Paving the way forward: The Women in Global South Alliance holds its first strategic meeting
By Daiana Gonzalez, with inputs from Omaira Bolaños and Lorene Moran Valenzuela

Members of the new network agree to create more documentation on land rights and governance processes for Indigenous, Afro-descendant, and local community women; call for strengthening advocacy capacity.

20 .04. 2023  
6 minutes read

Sixteen Indigenous, Afro-descendant, and local community women leaders braved cross-continental travel and double-digit time difference to meet face-to-face for the first time in Panama this March.

Their 3-day workshop marked the first meeting for the Women in Global South Alliance (WiGSA). The women represented 14 countries from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Thirteen of them joined in person and six via Zoom to create their first strategic plan.

“I see us as a sisterhood, as a group of women who want to protect their communities and provide guidance on governance and advocacy,” says Loretta Alethea Pope, a WiGSA member and executive director of the Foundation for Community Initiatives (FCI) in Liberia.

From left to right: Bharati Pathak, FECOFUN, Nepal; Sonia Viveros, Fundacion Azucar, Ecuador; Nittaya  Earkanna, IPP, Thailand. Photo by: Walter Hurtado.

Officially launched at CoP27 in Egypt, WiGSA is the first Alliance of its kind, integrated by grassroots women’s organizations, groups, and associations in the Global South to directly support the role of Indigenous, Afro-descendant, and local community women in achieving climate conservation goals and land tenure rights in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. You can read WiGSA’s Call to Action here.

“Indigenous, Afro descendant, and local community women have been invisible to the international donor community and even to their own communities as agents of change and as political actors who can contribute to policies. That is why we supported the creation of WiGSA and its call to action for donors, describing how they can change the historical gap in funding and supporting women,” said Omaira Bolaños, RRI’s Director for Gender Justice.

Meeting face-to-face for the first time

Since Panama City is home to the Embra and Guna Indigenous Peoples, there was no better way to start than with a ceremony of gratitude to Mother Earth, led by Briceida Iglesias, recognized as a Guna sage and member of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests (CMLTM).

Following the intimate ceremony, the Alliance members shared their stories and the struggles they face within their own communities. Each wrote their name on a piece of paper and pasted it on a map of the world, which ended up filled with colored labels starting in the Andes of South America and ending in the mountainous north of Chiang Mai, Thailand.

After learning about each other, they jointly identified common problems among the three regions and proposed a new advocacy strategy that will be the Alliance’s roadmap for the coming years.

“I speak on behalf of 8 million Indigenous sowing women when I say that we face complex barriers and discrimination at all levels (social, economic, racial). Our rules, our way of managing our territory, of using our knowledge are not recognized and respected,” said Devi Anggraini of the Indigenous Women’s Association of the Indonesian Archipelago (PEREMPUAN AMAN).

Finding common threads of struggle

The historical gap in direct and equitable access to global funding for climate resilience, rights-based conservation, and land rights defense was the driving force to create WiGSA.

Between 2010 and 2013, Indigenous, Afro-descendant, and community women received only 0.7 percent of all recorded human rights funding even though they use, manage, and conserve up to 50 percent of the world’s land. This is one of the key issues where WiGSA intends to focus its efforts.

In the same spirit, members highlighted the underrepresentation of women in governance structures and in local and national decision-making processes, as well as the lack of access to land and land ownership rights as priority issues.

“It is the Indigenous, Afro-descendant, and local community women who face and know the issues (in managing land and forests). That is why they are the ones who must be included and heard in decision making,” said Luciana Caraca, a youth leader from the Association of Afro-descendant Women of Northern Cauca, Colombia (ASOM).

To begin addressing the lack of land rights and representation, WiGSA agreed to start working on the creation of evidence-based documentation on women’s access to land and their participation in forest management to support their demands, and of a plan to monitor policy implementation of women’s tenure rights in the Global South.

From left to right: Mina Beyan, SES Dev, Liberia; and Loretta Alethea Pope, FCI, Liberia. Photo: Tova Katzman.

Members also acknowledged that women need direct support to increase their technical capacity in evidence-based advocacy and enhance their intergenerational leadership formation. These were common threads across Indigenous, Afro-descendant, and local community women leaders in all regions of the Global South. They agreed to focus on intra- and cross-regional exchanges of experiences, and mapping of spaces to promote direct dialogue between WiGSA and funding organizations that can help them achieve their strategic goals.

“The Alliance is going to support the training of women who lack the necessary skills; we want to help them with mentoring and training because here [at the Alliance], there are women who have experience at different levels to do this,” says Loretta Pope from FCI, Liberia.

The way forward

Sixteen WiGSA members from 14 countries in the Global South participated virtually and in person. Photo by: Tova Katzman.

The members of the Alliance also identified key international events that could serve as a platform for them to highlight their challenges as well as the strategies they’ve been using to combat them for generations through their traditional knowledge and natural resource governance techniques.

These events include the UN Climate Week in New York, to be held in September, the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, and the first Forum of Indigenous and Local Community Women of Central Africa in Brazzaville, this May.

Lessons in women’s leadership from the Ipetí-Embera community

Sitting in a circle in the Ipeti-Emberá community’s assembly hall (maloca) in the Alto Bayano Collective Territory of Panama, Sara Omi, and her mother, Omayra Casama, opened the doors of their community to WiGSA members to conclude this meeting. The workshop ended as it began: with chants and protection rituals in connection with Mother Earth.

Sara and Omayra are no ordinary mother and daughter. Sara, a lawyer, is president of the CMLTM Coordinator and a WiGSA member; her mother is the first woman from the Ipeti-Emberá to become a cacique (chief).

Omi said she saw the meeting’s international exchange of experience as an opportunity to “continue making the Ipeti-Emberá community’s undertakings more visible, and for international women leaders to join hands to strengthen the different struggles their organizations have in common to seek social justice and participate in decision-making.”

Omayra Casema, the first woman from the Ipeti-Emberá to become a cacique (chief). Photo by: Tova Katzman.

She says their greatest achievement is to be part of a strong network and find synergy with women’s movements worldwide. That is how she has been able to advocate for the economic alternatives that empower local women and turn them into political actors.

WiGSA aspires to be precisely that: A network of voices that brings together women’s diverse knowledge and agendas to assert their rights and strategies to affect systemic changes at local, national, and international levels, and to promote the incorporation of a gender lens in global financing to protect the world’s natural resources.

This is also a key objective of RRI’s burgeoning Gender Justice Program, which seeks to create spaces that help achieve synergy between grassroots organizations and catalyze support for Indigenous, Afro-descendant, and local community-led organizations in the Global South. Learn more about the program and its work here.

To learn more about WiGSA and its first meeting, contact Omaira Bolaños.

* Participating organizations included: CMLTM from Panamá and Nicaragua, PEREMPUAN AMAN from Indonesia, AIPP/IWNT from Thailand, FECOFUN from Nepal, SES Dev and FCI from Liberia, Red Mocaf from México, ASOM and OPIAC from Colombia, ONAMIAP from Perú, Fundación Azúcar from Ecuador, CNAMIB from Bolivia, REFACOF from Cameroon, Plus de SIDA dans les familles, CTIDD, DGPA and CFLEDD from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


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