Below is an excerpt of Aarushi Aggarwal's writing. Read the full article here.

The indispensable need for indigenous women’s leadership cannot be emphasised enough. These women are the vessels of practices and knowledge systems that have best served human-nature coexistence for millennia. The Anishinaabe people of the Great Lakes region, for instance, share a special relationship with water. Their culture emphasises both the responsibility of the water to the People and the People’s responsibility to water. The Anishinaabe women, however, have special and specific duties in this relationship. They bear the “responsibilities to attend to the quality of water, responsibilities to develop and pass on knowledge of water and its stewardship to younger generations. They also have responsibilities to take action to protect water when its quality is compromised.”

Thanks to such knowledge preservation, Indigenous peoples, though only 6.2 per cent of the global population, protect 80 per cent of the world’s remaining biodiversity. This fact is made all the more striking as numbers are revealed: though they steward an estimated third of the world’s most important ecosystems for climate mitigation and biodiversity protection, Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities receive only 17 per cent of the climate funds intended for them. Unsurprisingly, Indigenous women get left behind, receiving only 5 per cent of intended funding.

At the same time, Indigenous women—not unlike women in general—disproportionately experience the impacts of climate change. Indigenous self-imagination—from livelihoods to culture—is deeply intertwined with natural resources. Responsible for gathering variety of subsistence items, including food, firewood, fodder, and herbs, Indigenous women are at the forefront of witnessing the changes in their ecological surrounding. For instance, a matriarch from Indonesia’s Orang Rimba tribe adversely impacted by the unabated expansion of palm oil plantations remarked that earlier “women could find many types of food. Some wove mats from leaves and baskets. We made lamps from gum resin. Now we cannot find materials to make these.” The Orang women are being forced to migrate from forests they have called home for generations in search of food and livelihood. This poverty and forced migration brings its own gender-based challenges, with instances of violence found aplenty. As climate change fundamentally alters the landscape in which Indigenous women root their self-imagination and from which they derive their identities, their position and responsibilities in society are also undergoing change, the nature of which remains unclear. 

Numerous Indigenous women-led groups have been at the forefront of raising awareness and bringing attention to the unique climate change related challenges experienced by their communities. Alongside Lola Cabnal, women leaders like Veronica Inmunda, a Kichwa Kichwa woman from the Ecuadoran Amazon; Rukka Sombolinggi, a Torajan woman from Sulawesi highlands; Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, a Mbororo Indigenous pastoralist woman from Chad; and Grace Balawag, a Kankaney-Igorot Indigenous woman from the Philippines, to name a few are spearheading community-based organisations involving women and youth. While their share of international climate stage is growing, a case can be made for far greater representation for them and other Indigenous women. For one, these women hold the knowledge that the world desperately needs to know, adapt, and scale to meet climate change adaptation needs. Enabling positions of prominence—and leadership—for these women will provide much needed avenues for the transference of this knowledge. Second, Indigenous women in positions of decision making are leaders not only of their respective communities, but global leaders who are best poised to take on climate challenges of today and tomorrow. The adversities within which they have led their efforts equips them to lead global climate efforts. Besides, as custodians of most of Earth’s biodiversity, they deserve a place of prominence no less than the small percentage of men who hold most of the world’s money.