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challenging the gender impacts of plantations

In many countries in the global South, vast tracts of land are being converted to tree plantations to provide commodities such as rubber, palm oil and woodpulp for consumers in the global North.

challenging the gender impacts of plantationsAs well as destroying biodiversity and robbing communities of land needed to grow food, plantations cause chemical pollution that can affect people’s health. These impacts are not gender neutral. While whole communities suffer, women are affected the most.


what happened?

Friends of the Earth International members in Papua New Guinea, Nigeria and Brazil held workshops in late 2008, to help women in areas affected by plantations to share their experiences and find ways of working together to defend their communities and their land.

In Papua New Guinea the focus was on oil palm plantations, which are being promoted mainly to supply the European market with palm oil (used in cosmetics, soap, vegetable oil and foodstuffs) and agrofuels. In Nigeria, the focus was on rubber plantations established on a community’s land by the French company Michelin, to produce rubber for car and bus tires.

In Brazil, the case study looked at eucalyptus plantations set up by three companies – Stora Enso, Aracruz Celulose and Votorantim – to produce pulp for export to Europe for conversion into paper.

Friends of the Earth International then worked with the World Rainforest Movement to develop case studies from the workshop findings, and publicize these internationally. Advocacy and campaigning tools developed using the case studies including a report, an audiovisual resource, short articles, declarations, and sign-on letters, among other outputs.

what changed?

The project has increased awareness about the differentiated gender impacts of plantations; and the role played by European actors promoting neoliberal economic policies that favor the expansion of their corporations in the South. This issue is now included in the campaigning agenda of a broad number of NGOs and social movements in the affected regions and in Europe, and has contributed to increased South-North and South-South collaboration around this particular issue.

In Nigeria and Papua New Guinea, the workshops helped to empower women, who are shifting from being passive victims to actors capable of generating change. Participants were more able to identify the differentiated gender impacts of plantations and to share their findings with their communities. In both countries, women are play a bigger role in the struggle against plantations, while other groups within civil society are beginning to incorporate the gender dimension into their local and national campaigns against plantations.

In Nigeria, women have publicly demonstrated against Michelin’s land usurpation, backed by an international petition with more than 2,000 signatures from a large number of countries in different regions, giving international visibility to the injustices they face. As a result Michelin has paid full compensation to one of the nine communities directly impacted. A second community was also approached but has rejected the compensation offered, because it is insufficient compared to the damage caused by the invasion of their territory and the destruction of their livelihoods. The women released a communiqué in which they exposed the role played by European governments and demanded the return of their lands and full compensation for the damage done.

In Papua New Guinea, the workshop allowed women to learn from the experiences of women in other parts of the country already affected by palm oil plantations. They are now setting up the Women in Oil Palm Association, to facilitate women’s participation in decision-making processes. They have released a statement demanding a halt in the expansion of palm oil plantations, including a specific demand to the World Bank (the principal promoter of plantation expansion in Papua New Guinea) to shift its Smallholder Agriculture Development Projects facility, which provides credits to small rural producers, towards active promotion of crop diversification. These demands were reinforced by an international action that collected more than 8,700 signatures from individuals and organizations from different regions of the world.

In southern Brazil, the resistance process against plantations is already organized and political demands well developed. Women are the main actors in struggles against plantations. The project helped reinforce this at the regional level and increased the visibility of women’s leadership role and of the transformation agenda, an inspiring example for women living in affected communities across the world.

EU vice-president, Margot Wallström, has taken note of the problems documented by the project and has forwarded information to the EU agencies for Development Aid and External Relations. This will support campaigning around the EU’s energy targets, which involves palm oil plantations and second generation agrofuels.

This project created a space to circulate information and tools around many key networks and information lists, and to share information with European civil society organizations from countries involved in the case studies.


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with thanks to our funder: the isvara foundation

Photo credits: World Rainforest Movement

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