Monday, April 14, 2014

Meet our Spring Interns!

What's amazing, and talented and leaves us thinking it's too good to be true?  
Our WEA intern team!  
We have some serious love for these ladies – and for all of the rockstar interns who have supported WEA over the years.  They help us not only during our big events, but also in the day-to-day running of things, making our work not only possible, but THRIVE.
Because we adore them and their awesome skills, we wanted to introduce our current spring interns to all of you. 

We'd also like to send a big heartfelt hug and thanks to some of our previous interns from last fall and early winter: Molly Garritson, Monica Boardman, Germaine Lau and Bess Zewdie.


1. Tell us about yourself! What is your background and what has been your journey to WEA?  Born and raised in Lake Tahoe, I have always had a deep connection with nature.  Ever since I was little I felt very lucky to be blessed with the wilderness as my playground.  My connection with the wild inspired me to want to protect the bounty and beauty our planet has to offer.  Despite my love for the outdoors, growing up in a small town drove me to San Francisco to attend San Francisco State University to graduate with a Degree in International Relations, and a minor in Russian.

In my five and half years in the Bay Area, I have come to appreciate the vibrancy and vitality that comes from thriving urban communities.  I began to see disparities between communities and individuals more clearly than ever, and decided it would be one of my missions in life to help make positive changes.  After volunteering for community organizations, I realized my passions were focused around global injustices particular to the environment (water especially).  Seeing the work WEA did, I was able to see my two passions linked together to help communities thrive through supporting women.

2. What do you do at WEA?  My role at WEA involves supporting the general operations of the organization, like administrative assistance, and helping to maintain donor relations.  I am also working to support the Advocacy Network, which allows me a wonderful opportunity to research potential and current Indigenous environmental movements and efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change.  Part of this role includes blogging about these significant efforts made by Indigenous communities and organizations.

3. Share 2 unique things about you that your co-workers do not know.  Two unique things my co-workers might not know are that I have been belly dancing since I was 13 years old, and am currently teaching myself how to costume design.  Rather than keep pets, I raise carnivorous plans as well.

4. What do you see as the biggest challenge in the intersection of women and the environment?  The biggest challenge I see globally for the intersection of women and the environment is access.  Access to the resources, training, and participation in the decision-making process necessary to have more power in maintaining our ecosystems, and having a role in protecting the future of this planet.

5. Tell us about a woman who inspires you and why.  One woman who I find to be extremely inspirational for her strength to resist the USSR and create change for so many is Maria Cherkasova.  As a Russian journalist and ecologist during Soviet rule, she forced the government to adopt an environmental program, and address some of the severe ecological issues of the time.  Since then, she has run the largest environmental NGO in the former Soviet Republic.

6. Tell us one thing that surprised you about being at WEA.  I was surprised by the amount that play and work are incorporated together.  I was even more surprised to see the results of this combination with an incredible amount being accomplished.

7. What do you hope to get out of your time at WEA?  From my time at WEA, I hope to gain a strong understanding of the issues women face globally, and the surrounding climate change.  More importantly, I hope to gain a meaningful understanding for what people are doing to solve these problems, and what those efforts take logistically, financially, and personally.  I hope to gain the hands-on experience and skills that can be utilized for any cause I may involve myself in.

– Social Media Intern 
1. Tell us about yourself! What is your background and what has been your journey to WEA?  I grew up in Southern and Northern California, spending my school year in Los Angeles and winters and summers in Truckee near Lake Tahoe.  I was raised with an appreciation for the outdoors and a moral code to conserve our natural beauty.  Studying environmental economics in college, with geography, photography, and French as my minors, only crystallized those passions.

I graduated in December 2013 from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and moved to the Bay Area.  I knew that while I was studying for the GRE and advancing my long-term goals of pursuing a graduate level degree in economics and natural resource management, I also wanted to gain some experience working with a non-profit organization doing international development or environmental work.  When I found WEA it was like my dreams had come true.  The organization seemed to be involved in everything I was interested in: development, sustainability, empowering women, co-powering organizations, and environmental management.  At the time I applied, they had no internships available, but I stuck with it and kept in touch, and soon enough one opened up!

2. What do you do at WEA?  I am the Social Media Intern at WEA.  I manage the daily postings on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, spread awareness of WEA's mission and projects, and connect with other like-minded organizations.  It allows for a lot of creative control and collaboration with the rest of the staff.

3. Share 2 unique things about you that your co-workers do not know.  I have a pet bird named Stella who travels with my family and me on any road trips we take!  I also would love to open an artisanal dairy products shop one day.

4. What do you see as the biggest challenge in the intersection of women and the environment?  Women, all over the world (including the West), need to be empowered.  They need to be empowered to realize that they hold the key to sustainable change and have access to the resources they need.  This empowerment lies in education (of resources, skills, ability to evoke change) and community building (within their own community, and outside communities and organizations).  The combination of these two factors equips women with the confidence and resources that they need to save our environment.

5. Tell us about a woman who inspires you and why.  My mother inspires me.  After being a stay-at-home mother for 18 years, she decided to go back and get a Masters degree in what she truly loved at the age of 50.  Not until she was 52 did she start her career and now she is a powerhouse!  She did not let age or time keep her from achieveing her dreams.
6. Tell us one thing that surprised you about being at WEA.  I was suprised at how comfortable I immediately felt at WEA.  The office feels like a home, and even though I can work remotely, I prefer to go into the office.  With that, the staff is incredibly sweet, helpful, and enjoyable to be around.

7. What do you hope to get out of your time at WEA?  I hope to be surrounded by like-minded individuals who are looking for unique and pragmatic approaches to environmental sustainability.  I hope to be inspired by and inspire my co-workers.  I hope to learn the workings of an environmental non-profit.  I also enjoy learning about social media, marketing, and public relations best practices.

Meet the rest of the talented interns that have worked with WEA throughout the years here!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Threat to Sacred Waters and Ways of Life for California Indigenous Communities

By: Sophie Sparksworthy, WEA Intern

"Indigenous peoples have the right to the conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity of their lands or territories and resources." — Article 29, UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The Klamath River, Northern California.
Photo source: USFWS Pacific Southwest Region
The physical health and cultural well-being of Indigenous communities are threatened by increasing environmental degradation.  Negative ecological impacts from extractive industries, energy plants or refineries, and the contamination of hazardous waste on Indigenous lands compromises the survival of Indigenous communities both globally and locally.  Indigenous communities are in an ongoing fight to restore their ecosystems to meet their present needs, but they are also challenged with ensuring the integral parts of the environment remain intact for future generations.

The continued degradation of each component of our ecosystem has serious implications for the species and cultures that inhabit them.  Of these impacted components, waterwhich for many Indigenous cultures in inextricably linked to subsistence, spiritual practices, and traditionshas become increasingly threatened by prevailing long-term issues and the emergence of new ones.  Along with long-standing water related issues like contamination, Indigenous communities are also faced with increased threats to water supplies from climate change.  This is especially true in California, where the third year of drought has created a state of emergency.  The effects of the drought combined with California's attempts to follow the national push towards energy independence through increased fracking poses an even greater threat to the vitality of Indigenous lifeways and the ecosystems we all depend on.

Mercury Contamination in California

"Indigenous women are life givers, life sustainers and culture holders.  Our bodies are sacred places that must be protected, honored and kept free of harmful contaminants in order for the new generations of our Nations to be born strong and healthy." Declaration for the Health, Life and Defense of Our Lands, Rights and Future Generations, Report of the International Indigenous Women's Environmental and Reproductive Health Symposium, 2010.

For California Indigenous communities, the fight to protect the quality and supply of water has been a very real threat for centuries, particularly due to the regions history of mining and gold extraction.  Sediments and other hazardous materials like methylmercury have contaminated land and aquatic habitats and have had adverse health effects that vary based on the age and level of exposure an individual has.  This exposure can cause damage to both the nervous and immune systems, with the worst case scenario being death.

Photo source: Coastal Creature
Indigenous communities have experienced the impacts of mercury poisoning first hand, with deaths among older generations who had been chronically exposed without their knowledge.  Unfortunately, the threats of contamination are still present, especially for future generations.  For pregnant women, mercury can cause irreversible damage to unborn children, inhibiting normal brain development, and in more severe cases causing developmental and mental birth defects.  For Indigenous communities in which fish is a traditional food source and whose cultures cannot be separated from this critical relationship, the tragic choice becomes one between health and identity.

These issues of water contamination in California are also not isolated, with high levels of mercury found in waterways such as: Lake Berryessa, Clear Lake, New Almaden and New Idria, the American, Bear, Feather and Yuba Rivers, and the San Francisco Bay.  The international and regional response by authorities to the contamination issues California tribes such as the Pomo, Maidu, Yurok, Karuk and Winnemem Wintu face has been minimal in comparison to the scale of the problem.

Indeed, while EPA clean ups have been more frequent since the 1990's and advisory warnings about fish contamination have been issued, this has done little to address the fact that tribes are unable to exercise their traditional fishing treaty rights—and the threat of further pollution is ongoing.  To this end, in 2005, the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) filed an international complaint against the United States asserting that the contamination Indigenous communities faced was a human rights violation.  In the complaint, the National Tribal Environmental Council (NTEC) provided testimony which stated:
"The proposed UMR [the EPA's Utility Mercury Reduction] rule fails to protect and preserve federal treaty trust resources, such as hunting and fishing rights, which are considered integral to many tribes continued existence...Instead, EPA instructs these groups—and particularly children and women of childbearing age—to reduce or eliminate fish from their diets in order to 'avoid' the risks of mercury contamination.  Thus, rather than take steps to reduce meaningfully the sources of these risks, EPA shifts the burden to those who are exposed and asks them to protect themselves."
While these and other efforts are critical and ongoing, some communities fear that the response—if any— will be too slow to address the severity of the issue.  California's Indigenous tribes are at an extremely high risk for ongoing contamination, with some estimates stating that the current rate of clean up will leave the land and water contaminated for the next 10,000 years.  Despite the slow progress of the State and Federal governments, organizations like IITC and the California Indian Environmental Alliance, alongside a network of Indigenous and environmental groups, have helped communities fight for the right to information about contamination, and to expedite the process to have their ecosystems and traditional ways of life protected.

Climate Change and Drought in the West

Effect of the drought on the Uvas Reservoir.
Photo source: Don DeBold

For Indigenous communities, the fear of losing traditional ways of life connected with water is further exacerbated by another devastating issue.  The third year of drought in California has forced Governor Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency.  As a result of water resource allocation focused on supplying both Southern California's reservoirs and the water needed for the State's massive agricultural industry, much of the limited water supply in Northern California's reservoirs has already been drained.

For tribes in Northern and Central California, this means that traditional species of fish like steelhead and chinook salmon will no longer be protected as their habitats shrink to meet the demands of the rest of the state's water needs.  Indeed, proposed solutions to meet the state's water demands include constructing large underground pipes to transport water from the top of the state to the bottom.  The Winnemem Wintu have been some of the strongest voices opposing this plan because it threatens the survival of salmon and other native fish populations that many in California—Native and non-Native alike—rely on.

Don't Frack California

Indigenous communities often face more than one threat at a time to their ecosystems and cultural survival.  Instead, we see the threats to traditional ways of life coming from multiple directions at once.  Thus, along with efforts to reduce contamination and water supplies, tribes must also resist the forces of extractive industries, which leave ecosystems traumatized.  Some of the most recent national and local resistance against extractive industries has focused on hydraulic fracturing, the high pressure blasting of water and chemicals in the earth in order to produce gas and oil—commonly known as fracking.

Not only does fracking contribute to water, air and land pollution, as well as climate change, but the human health hazards are equally frightening, with chemicals used in the blasting being linked to birth defects, and even infertility.  In California, though resistance is gaining in strength, the mainstream debate as to whether or not to continue fracking is still underway.

In recent months, the Don't Frack California campaign has gained significant momentum, with over 4,000 peopleincluding Indigenous community members, environmental advocates, and concerned citizens—expressing their opposition to fracking in Sacramento on March 15th.  As a result of the efforts leading up to this rally, in February a moratorium (SB 1132) was introduced to prevent continual and future extractive industries like fracking from operating in the state.  California's resistance to fracking is only part of a national resistance movement that is supported by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous advocates and activists alike.

Women's Earth Alliance encourages all our friends to be good allies: learn more about these critical issues California Indigenous peoples face and do your part to support efforts to end the destruction of their traditional lands, waters, and ways of life. 

For more information on mercury contamination, please visit the International Indian Treaty Council or Earthjustice's Cleaning Up Mercury, Protecting Our Health Campaign.  To learn more about the effects of California's drought on Indigenous communities and native species, visit Restore the Delta and the National Resource Defense Council.  And to further understand how the drought effects Indigenous communities in Northern California, please visit the tribal website of the Winnemem Wintu and the Yurok people.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Ripple Effect Is Real

by Gemma Bulos

Question: When would the equation 20 x 222 = 4588?

Answer: When you train 20 women how to build rainwater harvesting systems. They train 222 of their colleagues (84% of which were women). And together they build 31 tanks supplying water to 4588 people in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.  Help us amplify this impact by supporting our campaign on today! 

As a Stanford Social Entrepreneur Fellow for the Center For Democracy Development and the Rule of Law, I was honored to work with Masters Program students Sarah van Vliet and Savannah Hayes, who evaluated GWWI's field data to assess the impact of our current Women-led Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH) Service Center Training Program.

Sarah and Savannah combed through data that included hundreds of interviews with trainees, users and community members to objectively assess GWWIs impact for the first Phase of our 3-Phase WaSH Service Center Training where women learned to build rainwater harvesting technologies. They synthesized their analysis and distilled them into a powerful infographic.

We are most thrilled to share that the 20 women we trained in the current program:
* Provided water for over 4500 people;
* Reduced their water fetching time from 1 hour to 6 minutes;
* Trained 186 additional women; and
* Raised an average of $1860 to build more tanks and 70% reported an increase in personal income.


This of course is just Phase 1 of the 3-Phase Program. GWWI trainees learned how to build toilets last summer and in less than 3 weeks, they will be learning how to build filters and make chlorine at our next training in Kampala, Uganda.

You can join the ripple!  GWWI launched a month long campaign with to raise $5000 for this next Phase of training where the women will learn a variety of ways to treat water! Please consider making a donation!

On March 12th, with every $25 donated, will match 15%!

Thank you for helping us create powerful, measurable impacts for African women water leaders.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

From our Allies: Indian People's Action and the Tar Sands Megaloads

"[Tar sands oil] is not a future issue, it's causing the land to be inhospitable, both on the reservations and for the surrounding area... There's no way we're going to change the surrounding area once it's destroyed." Naomi Odermann, Media Liaison with Indian People's Action (source)

There are many equally important facets of the Keystone XL and tar sands opposition in which communities are waging non-violent direction actions.  These include Honor the Earth's Ride for Mother Earth, last year's cross-movement #ForwardOnClimate Rally in Washington, DC, and the petitions and campaigns urging the public to seize their final opportunity and submit comments to the Secretary of State on the Keystone XL pipeline.  One such action is currently taking place in Missoula, Montana, where an Indigenous organization is leading the charge by literally stopping climate chaos and environmental destruction in its tracks.

Photo source: Kathy Little Leaf, IPA Board Member
Indian People's Action (IPA) is an Indigenous-led organization aiming to build the voice and power of Montana's urban Indians.  To do this, they rely on strength in numbers, and organize direct actions to achieve systematic change to improve the health and lives of their Indigenous membership.  In early December 2013, IPA's Director Michaelynn Hawk (Crow) and other citizen groups learned that the Oregon-based company Omega Morgan intended to haul several megaloadstrucks typically the size of, or slightly longer than, a football fieldof tar sands mining equipment through Missoula on their way to Alberta, Canada in January 2014.  Immediately, and not for the first time, the groups began organizing.  IPA, which had brought Moccasins On the Ground--a non-violent direct action movement to protect sacred lands and waters from environmental abuses--to Montana for a 3 day training in August 2013, became a driving force behind the push to stop the transports.

The reason behind IPA's determination to do their part to stop these hauls is that, simply put, megaloads present a mega problem for our future.  According to the Tar Sands Solution Network, "If we extract all the known tar sands oil the Earth's temperatures will rise substantially, leading to complete climate catastrophe.  [Additionally,] development also pollutes the land, air, and water with dangerous levels of toxic chemicals in northern Alberta and along leak-prone pipeline routes that carry this highly corrosive cargo through communities and waterways across North America."  Those communities, including First Nations communities in Canada, are having their rights infringed, their health and well-being jeopardized, and the lands and waters they have relied on for traditional food sources destroyed.

"We are also acting [on] behalf of our Indigenous brothers and sisters in the First Nations communities in Alberta who have been affected most directly and severely from the contamination of their water, air, and wild natural food sources, although we also expressed that all life on Earth is being deeply affected and endangered by this filthy and completely unnecessary business." George Price, Police Liaison with Indian People's Action
Photo source: Dan Aguayo via The Oregonion
The protests took place in the late night and early morning hours of January 22-24.  In total, three megaloads drove through the Missoula route.  On January 22, the first load was greeted by 40 protestors, most of which were IPA members.  "It was our intention to enter Reserve street together in front of the megaloads and halt the movement of this tar sands-bound equipment however long we could by leading ourselves and our non-Indian allies in a traditional round dance, which is a form of prayer and a symbol of unity, in the middle of the street, while carrying our signs with words describing our opposition..." wrote IPA's Police Liaison George Price in his editorial comment to the Missoula Independent.  The round dance, as well as the arrest of an elder ally, delayed the trucks passage.  A second, smaller megaload quickly passed through the city on the following evening at speeds too fast to allow for safe and responsible blockades.

IPA and allied groups like Blue Skies Campaign, Northern Rockies Rising Tide, Spokane Rising Tide, and Wild Idaho Rising Tide held a second, larger action on January 24, where Indigenous members numbered roughly 60 of the 70 protestors.  During this action, IPA led a round dance that stopped the megaload transport for 12 minutes.  This was then followed by a speech by IPA member Charles Walking Child (Anishinabe), which caused further delays.  Finally, three elder women allies held up the load by sitting in the street and refusing to be moved.  One was arrested, the other two cited.

Each of these tacticsdistributing press releases to the media, holding signs, handing out informational leaflets, holding a round dance, giving speeches, the arrests and the citationsplayed critical roles in delaying the transport, thereby increasing the cost to the company hauling the loads.  They also served as a way to increase public awareness of the megaloads and tar sands in general.  These direct actions provided an opportunity for IPA and allied groups to focus public attention on climate change and the destructive practices of the extractive industries, while making it clear that Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities alike would stand alongside one another to stop fossil fuel projects where they could.

"During this whole experience...many, mostly young, Native American people, learned much about the issues facing our planet and became first time public activists for the Earth, and they will be back again and again, in greater and greater numbers, as long as all life on Earth cries out against this most grave injustice, corruption, and destruction.  That was our primary success in these actions..." George Price, Police Liaison with Indian People's Action

Indian People's Action continues to keep an eye on and prepare for any future megaloads which plan to travel through Missoula en route to Alberta.  We at Women's Earth Alliance encourage our friends and partners to learn as much as you can on this critical issue, including more about the many Indigenous communities in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and elsewhere currently standing on the frontlines of megaload protests, and then go forward and share that information with your friends and partners.

The above article was reviewed by and posted with the permission of Indian People's Action.  The Women's Earth Alliance Advocacy Network has allied with Indian People's Action to facilitate advocacy support around their efforts to oppose tar sands oil.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

GWWI Partners with KIVA

By Bess Zewdie, Research Intern

Jane Joseph, KSHP
Global Women’s Water Initiative is thrilled to announce our new partnership with Kiva, the worlds largest – and highly successful - online micro-lending platform. Kiva allows contributors to fund loans in low socio-economic communities, where access to conventional means of financial support is not available. 

This is done through their easy-to-use online system, where one can donate anything from $25-$100.This new partnership presents an invaluable opportunity to GWWI by helping two of our organizations service their local communities - Kilili Self Help Program (KSHP) in Kitale, Kenya and Women in Water and Natural Resources Conservation (WWNRC) in Kakamega, Kenya. These microloans are significant to our women due to the ability to finance entrepreneurial projects in a short amount of time, whilst paying themselves AND positively impacting their communities. These micro-business projects include the production and selling of handmade soap, shampoo, reusable sanitary pads and other sanitary-related products. In addition to income-generating purposes, microloans will assist households in purchasing the likes of 15,000 liter rainwater harvesting tanks to provide clean water in these Kenyan regions.

Rose Wamalwa, WWNRC
It’s no new revelation that the role of a woman in both the financial stability and sanitary health of her family is incredibly undervalued, particularly in the developing world. In East Africa, where KSHP and WWNRC are based, many women from low-income families are limited to household activities and farm work. Responsibilities beyond that, particularly finances, are left to men. Statistics show, however, that “poor women often have the best credit ratings. In Bangladesh, for example, women default on loans less often than men, and credit extended to women has a much greater impact on household consumption and quality of life for children,”(IFAD 2004). Due to their lack of access to the labor force, women are more inclined to be creative in their financial efforts, and more responsible in their spending.

GWWI is not only supporting and training KSHP and WWNRC about full WASH services such as construction, but we are also creating a framework of self-reliance. This self-reliance means that our women will continue to grow in their entrepreneurship endeavors long after our absence, and this partnership with Kiva will only further strengthen and sustain this vision. 

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Long Arm of the Tar Sands: The Alberta Clipper Pipeline

By: Kahea Pacheco (Advocacy Network Coordinator) and Sophie Sparksworthy (WEA Intern)

"[We recognize] that the tar sands in northern Alberta, Canada is one of th elargest remaining deposits of unconventional oil in the world, containing approximately 2 trillion barrels, and there are plans for a massive expansion of development that would ultimately destroy an area larger than the state of Florida[.]" -- Mother Earth Accord, Sept. 2011

The expansion of crude oil pipelines carrying Alberta tar sands from Canada to the United States is arguably one of the largest environmental concerns in North America in recent years.  The human and ecological damage these developments--as well as our populations continued dependency on fossil fuels--will cause is no longer something that can be ignored.  For years now, Indigenous advocates, activists, and local community leaders have fought on the frontlines of campaigns to stop these pipelines, and while efforts around the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline have thankfully garnered much-needed attention and public interest, it is only one of the highly destructive pipeline proposals Indigenous communities currently face.

"[We recognize] that tar sand development has devastating impacts to Mother Earth and her inhabitants and perpetuates the crippling addiction to oil of the United States and Canada[.]" -- Mother Earth Accord, Sept. 2011

In Alberta, Minnesota and Wisconsin, communities and tribes are also facing the proposed expansion of Enbridge Energy's Alberta Clipper and Sandpiper pipelines.  The Alberta Clipper expansion will run 1,000 miles from Alberta, Canada, across Minnesota and into Superior, Wisconsin, and will increase the flow of crude oil from 450,000 to 570,000 barrels per day.  An additional expansion is proposed to bring flow up to the pipeline capacity of 880,000 barrels per day.  If the expansion is approved by the Public Utilities Commission of Minnesota, Enbridge will begin construction this year.

Photo source: InsideClimate News

These expansions have been met with strong resistance from Indigenous communities and organizations, landowners, farmers and environmental advocates who not only understand the spiritual, cultural and environmental damage the development of crude oil can cause, but are also painfully aware of Enbridge's poor track record for safety, maintenance and disaster management around its pipelines.  The Big Oil company has had numerous spills in recent years, one of which resulted in the largest on-land oil spill ever recorded, leaking 1.15 million gallons into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010.

Enbridge oil spill into the Kalamazoo River, 2010.  Photo source: US EPA, 2010.

"[We are concerned] that Indigenous people are most vulnerable to the social, cultural, spiritual, and environmental impacts of climate change[.]" -- Mother Earth Accord, Sept. 2011

One of the voices leading opposition against the Alberta Clipper and Sandpiper expansions is Winona LaDuke (Anishinaabe), Executive Director of Honor the Earth.  Honor the Earth's 2013 Ride for Mother Earth campaign was both a show of strong solidarity with the Lakota Nation as they fight the KXL which will cross into their territories, and opposition to tar sands and fracking imports into Minnesota, where lakes, rivers, wetlands and communities are already over burdened by high rates of toxicity and health issues because of hazardous chemical exposures from polluting industries like Big Oil.  The ride--during which Anishinaabe, Lakota and Ponca riders traveled over 200 miles along the pipeline--aimed to bring attention to the Enbridge pipelines and the destruction they will cause if built, including the threat to women and children as a result of the influx of pipeline workers into the surrounding areas.

Honor the Earth stands in good company in the transnational opposition to these pipelines.  Other community organizations at the forefront of advocacy efforts to stop dirty oil include Indigenous Environmental Network, Protect the Sacred, as well as Nizhawendaamin Inaakiminaan (We Love Our Land), a group of Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, which just last year built encampments on four Enbridge pipelines to protest the company's violations of their tribal territory.

"Therefore, we are united on this Mother Earth Accord, which is effective immediately, that it be resolved as follows: We support and encourage a moratorium on tar sands development; We insist on full consultation under the principles of 'free, prior and informed consent,' from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples both in the United States and Canada[...]" -- Mother Earth Accord, Sept. 2011

WEA encourages all our friends and allies to talk to your friends, family and colleagues, and share as much information as you can about all dirty oil pipelines--the Keystone XL, the Alberta Clipper, the Sandpiper, and others.  For more information, and for ideas on how you can get involved and make your voice heard, visit Honor the Earth's website.  Public education is crucial; it will take our shared efforts to recognize the threats we face, and to find the solutions to protect our communities and planet from these destructive developments.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Congress Passes Bi-Partisan Bill with $50 Million Increase for WASH

By Gemma Bulos, GWWI Director

Last year, I was honored to present GWWI’s work at the historical launch of USAID's Water and Sanitation Development Strategy alongside Senator Richard Durbin, Senator Chris Coons, Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Congressman Ted Poe and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and USAID Global Water Coordinator Chris Holmes.

This was a significant milestone for USAID as it shows their commitment to prioritize WASH as a one of their key strategies to provide international aid to uplift communities around the globe.

Yesterday it was announced that on January 17, President Obama signed into law a sweeping, bipartisan $1.1 trillion spending bill that increases funding for safe drinking water in developing countries by over 20 percent.

The Omnibus Appropriations bill, which includes the State and Foreign Operations budget for the Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), provides an increase of $50 million for safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) projects, potentially providing water and sanitation to over three million people in Africa, Asia, and Latin America over the course of the coming fiscal year. (WASH Advocates)

John Oldfield, CEO of WASH Advocates, noted, "Politics stops at water, and this is clearly one issue on which both Republicans and Democrats can agree.”

Go to 7:07 for Gemma’s GWWI presentation

It has always been my belief that water is the master equalizer in that the smallest plant and the richest man are equal in that we all need it to survive. My past work as the Founder of A Single Drop and now as the Director of the Global Women’s Water Initiative was based on the premise that because our shared need for water transcends politics, religion, etc, it’s a place where we all agree and therefore a platform where we can start a conversation and even collaborate.

All the WASH programs that we have designed have focused on uniting communities, engaging all the relevant stakeholders and supporting collaborative community-driven efforts to resolve their own water issues. It’s a thrill to see the US government recognize the need for these kinds of strategies to address the most pressing issues of this century.

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Monday, December 23, 2013

Recognizing Women's Leadership to Mitigate Conflict & Climate Change

Blog post by: Rucha Chitnis, Director of Grantmaking (@ruchachitnis)

Manipur, a state in India bordering Burma, is part of the "Seven Sisters" -- seven contiguous states in Northeastern India, known for their rich ethnic diversity, bountiful natural resources, as well as political conflict and turmoil.  For over 50 years now, Manipur has been bound by the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which grants extraordinary powers to the Indian armed forces to suppress separatist insurgencies in the region.  This act has been fiercely criticized by human rights groups for its abuse by the Indian Army through arbitrary killings, torture, enforced disappearances and violence perpetrated against women.

Northeastern states, like Manipur, are also ecologically fragile lands, and are part of the Eastern Himalayan tracts that are considered a major biodiversity hotspot.  In recent times, big dams, mining and oil exploration activities and rapid forest degradation have deeply concerned environmental advocates, especially as the impacts of climate change are worsening economic and food security in the region.

Women play a crucial role in all socio-economic aspects Manipur and are key food producers.
Earlier this year, I traveled to Manipur to learn about the emerging priorities and strategies of women's groups to promote sustainable development and livelihoods in the midst of political tensions, militarism and ecological vulnerabilities. Our grantee partners in Manipur, Rural Women Upliftment Society (RWUS) and Weaker Sections Development Council, (WSDC) are using holistic multi-pronged approaches to promote food security, advocate for peace and security, and raise awareness on climate change among vulnerable Indigenous hill tribes.

A women's group in Chandel district that is growing and processing organic turmeric as a collective

Ignored by History: Recognizing Manipuri Women's Role in Social Movements

Shangnaidar Shangdar, leader of WSDC, is passionate about highlighting the role of women in Manipur to forge long-term movements to bring peace and security in the regionHistorically women in Manipur have also led brave social movements, including fighting British imperialism. Known as Nupi lan, or women’s war, women in Manipur led a successful brave agitation in 1939 protesting exploitative British free trade laws that precipitously raised the price of rice by increasing exports, and adversely affected local communities and small traders through food shortages. Sadly, these crucial resistances by Manipuri women are largely invisible and unknown in mainstream India's historical chronicles.

During my visit, Shangnaidar took me to Ima Keithel, also known as Mother's Market, which is a sprawling market in the capital city of Imphal, where all stalls are run by women. Mother's Market stands out as a proud, unique heritage of Manipur, which speaks powerfully to the crucial role women play in socio-eonomic realms here.

These women are promoting inter-tribal peace building efforts & are training women affected
by gun violence and HIV/AIDS on weaving and other livelihood generation activities

WSDC raises awareness among women widowed by gun violence and HIV/AIDS on their rights and entitlements from the state, including widow pension and food security provisions. They are also training communities on organic farming practices, raising awareness on the rights of small farmers, and are supplementing women’s income through diversifying their livelihoods by soap making, weaving and artisanal bamboo products.

Both of our grantee partners recognize that empowering women, and promoting their political, social and cultural rights, is crucial for peace building and strengthening civil society and ushering sustainable development.  WSDC and RWUS also organize trainings and educational activities to promote women’s role in governance and in conflict resolution.

Recently RWUS conducted several workshops to raise awareness on climate change among women in the hilly tribal areas of Churachandpur, the largest district of the Manipur.

Being largely an agrarian economy, climate change is affecting the economy of the state over time. Unnoticed by the policy makers, one of the major victims of climate change have been the marginalized women of the society, who have always suffered for being financially weak and also for lacking the power of decision making in the society.”  RWUS further notes that climate change is affecting water availability in the region and is making agriculture increasingly harder for small farmers.
A small grant from WEA is enabling RWUS to organize women in 15 vulnerable tribal villages affected by climate change.  With WEA's support, RWUS is raising awareness on the crucial need to protect Manipur’s forest biodiversity and other natural resources, and the key role women can play in protecting their environment and promoting sustainable livelihoods.

The impact of climate change has already forced many to abandon their existing professions and search for alternatives. Many women particularly youth are forced to move out of home to seek employment elsewhere because agriculture has become unsustainable,” notes the RWUS team.
In the near future, RWUS plans to organize workshops for women on dams and mining and how they impact Indigenous livelihoods, culture and way of being, as well as continue their assessment on the impact of climate change on women and promote women’s role as environmental advocates.

RWUS shares how one of the participants of the climate change training called Sangpui, a mother of three, began taking personal responsibility to protect the environment. Sangpui went on to plant over 1000 saplings and is slowly recognizing how forest degradation affects her community. “Each time I plant a tree, I realize I am contributing to sustain the livelihood of forest dependents, like me,” she says.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Phionah: From Sex-Worker to Water Champion

By Gemma Bulos, Global Women's Water Initiative Director

I have been a sex worker for so many years, but when I met Godliver (GWWI Head Technology Trainer), I have withdrawn. She trained me on tanks, now I can make bricks, I can make a tank... I think I can almost be a technical engineer!” Phionah Mbugua

Every once in a while you come upon someone who is truly the embodiment of transformation and inspiration. For our Global Women's Water Initiative, Phionah Mbugua is that person.

Phionah came to GWWI through Life Bloom Services International. Life Bloom works with commercial sex workers providing them with emotional counseling and services as well as vocational training to consider alternative livelihoods to uplift themselves from their situation. Life Bloom women leaders have been participating in the Global Women’s Water Initiative Training Program since 2011, where they have been learning to  become water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) technicians, educators and entrepreneurs.

Phionah was one of Life Bloom's clients. When her husband left her 14 years ago with 2 kids, she had to raise her children on her own. And with a 7th grade education, she felt her only alternative was to sell her body.  She was invited by Life Bloom to learn how to build a rainwater harvesting system and tank from GWWI Technology Trainer Godliver Businge. Phionah was astounded to meet a woman who not only could build things like tanks and toilets, but who was teaching other women these same skills.

Because of Phionah’s talent and interest, Life Bloom’s Executive Director who has been elected as the Board Chair of her local water board, withdrew from the GWWI training program to let Phionah take her place. Phionah has since been hired by Life Bloom as their first WASH program manager and is currently construction WASH technologies, offering WASH education in schools and in the community. And she's getting getting paid to do this work.
In this video Phionah shares with her GWWI sisters and fellow participants her story of transformation. (Transcript below)

Hello. I think I’m one of the retired sex workers! I have been a sex worker for so many years, but when I met Godliver, I withdrew. She trained me on tanks, now I can make bricks, I can make a tank, I think I can almost be a technical engineer. Yea, with my fellow colleagues the sex workers,  we have done the first tank we did it in a primary school and we want to do the other tank in a primary school.
So my fellow sex workers, they are very happy because when you come from building the tank, in the evening, we are so tired, even we can’t be able to go to the streets! I appreciate Godliver for the change she has brought to us because we were selling our bodies day and night you see because we don’t have anything to do in our life. Like, we don’t have courses. Like me, I learned up to class 7.
So right now, I’m learning, I want to do my class 8 next year. I want to get my diploma certificate this year so I’m sure I’ll do it, because you have empowered me.  Now my children are appreciating me. They are appreciating my job, even my family. Because before I was a drunkard, I couldn’t even listen to them. But right now I’ve changed. Like now my mom yesterday was asking me

“Oh, where are you going?” and I told her,

“I’m going meet other women in Kisumu. I’ve never been to Kisumu.”

And right now, even me , I don’t even feel like selling my body.  I’m very fit now. I’m 45 years (old). I’m retired and I don’t want my young girls who are behind me to follow my steps. Right now I want to follow these steps – of building tanks. Building biosand. And I think for biosand I am qualified because the last three weeks, the mortar followed me so I think  I have one certificate.
So I thank you ladies. We are together. I’m from Life Bloom. And I think because I’m interested, that’s why my boss withdrawn for me, ‘you can go instead of me Phionah.’ Because I’m interesting, interested and I’m strong.  And I will do it. And right now I’m going for another tank. Thank you so much!
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Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Winnemem Wintu and the fight for the McCloud River

By Kahea Pacheco (Advocacy Network Coordinator) and Molly Garritson (WEA General Intern)

The salmon are an integral part of our lifeway and of a healthy McCloud River watershed. We believe that when the last salmon is gone, humans will be gone too. Our fight to return the salmon to the McCloud River is no less than a fight to save the Winnemem Wintu Tribe.

The Winnemem Wintu Tribe of Northern California has inhabited their ancestral territory for well over 6,000 years. This territory runs from Mount Shasta down through the McCloud River watershed and is bordered by both the Sacramento and Pit Rivers.  Indeed, the original name of the McCloud river is, in fact, Winnemem, meaning “middle water.”

The Winnemem then are middle water people, salmon people, and their lands and river hold many sacred sites and traditional medicines central to their cultural and spiritual identity.  This identity, which has been under attack ever since the settlement of California which brought disease and destruction to Native peoples, has faced yet another threat since World War II: the construction of the Shasta Dam, which flooded Winnemem homesteads, ancestral villages, cemeteries, sacred places, and has blocked salmon runs along the river.

The McCloud River was once one of the most fertile breeding ground for Chinook salmon in the West.  The salmon’s numbers were so high that in the late 1800’s, fish culturist Livingston Stone established the Baird Hatchery in an effort to breed this salmon and replenish dwindling Atlantic salmon stocks.  The Winnemem people opposed the building of the hatchery and took action to defend their river by performing a Hu’p Chonas—a war dance ceremony that tells the water and all Winnemem relations that they are fighting for the well-being of the river.

Unfortunately, construction of the Baird Hatchery went forward. When the hatchery began exporting eggs around the world (including all the way to New Zealand), an agreement was made that, while the salmon would be captured for breeding, the Winnemem would ensure that they would always be able to return to their home on the McCloud River.  However, this agreement was later broken when the Shasta Dam was built, blocking salmon’s path and submerging their breeding grounds, and eventually causing their near extinction.

“The dam not only took our homelands and cemeteries, it took our salmon.  Where the water used to run black with writhing spawning salmon, now there are none.  They cannot get past the dam to their spawning beds.  The fish hatchery is long gone.  So are the fish.  The Winnemem remain.”

In recent years, the Winnemem have continued to fight for the salmon and for their way of life as they oppose an additional rise of the Shasta Dam by 18.5 feet.  Raising the dam even just a small amount would submerge Winnemem herbal gathering grounds, whatever is left of salmon spawning grounds--threatening any potential for salmon restoration to the McCloud--and would also disturb 39 sites along the river that are sacred to the tribe, such as Puberty Rock where coming of age ceremonies are held for Winnemem girls, and the site of a massacre of the Winnemem by settlers in 1850’s.    

Speak out in support of the Winnemem
Photo by Amit Patel
The Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) is responsible for any decisions to raise the Shasta Dam, and also for selecting the plan to restore the McCloud’s native ecosystem by returning the salmon to the Central Valley.  Though the Winnemem have been asked to submit their own plan to return the salmon to their indigenous territory, they have been given no voice in the decision-making process.  

Stand alongside the Winnemem Wintu Tribe and support their indigenous right to be part of the salmon decision by calling or e-mailing Sue Fry, BOR Project Manager, at or (916) 414-2400.  Demand that the BOR bring the Winnemem to the table as a consenting voice to any Salmon Restoration Plan, and recognize their right to be leaders and critical decision-makers in the process. 

We encourage all of friends and allies to also email or call the Bureau’s Commissioner Michael Connor at or (202) 513-0501, and urge him not to submit the Shasta Dam raise proposal for a vote to Congress and instead support Winnemem cultural survival.

More information on how to stand in solidarity with the Winnemem can be found here.

(Quotes and photos are property of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe unless otherwise attributed)