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Women, Violence and Climate Change

Bolivian women’s activist Leny Olivera and US photographer Carey Averbook spent several months documenting resilience in the climate-change vulnerable, women-led collective community of María Auxiliadora in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Here they share a little of what they learned from witnessing multifaceted resilience at close hand.

In the peri-urban area of Cochabamba, Bolivia, the Community of María Auxiliadora sits at the nexus of every point of climate change vulnerability: geographic, demographic, economic and social. As we know, all these factors are yet more acute for women, whose vulnerability to climate change impacts is greater, and who – as those responsible for providing the basic necessities for their families – bear the greatest burden in responding to those impacts. The women of María Auxiliadora are living the perfect storm, but what we find in this unique women-led community are powerful and inspirational stories of what resilience means, not in theory but on the ground, in the lives of real people today.

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From listening to and documenting some of these stories, we’ve learned three very important lessons about resilience. Firstly, resilience is part of the human experience and is not something unique to climate change. We spent time with a group of women from MaríaAuxiliadora who have learned strategies of resilience from other experiences in their lives – like living with a violent husband in a single room for them and their children. Climate change is another act of violence in their lives, thrust on them by external forces. These women draw on the wisdom gained from their past experiences, applying it in a different context and coping with a distinct form of threat. Resilience isn’t a technical process. It is a personal and spiritual capacity full of wisdom and dignity that gives someone the ability to confront and bounce back from any situation of hardship.

Secondly, resilience is not something we do individually, it is something we do in community. The women of María Auxiliadora are taking collective decisions and working together on collective territory to protect themselves from violence in the home, from the violence of economic discrimination, and from the violence of climate change impacts. Thirdly, food sovereignty and access to affordable, healthy food is at the heart of being resilient. Their vegetable gardens feature prominently in each of the women’s storiesThe importance of food in being resilient is not just about growing it, but also using it in different ways – such as conserving itRelationships with food in these homes are often very different to what many people know.

As women we confront multiple forms of violence in our many different lives, in accordancewith our ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, geographic location, and social relations. Women live the impacts of climate change distinctly, as another form of violence interwoven with the rest. This implies more challenges for women and requires that they have greater courage and strength to be resilient to all the violence in their lives, including climate change impacts. In the case of the Community of Maria Auxiliadora, the female led community represents an integrated strategy that supports them in living better and with greater dignity.