Guardians of the Amazon: role and challenges of women in Colombia

Guardians of the Amazon: role and challenges of women in Colombia
Guardians of the Amazon: role and challenges of women in Colombia

Colombia, with its rich biodiversity and history marked by conflict, is at a critical crossroads in its search for lasting peace. In this context, women who lead the defense of human rights and environmental protection in the Amazon are key actors. Despite the importance of their work, they face extremely dangerous conditions, since Colombia is one of the most dangerous places in the world for those who defend the planet and human rights. The personal stories of these defenders, their challenges, experiences and successes, illustrate remarkable courage and perseverance in their fight against climate change and in the preservation of their ancestral lands.

The Igarapé Institute has shown through research in the Amazon how legal and illegal industries are negatively impacting the ecosystem, adding a layer of complexity to the already difficult conditions that these women face. These challenges include not only environmental destruction but also the complex gender dynamics that these defenders must overcome every day. They are in a constant struggle to develop their role as defenders in an environment that frequently questions and minimizes their voice and authority due to deep-seated gender biases. These results are part of a research that the Igarapé Institute has carried out since 2023, which includes a broad vision of the actions and risks of women environmental defenders of the Amazon in Brazil, Peru and Colombia, the latest report published being that of Colombia.

To carry out this research, a participatory methodology focused on focus groups and in-depth interviews with key informants was adopted. These fundamental activities of our research were carried out in collaboration with two local defenders with access to the departments of Caquetá, Guaviare, Meta and Putumayo. In total, five focus groups and twelve interviews were conducted, providing a detailed view of the challenges and solutions proposed by women defenders in these regions.

The presence of armed actors and exacerbated crime related to illegal mining, illicit crops and drug trafficking are key vectors that put the security and integrity of their communities at risk. These elements add to the environmental and social challenges generated by legal and illegal extractive industries, such as mining, oil production, monoculture agriculture and logging, which lead to environmental degradation and generate additional social and spiritual impacts on populations. .

The current dynamics of crime and violence add to the legacies of an armed conflict that has not yet managed to close its chapter in the country. The continued threat and victimization of organized social movements, especially among women, represents a heavy burden for communities and women defenders of human rights and the environment. These defenders fight against complicated gender dynamics associated with a persistent patriarchal culture that stigmatizes their work and exposes them to risks of both visible and invisible violence.

Becoming an advocate, for many, has been a legacy of violence and trauma, but also a source of mobilization in a context with minimal opportunities for support and funding. Despite the risks, the need to defend their environment and their communities motivates these women to continue their work, although many choose to keep a low profile for fear of reprisals.

In response to these challenges, defenders have implemented solidarity and community empowerment strategies to protect the environment, their territories and their own ways of life. Empowerment not only includes funding, but also leadership training opportunities and mechanisms to report the risks they face. Additionally, they prioritize environmental education, which helps foster a better understanding of the value of the natural areas around them, thereby strengthening the connection between residents and the land they call home. They also develop strategies for the recognition and attention to the risks and effects implied by extractive activities in the territories, ensuring a more effective management and response to these threats.

As awareness and education increases, it is crucial that the indispensable role of women in the Colombian Amazon in climate change mitigation is recognized and supported. By preventing deforestation and forest fires, these defenders not only safeguard the Amazon vegetation, a crucial carbon reservoir, but also contribute significantly to the protection of the global environment. Their work reflects an implicit commitment to ecological health that, simultaneously, seeks to improve family living conditions.

Supporting these brave defenders in Colombia is not only crucial for the conservation of the Amazon, but also strengthens the pillars of democracy and human rights in the country. By ensuring their voices are heard and their efforts recognized, we contribute to more inclusive and equitable governance. This highlights the indispensable role of women on the front lines of the battle for environmental and social justice, an essential step not only for Colombia but for the global community in its effort to find real and lasting solutions to the socio-environmental challenges we face. today. To recognize and support these defenders is to recognize the interconnection of ecological health, social stability and global equity, three axes that must guide our path towards a more sustainable and fair future for all.

It is imperative that the international community amplifies its support for environmental defenders in the Colombian Amazon. Protecting their rights and ensuring their safety are not only matters of justice, but also of vital importance to the global fight against climate change. International pressure and collaboration with local organizations can catalyze significant changes, ensuring that these women can continue their essential work without fear of retaliation. The global commitment to the defense of human rights and environmental protection in Colombia is a reflection of our shared responsibility towards the planet and future generations.

Furthermore, building support networks and providing adequate resources are essential to strengthening the resilience of these communities. Initiatives led by women in the Amazon must not only be recognized, but also supported with policies that promote environmental and social justice. Investing in education and training programs, along with strengthening local governance, can create an environment where these WHRDs not only survive, but thrive. The struggle of these women is a beacon of hope and an example that, with the right support, it is possible to build a more just and sustainable future for all.

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