MAC: Mines and Communities

Women lead marble mining opposition

Published by MAC on 2007-08-04

Women lead marble mining opposition

Down to Earth Newsletter, number 7

4th August 2007

The Molo people are currently battling to stop mining companies extracting marble from their customary [adat] lands. There are now 3,000 supporters in four sub-districts of South Central Timor (TTS) where several companies are operating. Some are local NGOs and students, but the majority are ordinary villagers - most of whom are farmers with little or no formal education. The marble is for use in luxury buildings in Indonesia, but is also exported to USA, China, Singapore and Korea.

Indigenous women have played a prominent role in this battle. They see it as their role to provide food for their families even though, under adat law, only men inherit land. Their campaign was based on the view that the community's life was inseparable from their natural resources. Animism is still strong in this area and many people believe that people, animals, water and rocks are all part of one whole.

Gunung Molo is a cool fertile area which is used for farming and raising livestock. It is an important source of water for the western part of Timor. Marble mining leaves whole areas derelict. The operations make the once clear rivers and streams muddy and unfit to drink or wash in, or to use for irrigating crops. Landslides, such as the one at Tunua in December 2005, have become more frequent and more severe, ruining crops and rendering land unsuitable for cultivation.

Interestingly, a reversal of roles took place during this campaign: women went out to fight the mining company and the men stayed at home and cooked. The women have confronted the police and armed security forces employed by mining companies. They have even bared their breasts as a symbolic action to shame the men who opposed them and to remind them that it was women who had nurtured them just as Mother Earth nurtures the community and their environment.

One leading local activist has walked from village to village informing people about the mining threat and motivating them to unite. She has faced intimidation with thugs throwing stones at her house at night and hurling insults at her by day. As a result she had to move to another village with her children who have had to change schools. The police have done nothing to protect her.

This has been a long struggle. In 2001, Molo communities succeeded in driving one marble company from their lands after a two-year campaign in which some women slept out on the rocks night after night to protect the threatened area. They had no funding from anywhere - they just did it because they wanted to protect their environment.

However, the local government has granted permits to several other companies. PT Sumber Alam Makmur started operations in 2003 at Naitapan, above the village of Tunua. Hundreds of women and children set up a blockade and occupied the site in March 2006. Men employed by the company threw stones at them but, when the villagers retaliated, the police arrested activists and local leaders.

Another company, PT Teja Sekawan, began bulldozing fields in Kuanoel - Fatumnasi in November 2006. A large crowd of women protested. Some of women climbed onto the boulders and covered them with tarpaulin, but machine operators tried to cut the rocks away from under the women while armed 'security guards' threatened them with knives and pistols. Three women were covered in dust from the drills (one died several weeks later). Police eventually intervened in the confrontation and the community decided to continue its opposition through legal action.

The local authorities are clearly on the side of the company. The district head of TTS refused to meet protestors even when they occupied his offices in Soe for two weeks last November. Eight truckloads of armed thugs, apparently hired by the mining company, broke up the demonstration in December. Only 50 were there at the time as many others had gone home to plant their fields. Villagers who presented evidence to the court in Soe in late March 2007 were attacked by a crowd of thugs as they left the hearing of their case against the mining company. The police did nothing to stop the violence, during which a women carrying her child was hit, but detained the pick-up truck which the community's lawyer used to carry the villagers to safety.5

For more information on the Moro people's campaign see:;


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