By Immaculate Casimero
As the 28th Conference of Parties (COP) for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) concludes in the United Arab Emirates, there are still many questions, concerns and disappointments. To start, COP is not an event that too many people outside of the climate, environment and academic space are aware of in terms of its technicalities, regulations and policies. While folks are seeing changes in the climate of their respective regions, they are often unaware of how all of it connects to the world. They may not be familiar with the decisions being made on their behalf and steps being taken by global leaders to attempt to address some of these problems. As the temperatures keep increasing and the impacts are felt on a more regular basis, governments must make changes to the laws and policies on climate change.
Importance of Education and Information Sharing
Many decisions are being taken by leaders and government entities at COP. While Indigenous women have participated at several international and national levels, these have mostly been seen as a token form of participation. In many cases, indigenous women share their stories and knowledge with an unresponsive audience. Additionally, Indigenous women's contributions and concerns are not reflected in decisions made at the global level. However, the decisions taken at these conferences must reach the grassroots level and be explained in a simple and straightforward manner to allow other Indigenous women who are unable to participate in the conferences.
In the South Rupununi in Guyana, I am a founding member of Wapichan Wiizi Women’s Movement (WWWM). Whenever I get the opportunity to attend such conferences, I make it a point to come back and share what I have learned with my fellow women. We have awareness-raising sessions on these issues. As an individual, however, my reach is limited, and the movement lacks the resources to reach out to the communities we work with across several territories. I believe that this can be a matter that is undertaken by the national governments especially when they are the ones creating policies and laws on climate change that affect the lives of Indigenous peoples.
Making Funds Available for Improving Livelihoods
There are billions of dollars being pumped into what is now called climate financing. However, what is happening with that money is not clear to the people at the grassroots level who are getting a tiny percentage of that money. This is particularly concerning since, at the grassroots level, it has been Indigenous peoples, particularly Indigenous women who have been playing an important role in the conservation of forests which are seen as one of the main ways to curb the impacts of climate change. The Wapichan Wiizi Women’s Movement recently held an annual conference in which
"We discussed how women also have a right to access these funds for climate change and use them to advance and improve our livelihoods."
In most of our communities, we are the ones responsible for putting food on the table and the changing weather patterns have disastrously affected the production of some of our food crops which are essential to our survival. It also becomes an important way for us to develop alternative means of livelihood so that we do not face a crisis of food shortage and can provide for our children.
The Climate Crisis and the Rise in Domestic Violence
As a result of our farms losing their productivity, another problem which has cropped up is joblessness among both men and women in communities. This free time has in turn led to the consumption of alcohol from early hours in the morning, which fuels domestic violence. The WWWM has been working with women in the Wapichan Wiizi (Territory) to raise awareness to curb domestic violence. However, unless there are more proactive steps by setting up effective redressal mechanisms for domestic violence at the grassroots level, the problem will not be addressed. We can see clearly the connection of climate change and gender injustice.
Adoption of a Bottom-Up Approach to Design Policies
Even though the world is recognising the role played by Indigenous peoples in protecting the forests and mitigating climate change, decisions are still taken at the global level by employing a top-down approach. We have seen that this approach is not working, and global temperatures continue to rise.
"I feel it is time that Indigenous solutions to climate change are understood and used by those who design policies at the national and global levels. To do this, we will need to be given a seat at the table and our voices need to be heard."
Rather than asking for inputs on draft policies which are seldom taken into consideration, it may be more effective to have us be part of the drafting process. Our climate is changing for the worse and we need to change our approach to the way we want to mitigate its effects. Unless we do so, the hope that our future generations will be able to live peacefully on this planet will remain a distant dream and never become a reality.
Wapichan Women’s WIizi Movement (WWWM) is the women’s arm of the South Rupununi District Council, a local Indigenous organization in Guyana. WWWM was founded by Immaculata Casimero and Faye Fredericks, and is now led by a working group consisting of 10 women of various ages and experiences, from across the Wapichan Territory, who have been involved in community organizing, capacity-building and livelihoods projects. WWWM represents the interests of women and its mandate is to bolster the role that indigenous women play in protecting the land and natural resources, retaining cultural identity and addressing the social issues affecting indigenous women’s rights.