Women's Agency and Sustainability: One Valley and Two Voices During Protests Against Hydroelectric Power Plants in Turkey

Women's Agency and Sustainability: One Valley and Two Voices During Protests Against Hydroelectric Power Plants in Turkey

Pervin Yanikkaya Aydemır
Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 32
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4829-5.ch005
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The critical multitasking role that women play in agriculture, production, and ecological sustainability and their contribution as possessors of knowledge and skills have been almost ignored by the institutionalized patriarchy, such that women constituting almost half of the world's population have lacked equitable participation in decision-making, responsibilities, and benefits of development. In this chapter, the author discusses women's agency and sustainability, focusing on the activist work of two remarkable women from different socio-economic backgrounds in Turkey with whom she conducted in-depth interviews during fieldwork in İspir, Erzurum in 2012. Both women provide examples of how they have responded to issues relating to the upsurge of hydropower projects in Turkey. Although it has been almost eight years since she was in the field, she finds their perspectives and experiences relevant and important for representation of female voices and women's agency in terms of management and sustainability of water resources, particularly given the current climate crisis.
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“Everyday life should be a work of art!”

Henri Lefebvre, Everyday Life in the Modern World



Women’s agency is already present in every aspect of daily life. This is why it is unique for each region, culture, and/or geography, and difficult to be conceptualized. The cultural, spatial, temporal, and social experiences of women in relation to different forms of patriarchy are well reflected in the making, understanding, and interpretation of their surrounding environment. Thus, following women’s footsteps in relation to their environment provides us with hints on their gendered tendency to maintain ecological, economical and social sustainability, and conservation of ecological and economical resources which are under the threat of aggressive neoliberal policies adopted all over the world. It was first the Brundtland Commission Report (1987) that institutionally and internationally acknowledged the crucial roles played by women in sustainable development. The report emphasized the need for improving women’s position in economic and social life.

In an article published in 1937 in Anthropos, the Indian anthropologist Das (1937, p. 449) emphasized that woman’s contribution to economic life in Chiru was more important than that of a man, in a context where the women were involved in plowing, leveling, preparing the food for the family, drawing water and collecting fuel as well as weaving and supplying all family members for all seasons, and he mentioned that “the males lead a life of comparative ease and comfort while the women find little time to rest.” Researches show that since then, little has changed (Ajani et. al., 2013; Benería & Sen, 1981; Braidotti et.al., 2004; Cecelski, 1987; Malhotra, 2004; Kaygusuz, 2011; Sontheimer, 1997) in the patriarchal climate of the world. This is mostly associated with women’s adherence to patriarchal forms, the sexual division of labor, being confined to the domestic sphere because of the traditional family model, having limited access to education and representation in research and other support services, lack of direct land rights, etc.

Despite persuasive gender roles imposed by society, women are well connected with resistance against patriarchal institutions. However, mainly the collective aspect of their protests has been studied in the literature, such as participation in nationalist and revolutionary struggles, agrarian and other economic movements, trade union movements as well as ecological movements (Aggarwal, 2004, p.17). For example, women’s visibility as political actors in Africa, which has a vast cultural, linguistic, economic, political and ecological diversity, emerged after the 1990s, mainly followed active and autonomous women’s movements and grassroots organizations, and it was one of the most important determinants of the gender-based policies adopted by several African countries since then (Tripp et al., 2009, p .2). These movements in Africa drawing on multiple historic traditions of resistance until the 1990s were in the form of political motherhood as in the example of Namibia and Somalia; secret cults, as in the example a cult known as Takembeng in Cameroon whose members were believed to possess mystical powers “due to their sacred reproductive organs”; precolonial shaming and cursing tactics as in the example of 7000 Kom women in British Cameroon during a three-year rebellion by ridiculing and shaming colonial male authorities in late 1950s; exposure of breasts or marching half-naked as in the example of Zambia in 2002, or in the Gulu District of Uganda in 1989 (Tripp et al. 2009, p.31); or participation in nationalist movements for attaining independence as well as their specific gender-based goals as in the example of Algeria, Mozambique, Guinea, and Mali, although their role was ignored in some countries after the liberation (p.36). These resistance forms can be considered as examples of the gendered nature of women’s reactions.

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