Woman protesting (c) Shar Balagtas

International Women’s Day 2021: celebrating female leadership

IUCN NL is proud to work with many female leaders across the world who choose to challenge their patriarchical societies and are advocates for women’s rights and social inclusion. On International Women’s Day, we are celebrating these strong women who stand up for their territories, their forests and their rights, even though faced with increasing risks and gender-based violence.

One of these leaders is Judy Pasimo. Together with a group of like-minded feminists in the Philippines, Pasimo founded LILAK nine years ago. LILAK supports indigenous women leaders in their struggle to defend indigenous women’s human rights. Indigenous women face many forms of marginalization. Discover more in our infographic on how being an indigenous woman makes it twice as hard to pursue environmental activism.

Judy Pasimo explains: ‘It isn’t a good time to be a women environmental defender under this violent goverment But – and then I quote an indigenous female leader- ‘we have no choice, it is our obligation to stand up and continue fighting. If we don’t do it, who will? It is not about our lives only, but that of the next generation.’’

Killings of indigenous peoples

Just last year, a series of killings of indigenous people has happened,’ Pasimo continues. ‘I am sitting here with so much fear, but the fear that I am feeling is nothing compared to the threats these indigenous women are facing day in, day out. I am afraid of the threats thrown at us on social media. They are afraid of the guns actually pointed at them at every corner.’

Increasing violence against environmental defenders

People resisting eviction from their communal lands, pollution of their rivers, the disappearance of their forests, and other developments affecting their livelihoods face increasing violence. This violence comes in the form of threats, criminalization, arrests and detentions without formal charges, physical violence and even murder.

Since 2015, on average, four environmental right defenders have been killed every week. Colombia and the Philippines are the deadliest countries for defenders. Almost 40 percent of the victims are from indigenous groups, being at the frontline of protecting nature.

Gender-based repression

While men are more often the victim of murder, women environmental defenders are more often victims of sexual violence and other forms of gender-based repression. Currently, pressure on women environmental rights defenders is even exacerbated by the Covid-pandemic.

Recommendations to strengthen protections

Together with the IUCN Global Programme on Governance and Rights, we produced a briefing paper on the gender-based violence women face in their defense of land, natural resources and human rights. The brief reviews the gender-differentiated challenges women environmental human rights defenders face, including gender-based violence, and provides recommendations for civil society and governments to strengthen protections.

We encourage everyone to choose to challenge and take action for gender equality.

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Frederique Holle

Expert Environmental Justice