Women environmental defender from Madre de Dios Giancarlo Shibayama-SPDA

The Escazú Agreement from a gender lens: the case of Madre de Dios

Due to the challenging sociopolitical context, women and Indigenous people in Amazon region often have less possibilities to exercise their rights. The Escazú Agreement is a regional treaty on access to information, public participation and justice in environmental matters in Latin America and the Caribbean. An important step forward, yet it falls short in adequately addressing structural gender issues. With COP3 of the Escazú Agreement approaching, we explore how Indigenous women environmental defenders experience their access to information, participation and justice, based on a study conducted in the Peruvian Amazon region of Madre de Dios.

Header photo: Giancarlo Shibayama/SPDA

The Escazú Agreement has been signed by 25 governments, of which 15 countries have now ratified the text, making it applicable at a national level. Peru has signed, but not yet ratified the treaty. Ratifying the Escazú Agreement is an opportunity for the Peruvian government to curve the alarming trend of accelerated destruction of the largest remaining rainforest in the world, and violence against its inhabitants.

Women environmental defenders in Madre de Dios

In the framework of our PIDDA project, Eliana Rojas Torres conducted a gender baseline study in Madre de Dios. The study applied an intercultural approach to study the situation of women in this Amazonian region, analysing their roles, needs and the risks they encounter, with the objective to contribute to improving women’s (access to) rights and national protection of environmental defenders.

Women environmental defenders in Madre de Dios find themselves in a context where gold mining is the main economic activity. It is linked to deforestation, pollution, insecurity, gender violence, organised crime and corruption, which affect women differently than men. In a previously published article, we delved into the systemic obstacles and different types of violence women are dealing with in the biodiverse region.

Side event COP3 of the Escazú Agreement

During the third Conference of the Parties (COP) of the Escazú agreement, FARN, Eco Maxei and IUCN NL organise a side event on generating safe and enabling environments for women environmental defenders in Latin America.

During this webinar, we will discuss experiences and good practices of gender action plans. While focusing on the right of access to justice, we will apply a gender, intercultural and intergenerational perspective. The panelists, coming from a variety of initiatives and backgrounds, will also identify entry points for collaboration between the Rio Conventions and the Escazú Agreement on gender and environmental defenders.

‘Communities in Madre de Dios often distrust local authorities and feel companies operate with impunity. As a result, they turn to national and international bodies instead.’

Mariel Cabero, Expert Environmental Justice

Distrust in local authorities

The study conducted in Madre de Dios shows that the obstacles start with a lack of resources for women environmental defenders to do proper investigations on and procedures related socio-environmental conflicts. If they are able to start investigative and legal processes, progress is being limited by a lack of coordination between different institutions and corruption.

‘The other side of the coin,’ says Mariel Cabero, Expert Environmental Justice at IUCN NL, ‘is that communities in Madre de Dios often distrust local authorities and feel companies operate with impunity. As a result, they turn to national and international bodies instead. This lack of confidence in local authorities contributes to under-reporting of socio-environmental conflicts, especially among Indigenous women.’

Access to information

Access to information is a fundamental tool for justice. It is a foundation for people to advocate for and protect their rights, and is essential during legal procedures. For example, members of Amazon communities involved in legal procedures because of a conflict with a mining company, need proper access to all relevant information to effectively engage.

In general, access to justice in socio-environmental conflicts and other environmental matters in Peru presents challenges, despite constitutional and statutory provisions. Nevertheless, Indigenous women and others encounter systematic obstacles when they try to access information about environmental issues.

In the Escazú Agreement, the right to access information for all, without having to explain their interest, is set out in Article 5 of the Peruvian constitution, while Article 6 concerns the government’s obligation to make its information publically available and accessible.

Access to participation

Another element of the Escazú Agreement is access to participation. Article 7 of the treaty highlights the importance of public participation in environmental decision-making processes, and describes the means by which this is ensured.

Barriers to participate in decision-making processes include physical distances, bureaucracy and the use of technical language, and in the case of women also gender barriers. In Madre de Dios, less than 30 percent of the leadership positions is filled by Indigenous women. The study results show that women in these positions face gender stereotyping and that their leadership capacities are questioned. The limited representation of women is also visible in other positions, for example in forest management.

It was found that different measures can increase women leadership in the region:

  • Implementation of gender quotas. Assigning specific quotas for women in community and training programmes to ensure equitable participation in leadership roles.
  • Support networks. Having supportive family networks that share household responsibilities, enabling women to engage more in leadership without domestic constraints.
  • Influence of role models. The presence of successful female role models in leadership inspires other women to aspire and achieve similar positions.
  • Backing from organisations. Support from organisations that advocate for female leadership provides essential resources and training, fostering an environment for women leaders.
  • Capacity building programmes. Access to training on Indigenous rights, human rights and essential skills equips women with the knowledge and capabilities needed for effective leadership.
  • Conflict resolution skills. Women’s perceived ability to maintain calm and foster dialogue in conflicts enhances their suitability for leadership roles by enabling consensus-building.
  • Cultural and generational exchange. Sharing experiences among women and collaboration with experienced Indigenous organisations promotes leadership skills and broader participation.
  • Creating safe and inclusive Spaces: Developing inclusive training approaches that consider women’s family responsibilities helps integrate them into leadership roles, even in male-dominated fields.
  • Local capacity building workshops: Conducting training directly in communities facilitates women’s participation by minimising logistical barriers and aligning training with local needs.

‘People who file charges may face intimidation from the perpetrators, or they might even find themselves being accused in retaliation. Unfortunately, this risk is particularly high for women.’

Mariel Cabero, Expert Environmental Justice

Access to justice

In case of a socio-environmental conflict, for example between a mining company and a community, but also in the case of physical violence against women, proper and efficient access to justice is essential. Article 8 in the Escazú Agreement defines, in short, that each party to the agreement guarantees citizens’ access to legal remedies in environmental matters through support mechanisms and free technical and legal assistance.

Women in Madre Dios experience a series of limitations when exercising their right to justice, according to the study. This includes indifference and corrupted local authorities, as well as a lack of confidence in these authorities. According to Cabero, ‘the study also shows a general distrust in justice due to a lack of results, perceptions of impunity and because, when convicted, perpetrators are often released quickly.’

There is another reason for inhabitants of the region to not denounce a crime, says the environmental rights expert. ‘People who file charges may face intimidation from the perpetrators, or they might even find themselves being accused in retaliation. Unfortunately, this risk is particularly high for women.’

Important step, not the sole solution

The Escazú Agreement is a historic step forward towards guaranteed environmental human rights, but it does not yet fully cover the socio-environmental challenges of Amazon communities. In addition to an inadequate response to gender issues, the regional treaty does not yet have a fully inclusive approach. In its articles on access to information, for example, it does not include types of knowledge and communication of Indigenous peoples. Instead, it applies a purely governmental perspective, using the (technical) language of the government. Locally-led initiatives are therefore equally important to value to protect the rights of the people and nature in Latin America.

The gender baseline study shows that, while an effective response of the Peruvian government stays behind, grassroots organisations collaborate with civil society actors, international cooperation and the public sector, implement self-protection strategies for environmental justice and the protection of environmental defenders. ‘The inclusion of gender approaches in these initiatives, with active participation of women leaders and women’s rights organisations, will strengthen the protection of human and territorial rights in these communities,’ explains Cabero. However, since dynamics related to deforestation, organised crime and corruption are transboundary, a regional approach to these problems remains necessary.

While the Escazú Agreement needs to be reviewed in terms of inclusivity, it plays a significant role in improving environmental rights and governance in Latin America and the Caribbean. The treaty lays down essential principles and frameworks that have the potential to make a substantial difference for both the environment and communities depending on its resources. In a region where environmental human rights defenders encounter severe risks, a regional effort to improve access to information, participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters is indispensable.  

Improving the national protection system

The PIDDA project has the objective to improve the national protection system for (women) environmental defenders, applying a gender and intercultural approach. We do this together with Sociedad Peruana de Derecho Ambiental, Federación Nativa del Río Madre de Dios y Afluentes and Comité de Gestión de la Reserva Nacional Tambopata. This project is supported by Agence Française de Développement.

The Agence Française de Développement (AFD) implements France’s policy on international development and solidarity. Through its financing of NGOs and the public sector, as well as its research and publications, AFD supports and accelerates transitions towards a fairer, more resilient world.

More information? Contact:

Mariel Cabero
Expert Environmental Justice
Liliana Jauregui
Liliana Jauregui
Senior Expert Environmental Justice