STORIES OF RESILIENCE & HOPE
The abruptness of the lockdown which triggered a situation of hunger and economic losses, the long term impacts of livelihood loss, increase in cases of COVID-19 in mining-affected areas due to mining companies' operations without adequate COVID precautions, forced indigenous and rural communities to devise their local solutions to fight the pandemic. Grassroots solutions developed by local communities and coordinated efforts by civil society organisations to provide relief and donations to marginalised groups amidst lockdown restrictions were what helped in dealing with the crisis. The efforts made by them continue even now in order to develop a solidarity economy based on care to counter the greed that led us to the current situation.
Construction of cultural centre by the Kbal Romeas community during lockdown. Source: CIWWG
Indigenous communities in Ratanakiri and Preah vihar provinces of Cambodia performed a traditional ceremony to prevent people from outside from coming to their villages as they were scared of a mounting outbreak. Local network of indigenous women and youth groups, CIWWG organised regular training and workshops for making masks and spreading awareness to indigenous communities in these provinces about COVID-19 sanitation and prevention measures. Members of CIWWG also worked with the Kbal Romeas community in Stung Teng province to construct a cultural centre during the lockdown as an attempt to preserve and document their knowledge and cultural systems.
During this time of crisis, indigenous communities who have always displayed values of trust and solidarity reached out for one another through safety nets that they have developed even before the time of COVID-19. Indigenous communities in Indonesia had stocked up rice for emergencies and made use of their community savings to help out each other as the government relief supply was not adequate. JATAM East Kalimantan also helped in connecting a solidarity economy between urban and rural communities by setting up an online application for farmers in Samarinda to sell their produce to tackle the problems of interrupted distribution during the lockdown. As domestic violence & abuse significantly rose that made women more vulnerable during the pandemic, CIWWG took an active role in providing legal and social support to victims of violence during this time.
Relief material distributed to indigenous women through Lilak's BABAYEnihan initiative. Source: LILAK
While governments and a few mining companies made weak attempts at relief work, these were mostly ineffective and more used for politicisation and propaganda. Communities complained of discriminatory relief distribution as only certain members of the community who were favoured by government officials or companies received rations. Some senior women in the Philippines were denied rations on the excuse of senior citizens being supported by pensions, despite the pensions not being released for the past six months. To reach out to indigenous women in need of help during this crisis, LILAK started a solidarity initiative as a relief response for indigenous women and their families known as ' BABAYEnihan' which translates to 'women to women solidarity'. Since its beginning in March 2020, with donations and partnerships from various women- and youth-led organizations, small businesses, artists, and individuals, BABAYEnihan has supported 38 indigenous communities and over 2000 indigenous women and their families. As COVID-19 worsens in the Philippines and indigenous peoples remain isolated and neglected, BABAYEnihan will continue its efforts to support indigenous women and their communities.
Dhaatri, SETU, mm&P & Sakhi Trust, India
WHRD Keerthi Ji from Palghar distributing relief to widowed women. Source: Dhaatri
In India, many single and widowed indigenous women were left out of the government relief programmes and welfare schemes implemented during the lockdown due to lack of identity cards and support systems. Dhaatri reached out to 2200 single and widowed women-headed households in Rewa, Panna, Dahod and Palghar districts. SETU and mm&P reached out to 2,783 families in Gujarat and Rajasthan and Sakhi Trust reached out to 1550 families out of which 400 were of Devadasi, Dalit women in Bellary district. Sakhi also collaborated with district authorities to provide loans for migrant workers who were coming back to the villages for agricultural sustenance and to provide food and accommodation support to 32 migrant worker families in Jindal mining township and 550 families outside of Bellary in Uttara Kannada region.
Revanchal Dalit Adivasi Mahila Sanstha, India
Labour kitchen set up for migrant workers in Rewa district. Source: RDASS
Local NGO in Rewa district, ‘Revanchal Dalit Adivasi Seva Sanstha’ (RDASS) with support is given from Dhaatri and other NGOs set up a community kitchen on the national highway 27 known as ‘ Shramik Kitchen’ (or Labour Kitchen) to provide migrant labourers travelling via road with free, packed, cooked meals to ensure that migrant workers who were travelling back to their villages don't starve en route.
Sakhi Trust, India
Women workers protesting in Bellary for DMF and MGNREGA implementation. Source: Sakhi Trust
As a means of providing sustainable livelihoods to devadasi women and mining-affected families in Bellary district, Karnataka, where illegal iron mining has ravaged forests and agricultural lands, local NGO Sakhi trust is working towards a land rehabilitation programme through which they are providing seeds provide seeds, fertilisers and agricultural implements and collating local knowledge and practices. Sakhi also organised a protest in August 2020 where mine workers and mining-affected women came ahead to demand for the implementation of DMF and wages to be increased to Rs.300 per day for 300 days of work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme or MNREGA.
WHRD, Gujarat, India
In Gujarat, WHRD Leelaben and their workers' unions facilitated migrant workers to get identity cards and registration under the Building and Construction Workers' Labour Welfare schemes, before they started returning to their places of work.
WHRD, Panna, India
Women collective in Panna district who work on making healthy food products out of forest produce Source: Dhaatri
WHRDs in the Tiger Reserve affected villages of Panna are also harnessing the power of community collectives during this time through forming a local women's cooperative to collectively gather Mahua flowers and seeds from the forest and find market linkages and processing so that women could get immediate returns. They are also preparing supplementary nutrition for the children from this forest produce. Kitchen gardens were organised in many places by network partners for food security.
WHRD, Chhattisgarh, India
In Chattisgarh, Adivasi Samta Manch similarly organised local demands for employment guarantee and the implementation of the DMF and the forest rights laws. Indu Netam, WHRD from Chattisgarh gave an interview to Mongabay-India in which she talks about the importance of ensuring joint community ownership in mineral governance by narrating how the village council in her village Marka Tola in Bastar district formed a local cooperative within the community to ensure accountability to the damage done by mining. Such a model of community stakeholdership is an important intervention especially with the recent proposal of new mining projects in Chattisgarh and all over India.
Relief material distributed by MONES to NGOs working on VAW issues. Source: MONES
In Mongolia, MONES actively participated in advocating for rights of vulnerable women during the COVID-19 lockdown who were being left out of poverty mitigation schemes by the government. They wrote a representation documenting the impact on these women due to the lockdown and demanded additional food supplements for women and children, budgeting of temporary shelter for women who were victimized by domestic violence allocate funding for keep women employment, reduction or cancellation of rents for small retail businesses owned by women and support new initiatives for income generation during this time. As a response to their representation, the Government of Mongolia decided to establish a working group at the Ministry of Social welfare and Protection to address these issues. MONES and other NGOs in Mongolia are involved in the working group and through it continuing to providing consultancy to the Mongolian Government to ensure a gender-responsive response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to fight against VAW issues that have increased during the pandemic, MONES worked towards providing financial support to NGOs working with victims of violence and provided relief support to these women as well.