By Rola Tassabehji
April 18th, 2011
Defiant women, some “worth 100 men” are reshaping the Arab world in grassroots activism.
While news of a minority of Muslim women in burkas continues to spread Islamophobia in the West, a growing number of Arab women (veiled or otherwise) are shedding their typical conservative image and gaining more visibility in the pro-democracy protests around the region. Western liberal understanding of feminism may prevent many from acknowledging any real progress, but a new role for Arab women in grass root activism is plain to see.
From hunger fasts in Bahrain, to women’s only marches in Yemen, to Asmaa Mahfouz (known as “a woman worth 100 men”), whose anti-Mubarak video helped trigger the revolution against autocratic rule, to the defiant Iman Al-Obeidi in Libya, women are playing as important role in the political and social transformations reshaping the Arab world.
The link between social and environmental justice
For a lot of these women fighting social justice and human rights, the link between social and environmental justice is not recognized. Yet, as Melinda Kramer, co-founder of the Berkeley-based Women’s Global Green Action Network, explains “women are inextricably linked to issues of environmental sustainability…as mothers, as caretakers, as food producers, as consumers and as nurturers.”
Research reports from around the world confirm that the majority of those affected by climate-related disasters in developing economies have been women. Women continue to be more severely affected by pollution, deforestation, water shortages, increased food costs, exposure to toxic chemicals, and other harmful environmental practices resulting in many adverse affects, including poor health and high infant mortality.
Women in environmental activism
While natural disasters affect women most, inspiring examples from around the world shows another trend.
Indigenous women who are aware about nature conservancy and environmental issues have been able to make significant difference to the environment in tangible ways, for example in water conservation, waste management, energy efficiency at home, and family planning. Women environmental activists have also proven to help change the status of other women, particularly in rural communities, creating empowerment opportunities beyond the environmental benefits.
Professionals in clean tech too
As reported by Green Prophet, several women groups throughout the Gulf are taking a more active role in environmental protection. More recently, Mashael bint Mohammed Saud Abdurrahman of King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) in Saudi Arabia won the United Nations’ Water for Life, Best Practice Award.
Although still a minority, the number of women scientists working on areas of sustainable development, at KACST’s and other research institutes in the region, are on the increase.
But as experience from the rest of the world shows, while most women recognized for their environmental accomplishments spent years doing research and studying the issues, the grassroots movement are often led by “accidental environmentalists” who knew little about environmental issues until they experience the negative health effect of environmental degradation on them, their homes or their communities. Mobilizing these women to become female grassroots environmental advocates requires visionary leadership as well as local organizations to empower them with information, training and resources.
As Arab women forge their own path forward in their own unique way, they should widen the debate and be at the forefront of fighting for environmental change in order to ensure their own health, and that of their family and communities.
Bedouin Women Bring Solar Power to Their Villages
By Arwa Aburawa
March 16th, 2011
For many living in the harsh and desolate deserts of south Jordan, life without electricity is the norm. Either the infrastructure which provides electricity doesn’t reach them or they simply don’t have the money to afford it. However, all that looks set to change as two women bring to light the advantages of solar energy.
Two Jordanian Bedouin women have recently returned from a six-month course at a unique college in India where they were trained as solar engineers. The two women, who are illiterate and have never been employed, were carefully selected by the elders in the village to attend the course at Barefoot College in India which helps poor rural communities become more sustainable.
“We’ve been taught about solar energy and solar panels and how to generate light,” explains Rafi’a Abdul Hamid, a mother of four who lives in a tent in the deserts of south Jordan. “Hopefully when we return we will be able to teach others and use everything we’ve learnt here in India to improve our village.”
Building Sustainable Bedouin Communities
Many of the Bedouin communities in Jordan which previously lived off their herds, are now highly dependent on government handouts. They usually make up the poorest sector of society and have a very low standard of living. As such the government sees this project as a strategic way to encourage these poor villages to generate their own energy and also become more self-sufficient.
Raouf Dabbas, the senior advisor to the Ministry of Environment in Jordan told Green Prophet: “Providing this green technology to the rural community, whilst it will not have a major impact on reducing climate change, it will have a profound impact on the socio-economic position of the Bedouins and it will help improve their standard of living.”
The project is also seen as a stepping stone towards Jordan’s rather ambitious plans to source 20% of its energy mix from sustainable sources by 2020. “This is certainly one step in that direction,” adds Dabbas. “Jordan currently imports 98% of its oil and energy from the outside and at a time when crude oil prices are unstable, Jordan must actively look for sustainable forms of energy.”
Realising the Potential of Renewable Energy
As such, this project is not only about training women to help bring solar power to poor and remote villages but its also about demonstrating that renewable energy can improve people’s daily lives and also cut back emissions. Sponsors are required to help pay for the initial equipment setup but after that it the project will be able to sustain itself through the revenues it generates though excess electricity.
Barefoot college launched the solar power course for women in 2005 and already more than 150 grandmothers from 28 countries have been trained. Over 10,000 homes in 100 villages have been solar electrified which has saved 1.5 million liters of kerosene from polluting the atmosphere. With so much success already you can’t help but feel confident that change is also on the way for the sleepy Bedouin villages of south Jordan.
As Rafi’a insists, “I have no doubt that we are going to achieve a lot- I’m hoping that my life and that of my village will change forever.”
Barefoot College. The College trains poor, rural women to become Barefoot Solar Engineers who solar electrify their own communities. Barefoot Solar Engineers from 32 countries have been trained by the College since 2004.