Women Defenders Unite to Protect the Amazon | Amazon Watch
Amazon Watch

Women Defenders Unite to Protect the Amazon

March 9, 2021 | Leila Salazar-López and Angela Martínez | Eye on the Amazon

“The forest is our mother. The forest is our life and our strength. Women protect the healthy soil and fresh air to protect our children and all life. Now is the time to hear the voices of women to protect the Amazon.”

Cristina Gualinga, Kichwa grandmother from Sarayaku

Across the Amazon Basin, Indigenous women are uniting and organizing in defense of life, rights, and territories while confronting increasing threats. Amazonian women defenders are on the front lines of defense and response to both the climate and COVID-19 emergencies. This is in addition to leading resistance against extractive industries, agribusiness expansion, and government policies that incentivize fires, land-grabbing, and attacks against Earth defenders. Amazonian women defenders are guiding solutions for a better future and call upon all of us to listen to their voices and show our solidarity.

In recognition of International Women’s Day 2021, Amazonian Indigenous women organized virtual gatherings, press conferences, assemblies, and marches to call attention to the continued attacks against Indigenous women’s rights, lives, and territories. They celebrated women as life-givers, wisdom keepers, and leaders while denouncing violence against women and Mother Earth.

Women Defenders of the Amazon (Mujeres Amazónicas) in Ecuador organized a press conference to bring attention to the concerns, demands, and work of Indigenous women over the last year. In a press release, they said:

“Our resistance is born from the collective words from our communities. For this reason, in the last few days, we have walked through at least 30 communities and carried out different activities, which included workshops on territorial defense, rights, community unity, and provided other basic services the government has failed to provide. We also recall that three years ago, we delivered the Mandate of the Women Defenders of the Amazon against extractivism to the current President of Ecuador, Lenín Moreno, and all of his ministers. Yet the years have passed, and our demands have not been met, so we have deepened those demands.”

Since the launch of the mandate, Amazon Watch has worked in close solidarity with Women Defenders of the Amazon. We continue to deepen our work together to amplify women’s voices and respond to emergencies including floods, oil spills, COVID-19 prevention and relief, security, and legal aid. Considering the growing needs and calls for solidarity from women, we are expanding our work and capacity this year. Nina Gualinga is coordinating directly with women defenders and Amazon Watch in her new role as Indigenous Women’s Ambassador. Nina is a mother, daughter of Kichwa and Swedish parents, and an internationally recognized climate justice and women’s rights advocate. She is a long-time friend and ally who we are honored to be a part of our growing team.

Nina Gualinga shared:

“Indigenous women are powerful! Together we can create real change, so it is time we step into that power. Over the last few weeks, we have worked to serve and organize more than 30 communities of six Indigenous nationalities in the Ecuadorian Amazon. We are working with women defenders for the rights, territories, health, culture, and traditions of Indigenous peoples of the Amazon. We are attacked for defending our rights, our families, our communities, and our forests. We have endured enough! Together we are standing strong in resistance and supporting each other to heal and create a better world for ourselves and our children.”

Indigenous women in the Brazilian Amazon are also organizing themselves in defense of their lives and territories. At a gathering of The National Association of Ancestral Indigenous Women Warriors (ANMIGA), Sonia Guajajara, National Coordinator of The Association of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples (APIB) said:

“Women are the sacred seeds of existence. We are the resistance! We can no longer accept the disrespect, death, and destruction promoted by the patriarchy and by the governments of the world. We resist violence to protect our lives, rights, and territories. We want our territories demarcated now! That is our constitutional right!”

Amazon Watch is honored to work in solidarity with these women warriors. We are committed to support and amplify the voices and solutions of Amazonian Indigenous women leaders, organizations, and movements across the Amazon by partnering with them on advocacy, communication, and legal strategies, and through direct solidarity funding for their initiatives, projects, and mobilizations via our Amazon Defenders Fund (ADF). We are proud to have mobilized and disbursed over $1 million in funding over the last year to support the urgent and strategic priorities of local partners. We prioritize women-led projects and funding Indigenous women directly who have typically been excluded from receiving direct support for their work. ADF supports and accompanies emerging women leaders and women facing gender-based violence. It funds security, protection, and legal support for women defenders at risk, supports healing and well-being for Indigenous women, provides support for healers and wisdom-keepers of traditional knowledge, and mobilizes rapid-response support for emergencies.

At Amazon Watch we are committed to decolonization and support our partners in challenging the existing patriarchal systems of power and white supremacy that negatively affect the rights of Indigenous women, girls, and gender non-conforming individuals as they resist to secure justice to protect Indigenous collective rights and the Amazon rainforest. We use these values to guide our work and our solidarity funding via our ADF. This women’s history month, we leave you with the wise words of Alessandra Munduruku:

“Women deserve to be treated with respect and dignity because we give and protect life. We are the guardians of the forest from those that only seek to destroy and continue colonization. Colonization is not a thing of the past. Colonization continues through laws that allow the destruction of our lands and language. We are resisting to protect and defend our rivers and rainforests, which are our future.”

Highlights of recent ADF grants supporting Women Defenders

International Women’s Day:

  • Women Defenders of the Amazon (Mujeres Amazonicas) activities in 30 Indigenous communities in the Ecuadorian Amazon, including meetings, training, healing circles, games, marches, and press conference;
  • CONFENIAE (Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of the Ecuadorian Amazon) Women’s march, assembly, and press conference

Indigenous Women’s Leadership and Economic Justice:

  • Institutional support to relaunch Women’s Program at AIDESEP in Peru
  • Workshop for women’s economic justice projects in Ecuador
  • Support for Indigenous activists and leaders across Brazil in collaboration with Voo da Vespa (The Flight of the Wasp), Choose Love, and Culture Hack Labs.

Defending Women Defenders at Risk:

  • Legal support for women facing domestic and gender violence in Ecuador
  • Direct legal and security accompaniment for Indigenous women leaders that are threatened.
  • Workshop to protect Amazon Defenders at Risk, ORAU, Peru to develop protection strategies for Indigenous leaders receiving death threats, intimidation, and violence.

Healing and Traditional Knowledge:

  • Direct support for Indigenous Women healers via Asociación Jakon Rate (Shipibo Konibo, Peru) who play an important role in knowledge keeping and cultural revitalization, sharing their knowledge in service of their communities through ceremony, organic traditional medicine, agriculture, and midwifery.
  • Shipibo Midwifery Program to share knowledge and support maternal health for Indigenous women.
  • Dialogues of wisdom among ancestral healers throughout the Amazon basin

Climate and Covid-19 Emergency Response:

  • In coordination with Mujeres Amazonicas and the Kichwa people of Sarayaku in Ecuador, Amazon Watch fiscally sponsored emergency relief grants and reconstruction efforts along the Bobonaza River after historic floods destroyed homes, schools, and food gardens.
  • Preventative and emergency health care for community members with COVID-19 in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
  • Direct support for COIAB and APIB, Indigenous Women-led organizations in Brazil, in response to COVID-19 emergency.
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