An interview with our Technical Guidance and Data Mapping Consultants – Trimita Chakma & Bea Moraras

We interviewed our GEDA consultants, Trimita Chakma and Bea Moraras, who are both representative of the knowledge we actively seek to cultivate and enhance within our Alliance, as well of the feminist work ethic we believe is essential to further our agenda.

Can you introduce yourselves briefly, and tell us why you have chosen to advance a feminist perspective through your work?

Trimita Chakma: 

I am a feminist activist and researcher from the Chakma Indigenous community in Bangladesh. I have over a decade’s experience in campaigning for women’s human rights. I have  worked with hundreds of activists and organizers from the Global South, training them on using Feminist Participatory Action Research (FPAR) for social justice on issues related to climate change, gender inequality,  labour, migration, right to land and water, and trade/ global economic inequality. I am a co-founder of the online feminist pedagogical platform FPAR Academy. I hold a MSc  in Information Technology and expect to complete my MA in Asian Women’s Studies this year.

Bea Moraras:

I  am an activist researcher and data & knowledge specialist with Masters degrees in Evaluation and International Development. I specialize in participatory, collaborative, and utilization-focused research and program evaluation approaches, and I am passionate about using research and data to advance social justice and improve programs benefiting marginalized groups. I have extensive experience in Southeast Asia with academia and non-profits, primarily in education, capacity-building, advocacy, network-building, humanitarian assistance, and human and environmental rights. I have worked with Trimita on various feminist research projects since 2021. I am a native English speaker and fluent in Thai.

Trimita & Bea

We believe a feminist perspective offers some of the most progressive thinking around how to build a more just and equal world for all – including animals, plants, and the planet. Challenging the dominant discourse around what entails “progress and development” is necessary for averting the existential threat we are currently under due to the climate crisis. 

What do you think is the most important component for achieving feminist, intersectional, non-traditional gender-environment data? 

For a long time now, feminist researchers have shown that there is a gender bias towards men in traditional research methods and argued that there is no such thing as unbiased data. Feminist data therefore is suppose to empower women and serve the broader purpose of women’s emancipation from patriarchal systems.

We think the most important component for generating  feminist, intersectional, gender-environment data is to look at the research methodology and ask the following questions:

    • Who decides what data to collect?

    • Who collects the data and how?

    • Who analyzes and questions the data?

    • Who uses the data and for what decisions?

    • Who owns the data?

Trying to answer these questions will help us shift our perspective on what data looks like.  Data is not just about numbers and statistics. Qualitative data, such as stories of women’s lived experiences, can provide a more nuanced and complete picture. Essentially, everything around us is data. It is a matter of deciding which data to analyze and who analyzes and uses it.

What have been the greatest challenges you have faced when advocating and researching for  feminist, intersectional, non-traditional gender-environment data? 

One of the greatest challenges when advocating and researching for feminist, intersectional gender-environment data has been enabling  women’s meaningful participation in the research process. In our experience, most of the women who are facing multiple forms of structural oppression are usually overworked, unpaid/underpaid, or have limited mobility.  They are not likely to prioritize voluntarily participating in research projects over their basic survival needs. This social position of marginalized women is an outcome of generations of patriarchal practices and (neo)colonial legacies — we cannot expect to revive their political agency overnight. This is why women’s meaningful participation is also a challenge when promoting their leadership in decision-making structures. Generating feminist and intersectional gender-environment data thus first requires  building political solidarity between everyone involved in the research process and  working toward the same objective for social change. In doing so, it is important to share power between ‘the researchers’ and ‘the researched’ to avoid data extraction.

Is there a specific resource you consider adequately (or exceptionally) represents these values? 

In our experience, the theory and practice of  Feminist Participatory Action Research (FPAR) provides the most comprehensive guidance for doing feminist research and activism. It builds on the works of critical pedagogy that originated  in the Global South since the 1970s and integrates key feminist notions of critical reflexivity, intersectionality, and  gender justice into the methodology. One good example of praxis of FPAR is the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD)’s approach to using it for strengthening grassroots feminist movements. APWLD is one of the leading Global South-based feminist networks that has been applying FPAR with and for rural, indigenous, migrant and urban poor women for generating intersectional and bottom-up evidence-based data on gender, development, climate change, human rights, and the environment.  The data is then used to strengthen women’s movements to engage in strategic activism and advocacy for rights-based policy change. APWLD’s Climate Justice FPAR project in  2017–2019 supported young women researchers across Asia to lead grassroots research to expose the disproportionate impacts of climate change on women and demand climate justice. You can read about the project in this journal article (free).

How do you think your work is helping establish the foundations of the Gender and Environment Data Alliance (GEDA)?  

At this foundational stage of the initiative, we are exploring the available knowledge, information, and data related to Gender and Environment.  We have created a small electronic library for GEDA consisting of over 500 relevant studies, reports, and resources, with a focus on women’s climate resilience and environmental decision-making. From our preliminary observations, we noted that most country-focused studies are of the Global South; qualitative methods are used more often than quantitative methods; and most studies do not use an explicitly participatory approach (e.g. participatory action research, participatory mapping, photovoice). In the next stage, we will investigate and analyze who is primarily driving the creation of Gender and Environment data in the mainstream discourse, how is this data collected and used, and who owns the data. Finally, we will identify the gaps and opportunities for GEDA to intervene meaningfully in the Gender and Environment data landscape.

Is there something you would like to highlight about your current work for GEDA? 

We believe restoring human civilization’s relationship with the environment is the key to saving the planet from the climate crisis, and that GEDA can potentially play a critical role in changing  global perspectives on how the environment should be managed. The climate crisis is not the only problem that harms women who are close to the environment. Large-scale infrastructure projects such as construction of hydroelectric dams or geothermal power plants have been destructive to the environment and communities living in harmony with nature. Such problems are completely man-made and can be avoided by redefining our understanding of ‘development’ and ‘progress’ and adopting a bottom-up perspective.

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