“Indigenous women demand a voice and a vote in decision-making processes regarding our territories,” said Ketty Marcelo Lopez, President of the national indigenous women’s organization ONAMIAP (for its Spanish acronym), at an advocacy event on May 26 in Lima, Peru. The event sought to call attention to indigenous women’s land and governance rights. Speaking directly to government officials and international donors who attended, members of ONAMIAP advocated for stronger legal protections for indigenous women’s rights to govern their lands and resources.

In a recent interview, Marcelo told the International Business Times that while community norms greatly influence how women can be involved in the management of community forests, “the national government also has a crucial role to play in consolidating the rights of indigenous women.”

During the event, women leaders and community representatives discussed obstacles to women’s use, management, and control over their lands. Despite the fact that indigenous women represent 24 percent of Peru’s population—and play a key role in food security, preservation of biodiversity, and governance of ancestral territories—they are often locked out of their communities’ leadership and decision-making processes.

Panel event. Photo: ONAMIAP

These experiences are backed up by new research from RRI on women’s rights to community forests, as well as studies previously conducted by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and ONAMIAP. The RRI report reveals that while protections for women are present in Peru’s constitution, national laws regulating community forests in Peru do not explicitly guarantee women’s rights to vote in community leadership bodies or access dispute resolution mechanisms. A study by ONAMIAP echoes this trend, finding that “while the normative framework (laws and regulations) is not exclusionary with regard to the possibility for women to be recognized as community members or authorities… it does not precisely establish that they have the same rights and opportunities.”

This lack of legal protection has significant impacts on women’s ability to effect change in their communities. An analysis by CIFOR found that just 1 percent of indigenous Peruvian women interviewed perceived community norms to be “just,” compared to 34 percent for men. This difference was primarily associated with women’s ability to participate in decision making: five out of 10 men are involved in defining community norms, whereas only three out of 10 women are involved in these decisions.

Participants at the event also highlighted specific challenges resulting from a lack of coordination among the suite of land titling programs currently operating in Peru—many of which are backed by international donors. While some of these programs contain clauses addressing gender equity, regulatory confusion has hindered the creation of mechanisms to implement these policies on the ground. Better coordination among all projects could lead to greater application of gender equitable policies, as well as better integration of lessons learned regarding women’s participation in community leadership. In pilot projects in the Junin department in Peru’s central jungle region, for example, women leaders have already succeeded in advocating for legal statutes in their communities that ensure greater participation of women.

“Peru has been titling [land] for 40 years,” said CIFOR researcher Iliana Monterroso. “But the spaces are dominated by men.”

Panel event. Photo: ONAMIAP

The event marked an important step toward raising these concerns with key decision makers. Government officials and donors joined a second panel to discuss how the state and the international community can address gender inequalities, both within the implementation process of the current titling projects as well as through the explicit recognition of indigenous women’s tenure rights.

One of the attending officials, indigenous Congressperson Marisa Glave, echoed the importance of addressing this identified “gender gap,” noting that “women are the face of the struggle for land.” And in a written statement from Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI), Ellen Henrikke stressed that “gender is a high priority for Norway’s development support, and all programs need to take into account and address relevant gender issues.”

Peru’s titling projects represent a significant opportunity to advance national and global goals on both climate and development, but their success relies on secure legal protections for the country’s indigenous women to govern their customary lands and resources.

This event was hosted by RRI, CIFOR, ONAMIAP, and ILC, and coincided with the global launch of RRI’s new flagship report, “Power and Potential: A Comparative Analysis of National Laws and Regulations Concerning Women’s Rights to Community Forests.”

Learn more: Women’s rights and land titling projects in Peru (available in Spanish only) | Case study: Women’s voice and participation key for protection of community lands and forests in Peru