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Violence and Women in the Amazon Basin

April 22, 2010

Recently, a Brazilian rancher was convicted of the murder of a nun, Dorothy Stang, who was originally from the US but became a naturalised Brazilian citizen. She had dedicated her life to the struggle to preserve not only the rain forest ecosystem but also the rights of the poor and disenfranchised living there. According to the New York Times:

Vitalmiro Moura was sentenced to 30 years for ordering the killing of 73-year-old Dorothy Stang in 2005 because she blocked him and another rancher from taking over land the government gave to farmers.

Hundreds of activists have been killed in Brazil in the last 20 years — but only about 80 triggermen, usually paid by powerful ranchers with land claims at stake, were behind bars before Tuesday. Moura is the only so-called mastermind of one of the killings to join them, raising hopes that the climate of impunity in the Amazon is finally nearing an end.

While the outcome of this trial certainly represents progress, it must not be forgotten that it is not only activists who have come from elsewhere who are killed in the conflicts over the Amazon rain forest, nor is Brazil the only nation in which such violence occurs. The Indigenous people of these lands, and Indigenous women in particular, suffer the most.In Peru, in 2009, the issue was state-sponsored violence. The implementation of the U.S.-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement meant allowing foreign companies access to the Amazon, including for the extraction of fossil fuels, which can have devastating effects on local ecosystems and the people who depend on them. When 2000 Wampi and Aguaruna indigenous people gathered near the town of Bagua to protest such developments, the police attacked them. Laura Carlsen at Foreign Policy in Focus writes that:

In the police attack and counterattack by protestors and nearby residents of Bagua, indigenous organizations and international news reports count over 50 dead and hundreds missing. The Peruvian government claims that 24 police officers and nine civilians died in the violence.

Indigenous women were at the front of the resistance. In the video below, a woman describes her rage over what happened (English translation text here):

In Ecuador, too, Indigenous people were killed for resisting violations of their land when the Shuar protested mining and water laws that did not respect their rights.

These instances represent only a small percentage of the attacks faced by the women and men of the Amazon rain forest’s Indigenous communities. For every Dorothy Stang, untold numbers of women are murdered or raped. When the rights of people living on land become less important than the prerogatives of trade and capital, when whole communities come under attack, one of the results is brutal violence against women. Another result is women fighting back. Indigenous women have formed global networks to resist the attacks on their communities and themselves.

Ending violence against women means ending violence against communities. It also means developing real environmental justice.

cross-posted at The Pixel Project

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One Comment
  1. Temitope Olaifa permalink
    April 23, 2010 2:58 pm

    I do not believe the Moura man was out to demonstrate how battered his ego was but he inadvertently succeeded in doing just that.How could a real man attack a defenceless woman? To me it is simply admitting the supremacy of the woman over himself. The woman had an upper hand- a reasonably superior argument which deflated his ego and he thought the way out was getting the poor woman out of his way. A coward.But I think those thirty cool years behind bars would temper his brashness.

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