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. One of the sessions taking place during these days was a Lab debate called “Rural and Community-led initiatives by and for Indigenous women,” organised by the Policy Forum on Development (PFD), in partnership with Women Engage for a Common Future (WECF), and Articulación Feminista Marcosur (AFM).

Jeanette Sequeira from Global Forest Coalition moderated the event. The panel, consisting of WECF’s partners Ernestine Leikeki from Cameroon Gender and Environment Watch (CAMGEW) and Dorothée Lisenga from Coalition des Femmes Leaders pour l’Environnement et le Développement Durable (CFLEDD), along with Lilian Celiberti from Articulación Feminista Marcosur (AFM).
shared their experiences in working with indigenous and local communities and their solutions for tackling the climate crisis and for biodiversity conservation.

Ernestine Leikeki presented the work of Indigenous Women in the Kilum-Ijim forest in the Northwest of Cameroon. The forest faces many challenges, such as bushfires, deforestation, overexploitation and encroachment. CAMGEW has worked with local communities to adopt sustainable practices for forest conservation, such as bushfire prevention, and bee farming. Women have become agents of change participating in community life, and gained economic independence.

Dorothée Lisenga presented the work of the CLFEDD in DRC to challenge patriarchal norms and customary laws which prevent women from accessing propriety rights to land. CFLEDD conducted a study on women’s land use and held multistakeholder dialogues with public authorities and traditional chiefs, to convince them to reform the land tenure decrees, so as to give women land tenure rights.

Lilian Celiberti shared about the work of AFM in 10 countries in Latin America. For more than 20 years, they have organised intercultural meetings and debates with indigenous and peasant organizations and leaders, with the aim of exchanging knowledge and learning from each other. These alliances have contributed to strengthening the ecofeminist perspective that questions the anthropocentric view of nature considered as a utilitarian resource for human society. They put forward the necessity of indigenous well-being at the heart of sustainbility, to face climate change, the loss of biodiversity, pandemics, water pollution and desertification.

Based on the speakers’ interventions, Jeanette Sequeira presented our key messages and recommendations for the EU:

First of all, we need a rights-based approach that respects the rights of indigenous people, especially Free, Prior and Informed Consent, and territorial land tenure rights. It is particularly important to include women’s participation in decision-making and governance. Second, the EU and all governments need to renew and increase commitments to phase out perverse incventives, such as subsidies for the agroindustry, to halt loss of forests and biodiversity which is devasting local livelihoods.Furthermore, we need to improve EU policies also inside Europe: the EU’s forest and agricultural policies should be fully aligned with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the aims of the EU Green Deal, and the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, and the new EU Gender Action Plan (GAP III). Finally, there is a need for more community-based initiatives to protect the forest.EU support is crucial to strengthen the autonomy of women’s rights and feminist organisations and their engagement in policy making, as well as their contribution to agriculture and food sovereignty.

In a similar session entitled “The diverse, local, indigenous: Pathways for food security and conservation” we could hear the inspiring panelists Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, Sherine Omondi, Jocelyn Brown Hall and Nachilala Nkombo speak about the difficulties they face in 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 calls 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, 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. Her 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”.

Both sessions showed the importance of focusing on community and rights-based approaches, while at the same time understanding that women are critical in protecting the forest as they are actors of change, as well as engineers of the land.