Development Aggression and Indigenous Women in Asia
Indigenous peoples live mostly in rural environments, rich in natural resources (forest, water, minerals, oil, natural gas, and land). Even if for centuries indigenous peoples have demonstrated that they can sustain their communities through their traditional livelihood systems, their way of living is still regarded by many as primitive and backward. Many governments believe that modernization and assimilation into the market economy of the dominant society is the only way that indigenous peoples can improve their situations. However in the majority of cases, indigenous peoples are not consulted regarding the implementations of large-scale projects in their territories even when these projects would have a direct impact on their peoples and communities, and this consultation is even less likely to happen with indigenous women. For indigenous peoples, the terms “development” or “sustainable development” have acquired negative connotations. Indeed their traumatic experiences with the imposition of large-scale projects in their territories, have led them to call it “development aggression” instead.
What is “Development Aggression”?
Development aggression violates the basic human rights of indigenous peoples by denigrating and destroying indigenous development practices and systems. It stems from the fundamental assumption that the ways of the dominant society are inherently superior to those of indigenous peoples. Thus it reflects the conflicts characterizing the relationship of indigenous peoples’ communities with the economic, political and social structures of the dominant society.
“Development is development aggression when the people become the victims, not the beneficiaries; when the people are set aside in development planning, not partners in development; and when people are considered mere resources for profit-oriented development, not the center of development…. Development aggression violates the human rights of our people in all their dimensions – economic, social, cultural, civil and political” (The Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates, 1996.)
Without the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of affected indigenous communities, large-scale development projects such as mineral, oil and gas extraction, dam and highway construction, mining and logging operations, agricultural plantations and industrial estates as well as tourism development projects such as national parks and golf courses, more often than not, have devastating negative impacts on indigenous peoples, and in particular on indigenous women.
Joji Carino from the Philippines at the International Workshop on FPIC held in Indonesia, April 2007.
A UN report underlines the main effects on the human rights of indigenous peoples of these large-scale projects as being ‘the loss of traditional territories and land, eviction, migration and eventual resettlement, depletion of resources necessary for physical and cultural survival, destruction and pollution of the traditional environment, social and community disorganization, long-term negative health and nutritional impacts as well as, in some cases, harassment and violence” (Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous People, Rodolfo Stavenhagen E/CN.4/2003/90).
Development aggression often leads to the militarization of indigenous territories. When development projects are imposed on indigenous communities, the State and/or the private firm involved fear resistance from the affected communities and protect their operations with security forces (military, police, or paramilitaries).
Canadian mining company TVI Pacific in Siocon, Zambonorte, Philippines. Mining operations such as this often have a significant impact on the environment, particularly on water sources which can affect the health of indigenous women.
Further Marginalization of Indigenous Women
Asian indigenous women occupy an extremely disadvantaged position in society. They are victims of oppression at multiple levels: for being women, for being indigenous and for belonging to what is usually the most exploited classes in society. The profound impacts of development aggression on indigenous women and the various roles they play in their communities have contributed to their further marginalization.
Asian indigenous women play a primary role in production in their largely agricultural based communities. They engage in farming or plough cultivation in settled, irrigated or terraced fields, assuming difficult duties such as hoeing, transplanting and weeding. In addition, in order to complement their diet or incomes indigenous women will often engage in other economic activities such as foraging, fishing and handicrafts production (weaving, knitting, basketry, embroidery, etc.). While men go hunting in hunter communities, women will be searching for food and other forest products.
“The women were catching fish in the river in the middle of an oil palm plantation when suddenly a security guard came and shouted to them, “Return all the fish to the river! None of you has the right to catch the fish here. This river does not belong to you anymore but to the company.” Then the women returned their fish to the river and, with a heavy heart, walked home in silence.” (Stephanus Djuweng, 1999)
With the loss of their territories or the destruction of their environment, indigenous women lose control not only over their means of production, which have been the sources of their livelihoods and survival for generations but they also lose their roles as guardians of indigenous cultural knowledge and knowledge of biological preservation. In Cambodia, they have been displaced by foreign logging companies and commercial agricultural plantations.
A dam development project, near the Toule Sap River, Cambodia. Dams such as this can have a negative impact on indigenous women.
In the Philippines they have had to leave their territories because of mining industries while in Thailand, they no longer have access to their lands because the State has proclaimed them as national parks and conservation areas.
In Malaysia, the implementation of large-scale commercial mushroom plantations in indigenous territories and its effects on the environment have transformed indigenous women from being important productive forces in their community to being contractual workers of these industries. Commercial plantations and other food production for export implies the use of chemical fertilizer and pesticides which have a devastating impact on the environment causing pollution, land erosion and loss of soil fertility and biodiversity. In addition to further limiting women’s economic activities by making it harder to fish and forage, the degradation of the environment has also impacted on their health.
Forced evictions caused by development aggression have led thousands of indigenous women all over Asia to move to urban centers in search of other means of subsistence and opening the door to further human rights violations such as discrimination, violence, sexual exploitation, prostitution, trafficking and oppressive working conditions.
Why does Development Aggression Happen?
Several actors such as local governments, multinational corporations, and international financial institutions bear some responsibility in the establishment or the maintenance of structures, laws and policies which facilitate large-scale projects on indigenous territories. The decisions to implement these projects, without the free, prior and informed consent of affected communities, often results in the destruction of indigenous peoples’ environment, livelihoods and culture to the extent that it jeopardizes their very survival.
The national governments of most Asian countries have not recognized the rights of indigenous peoples on their ancestral lands and have ignored indigenous peoples’ customary land tenure systems. In Indonesia for example, the Constitution stipulates that the earth and water with its natural resources are controlled by the State. In countries where the government has recognized certain rights of indigenous peoples, such as in the Philippines with the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act, they have yet to implement it. National governments may also adopt laws which encourage and support the large-scale projects and the exploitation of natural resources by multinational corporations.
Forced evictions caused by development aggression have led thousands of indigenous women all over Asia to move to urban centers in search of other means of subsistence and opening the door to further human rights violations such as discrimination, violence, sexual exploitation, prostitution, trafficking and oppressive working conditions. These large-scale projects are often financed by the Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) such as the World Bank or the Asia Development Bank.
Participants of the Second Asian Indigenous Women’s Conference celebrating International Women’s Day, 8 March, 2004.
“Indigenous Peoples uphold Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) as a fundamental right in the development process, designed to safeguard their material interests, cultures and ecological values and to minimize harm. Meaningful exercise of FPIC requires a preparedness and capacity among various affected and interested parties to engage in processes based on respect and equality, leading to negotiated outcomes. It also means acceptance of Indigenous Peoples to reject developments that do not gain community acceptance based on informed choice…” Carino, J., I.P’s Right to FPIC: Reflections on Concept & Practice
Questions for Discussion
Are you aware of any development projects in your community? What impact have they had on women?
How can indigenous communities continue to uphold FPIC in the development process?
Are you aware of other development models than “development aggression”?
To Find Out More
Jill K. Carino, “Piecing Together a Picture of Asian Indigenous Women’ in Indigenous Affairs, No3/2000 pp12-17
Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues:
‘Indigenous Peoples and the Millennium Development Goals’ E/C.19/2005/4/Add.13
Of Rodolfo Stavenhagen (21 January 2003).”Indigenous Issues’ E/CN.4/2003/90