By Cathy Merchant
In light of this year’s upcoming International Women’s Day on March 8th, our staff at Global Washington would like to call attention to the work that is currently being done by local nonprofits to better the lives of women around the world. We are a membership association of organizations around Washington State that work in international development. Every year we celebrate International Women’s Day as an opportunity to highlight the struggles that women must face worldwide and the victories that have been won in the fight for gender equality. While many of our member organizations strive to improve the lives of women, this year we are particularly impressed by the work of the Mangrove Action Project (MAP), who has been able to apply its environmental cause to assist women in rural Thailand.
Co-founded in 1992 by Executive Director Alfredo Quarto, Ian Baird and Pisit Charnsnoh, MAP began as a whistle-blowing organization dedicated to educating people about the dangers of shrimp aquaculture, which is responsible for the destruction of thousands of hectares of mangrove forests around the world. The mangroves – uniquely adapted trees that grow in saline areas along the coast – are vital coastal forest ecosystems that act as wind and flood barriers, soil stabilizers, pollutant absorbers, and are home to 75% of all tropical commercial fish. Hoping to reverse their degradation, MAP seeks to educate people about mangrove ecology and serve “as a sort of megaphone” for indigenous peoples whose lives depend entirely upon the wellbeing of their coastal mangroves.
After more than a decade of working with fishing communities overseas, in 2009 MAP reached out to women on Phra Thong Island, Thailand to start a new kind of project. Teaming up with displaced families who had survived the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, MAP trained the women in tie-dyeing fabrics using dyes made from mangrove bark and the leaves of native plants. They also showed them how to plant additional seedlings, so that these materials will remain in good supply indefinitely and will not destabilize the local ecosystem.
These women have since gone on to form the collective “Muhd Yom Koh Phra Thong” – meaning “Tie-dye Phra Thong Island” in Thai – which provides them with supplementary income that gives them financial independence and helps them support their families. It also gives them a greater sense of autonomy, as they are now using the collective to create new designs and practical products based on local knowledge and culture.
Anyone wishing to learn more about their work firsthand can visit the community through Koh Phra Thong Lion Homestay – a new tourism program organized by the collective - which allows outsiders to support their cultural and conservation efforts while enjoying the natural beauty of the island. To make donations to this group or read more about them, please see their website: womens-tie-dye-group. Those of us here at Global Washington are grateful to MAP for its ongoing conservation work overseas and its commitment to helping empower women.
Over the past several years, MAP has continually taken tangible steps to help create positive changes in the lives of women that allow them to claim greater independence within their families and communities. Their work is an excellent example for us all.