Include women and Indigenous people in the fight against the climate crisis

‘We are the people who are being killed by climate change: this is environmental genocide,’ say Indigenous activists at COP26

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Roberta Scalise
12 November 2021, 11.23am

“What dominates our society – patriarchy, colonisation, racism and capitalism – is actually based on the power of the exploitation of women, lands and people of colour,” said Osprey Orielle Lake, founder and executive director of WECAN International, at COP26, the 26th UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26).

She was speaking at a special session organised by the UN in which grassroots, frontline and Indigenous women leaders, and representatives from international climate justice organisations, came together to discuss struggles and solutions for climate justice. 

Feminists and women can make a significant difference when it comes to “changing the current situation of emergency,” Orielle Lake stressed. “We need to accelerate the leadership and visibility of women, especially Indigenous, Black, Brown and grassroots ones.”

Women leaders are still underrepresented in international decision-making spaces, but it is women and girls who are disproportionately affected by climate change and “face greater risks and burdens from its impacts, particularly in situations of poverty”, according to a joint statement released in Glasgow by the Scottish government and UN Women.

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Orielle Lake claimed that no “important action” to combat climate change will happen unless the struggles of women and the leadership roles are addressed. 

It has been women who “have been promoting innovative climate solutions to fight the crisis” for their communities, but also “for the health of our territories,” she added.

“What is happening [climate change] is not only unjust, but is totally insane: we have to stop it,” she said. 

She called for action to “keep global warming below 1.5°C and defend, at the same time, the rights of women, Indigenous people and nature.”

To do that, governments have to respect the efforts made by women globally, she said. She explained that gender inequality will only get worse, as those who are most affected by poverty and, as a consequence, by the climate crisis, are mostly women and Indigenous people.

Indigenous people form only 5% of the global population, but they protect 82% of the Earth’s biodiversity

Although Indigenous people form only 5% of the global population, they “protect 82% of the Earth’s biodiversity,” explained Sonia Guajajara, another speaker at the Glasgow event.  

Despite this, they are often excluded from decision-making. If we truly want to fight the climate crisis, we must “respect the cultural rights of Indigenous people,” she continued. Guajajara is executive coordinator of APIB, an umbrella organisation representing different Indigenous groups in Brazil.

Currently, the opposite seems to be happening, she said. “People who are defenders of the Earth are threatened, persecuted and murdered” even though their traditional ways of living are “securing and guaranteeing the biodiversity of the world”.

“We are not the ones who are creating the pollution, the ones who are making the problem, but we are the people who are being killed by it: this is environmental genocide,” she said. 

Casey Camp-Horinek, also from WECAN, said that Indigenous people do not feel taken seriously either. “We are not being allowed into the final decision-making process, although the majority of the impact is where we live,” she said. 

To change the current climate emergency, we need to “take action together,” said Sostine Namanya from Uganda’s NAPE (National Association of Professional Environmentalists). “We can act now and we must act now.”

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