One rainy day in April 2018 I went with a small speedboat along the Kapuas River in West Kalimantan Province, Indonesia, to three tidal marsh villages, whose residents had protested against the expansion of oil palm plantations to their farmland and settlements.
The government had allowed a palm oil company to establish and expand its plantations in the area. The company had cleaned and drained the peat bogs, a major carbon sink, and planted oil palm trees in the ground that the villagers had been using for decades. In the process, it had been completely ignored how their actions violated the land rights of the villagers, caused the loss of livelihood for the women of the village, who had mostly cultivated the land, and contributed to the crisis. global climate.
The villagers had little information about where the oil palm plantations began or ended and about how or where they overlapped with their land. Women had even less information than men and had fewer avenues to negotiate directly with the company about their losses. During my visit, these women told me that when they started protesting the expansion of palm plantations, the company only met with the men of the village to discuss possible compensation.
The loss of livelihood has made the women of the village even more vulnerable to climate change as it has affected their food security and their source of income. They will face more difficulties in overcoming or adapting to their effects and will be one of the most affected.
Around the world, there are many similar stories. Women struggle daily to have their land and property rights recognized and respected. At the same time, governments fail to prioritize women’s participation in the development and implementation of ambitious climate action plans to achieve the goal of maintaining the temperature above 1.5 degrees Celsius and preventing more dramatic effects, including land rights and women’s rights. .
As urgent climate action plans are developed, we must also consider how gender discrimination facilitates environmental degradation and weakens forest governance initiatives and how women still bear the brunt of local environmental damage and of climate change. We need to ensure that women and climate-affected communities have power and a voice.
Women are often unable to participate significantly in decision-making about the natural resources (such as water, forests, and land) where they live. Most rural women do not have access to and control over natural resources the same as men in their community.
This exclusion can be devastating for women and their families. Globally, large-scale land supply and commercial agriculture are presented as development opportunities that have exacerbated poverty and food insecurity in the affected local communities. Forests are cleared or closed, which restricts access to food. Villagers lose access to farmland for subsistence and earn income from the sale of crops. These practices disproportionately affect working women, who are forced to work heavy and cumbersome jobs on farms or commercial plantations or migrate to urban areas in search of employment.
At the same time, women have to combine working hours on the plantation with working at home looking for water, food and assistance, which intensifies their workload without fair compensation. Climate change will make these tasks more difficult, further exacerbating gender inequality.
People from the villages I visited in West Kalimantan recognized that some people found paid work when the plantations arrived. But they complained about having no other options to support their families when before they were able to live off their land and access the forest. Some villagers said working conditions were unfair, with unattainable daily work goals.
Sometimes entire families have to work, including children, to achieve the company’s goals, even though the plantation can only be occupied and paid for by a family member. Bethari, a 44-year-old woman with an eight-month-old baby, told me: “My husband works on the plantation. His children and I must help him achieve the goal. I help while I take the baby, I can’t leave her at home ”.
Often, the expansion of plantations contributes to the degradation of the environment, further harming the life and health of residents. Palm oil companies dig huge ditches to drain the peatlands and prepare them for planting. Its actions degrade the structure of the peat and the surrounding environment and release into the atmosphere large amounts of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, from centuries of carbon stored in peat soils. Excessive peat drainage was a key factor in Indonesia’s forest fires in 2015.
If governments do not monitor how companies acquire land and manage their operations, people and the immediate environment are at risk. When it comes to peat bogs and forests, we all suffer because the carbon emissions from the destruction of these carbon sinks are driving the global climate crisis.
A week after visiting the villages affected by the cultivation of the oil palm, I returned to Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan. I observed mangroves clustered on the edge of the Kapuas. I couldn’t help but feel angry because, as the Indonesian government is not doing enough to protect the land and people, many of the mangroves could also be cleared to make way for the plantations.
Indonesia is just one of many countries that needs to step up efforts to safeguard the land rights of local communities, ensure gender equality, and protect the environment. Governments must maintain commitments to drastically reduce emissions, ensure that strategies to conserve carbon sinks such as forests and peatlands also protect the land and other human rights of rural communities and ensure that women participate significantly in decisions about natural resources and climate at all levels.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.