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Despite a campaign led by environmental groups which has successfully prevented the building of any mainstream dams in China on the Nu/Salween River, the role of civil society in water governance issues in China is under-researched and under-discussed, particularly from a gender and feminist perspective. The purpose of this chapter is to shed light on the case of the Nu Jiang dams campaign, and through an intersectional analysis, to understand how gender, ethnicity and class influenced the political opportunities available to the campaigners as well as the ultimate outcome of the campaign. Through this method, this chapter shows how intersectional feminism can deepen and strengthen social movement theory analysis.
The main research finding is that the social identities of the campaigners as predominantly middle-class, Han and female environmentalists were factors that influenced the political opportunities available to the campaign, and overall helped lead to a successful outcome in stopping the dam project. Class, gender and ethnic factors influenced the environmentalists' access to political opportunities throughout the campaign, particularly in forming alliances with elites and in the level of repression experienced. The Nu Jiang dams campaign as a case study illustrates wider social dynamics in China, including inequalities and opportunities related to gender, ethnicity, and class.
I use the term “civil society” to mean any groups or collections of individuals “which are independent from family, government or business, promote a public interest, and do not seek economic profit” (Matelski 2013: 154). This may include NGOs, CSOs, religious and interest groups, and social movements. Based on this definition, there is in fact a Nu Jiang anti-dams civil society even if it does not include local people.
Now the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP); will be referred to throughout this paper as SEPA in reference to its name at the time of the events.
While “Third World” is commonly used in intersectional feminist literature, in this chapter I prefer to use “Global South” as a term with less potentially pejorative connotations, particularly given that China would have been considered a “Second World” country according to the original meaning of the term.
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- “We Need One Natural River for the Next Generation”: Intersectional Feminism and the Nu Jiang Dams Campaign in China