“Roads are not what development is,” according to Helena Gualinga. An advocate for indigenous rights, the 20-year-old Ecuadorian shows that outside ideas about what helps women or indigenous communities do not always match the actual needs. Gualinga and others are calling for local partners, religious actors, and women in all their diversity, to be included in climate-related planning, policymaking, and implementation.
When a road is built to access an indigenous area, it doesn’t only bring improvement, Gualinga explains. These roads can also open communities to “exploitation, not just of our lands, forests, and natural resources, but also of our people – especially women.” Using examples, Gualinga and others speaking at From the Grassroots to the Global: Why Climate Action Needs Women, Religious Actors and Local Partners show how those closest to the climate crisis need access to decision-making tables to share their knowledge.
According to the United Nations, women are more vulnerable than men to climate change; they represent most of the world’s poor and are proportionally more dependent on threatened natural resources. Patriciah Roy Akullo, ACT Uganda Forum Coordinator, says that because of this dependency, women are also more likely to identify solutions to challenges and implement them. She points out that there are also many examples of how local partners and religious actors, often made up of women, can provide local understanding, access, and frameworks to reach people for climate action effectively.
But, to ensure effective cooperation on all levels, Gualinga specifically challenges religious organisations to take responsibility for harmful structures they may have created. She explains that indigenous women are not just impacted more by climate change but have long suffered from behaviour linked to the climate crisis. “It can be mining, logging, or oil companies with the idea they are allowed to – and entitled to – exploit not just land, not just territories, but also to violate rights [of] and exploit women.”
Both Gualinga and Roy Akullo were speakers at this side event of the sixty-sixth session of the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women (CSW66), along with Jennifer Heys, Patricia Mbote, and Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati. The International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development’s (PaRD) Gender Equality and Empowerment and WECARE Work-Streams organised the hour-long event. From Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW), Shahin Ashraf moderated the March 16, 2022 panel with PaRD Advisor Brenda Mbaja Lubang.
The discussion was sponsored by Global Affairs Canada (GAC), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development of Germany (BMZ), the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), and the International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development (PaRD).
Image Credit: PaRD