, I am running a 2-week blog campaign, connecting the dots among COP21, Climate Change and Gender

 Rina Dash is an undocumented migrant worker in New Delhi. In 2008, she came here from Satkhira district of Bangladesh. There was a cyclone she says, and it destroyed her home and flooded her little farm she says. It was super cyclone Sidr, I learned - a disaster that killed over 3000 people.

After the flood water went down, nothing could be grown on the far, says Rina. So, her husband suggested that they migrate to New Delhi . 

Why Delhi? "Because we heard thee was plenty of jobs."
But when they came here, her husband found a job of a rickshaw puller. Rina, when I met her, was a janitor. She was paid as  a daily wager. They live in a juggi - a shack made of tarpaulin sheet.

Memories of a climate refugee: Rina shows the photos of her relatives who died in the cyclone. She requested me not to show her face as this could lead to her deportation as an illegal migrant
Across New Delhi, there are thousands of  undocumented migrant workers like Rina

Thursday, December 03, 2015

A ray hope for Neha at COP21

21st UNFCCC Conference of the Parties or COP21 has just begun. Its THE most important climate summit of our lifetime where we expect the world to strike a climate deal - one that will be "gender responsive". On the occasion, I am running a 2-week blog campaign, connecting the dots among COP21, Climate Change and Gender

 A very interesting development took place on the 3rd day of COP21: the World Bank Group announced that it would make a  US$500 million investment to support one of India's groundwater program.  India, we must remember, is the world’s largest consumer of groundwater.

The announcement made me think of Neha - the little girl in the picture - a 6th grade school student who spends several hours out of school, drawing water for the family everyday from a small pond. The quality of water - as you can see - is horrible.
A muddy pond - the main source of water for Neha