Women as actors of change – lab debate session at the European Development Days

On the 15th and 16th of June 2021, the European Development Days took place virtually, where different inspiring sessions were organized. One of these inspiring sessions was organized by the Policy Forum on Development (PFD), in partnership with us, Women Engage for a Common Future (WECF), and Articulación Feminista Marcosur (AFM) on the 16th of June.

The event, which in fact was a lab debate titled “Rural and Community-led initiatives by and for Indigenous women,” showcased the work of Indigenous Women from Cameroon in developing and employing climate-just measures for sustainable agricultural activities in their localities. It also explored the importance of rural and community-led initiatives by indigenous women. Our speakers from DRC and Latin America showed how they are challenging the Patriarchal norms and gender laws which disenfranchised women from accessing land for agriculture and stripped women of their fundamental human rights. These measures have been proven to mitigate the effects of climate change on the soil and the environment with a reduction in bush burning, and the financial empowerment of women who now have access to land.

The message is brought to you by Lilian Celiberti, Sevidzem Ernestine Leikeki, Dorothée Lisenga and Jeanette Sequeira who all argue that there is a need for more community-based initiatives to protect the forest. Specifically, there is a need for a rights-based approach that respects the rights of indigenous people. Additionally, this session puts an emphasis on the importance of including women’s participation in decision-making and governance. According to Dorothee Lisenga, who is a national coordinator for the Indigenous Women’s Network in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is time to include women on all the different levels of decision-making. And according to Ernestine Leikeki who is the Chair of the Cameroon Gender and Environment Watch it is time to regard women as actors of change.

Our partners from the Global Forest Coalition (GFC), the Cameroon Gender and Environment Watch (CAMGEW), and the Coalition of Women Leaders for Environment and Sustainable Development (CFLEDD) from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Lilian Celiberti (AFM), constituted the discussion panel. The panelists focused on indigenous and local communities and their solutions for issues of climate change.

A similar session titled “The diverse, local, indigenous: Pathways for food security and conservation” was also held on the same day. In this session we heard inspiring panelists such as Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, Sherine Omondi, Jocelyn Brown Hall and Nachilala Nkombo speak about the problems regarding creating more food security for indigenous populations. One important point of note made by all the speakers is the need to include more local indigenous knowledge into farming systems. The speakers mentioned that the current system is not working and it is actually degrading the lands and decreasing biodiversity.

Nachilala Nkombo is the head of the WWF office in Zambia. She mentions that there is a need for radical change. She argues that the current system is not working, first of all because it is degrading the land but also because we need enough food for the rapidly growing population. Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, who is the president of the association for indigenous women and peoples in Chad, agrees with Nkombo on most fronts but argues that it is crucial to use the term food sovereignty and not security, as food is a part of indigenous peoples their identities. Additionally, she spreads a powerful message: there is a need to give the land to women and to provide access for them. They will know how to manage the land as they will be using traditional knowledge, these women can be seen as the engineers of the land.

What can be seen in these different sessions is the importance of focusing on community and rights-based approaches, as well as understanding that women are critical in protecting the forest as they are actors of change, as well as engineers of the land.