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Palestinian Human Rights Defenders need protection: what can we do?

On 19 October 2021, the government of Israel issued a military order that designated six, renowned and award-winning Palestinian human rights groups as “terrorist organisations”. The reason for this military order, and the evidence for making such designations, have not been disclosed. This is the latest of Israel’s longstanding efforts to undermine the work of these organisations. It also seems clear that this action is intended to intimidate donors and supporters of these organisations.

The Palestinian human rights organisations under threat

The six organisations affected by Israel’s military order are: Addameer, Al-Haq, Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defence for Children International-Palestine, Union of Agricultural Work Committees, and Union of Palestinian Women Committees. The work of these six organisations is both crucial to a future peace in Israel and Palestine, and has been invaluable for the work of United Nations human rights treaty bodies, as well as Special Rapporteurs and Commissions of Inquiry, and for the International Criminal Court that is currently investigating international crimes in Palestine. Declaring the work of these organisations as “terrorist” not only undermines efforts at peace, but also places individuals who work for them in a potentially very dangerous situation, and potentially creates dilemmas for states, individuals, and organisations who have supported them (financially or otherwise) regarding the continuity of that support. This combination of (possible) effects forms an existential threat to the work of the six organisations, which no doubt is intended by the government of Israel.

Addameer was founded in 1992 and advocates for Palestinian political prisoners who suffer long-term arbitrary detention, without charge or trial. Al-Haq, founded in 1979, is the West Bank affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists-Geneva, and has issued dozens of meticulously documented reports on the countless human rights violations that Palestinians experience daily. These violations include denials of the right to housing and freedom of movement, lack of protection against settler violence, and a long list of international crimes, most of which are connected to Israel’s regime of apartheid, itself a crime against humanity. The Bisan Center for Research and Development, in operation since the late 1980’s, focuses on the most marginalised communities in Palestine, including women, youth, and workers in the most rural and deprived areas, and advocates for their development needs. Defence for Children International-Palestine has, since 1991, documented serious human rights violations directed against children, including inhuman and degrading punishment and treatment, arbitrary detention, torture, and unlawful killings. The organisation also provides legal assistance and representation to these children in Israeli military tribunals.

The Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) is one of the oldest Palestinian NGOs that advocates for Palestinian farmers’ rights to sovereignty of their land and products. They have played a leading role in documenting settler violence against Palestinian farmers, work that is especially important now as Palestinians across the West Bank are facing massive settler violence when they try to harvest their olive crops. This is confirmed by reports from the International Committee of the Red Cross, which have documented that from August 2020 up until August 2021, settlers destroyed over 9000 Palestinian olive trees, in addition to increased levels of violence and harassment directed against Palestinian farmers. The Union of Palestinian Women Committees (UPWC), established in 1980, is the umbrella organisation for all Palestinian women’s groups in the Occupied Territories. Its staff have supported Palestinian women’s rights, equal opportunities for men and women, and equity between social classes. UPWC has been a major force in the women’s rights movement in Palestine, and plays an active role in the global movement for women’s rights, including in relation to attention for gender-based violence.

Global reaction to the designation

B’tselem was among the first Israeli organisations to condemn the Israeli government’s designation as a ‘draconian’ measure. In addition, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned the designations as “an attack on human rights defenders, on freedoms of association, opinion and expression and on the right to public participation”, and called for the designations to be “immediately revoked”. International human rights NGOs Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International also issued strong statements condemning the designations. They have been joined by international legal experts, including the celebrated South African law professor John Dugard, who also reflected on the similar treatment of human rights organisations by South Africa’s apartheid regime in the 1980s.

On 3 November 2021, more than 30 Dutch organizations addressed the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Dutch Parliament; they called on the Netherlands to:

  • publicly speak out against and condemn Israel’s decision as an unjustified violation against civil society;
  • appeal to Israel to retract this military order with immediate effect;
  • continue its support to Palestinian partner organisations and ensure that Dutch banking and financial institutions disregard Israel’s order;
  • openly support the work of these affected organisations.

Above all, the Netherlands has been called upon to ensure support to civil society, and especially to human rights defenders who speak out in defence of the rights of Palestinians.

All of these demands by Israeli, international, and Dutch human rights organisations are fully in-line with the United Nations Declaration and the European Union Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders. Referring to these sources, the Dutch government has openly declared that it “supports human rights defenders, so that they can do their work effectively and safely”.

Valuable time, however, has been lost since 19 October. Even worse, in January 2022, the Dutch government announced that it was stopping its support to one of the six designated organisations (UAWC), even despite their admission that they lacked evidence of a link to terrorist activity.

Action is needed NOW

Respect for international law, and the UN and EU guidelines on human rights defenders, should compel the government of the Netherlands to reverse its decision to defund UACW, and to urge the European Union to join United Nations experts, the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, and others, in irrefutably condemning Israel’s designations.

So, what can we do now?

Both financial and diplomatic support are crucially needed during this time when Palestinian civil society is under great pressure from Israel’s military and apartheid regime. This is why we produced a letter for individual sign-on, to protest the Dutch government’s decision, and why we will be organising a webinar on 27 January 2022 to discuss this further. For more information, please register here, or alternatively contact our network.

An earlier version of this article, which we provide key updates to above, was published in the Dutch newspaper Trouw.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the authors:

Jeff Handmaker is Associate Professor in Legal Sociology at the International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Christian Henderson is Assistant Professor of International Relations of the Middle East at Leiden University. Both are supporters of Dutch Scholars for Palestine.

Marthe Heringa is a student at Leiden University and an organiser of Students for Palestine.

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The noise never stops: life in Palestine during the Israeli occupation – a conversation with Rana Shubair

The noise never stops. The sky is filled with the buzzing of drones, echoing on and on, and with the sound of buildings collapsing as they are bombed. It’s not safe anywhere. There’s nowhere to flee to. And amidst a crumbling country and the chaos that is life in Palestine, people are trying to keep themselves upright. Rana Shubair in this article talks about life under the Israeli occupation and how parents have to stay strong as they watch their children face the hardships the occupation and grow up before their eyes.

A woman holds a Palestinian flag during a protest demanding the right to return to their homeland, at the Israel-Gaza border fence in Gaza October 19, 2018 [File: Mohammed Salem/Reuters] Credits: Al Jazeera, available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2019/3/30/how-the-great-march-of-return-resurrected-palestinian-resistance

Since the 1948 Nakba, Palestinians have been resisting colonial aggression from Israel at the cost of risking their lives. Over the past decades, the intensity of violence by Israel appears to have been rapidly increasing. The Israeli aerial bombardment of Palestine, especially of Gaza, has claimed many lives of innocent Palestinians. For example, the 2008-09 air attacks and ground invasion by Israel led to at least 1,100 Palestinian deaths. The 2014 air attack and ground invasion resulted in the killing of 2,100 Palestinian civilians in Gaza. And the aerial, sea and land bombardment that happened weeks ago ended in the killing of 254 persons in Gaza, including 39 women and 66 children.

These numbers are important for revealing the extent of violence and brutality on Palestinians by Israeli occupation, but it should not diminish other aspects of the daily struggle of those Palestinians who live under siege and occupation of Israeli forces. Apart from these killings and air attacks, Palestinians resist, struggle against, and experience everyday aggression, restrictions, and sanctions that affect their economy, wellbeing, health, and every other aspect of their life. The most vulnerable among them are children and women. This piece thus focuses on the life and struggles in Gaza and learns from the lens and perspective of a Palestinian woman, Rana Shubair, whom I interviewed about her lived experiences of the conflict and life in Gaza.

Rana Shubair is a survivor of latest aggression of 2021 in the Gaza Strip. She is an activist, mother of three, and author of two books. Her first book ‘In Gaza I Dare to Dream’ recounts details of her own life under the Israeli Occupation and the Gaza Siege. She presents Gaza as “a land where joy and grief are entwined, yet its people dare to dream, dare to love and struggle to gain their basic human rights”. Her second book, ‘My Lover Is A Freedom Fighter’, is a historical fiction that reflects about romance in Palestine while living under occupation.

While her narrative and personal experiences are heartfelt and reflect the hardship of Palestinians in present, in this interview she also reveals how Palestinians express their agency and determine their resilience and their power of resistance. You can listen to the entire interview (in English) at Global Development Review Podcast or watch it here. A shortened version of the interview follows.

Jaffer: How do you experience of being mother in Gaza at present, and what does it mean to be a mother in Gaza?

Rana: A mother in Gaza is a hero. We are stereotyped in the Western world as having domestic roles, but this is not the case. Mothers, wives, daughters, sisters – they all have a critical role in the Palestinian society and Palestinian resistance. So when I first had my children, I had hoped that by the time they grew up, this occupation would have ended. But I found myself confronted with new realities and much harsher ones. I grew up under occupation, but it wasn’t as brutal as the occupation my kids and their generation are witnessing. Because there was no aerial bombardment at that time.

So as my children grew up, they started asking me questions that sometimes I couldn’t find answers to.

One of my most famous entries I wrote in my book is when my two daughters were arguing with each other. One was saying, “we live in Gaza” and other was saying, “no we don’t live in Gaza, we live in Palestine”. I overheard it and my heart was broken because my own kids who live in their own country don’t know where they are located. They think that Palestine is a foreign land. They learn about Palestinian cities in their schools. But they have never seen those cities and were never allowed to go and visit their own country. So there was this dilemma that if we are living in Gaza, if we are living in Palestine, how come we can’t see it? As a mother I have come across situations where I can’t explain to them why we can’t go there.

This was one issue. Another issue that they were faced with the issue of Palestinian prisoners. One day my son came and wanted to make a poster that teachers often ask children to do for extra credit. When he came back, he brought a poster that was about a girl Wafa who was recently released from Israeli prison. And my son asked me innocently why she went prison. So I had to explain why they were in prison.

When we are walking down on the street, we see pictures of martyrs that are pasted on the walls. And they would ask you who these people were. Then you would have to say them that they are martyrs and explain what a martyr is. So one day my son came home and said, ‘mom I wanna go and see the hole where they put the martyrs in’. I was really shocked, because I don’t know where he got the information from.

For me, you can’t prevent your children from going outside. And this is something that is very painful for us as parents and as mothers. They don’t go through the normal phases of childhood that other children go through. They can tell you what kind of warplane is flying over them or what kind of rocket or missile is being launched. So as a Palestinian parent, you have to be strong, you have to be resilient, and you have no choice. It’s a heavy burden that we shoulder.

Jaffer: When people’s houses are destroyed, where do they go?

Rana:  Those whose houses are targeted – the one that were recently targeted – were not as lucky as those who were prewarned. People living in the tall towers were warned. They could flee from their homes, some of them going to nearby relatives and some of them going to UNRWA schools (United Nations Relief and Work Agency Schools). And I believe that many of them took refuge in UNRWA schools because it is presumably safer, as it was assumed that Israel would not target a UN school. But in 2008 and 2014, Israel did target schools and they killed people who took refuge there. There is no safe place. If I want to leave my home and go to another home, it doesn’t mean that I am going to a safer place. Because what happened to two families that I know is that one of the women went to her parents’ house and she was killed there. So it’s like another displacement in the Gaza Strip and these people really have nowhere to go.

I would like to say that ordinary Palestinian life here is not ordinary. Israeli drones don’t leave our skies. And these drones are the surveillance drones, but they can also shoot and kill. So it’s not safe. So you think that it’s a surveillance drone, but a few years ago children were playing at the nearby park and they were killed and targeted by the drone on the spot. So by day and night, you can’t ignore the noise; you can’t pretend that it’s not there. I can’t really pretend that nothing is going to happen. So life here is very unstable and unpredictable.

Jaffer: As an international community, how can we support Palestine or how can we stand in solidarity with the Palestinians?

Rana: What I see is that the media outlets in the Western world is that they block the Palestinian narrative or twist the facts. So number one, I think we need to promote awareness about the Palestinian cause, no matter how small your role is. For me, connecting through this kind of online webinar or meeting between you and I is one way in which to do so.

In the recent attacks on Gaza, I have seen dozen of protests across the world, such as in America, in Britain, and even in Arab countries. They were people who responded to the protests and they are people who still protest to this day. And this is something that is very crucial. I think we have to keep making noise. Tell your government to keep making noise and keep being vocal about what the Palestinians are going through.

This article comes as a collaboration between Jaffer Latief Najar and Rana Shubair with an aim to spread awareness about the life and struggles in Palestine, especially Gaza. The collaboration was in the form of interview with Rana Shubair.

Opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the ISS or members of the Bliss team.

About the author:

Jaffer latief Najar is a PhD researcher at International Institute of Social Studies, and Rana Shubair is a Palestinian survivor, activist and author of two books.

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Positioning Academia | Development must change in the face of injustice and inequality

Inequality is growing in most countries and deep-seated injustices continue to pervade our world—from the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on minority ethnic groups and the tragic death of George Floyd in the US, to reports of the collapse of the health system in Yemen. In the face of such embedded inequalities and injustices, what must we, as engaged academics, do to make our commitment to a more equitable and sustainable world real?

Through this series we are celebrating the legacy of Linda Johnson, former Executive Secretary of the ISS who retired in December last year. Having served the ISS in various capacities, Linda was also one of the founding editors of Bliss. She spearheaded many institutional partnerships, promoted collaboration, and organised numerous events, always unified in the theme of bringing people in conversation with each other across divides. This blog series about academics in the big world of politics, policy, and practice recognises and appreciates Linda’s contribution to the vitality of the ISS.

Changing how we ‘understand’ and ‘do’ development

As shown by contributors to the World Social Science Report on Challenging Inequalities, which the IDS led in 2016, multiple forms of inequality intersect to drive marginalisation and discrimination. In 2020, injustices and inequalities have been exposed and exacerbated in different ways through the disruptions and shocks that are shaping our era—from COVID-19, climate change and financial crises to conflicts, new technologies and closing political spaces.

These disruptions, which share many underlying causes, are both threatening collective futures and sharpening the vulnerabilities felt by particular people and groups. Long-dominant development models, such as those promoting economic growth, market liberalisation, globalisation, carbon-intensive industries and command-and-control planning regimes, are now under unprecedented challenge. But while these disruptions pose threats and challenges, they also offer opportunities to do things differently:  to ‘build forward differently’ and to rethink development as transformative change.

At IDS, we have identified three key areas in which a collective endeavour within, across and beyond the development sector is urgently needed. Each provides a valuable opportunity to develop our thinking with global partners, including colleagues at ISS, on how we can best collaborate to co-generate and mobilise evidence in ways that ultimately make a difference to people’s lives, and especially tackle the most extreme forms of inequity and injustice. We wish to:

1. Build and connect solidarities for collective action, locally and globally.

Responses to interlinked global challenges such as inequality, climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrate that knowledge, action, and leadership can emerge at local levels, as well as, or often in the absence of, action at state, national, and global levels. Neighbourhood quarantines, initiatives to provide food to the most vulnerablecommunity gardens, and local actions to eradicate plastic waste are just a few amongst myriad recent examples across the world.

More concerted efforts need to be undertaken to connect such local initiatives with national and global collective action, whether through building national and transnational alliances between social movements, encouraging government recognition and support, strengthening international financial, economic, health and environmental governance, or sharing science and data. For example, the World Health Organization’s repeated calls for global solidarity in relation to COVID-19 have been heeded by many, but international collaboration is still limited. Global partnership is an essential part of the equation in tackling global challenges—whether that’s finding treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, tackling climate and environmental vulnerabilities, or understanding and addressing institutional and systemic racism—and pressure needs to be applied to governments worldwide not to retreat behind borders.

ISS and IDS share a commitment to a universalist approach to development; we recognise that the time is right to look within Europe, to apply our frameworks, tools, and praxis of international development to new development trends in the Global North, including climate change, the global rise in populism, inequalities of many kinds, and health crises. A working group within IDS is developing partnerships and thinking around this through our European Engagement Approach.

2. Value diverse knowledge and expertise.

IDS and ISS are both committed to ensuring the representation of social sciences in responses to global shocks, and we advocate the need for expertise from across disciplines, countries, sectors and communities, and better ways of facilitating the collaborative generation and sharing of this knowledge and learning. Again, the COVID-19 response, and its interconnections with inequalities, is salutary. The mantra of ‘led by the science’ misleadingly presents science as a singular, uncontested, unbiased thing operating outside of politics and social norms. The range of disciplines drawn on in most national responses has been narrow, dominated by epidemiology and biomedicine.

Bringing wider forms of expertise to bear means, for example, challenging assumptions underpinning scientific modelling; drawing on social sciences to understand how the virus is spreading, between whom, and who is vulnerable and why; and complementing formal science with the knowledge and learning of local populations —as occurred so effectively in countries such as Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia during the 2014-16 Ebola outbreak.

But taking inequalities and injustices seriously means we also need to go further. We need to invest in equitable and sustainable research partnerships that value and strengthen the knowledge and expertise produced by institutions, universities, and communities in low- and middle-income countries, and to support moves to ‘decolonise’ development knowledge and practice, and foster cognitive justice.

3. Understand, address and challenge power imbalances.

Most important in changing the way we think about and do development is to understand, address, and challenge deep-seated power imbalances. Power relations underlie the causes of and vulnerabilities linked to health, climate, and economic disruptions. They lie at the heart of inequalities and injustices. Whether progressive economic, social, and environmental change takes place ultimately depends on political choice and mobilisation, involving citizens, states, and other actors in processes that will often be highly charged. Development can no longer be imagined as a technical matter, but must be treated as thoroughly political.

We must also move beyond limited applications of ‘thinking and working politically’ in aid programmes, to embedding understandings of politics and power, including the politics of knowledge, more widely and deeply in attempts to influence change and transformation. In doing so, we must look within our own organisations and institutions at how we create and prop up, consciously or sub-consciously, entrenched power relations, injustices, and inequalities.

And as academics and scholar-activists, we also need to reflect on and be humble about our own assumptions and positions. Whether through the ways in which we approach partnership, in relation to where and who we choose to engage with, in how we frame and teach development, or in how far we reflect equality and diversity across all that we do, it is time to match our commitments to a more equitable and sustainable external world with commitments to justice in our personal and institutional practices.

As academics and knowledge professionals committed to a more equal and sustainable world, staff at the Institute of Development Studies and the International Institute for Social Studies share the goal of collaborating across sciences, sectors, and communities to do research, learning and teaching that brings progressive change. Our institutes have a long history of collaboration, including through the Journal of Peasant Studies, the Land Deals Politics Initiative, the Wellbeing, Ecology, Gender and Community Innovation Training Network (WEGO-ITN), Robert Chambers’s and Richard Jolly’s Honorary Fellowships at ISS, and more. We look forward to collaborating with ISS and others in this vision of development. Read more about our commitments and priorities, and join us in solidarity around a search for social and cognitive justice in meeting challenges that affect us all.

About the author:

Melissa Leach is Director of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS).

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EADI/ISS Series | Why gender matters to social movements by Stacey Scriver and G. Honor Fagan

There are right and left, radical and conservative social movements at work in today’s volatile and unequal world. Whether directed towards a transformative social justice agenda or not, social movements themselves do not exist outside of the structures of power. Even among social movements directed towards deep social justice, gender inequality remains a key concern, since gender-related inequalities persist, both within the movements themselves, as well as in their recognition, support and the response to them.

There are right and left, radical and conservative social movements at work in today’s volatile and unequal world. Whether directed towards a transformative social justice agenda or not, social movements themselves do not exist outside of the structures of power. A growth in populist politics, a resurgence of religious movements with conservative agendas on gender and sexuality, and new male supremacist ideologies remind us that gender justice is an extremely challenging and ongoing struggle.  Even among social movements directed towards deep social justice, gender inequality remains a key concern, since gender-relatedinequalities persist, both within the movements themselves, as well as in their recognition, support and the response to them.

The Sustainable Development Goals represent the blueprint to achieving a better and more sustainable future. SDG 5 is particularly relevant to considerations of gender and social movements. It is clearly recognised that to achieve sustainable growth, gender equality is necessary. This includes the removal of barriers to women’s empowerment, such as the common and pervasive experience of violence against women or gender-based violence. It also implies re-shaping power structures through the inclusion of women in leadership roles, both within government and in economic activities.

Social movements can be powerful actors in efforts to protect and expand human rights, including gender inequality. Further, social movements are vital training-grounds for leadership and political engagement: many who ultimately take up positions of power within societies initially learned skills in negotiation and communication and built their reputations through work with social movements. They thus also offer a pathway for women to achieve political and economic status.

Gender in Social Movements for Economic, Environmental and Social Justice

Despite the potential of some social movements to contribute towards a gender-just world, inequalities persist within the structure and organisation of many. Leaders are most often men, and often men who ascribe to a culturally acceptable form of masculinity. Women often take on the ‘house-keeping’ roles within social movements, such as organising recruitment and developing campaigns, or ‘soft’ activism, such as maintaining relationships behind the scenes. Consequently, those whose voice are heard most and who consequently benefit most from such public profiles are more likely to be men, limiting the benefits of participating in social movements for women. In short, the working culture of these movements and their pedagogical methods do not create gender parity in membership and decision-making unless they are ‘engendered’.

Many social movements neglect to address the question of gender. For instance, in movements for peace and reconciliation, concerns perceived as relating only to women are often relegated to a secondary status. Peace movements may perceive conflict-affected gender-based violence, including the propensity for increases in intimate partner violence in the context of conflict, as being a second-class category of concern. That is, to be addressed once the ‘bigger’ issues of, for instance, organised violence by paramilitaries, are resolved. This is despite gender-based violence affecting more individuals than organised violent attacks.

The failure to apply a gendered approach to social issues and to create equality within social movements may thus replicate inequalities within the movement itself. This undermines the potential for social movements to be a space wherein women can develop key skills in leadership, shape demands for justice, and develop trust with publics. There is a crucial role for feminists and gender justice activists to create change within social movements, even those advocating social or environmental justice and sustainable development.

Gendered Social Movements                                         

While women have historically taken on important, if often under-recognised, roles in social movements, with examples including the labour movements of the 19th and 20th Century, ‘women’s movements’ have also been active in combating gender discrimination, from suffrage movements to Violence agains Women (VAW) movements. There have been notable successes. The Global Campaign of the early 1990s, and the organisation of the Vienna Tribunal, achieved a significant shift in the human rights agenda, with the explicit recognition of violence against women as a human rights violation.

However, women’s or gender movements also face particular barriers due to gender bias, stereotypes and inequalities.  Being perceived as having particularist goals or lacking sufficient political allies in positions of power has limited the successes of often vibrant women’s movements in terms of translating knowledge raising and public activism into direct political and/or economic gains.

Gender justice is too important to be siloed as a ‘women’s issue!

Put simply, social movements are critical components of thriving democracies, and even more critical where democratic accountability is on the wane. However, persistent gender inequalities within social movements, mean that social movements themselves may not be representative of the needs of its members. Social movements need to engage in critical reflection and restructuring to ensure that they are themselves gender just.

Moreover, adequate recognition that equitable social change and sustainable development requires gender equality must be central to the organising principles not only within social movements but also across those seeking social justice.  Additionally, gender justice is too important to be siloed as a ‘women’s issue’. Allyship between explicitly gendered movements and those focused on other kinds of social justice change is needed. Transformative social change is necessary for long-term and sustainable development and social movements have an important role to play; gender justice, within and between social movements, is a prerequisite.

If you are you interested in discussing gender and social movements further, consider submitting to our harvest panel “Gender Movements and Social Justice” at the EADI/ISS General Conference 2020

Our panel seeks to deepen understanding of the role of gender movements, and gender in movements (including gender solidarity), working towards peaceful, equitable and just communities and societies. We welcome papers that engage with the issues of gender justice and social movements through a variety of perspectives and approaches. Contributions from early career researchers, established academics, and practitioners, including empirically and theoretically-based draft papers, are all welcomed.

This article is part of a series launched by the EADI (European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes) and the ISS in preparation for the 2020 EADI/ISS General Conference “Solidarity, Peace and Social Justice”. It was also published on the EADI blog.

Image Credit: Molly Adams on Flickr. The image was cropped.

About the authors:

s200_stacey.scriverStacey Scriver is co-convenor of the Gender Justice Working Group of EADI. She is also a lecturer in Global Women’s Studies in the School of Political Science and Sociology and Director of the MA Gender, Globalisation and Rights at the National University of Galway, Ireland.honor-g-fagan-hme

Honor Fagan is co-convenor of the Gender Justice Working Group of EADI. She is a Professor of Sociology at Maynooth University, Ireland. Her research interests focus on human security and international development, water, waste and social sustainability, and gender and governance. She is currently leading the Social Science component of two Horizon 2020 research programmes on water sustainability.


The question of democracy in environmental politics: The Green Road Project in Turkey by Melek Mutioglu Ozkesen

Road construction is usually presented as a major condition for development, but the question is: development for who and whose land is being intruded for the construction of the road? In Turkey, these questions were prominently raised by social movements and civil society organizations when the government launched its Green Road Project in 2013. It is promoted by the state authorities for making the Black Sea region accessible to the incoming tourists that would arguably improve the economic conditions of the people living in the region. Six years later, the road has almost been completed, and this post can only pay homage to the brave and gradual field attempts of social movements to stop this project.

The Green Road Project is a road project with a length of 2645 kilometers that will connect the highlands of the Artvin, Bayburt, Giresun, Gümüshane, Ordu, Rize, Samsun and Trabzon provinces in the northern part of Turkey. The target of the Green Road Project is declared as ‘the completion of not only the Green Road Project to provide a significant brand value to the region in the tourism sector and link the highlands to each other, but also the acceleration of social progress that will be ensured through the resulting economic development.’[1] However, it also means the loss of livelihoods, increase in construction, rent, and environmental damage for the locals living in the region.

The Green Road, introduced by state officials as a regional development project, is justified by a discourse of serving ‘the people’ and providing local and national development through infrastructural modernization, which could result in a tourism boom and attract foreign investment.  It led however to the adverse reactions of highland residents. Non-governmental organizations involved in the protest argue that the process has been carried out without consulting the local people at any moment during the policy making stages. Various organizations such as TEMA, the Fırtına Initiative, ‘Brotherhood of the Rivers/Highlands’, and ‘Black Sea in Revolt’ monitored the project very closely and struggled against it. They tried to stop the construction for a long time until eleven locals were detained by the gendarme and 24 locals were prosecuted on the charges of violating the freedom of work.



Mother Havva, depicted in the title image, who has become the symbol of the social opposition in the region, says:

‘Let them see if there is anything green in this road. Those highlands are ruined for whom? Highlands should be for our children, for our animals. We have no place to go. We kept our hometown alive by protecting our highlands and forests. The state exists because we exist, because this folk exists. Neither would [exist] these police, this gendarme, this judge, this government, this district governor for that matter. They exist as long as we exist. We are people with our land, our green, our highland!’[2]

Apparently, Mother Havva and the government officials do not refer to the same group as ‘the people’. This contested use of ‘the people’ makes us question which people this project serves?  Which people will gain and lose by it? Mother Havva, while justifying her resistance against the project, protests that the state acts against – their peoples’ rule and their will. Perceiving ‘the people’ as the founding component of the state, she also questions who the state is? The Turkish government identifies its uncontested executive actions as democracy for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) since its rise to power in 2002, and has been trying to legitimate itself as the representative of the ‘will of the people’.  On the other side, ‘the people’ identify themselves with their environment and lands, and consider this project as a threat for their livelihoods. This contested use of the term ‘the people’ by the locals and the officials sheds light on different projects of democracy endorsed by the two sides. While the locals have been struggling for their representation in the ongoing projects happening on their living space and refuse to leave absolute control to the mercy of the political authority, the government officials have been legitimizing their actions through conducting their representational legitimacy in the country.

In the Green Road Project, participatory action seems out of the agenda in an ever suspending process which excludes the opposing locals from any stage of policy making itself. Even when the locals mobilized to struggle/protest against the project, they were threatened, detained and were usually marginalized through various discourses such as that of ‘pasture occupiers’, settled in the region without legal permission and against local development. In this context one can say that the Green Road Project is one clear example that asks for the necessity of participatory democracy in environmental politics in Turkey in order to avoid the threats and disappearance of the livelihoods of the rural people in the region.

[1] DOKAP (2014). Doğu Karadeniz Projesi (DOKAP) Eylem Planı 2014-2018. T.C. Kalkınma Bakanlığı.

[2] BirGün. (2015) Havva ananın isyanı: Kimdir devlet? Devlet bizim sayemizde devlettir.

Image Credits: Demiroren News Agency

MelekAbout the author:

Melek Mutioglu Ozkesen is a visiting PhD researcher in the Political Ecology Research Group at the ISS. She comes from the Ankara University in Turkey.

Toward ‘fisheries justice’?: the global ‘fisheries crisis’ and how small-scale fishers are fighting back by Elyse Mills

The global ‘fisheries crisis’—in which fish stocks are depleted, environmental destruction has reached an apex, and small-scale fisheries are disappearing—is causing irreversible damage to both the fisheries sector and communities sustained by fishing activities. Governments implement stricter regulations and resource management strategies in an attempt to solve the crisis, but these approaches typically leave out the perspectives of small-scale fishers. Despite this, fishing communities are constructing innovative ways to make their voices heard and to protect their lives and livelihoods.

Transforming global fisheries

The overlap of the global food crisis (sparked by the 2007-2008 food price spike), and rapid economic growth occurring in the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) has contributed to significantly altering patterns of food production, consumption and trade worldwide. Economic growth has also facilitated changing dietary preferences, contributing to a rising global demand for animal protein. Fish protein has become particularly popular in light of health warnings about industrially farmed animals and eating too much red meat. This has caused fish consumption to double worldwide in the last 50 years.

Rising consumption has intensified pressure on the global fisheries sector—particularly to meet the demands of highly populated countries like China. Even South Africa, which has the smallest economy and population among the BRICS, saw fish consumption increase by 26% between 1999 and 2012. In terms of production, China is by far the world leader, and at its 2012 peak contributed 70% of fish to the global supply. Between 2012 and 2014, it further expanded its capture fishing sector by almost 2 million tonnes and its aquaculture sector by nearly 5 million tonnes. India produced at a similar level, contributing 50% of the global fish supply in 2012—ranking third in global capture fisheries (after China and Peru) and second in aquaculture. South Africa has one of the largest capture fishing sectors in the African continent, contributing approximately US$ 435 million to the national economy in 2012.

Fighting for policy change in South Africa

Capture fishing in South Africa is an important source of livelihoods for many coastal communities, of which a large proportion engages in small-scale fishing. Of the 43,458 commercial fishers and 29,233 subsistence fishers in South Africa, approximately 50,000 are considered small-scale.[i] However, despite comprising almost 62% of the fishing population, the South African Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ national policies have historically not recognised the particular needs of small-scale fishers and the difficulties they are facing, focusing instead on expanding the large-scale industrial fishing industry. This has sparked intense resistance from fishing communities.

After the government adopted its 2005 long-term fisheries policy, leaving small-scale fishers without any access or fishing rights, a group of fishing communities, led by community organisations Masifundise and Coastal Links, took the issue to the South African Equality Court. The Court finally ruled in favour of the development of a new policy. In 2012, the new Policy for the Small-Scale Fisheries Sector in South Africa was completed, introducing new strategies for managing the sector, which aim to secure rights and access for communities by prioritising human rights, gender, and development as key issues. This marked an important victory for South African fishers, demonstrating their capacity for mobilisation and to achieve change. In 2014, Masifundise and Coastal Links also published Small-scale Fisheries Policy: A Handbook for Fishing Communities, providing fishers with accessible information on how the policy could be applied in their daily lives.

Handline fishers off the coast of Cape Point, South Africa. Photo: Rodger Bosch

Fishers’ participation in governance processes

Considering South Africa’s 2012 policy was developed partly as a response to pressure from fishing communities, it has set an important precedent for future fisheries policies, both nationally and internationally. Masifundise and Coastal Links also played key roles in discussions with the FAO’s Committee on Fisheries (COFI), which led to the publication of the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (SSF Guidelines) in 2015. These guidelines were the result of a bottom-up participatory process that included 4,000 representatives from small-scale fishing communities, governments, fish workers’ organisations, research institutes, and NGOs.

The development of the SSF Guidelines and South Africa’s national policy signal an important shift in the perception and governance of fisheries sectors. While small-scale fishers have been crucial contributors to the global food system for generations, their rights are only now beginning to be more formally recognised. There appears to be an important connection between this newfound recognition and increasing mobilisation within fishing communities both nationally and around the world.

The rise of a global ‘fisheries justice’ movement?

Increasing mobilisation among fishers, particularly within the last few decades, has demonstrated their commitment to participating in, and shaping, the transformation of the fisheries sector and its socio-political context. Fishers are also joining forces with farmers, pastoralists, rural, and indigenous peoples, as overlapping food and climate crises highlight common struggles between social movements. Their shared commitment to creating a fair food system has contributed both to a transnational convergence of resource justice movements (e.g. agrarian, climate, environmental), as well as the emergence of what I would argue is a global ‘fisheries justice’ movement.

A key actor in this movement is the World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP), of which Masifundise and Coastal Links are active members. Founded in 1997, the WFFP now links 43 national small-scale fishers’ organisations in 40 countries around the world. It focuses on addressing the issues threatening small-scale fisheries (e.g. privatisation, climate change) and advocates for fishers’ human rights and secure livelihoods. The WFFP holds a triennial General Assembly and an annual Coordinating Committee meeting for member organisations to come together, reflect on their goals and actions taken, and develop new strategies for the future.

In an era when power within the food system is increasingly being concentrated in the hands of a few huge corporations, movements of small-scale food producers and their allies offer alternatives based on social justice, sustainable production methods, and protecting the environment that rejuvenate hope for the way forward.

[i] Small-scale fishers refers to: ‘Persons that fish to meet food and basic livelihood needs, or are directly involved in harvesting/processing or marketing fish, traditionally operate on or near shore fishing grounds, predominantly employ traditional low technology or passive fishing gear, usually undertake single day fishing trips, and are engaged in the sale or barter or are involved in commercial activity’. Definition from Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) (2012), Policy for the Small-Scale Fisheries Sector in South Africa.

Untitled.pngAbout the author:

Elyse Mills is a PhD researcher in the Political Ecology Research Group at the ISS. Her PhD research focuses on the dynamics of fisheries and fishers’ movements in the context of global food and climate politics. She also co-coordinates the Initiatives in Critical Agrarian Studies (ICAS), and is part of the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI) Secretariat.