We, Indigenous Women, are part of the solution against climate change
| 2022-08-09

Although we have been historically marginalized from the decision-making spaces, our inputs as guardians of biodiversity must be included in climate action. The CEDAW General Recommendation on the Rights of Indigenous Women and Girls is a key instrument to achieve it at a national and international level.

The Himalayan mountains melt and cause heavy rainfall and floods. Rising sea levels flood the Pacific Islands. Drought opens the soil and withers orchards in East Africa; fires and deforestation destroy Amazon trees. Climate crisis affects us all, women and men, but not equally. 

We, Indigenous Women and Girls, depend on Mother Earth to survive. In her, we find the food to nourish and cure our families, the materials to build our houses and the water to drink and clean ourselves. Moreover, some of us live in territories that are more vulnerable to extreme weather events. “Our burdens are multiple, but our support is crucial,” emphasizes Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, of the Kankana-ey Igorot community in the Philippines and former UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

However, we, Indigenous Women, have been historically marginalized from the decision-making and political participation spheres where solutions are sought and policies and financing are established to stop climate change. “Although there has been progress in the past 40 years, we need to have a greater presence in international spaces so that our specific needs are recognized and our capabilities are considered as part of the solution,” claims Tarcila Rivera Zea, Quechua activist and Executive President of the FIMI. 

Indigenous Peoples protect 80% of the planet’s biodiversity

According to the UN, Indigenous Peoples protect 80% of the planet’s biodiversity and many communities live in megadiverse countries.  Due to the cultural and spiritual connection we keep with the land, Indigenous Peoples are also guardians of nature and show collective leadership in its protection and defense

Within this framework, we, Indigenous Women, play a crucial role as guardians and practitioners of ancestral knowledge, and as creators of new environmental sustainability proposals. “We preserve native seeds, biodiversity and food security, and the wellbeing of our communities,” explains Naw Ei Ei Min, Indigenous Woman of Myanmar and Member of the Executive Council of the Asian Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP). 

Impact of climate change and environmental violations against Indigenous territories

Indigenous Women and Peoples not only face the impacts of climate change, but also the expropriation and exploitation of our lands and natural resources resulting from the progress of extractive companies in the name of economic development. 

For example, Indigenous communities in Nepal —the 10th country most affected by climate change during the past 20 years— are facing the melting of the Himalayas at an unprecedented rate. In turn, this phenomenon is causing a radical change in the rainfall cycle. “We no longer differentiate between winter and summer. Now, we have the Monsoon all year round, which generates heavy flooding at the river bank where Indigenous communities live,” warns Pratima Gurung, academic and Indigenous activist of Nepal, specialized in Indigenous Peoples’ human rights, gender and disabilities, and General Secretary of the National Indigenous Disabled Women Association-Nepal (NIDWAN) and of the Indigenous Persons with Disabilities Global Network (IPWDGN).

On the other hand, the expropriation of Indigenous lands for the construction of hydroelectric plants and the intensive use of pesticides have worsened the amount and quality of water. All of this has a devastating impact on Indigenous Women, particularly on those fellow women with disabilities. “The scarcity of nutritious food and potable water has an impact on our health and hygiene. This causes a greater prevalence of persons with diverse disabilities in our communities,” Gurung adds. Thus, Pratima calls not only for Indigenous Women to be clearly mentioned in the agreements for climate action, but also Indigenous Women with Disabilities.  

Lessons learned and good practices for sustainable development

In Aotearoa (New Zealand), indigenous communities also face the impacts of climate change and deforestation, which jeopardize access to water and other natural resources. In order to address these challenges, indigenous communities of Aotearoa are producing books and e-tools based on Māori traditional ecological knowledge and biocultural health indicators, with the aid of Tui Shortland, Director of Awatea Organics and Member of the Executive Committee of Cultural Survival, specialising in traditional knowledge of biological diversity. Māori live connected to water from birth, they consider water to be a living being resulting from the love between Father Sky and Mother Earth. When fighting for their rights, the Māori have achieved the inclusion of their indigenous cosmovisions in regional policies on the management of water, which are now more respectful of natural water cycles. This allows for protecting the environment and ecosystem biodiversity.

Meanwhile, Indigenous Women all the way from Africa to the Arctic are becoming pioneers in environmental agriculture and environmental sustainability. For example, Molly Bella Akelo, Director of Fountain of Life Uganda, along with her fellow Indigenous women have implemented the use of organic pesticides and fertilizers, Indigenous irrigation methods and tree growing to combat drought. 

Recommendations for the full inclusion and participation of Indigenous Women in climate action

We, Indigenous Women, claim our full inclusion and participation in the decision-making and preparation of public policies for climate action. For such a purpose, a greater presence of Indigenous Women is required in the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW66), which, in 2022 is dedicated to climate change; as well as in spaces, such as the United Nations Climate Change Conference. It is precisely in these forums where we must be considered as guardians of the planet’s biodiversity, and where our inputs and knowledge must be included as part of the solution.

At the same time, it is essential that the financing set forth in the Paris Agreement to tackle climate change reaches Indigenous Women and their communities, in view that we face numerous barriers to obtain economic support. These barriers include the use of colonialist languages and western banking systems, compliance with requirements impossible to be fulfilled for the registration of our organizations and implementation of programs, and lack of support.

As a result, Indigenous Women have been fighting for years so that our rights are recognized at both the international and national levels. Today, we are in the final stretch of a collective path that reaches its turning point with the preparation of a CEDAW General Recommendation on the Rights of Indigenous Women and Girls. It will be key that this Recommendation includes concepts of environmental justice that guarantee our rights to land, territories and natural resources. This will force the States Parties to comply with the free, prior and informed consent, and to include us in the national public policies for an effective action. “If we were given the space we are entitled to, the world would be different, with a broad, collective circular and diverse vision,” emphasizes Teresa Zapeta Mendoza, of the Maya K’iche’ People of Guatemala and Executive Director of the FIMI. 

We may only visualize a different world with the inputs of the Indigenous Peoples and Women. A world where forests and water are preserved and Mother Earth is respected; an environment where solidarity prevails over private profit, the community prevails over the person and diversity prevails over cultural assimilation that creates falsely homogeneous societies.