Indigenous Women

Defence of indigenous rights is linked to the defence of women’s rights and the right to identity.

Support for indigenous women’s rights and empowerment is a cross-cutting aspect of IWGIA’s activities whenever relevant and feasible.

IWGIA seeks to integrate the issue of women’s rights and participation into key activities, such as in the land and natural resource rights and capacity building/awareness raising projects.

Below you will find examples of projects and processes supported by IWGIA, where positive results for the equal rights and participation of indigenous women have been achieved.

Ethnic recognition is a step to internal change in Africa

“They (indigenous communities) still don’t see their internal dynamics, their own internal problems, such as exclusion of women, violence against women, and sometimes violence against children. But once you have recognition, then that establishes a basis to look into their own internal dynamics.”  - Melakou Tegegn, Member of the ACHPR’s Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities (WGIP)

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) is becoming increasingly involved in the issue of indigenous women’s rights. One member of the WGIP is also the ACHPR Special Rapporteur on Women and has made an effort to link the two thematic areas during country visits and also, for example, to push through a resolution on indigenous women that was recently adopted by the ACHPR.

Forest rights and women's cooperatives - Jharkhand, India

One of the components of the IWGIA-supported Forest Rights Campaign project in Jharkhand, India, is to establish and build the capacity of women’s cooperatives as a means of strengthening livelihood security, empowering indigenous women and strengthening their participation in community affairs.

The formation of women’s cooperatives is particularly important among those indigenous peoples (such as the Munda) that do not allow women to form part of the traditional village councils. By 2010, more than 260 women’s cooperatives had been formed.

A future priority will be to organize the pooling of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) from several villages, along with their storage and transport in a number of pilot areas so that women can obtain higher prices on the wholesale market.

East African indigenous women are strong guardians of ancestral lands

In 2010, the issue of indigenous women’s rights was increasingly integrated into the land and natural resource rights projects supported in Africa.

Partners in Kenya and Tanzania have made efforts to raise the awareness of both women and men as to the importance of integrating women in land ownership, control and governance structures.

In Kenya, the MPIDO project has facilitated a process whereby women are now organizing themselves around land issues and are being registered as the co-owners of land. The empowerment of women in land matters is also an effective way of combating land dispossession, since women – who carry a great deal of responsibility for the well-being and future of the family - tend to be stronger guardians of ancestral lands.

Pottery strengthens cultural roots and self-esteem among women in the Amazon

“As a women’s group, we are very happy with the support IWGIA has given us as it has helped us to recover and maintain the art of pottery through workshops, sales outside the community and in the capital. We have gained national recognition of our work by participating in the National Museum’s Annual Fair, “Rurak Maki”, four years in a row. We have also been able to carry out more research into medicinal plants and producing our own antiseptic soaps and creams”

Irma Tuesta, National Coordinator of the Women’s Programme – ODECOFROC

In workshops supported by IWGIA, indigenous Awajún women from the Peruvian Amazon are recovering old pottery techniques and discovering new ones such as drawing with coloured earths for a better fixing of the designs.

The support provided to women pottery teachers has also been highly valuable. They teach primary school pupils to maintain their art traditions and, in this way, great progress has been made in the women’s self-esteem and in their sense of their local roots.

The women’s work has also inspired them to organize festivals in order to maintain their songs, stories, myths, etc.