Women defending our earth

Chai Lemita-Evangelista (pictured), her partner and their 10-year-old child Raymart were killed after a raid at their home in Nasugbu, Batangas.

Honouring martyred Filipina environmental defenders on International Women’s Day.

Shooting mothers and grandmothers in front of their children in such a vulnerable space has different consequences and meanings for the entire community.

The Philippines is one of the most gender-equal countries in Asia, according to the World Economic Forum report Global Gender Gap.  There have been two female presidents and a female vice president.

Yet there is still a long way ahead to genuine equality. This very administration overseas a country where women are murdered as they defend their communities and their surrounding environment.

Indeed, the Philippines has been among the top five deadliest countries for environmental and land rights defenders for many years, according to the annual reporting from the charity Global Witness. 


Although women defenders make up a smaller percentage of documented murders, the violence they face is also vastly underreported. Let us then mark this International Women’s Day by commemorating women killed during struggles against extractive injustice.

The EJAtlas is the world’s largest public online database mapping and documenting environmental justice cases worldwide. It is a joint effort between academics and activists.

There have been 80 killings recorded in the Philippines between 2002 and today, in early 2022. This includes the deaths of 33 women and girls in 14 separate incidents, according to research conducted in partnership with the civil society organisation Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment

We have established that 27 of these women were environmental leaders, group members, and protesters murdered to prevent them from mobilising against corporations and projects threatening their communities and the environments they live in.

These women environmental defenders were rural and working-class, with a few exceptions. We understand that 10 were from Indigenous communities.

Shooting mothers and grandmothers in front of their children in such a vulnerable space has different consequences and meanings for the entire community.


Mining was the deadliest type of activity, accounting for 17 cases. These patterns echo those heard across the nation, and worldwide. Corporations, often in collusion with the state, typically displace and destroy the livelihoods of communities - often indigenous communities - without prior, informed consent.

This was especially true in the case of the martyred Filipina defenders. We found that in 19 cases the state and its military had sent personnel to crush opposition and protect the profitability and interests of the corporations whose crimes go unpunished.

Companies have also hired hitmen, thugs, and guards to violently repress dissent, according to local concerns. Every single one of these 27 women suffered because of the apparent impunity for their killers, often with police and courts covering up and not investigating crimes properly.

What makes the killings of women defenders different from the violence that all people face in these kinds of conflicts is how the women resorted to putting their bodies on the line because of the unique vulnerabilities they faced.

Violence in conflict has gendered nuances. For example, 19 of the women defenders were killed in shootings. Hitmen and armed forces shoot anyone they deem as threats, or consider to be communists. And this kind of violence carries a different weight for women.

Map credit: Arielle Landau
Map credit: Arielle Landau


The average age of these defenders was 48.6, and most were in their 40s and 50s. But women as young as 27, and as old as 60, have been victims. We know that at least 16 were wives and mothers at the time of death.

The modus operandi in such attacks involves the shooter riding in tandem on a motorcycle. But we also know that 12 of these women were killed while at home or accompanying family members.

Shooting mothers and grandmothers in front of their children in such a vulnerable space has different consequences and meanings for the entire community.

Whether murdered at home or while protesting, these women defenders fought hard against and because of gendered vulnerabilities.

These were women dared to step out and be heard in a public sphere that typically concentrates decision-making power among men.


These women’s killings took place in a context of gender-specific violence including domestic violence, sexual assault, threats to family, repression, uneven burdens and all their work-related risks.

Such vulnerability is often informed by narratives that depict women as inferior and hysterical homemakers, making it socially acceptable to punish them violently for stepping out of bounds.

These gender-specific violent circumstances often caused women defenders to lose confidence, lose reputation, lose their livelihoods, and more, making their situations riskier. It is common to accuse environmental defenders of being communist rebels, with the threat that entails.

Yet women - especially those who are also rural, poor, and Indigenous - have remained at the frontlines of mobilisations, public campaigns, civil society groups, and beyond.

Their bodies were physical evidence of their communal suffering, making the invisible visible. They have challenged the assumptions about what a defender looks like. They paved the way for women defenders after them.

This International Women’s Day, we honour all brave women defending their communities despite the uniquely gendered vulnerabilities and violence they face.
These women are the way towards genuine gender equality that can unify the movement against environmental injustice.

This Author

Dalena Tran is a PhD candidate at the Autonomous University of Barcelona and an EJAtlas project member. She researches gendered violence and murders of environmental defenders during ecological conflicts.

This article is dedicated to the following women who have lost their lives on the way:

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