Report on violence against Indigenous women and girls in the context of the climate crisis, including environmental degradation and related disaster risk mitigation and response

Report on violence against Indigenous women and girls in the context of the climate crisis, including environmental degradation and related disaster risk mitigation and response

Submitted To
Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences (SR VAW)

Joint Submission by
Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact  (AIPP)
Network of Indigenous Women in Asia (NIWA)
Indigenous Knowledge and Peoples of Asia (IKPA)

Date: 29 March 2022

Introduction

 

Globally, Indigenous Peoples (IPs) are estimated at 476 million of which Asia alone is home to 300 million.[1],[2] IPs in Asia are “threatened with extinction and face alarming rates of poverty, crime, health problems and human rights abuses” which render them “the poorest of the poor, most politically disempowered and culturally and socially discriminated against.”[3] Despite being stewards of the forest for many generations and contributing the least to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, IPs are now among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.[4] Indigenous women and girls living in Southeast Asian countries are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events due to their close relationships with the land and natural resources on which their livelihoods depend on (e.g. agri-culture, forestry, fishing, pastoralism, foraging etc.).[5] Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) General Recommendation 37 highlights that the risks, burdens and impacts related to climate change and disasters are compounded for marginalized Indigenous women due to the prevalent intersecting forms of discrimination against them.[6] Indigenous women often face discrimination from both within and outside their communities which renders them vulnerable to social and economic exclusion, exploitation, marginalization and gender-based violence (GBV).[7] Climate change creates new risks for Indigenous women and girls from climate-related shocks, such as exposure to labor rights violations and violence after migrating to urban or other areas.[8]

This joint submission focuses on the gendered impacts of climate change, as well as the negative impacts of some of the climate change policies on Indigenous women and girls across Asia—both of which worsen their pre-existing conditions of marginalization. We contend that the intersection of the climate crisis, development aggression,[9] and militarization of Indigenous communities exacerbate the prevailing violence experienced by Indigenous women and girls. We suggest that Indigenous women have the potential to offer valuable solutions to climate resiliency, and therefore their participation in shaping climate policies is paramount to tackling the climate crisis.

Impact of climate change

 

Disproportionate gendered impact of climate change

A study in four Southeast Asian countries: Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Vietnam found that the impact of climate change experienced by Indigenous women is double compared to that of Indigenous men.[10] This is mainly due to the gendered social norms and expectations that put most of the burden of care and domestic work on the Indigenous women and girls—including maintenance of crops, livestock, fetching water, weaving, and other domestic duties such as childcare and cooking— which are severely affected by climate change. However, men’s roles of hunting, chopping trees, and plowing the fields are affected to a lesser degree by climate change.[11]

Indigenous women living in remote areas remain highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change in terms of food security, income and livelihoods. For instance, when climate disasters destroy crops, women are often left with very few options for alternative livelihoods. Climate change is forcing Indigenous women to search for new ways to manage natural resources for their food supply and livestock which is increasing their time-poverty. Many Indigneous men out-migrate in search of work which exacerbates women’s burden of work in the community. Consequently, women’s participation in community activities remains limited, which reduces their role in decision-making, and thus increases their vulnerability to GBV.

Forced migration due to loss of traditional land and livelihoods

Indigenous Peoples’ food and territorial management systems are intimately connected to their collective rights over communal lands and resources. The loss of their territory and traditional livelihoods are altering Indigenous culture and agricultural practices which has impacted Indigenous women and girls severely.[12] For example, with the government encouraging migration in Cambodia, new settlers have had a dramatic impact on Indigenous women’s swidden fallow practices.[13],[14]

Due to the prevailing marginalization, Indigenous women and girls lack access to land, water, markets, technology and education, which are required to adapt to climate change. Studies show that extreme vulnerability and exposure to climate change often leave Indigenous women with little choice other than to out-migrate in search of more reliable livelihood options. For instance, melting of glaciers in the Upper Mustang region Nepal have been causing landslides destroying the irrigation system of Indingeous communities. Grass has turned scarce in the area making it hard for the people to raise cattle. These communities are threatened with the worst food insecurity which has pushed them to abandon their agricultural lands and migrate to other places in search for greener pastures.[15] In Nepal, Indigenous women living with disabilities also remain at the forefront of the climate change disaster risk due to lack of support structure for safeguarding them.[16] Erosion of land rights and traditional livelihoods, and environmental degradation are key factors contributing to the trafficking of Indigenous women and girls in the Mekong region.[17]

Impact of climate change response

 

Criminalization of the practice of traditional livelihood

Enforcing international and domestic policies related to climate change such as the REDD[18] can be very dangerous as it can violate the rights of Indigenous communities if their participation is not sought and free prior and informed consent (FPIC) is not respected.

In 2008, the government of Thailand criminalized two Indigenous Karen shifting cultivators (a woman and a man) using climate change as a scapegoat.[19] The two Karen were arrested and demanded to pay a staggering amount of US$96,409 for “causing deforestation and the rise of temperature.” The Karen IPs have depended on their traditional shifting cultivation as their main source of livelihood since time immemorial. The Thai government’s calculations of how the two Indigenous farmers caused the rise in temperature and deforestation were without scientific basis. Even before the two Karen farmers were arrested, every year, small Indigenous farmers were fined for cultivating a field in their fallow forest. The charging of small Indigenous farmers of causing the rise in temperature is a false solution to climate change when their contribution to climate change is insignificant compared to large polluters. Scientific studies have found only 90 commercial and state-owned companies are responsible for nearly two-thirds of historic GHG emissions that are driving climate change.[20] On the contrary, sustainable use of natural resources by Indigenous women are key in conserving ecosystems from the impacts of climate change.”[21] Shifting cultivation continues to be a suitable and indispensable form of land use for some Indigenous communities living in upland areas in Asia, which can be managed sustainably under conditions of sufficient and legally recognized access to land.[22] Studies over the years suggest that the practice of shifting cultivation in fact has been contributing to the development of agro-biodiversity that is important to attaining food security.[23]

Militarization and violence against human rights defenders

Indigenous human rights defenders in Asia continue to face violent attacks for protecting their lands, and environmental rights on which their survival and livelihoods depend. It is estimated that 40 to 50 percent of the environmental defenders who are killed are Indigenous persons predominantly from Latin America and Asia.[24] State-sponsored militarization of Indigenous communities resisting ‘development aggression’ remains persistent in the region. Indigenous women are often on the frontlines defending their territories, natural resources and territories from extractive projects and corporate interests and therefore often are targets of violence.[25]

In Kalinga, Philippines, during the height of community lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic in October 2020, the police arrested and detained environment and human rights defender Ms. Beatrice Belen for four months on trumped up charges. Beatrice fought in the frontline against Chevron’s geothermal power project, which overlaps 11 ancestral domains encompassing more or less 26,000 hectares of residential, woodlots, hunting grounds, rivers, burial grounds, and livelihood areas of Kalinga tribes. She and other women lead a barricade to stop the geothermal prospecting in their rice fields in 2012. Her unwavering courage to defend her home and her people subjected her to unending threats, and political vilification from the military and their agents. Her case was dismissed in February 2021 and she was released.[26] Chevron and their local partners presented the geothermal project as a solution to climate change and as a source of clean energy. The IPs’ right to FPIC was allegedly manipulated to serve the interest of corporations and not of the people.

Similarly, in Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines, the Indigenous migrant women fighting against a giant open pit mining of the OceanaGold Philippines mining company—causing the destruction of their land, poisoning of their water, and air and evicting them from their residential and livelihood areas—continue to face harassment, intimidation, trumped-up charges from the police and military who are serving as security guards of the mining company.[27]

Indigenous women’s resilience, and contributions in mitigation and adaptation measures

IPs account for only 6 percent of the global population, yet they protect 80 percent of the world’s remaining biodiversity.[28] Indigenous women are responsible for 70 percent of rotational agriculture work.[29] They are custodians of lands, territories, and resources, and holders of Indigenous knowledge which contribute to climate resiliency.[30] Contrary to mainstream and capitalist notions of dealing with the climate crisis—such as developing large scale hydropower dams or geothermal energy projects that often have harmful impacts on communities and the environment—Indigenous systems and coping mechanisms have been regenerative, caring and sustainable for people and the planet.[31]

One such example is in Northern Thailand, where a woman village chief started a project that gives Indigenous women access to forest resources to make a living as well as transfer knowledge from the elders to the youth. One portion of the rainforest (9.6 acres), known as evergreen forest, has been allotted to housewives and young girls for managing and nurturing. They planted timber and non-timber plants making materials for weaving and cloth dying accessible for women’s livelihood. They crafted community protocols to make forest management easier. Women’s leadership in resource management has fostered  conservation and protection of both people and the wildlife.[32] Similarly, in Bangladesh, villagers are creating floating vegetable gardens to protect their livelihoods from flooding, whilst in Vietnam, communities are helping to plant dense mangroves along the coast to diffuse tropical-storm waves.[33]

International actors and governments are gradually realizing the potential roles of IPs, particularly Indigenous women, to address the global challenges of climate change, yet policies remain limiting and inadequate. In most countries in Asia, climate change legislation, policies or climate actions which impact individuals and communities are often developed without the input of vulnerable groups.[34]

Conclusion and recommendations

Indigenous women’s low representation and voices in decision-making limit their potential contribution for combating the global climate crisis. Elimination of gender inequality, GBV and discrimination against Indigenous women is only possible through ensuring their meaningful representation and participation in development plans and climate actions. Learning from Indigenous women’s traditional practices and enhancing their participation in climate policy therefore, is critical to achieving commitments under the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Recommendations for governments, United Nations entities, private sector and other stakeholders:

  1. Stop criminalization of Indigenous lifestyles, food systems, and culture. Instead, recognize Indigenous women’s contribution to climate change mitigation and adaptation, as acknowledged in the Paris Agreement;
  2. Provide adequate climate financing and technical support to Indigenous women and girls to enhance their adaptive capacity and mitigation competence to climate change. Support systematic documentation of Indigenous traditional knowledge, whilst acknowledging Indigenous women as legitimate knowledge holders;
  3. Ensure that climate change and disaster risk reduction measures are gender responsive, sensitive to Indigenous knowledge systems, and adhere to the rights of Indigenous Peoples enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP);
  4. Stop violating and manipulating the rights of Indigenous women and girls in the name of development, political process, or emergency measures (e.g. pandemic). Ensure proper implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) for the protection of Indigenous women and girls against violence and for their economic and political empowerment; and
  5. Ensure meaningful opportunities for Indigenous women to participate in political decision making and development planning (see CEDAW articles 7, 8 and 14) in their territories through a genuine process of the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC).

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[1] UN (2021). Leaving no one behind Indigenous peoples and the call for a new social contract. https://www.un.org/en/observances/indigenous-day

[2] Asia Indigenous Peoples’ Pact (AIPP), the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs

(IWGIA) and Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA). (2010). ASEAN’s Indigenous Peoples. https://www.iwgia.org/images/publications/0511_ASEAN_BRIEFING_PAPER_eb.pdf

[3] AIPP (2021). HerStory5: indigenous Women Championing and Changing the World. https://aippnet.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/herstory5-final_compressed-1.pdf

[4] UN (2008). Climate change and indigenous peoples [UNPFII background paper]. https://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/backgrounder%20climate%20change_FINAL.pdf   

[5] Alegado, Jed (2020, March 6). Enabling an Equal World for Indigenous Women in the Time of Climate Crisis. Heinrich Böll Stiftung South East Asia. https://th.boell.org/en/2020/03/07/enabling-equal-world-indigenous-women-time-climate-crisis

[6] Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (2018). General Recommendation No. 37 on Gender-related dimensions of disaster risk reduction in the context of climate change.

[7] ILO (2017). Indigenous peoples and climate change: From victims to change agents through decent work. https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—gender/documents/publication/wcms_551189.pdf

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Development aggression” refers to a developmental process imposed on Indigenous Peoples that deny their rights. See Report of the UN Special Rapporteur, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, Mission to the Philippines, UN Doc. E/CN.4/2003/90, Add. 3, para. 28. https://undocs.org/E/CN.4/2003/90

[10] Alegado, J. (2020). Enabling an Equal World for indigenous Women in the Time of Climate Crisis. https://th.boell.org/en/2020/03/07/enabling-equal-world-indigenous-women-time-climate-crisis

[11] Ibid.

[12] Battachan, K., Thapa, K., & Magar S.K. (2020). Climate Justice for indigenous Women: Urgency and Way Forward. AIPP. https://aippnet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Climate-justice-for-indigenous-women-urgency-and-way-forward-edited.pdf 

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ironside, J., Paterson, G., & Thomas, A. (2017). Swidden agriculture under threat: The case of Ratanakiri, northeast Cambodia: opportunities and constraints from the national policy environment. In M. Cairns (Ed.), Shifting cultivation policies: Balancing environmental and social sustainability (pp. 242–268). CABI. https://doi.org/10.1079/9781786391797.0242

[15] Fidel Devkota (2013). Climate Change and its socio-cultural impact in the Himalayan region of Nepal – A Visual Documentation, Anthrovision [Online], 1.2. http://journals.openedition.org/anthrovision/589 ; DOI : 10.4000/anthrovision.589

[16] National Indigenous Disabled Women Association Nepal (NIDWAN). (2021). Indigenous Women and Girls in Nepal: A Brief Overview. https://nidwan.org.np/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Overview_Nidwan.pdf

[17] AIPP (2015). Indigenous Womenand Human Trafficking in the Mekong Region: Policy Overview and Community Response. https://aippnet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Final_Briefing-Paper-Indigenous-Women-Human-Trafficking_2015.pdf

[18] REDD stands for “reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation”

[19] AIPP et.al. (2012). Global Warming Scapegoat: A New Punishment Measure Imposed on Indigenous Peoples for Practicing for Practicing their Sustainable Traditional Livelihood Activities [policy brief]. Chiang Mai: AIPP. https://aippnet.org/global-warming-scapegoat-a-new-punishment-measure-imposed-on-indigenous-peoples-for-practicing-their-sustainable-traditional-livelihood-activities/

[20] Heede, R. (2014). Tracing anthropogenic carbon dioxide and methane emissions to fossil fuel and cement producers, 1854–2010. Climatic Change, 122(1), 229–241. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-013-0986-y

[21] UN Women and IUCN (2022). Tackling violence against women and girls in the context of climate change. https://www.unwomen.org/sites/default/files/2022-03/Tackling-violence-against-women-and-girls-in-the-context-of-climate-change-en.pdf

[22] FAO, IWGIA and AIPP (2015). Shifting cultivation, livelihood and food security: New and old challenges for Indigenous Peoples in Asia.

[23] AIPP et.al. (2012). Global Warming Scapegoat: A New Punishment Measure Imposed on Indigenous Peoples for Practicing for Practicing their Sustainable Traditional Livelihood Activities [policy brief]. Chiang Mai: AIPP. https://aippnet.org/global-warming-scapegoat-a-new-punishment-measure-imposed-on-indigenous-peoples-for-practicing-their-sustainable-traditional-livelihood-activities/

[24] Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Report on the 16th session, available at https://undocs.org/en/E/2017/43  

[25] Castañeda Camey, I., Sabater, L., Owren, C. and Boyer, A.E. (2021). Gender-based violence and environment linkages: summary for policy makers. Wen, J. (ed.). Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.

[26] Quitasol, K. (2021, February 24). Kalinga court drops charges against red-tagged Cordillera women leader. Altermidya. https://www.altermidya.net/kalinga-court-drops-charges-against-red-tagged-cordillera-women-leader/

[27] AIPP (2021). HerStory5: indigenous Women Championing and Changing the World. Chiang Mai: AIPP.  https://aippnet.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/herstory5-final_compressed-1.pdf

[28] Jerez, Mirian Masaquiza (2021).Challenges and Opportunities for Indigenous Peoples’ Sustainability [UN/DESA Policy Brief #101]. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. https://www.un.org/development/desa/dspd/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2021/04/PB_101.pdf

[29] IWGIA and AIPP. (2015). Shifting Cultivation Livelihood and Food Security. New and Old Challenges for Indigenous Peoples in Asia.

[30] UNFCC. (2021). Indigenous Women Vital to Climate Action. https://unfccc.int/news/indigenous-women-vital-to-climate-action  

[31] Maranan, L.B. (2018). A briefing paper: Building the resiliency of indigenous communities on climate change adaptation. Chiang Mai: AIPP. https://aippnet.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/A-Briefing-Paper_-Building-the-Resiliency-of-Indigenous-Communities-on-Climate-Change-Adaptation.pdf

[32] AIPP. (2020, July 27). The Huay Ee Khang Model: Emerging Idea of indigenous Women’s Forest to Embrace Both People and Wildlife. https://aippnet.org/huay-ee-khang-model-emerging-idea-indigenous-womens-forest-embrace-both-people-wildlife/?fbclid=IwAR0vhjrrZWg5V_WChhXd1cvadmsELPjZbIGwUizTF9BJ6tjVST1Iv7GCaMQ

[33] UN (2008). Climate change and indigenous peoples [UNPFII background paper]. https://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/backgrounder%20climate%20change_FINAL.pdf  

[34] UNEP & OHCHR. (2021). Environmental Rights Brief: Climate Justice in Southeast Asia [Issue brief]. https://bangkok.ohchr.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Climate-Justice-UNEP-and-OHCHR-joint-brief-Sep-2021.pdf 

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