Indigenous women are disproportionately affected by climate change and biodiversity loss. Swift policy reforms and gender-inclusive actions are imperative for a sustainable future.
Indigenous Peoples represent only 5% of the global population, yet they occupy and manage around 20-25% of the Earth's land surface, including forests and waterways rich in biodiversity and ecologically intact and protected landscapes.
Despite being the custodians of 80% of the world's biodiversity and contributing the least to climate change, Indigenous Peoples face significant disadvantages and vulnerabilities due to the impact of global warming, ecosystem degradation, and systemic marginalization.
The Impact of Climate Change and Biodiversity Loss on Indigenous Women
Indigenous communities have a deep connection to the land and their environment. They have lived in harmony with nature for centuries, but threats such as climate change and biodiversity loss are disrupting this delicate balance, forcing communities to adapt their ways of life in order to survive.
Indigenous women are particularly affected by climate change and biodiversity loss since they are the primary caretakers of their communities and the environment. As such, they are more likely to be exposed to the harmful effects of climate change, such as extreme weather events, water shortages, and food insecurity.
The impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss on Indigenous women include:
Economic hardship: As the quality of land deteriorates, the productivity of agriculture and other resource-dependent sectors dwindles. For women, who often play central roles in agricultural activities, this translates into direct job losses and decreased income, perpetuating the reduced socio-economic power cycle. For this reason, women are compelled to seek alternative means to sustain themselves and their households. This often involves venturing into new economic activities, which are usually less financially stable or secure than their previous roles and are typically characterized by low wages.
Increased workload: Indigenous women play a pivotal role in managing natural resources and ensuring the well-being of their families and communities. However, as biodiversity diminishes, the availability of essential resources such as water, fuel, food, and medicinal plants becomes increasingly restricted. This scarcity forces women to spend more time and effort traveling longer distances to secure these necessities, which places additional burdens on women and limits their opportunities for education, skill development, and economic activities.
Food insecurity: Erratic weather conditions, such as prolonged droughts or unseasonal rains, can lead to crop failures and diminished agricultural yields. This jeopardizes the staple food sources and impacts the diversity of edible plants, fruits, and other resources that indigenous communities rely on for balanced nutrition. As these resources become scarcer, Indigenous women face difficulties securing a varied and nutritious diet for their families, leading to malnutrition and related health problems.
Increased violence: Climate change exacerbates violence against women within and outside their communities. During and after natural disasters, instances of gender-based violence tend to escalate. Disrupted living conditions, lack of shelter, limited access to resources, and strained social structures create an environment where women are more susceptible to abuse and exploitation. Displaced women are especially vulnerable to gender-based violence, as they are often forced to seek refuge in unfamiliar areas where they lack social networks and support systems.
Indigenous Women: Guardians of Traditional Knowledge
Traditional Knowledge Transmission (TKT) refers to the accumulated knowledge, practices, and beliefs handed down through generations that emphasize living harmoniously with nature. Leading climate scientists and institutions stress the importance of TKT in climate mitigation and adaptation efforts.
Due to their close relationship with nature, Indigenous women are critical guardians of fragile ecosystems and are often at the forefront of climate activism and advocacy for gender equality.
Indigenous women have traditionally been guardians of their territories and natural resources. They are custodians of TKT: Their knowledge includes a deep understanding of the local climate, the plants and animals in the area, the traditional farming, fishing, and harvesting sites and methods, and the sustainable use of natural resources. This ancestral knowledge enables women's communities to adapt to extreme events and shifting climatic conditions.
Indigenous women are critical guardians of fragile ecosystems and are often at the forefront of climate activism and advocacy for gender equality. Moreover, women play a significant role in transmitting TKT to younger generations.
However, as Indigenous communities increasingly interact with modern economies, women's knowledge and perspectives are often overlooked in decision-making processes. Furthermore, due to the limited promotion of Indigenous languages and lack of education opportunities, this knowledge is at risk of being lost.
Gender Equality and Sustainable Land Use
The slide-back in Indigenous women's rights is another concerning issue. One of the primary problems is the lack of effective implementation of policies meant to protect Indigenous women's rights. While some countries have adopted international frameworks like the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the actual implementation of these policies remains limited.
Within the agricultural sector, Indigenous women are pioneers in implementing inventive techniques for pest control and enhancing crop yields through traditional means.
Loss of rights on lands, territories, and resources (LTR) is another critical challenge. Economic and environmental interests often drive government policies and development projects, leading to infringements on Indigenous Peoples' LTR. Indigenous Women are particularly affected by the loss of LTR, as their land ownership is significantly low, limiting their economic opportunities.
However, within the agricultural sector, Indigenous women are pioneers in implementing inventive techniques for pest control and enhancing crop yields through traditional means. Agroecological methods and natural resource management approaches mitigate emissions, support sustainable food production, enhance biodiversity, and safeguard native crop varieties.
The empowerment of women and the recognition of their knowledge are paramount in effectively restoring and protecting the environment.
Interlinkages between gender equality and sustainable land use can significantly contribute to combatting global warming. Addressing gender disparities in resource access and decision-making processes is crucial. Involving women in participatory land management can lead to better conservation efforts and sustainable land use. This can lead to several benefits, including improved food security, reduced deforestation, and increased biodiversity conservation.
The empowerment of women and the recognition of their knowledge are paramount in effectively restoring and protecting the environment. By valuing and incorporating their perspectives, we can more effectively confront climate challenges, leading to positive environmental outcomes and more inclusive and sustainable development.
At EcoLogic, we are committed to amplifying the voices of remarkable Indigenous women such as Isabel Alonzo Martin, supporting them to thrive as entrepreneurs, collaborating on initiatives that honor traditional wisdom regarding home gardens and medicinal plants, and alleviating the arduous task of collecting firewood for their households.
We seek to forge a brighter future where the strengths and contributions of Indigenous women are celebrated and supported, creating a more sustainable and equitable world for all.