World’s indigenous women fight climate change

Fritzie Rodriguez
World’s indigenous women fight climate change
Indigenous women worldwide gather in Paris to prove that they, too, are part of the battle against climate change

PARIS, France – Empower indigenous women in fighting climate change, urged UN Women executive director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka on Monday, December 7 as the Paris climate talks (COP21) entered its second week.

Mlambo-Ngcuka praised the current draft climate agreement for shifting from being “gender-blind” to one that includes “gender references,” including the controversial section on climate finance.

However, the text needs more work in strengthening indigenous rights, Grace Balawag of the Indigenous Peoples’ International Center for Policy Research and Education told Rappler during the International Indigenous Women’s Day at COP21.

The current draft cites the need to respect the knowledge and traditions of indigenous peoples (IPs) in terms of adaptation to the impacts of climate change; however, this part is left out in terms of mitigation and loss and damage.

With only a few days before the climate negotiations come to a close, IP rights advocates are worried whether the climate agreement will be truly inclusive.

“Indigenous knowledge is still scientific, it’s been proven for years. Although we still need to work with scientists,” Balawag argued. “And mitigation is not separate from adaptation.”

The problem is that many policymakers do not see indigenous knowledge as “legitimate.”

Some of the most contentious issues across different countries is shifting cultivation, better known as kaingin in Filipino. The traditional practice is common among different indigenous communities, with variations across groups. 

Although several studies, including one by the United Nations Framework Convention on climate change, have cited that kaingin is not to blamed for deforestation in Asia, several governments still deem the practice illegal and destructive. (READ: Signals: Blame game)

The criminalization of kaingin is not only disrepectful to IP rights, but may also be harmful to their food security and livelihood as many IPs depend on small-scale farming for their day-to-day survival, advocates say.

Balawag added that advocates are closely working with the Philippine delegation to COP21, “The Philippines is pushing for IP rights, but it needs support from other governments.”


Around 200 million migrants worldwide are fleeing their homes due to the effects of climate change. Many of them are indigenous women and girls, Mlambo-Ngcuka stressed.

But IP women refuse to remain mere victims of climate change, emphasizing that they, too, are taking part in the battle.

“Listen to the solutions indigenous women have always been advocating for,” advised Mlambo-Ngcuka. “Women’s agency in climate action is key in healing our planet.”

“You can trust women with the future of the next generation,” she added.

In many agricultural communities, it is the indigenous women that act as guardians of the environment. They are also responsible for feeding the entire family.

Climate change, however, has made it more difficult for indigenous women to fulfill such obligations.

In Africa, for example, certain wild fruit species are disappearing due to extreme weather events. Such fruits are eaten during food shortages.

Food, nutrition, water security, sanitation, and health are also impacted by climate change, as more families are threated by droughts and typhoons.

“Climate change threatens the very existence of indigenous women,” said Alina Saba of Nepal’s Limbu community. 

For Saba, many indigenous women are still unaware of climate change and its impacts, hence the need for more education and agricultural support from governments.

“This is not fair, we need to give them proper information on why this is happening and why they’re facing this challenge,” she stressed.

But before programs are implemented, consultations and consent must be first ensured, Saba said. – 

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