Building Powerful Movements with the Inclusion of Indigenous Women’s Voices

By Dr. Yolanda Teran Maigua

IWNB-LAC, Strategic Plan Workshop, Peguche-Ecuador, 2012. Photo: Yolanda Teran

Indigenous women continue to be vital transmitters of knowledge. One salient example of this is Dr. Yolanda Teran Maigua’s work with the Indigenous Women Network on Biodiversity from Latin America and the Caribbean (IWNB-LAC). IWNB-LAC efforts reminds those in Indigenous philanthropy that inclusion of women’s voices is not just about recognizing the impact of various forms of discrimination. Inclusion is also about the ways in which Indigenous women are essential contributors to building and strengthening movements.
Dr. Yolanda Teran Maigua, Kichwa from Ecuador,  highlights  how the inclusion of Indigenous women is a key element in IWNB-LAC ability to achieve its mission “to defend the biodiversity, seeds, traditional knowledge, human rights and the rights of Mother Earth, Pachamama”.
The Indigenous Women Network on Biodiversity was formed in 1998 in Bratislava, Slovakia, during the Conference of Parties (COP) 4 of the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD). At the time, state parties had been discussing issues that had a direct impact on Indigenous Peoples’ lives but without direct Indigenous participation. As a result a few Indigenous women who participated in Bratislava, one from Asia, one from Africa, one from the Artic, and two from Latin America, created their own networks in their regions, paving the way for the Indigenous Women Network on Biodiversity.
By 2004 when I joined the IWNB-LAC and began to participate in the CBD meetings, there were still only a few women from Latin America discussing several issues related to women such as seeds, ecosystems, water, food, agriculture, climate change, biopiracy, traditional knowledge, and indicators. During these meetings we asked ourselves whether or not these topics were known and understood by Indigenous Peoples. Since then our network is strongly committed to raising funds that give regional capacity building to both Indigenous women and men. For almost a decade the IWNB-LAC worked responsibly under a strong coordination that has helped us gain trust, respect and financial support from our Indigenous brothers and from CBD states parties such as Spain and Japan.

IWNB-LAC at Permanent Forum on Indigenous IssuesSession, New York 2015. Photo: Yolanda Teran

 For example, with the generous financial support from Spain and Japan, we were able to focus on capacity building for three years. The network trained approximately 1,000 Indigenous women as well as training 20% of men. Because of this, Indigenous women participation in the CBD increased. Women became aware of biodiversity issues, traditional knowledge, learned intercultural lobbying and negotiations skills, international instruments, how to analyze documents and write declarations on Indigenous positioning and concerns. Later, they applied and replicated this knowledge in their communities and were ready to have full and effective participation at local, national and international meetings.
Similarly, these workshops became an important venue to integrate Indigenous knowledge into conversations around biodiversity. It was during these trainings that we realized that within Indigenous communities there was not a word for biodiversity. We discussed together about this term until we reached a clear understanding of it. When we talked about traditional knowledge and biopiracy, Indigenous participants were confused and sad. In our cosmovisions, genetic resources and Indigenous knowledge are for humanity and it’s wellbeing—always free of cost. Misappropriation of resources and knowledge was an unknown fact in our minds and hearts. Yet in the Kichwa language we do have the word Kawsay, which means life. Hence, our capacity building was done with simple words, included local experiences and trained people to gain confidence in speaking with local, national, and international authorities.
As women, we still have to overcome many obstacles in different fronts to be included and have full and effective participation in different spaces on biodiversity, human rights, climate change, etc. More often the meetings are done in English, therefore one of the challenges for Indigenous Peoples from Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) is to learn the English language. Still, nowadays we have more women following the complex biodiversity meetings and its conventions and protocols. The IWNB-LAC work is permanent, and we are including more young women to support the work of pioneering Indigenous women. This and capacity building with Indigenous Peoples at all levels has helped the IWNB-LAC to bring more knowledgeable people into the field who are in line with our mission, and to be considered as a powerful network to give advice in several areas related to Indigenous Peoples and women. Certainty the IWNB-LAC’s work continues to illustrate that “Indigenous women are warriors and culture keepers; we must be constantly alert and be united to defend Mother Earth and our life and survival”.
Dr. Yolanda Teran Maigua is Kichwa from Ecuador and Coordinator of Education and Culture IWNB-LAC
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