Interview with Human Rights activist Joan Carling

Indigenous women around the world have been facing different challenges such as racism, violence, exclusion or colonialism, loss of their land and culture for many centuries. 

In recent years, we had seen courage women from indigenous communities fighting against powerful mining or oil companies to preserve their culture and environment, leading social campaigns to stop domestic violence.  

Joan Carling. Source: Indigenous Peoples Rights International

Indigenous News of the World (INW) interviewed by email Joan Carling, who is an indigenous activist from the Philippines with more than 20 years of working on indigenous issues from the grassroots to the international level. 

Mrs Carling is currently the co-convenor of the Indigenous Peoples’ Major Group for Sustainable Development-IPMG.

The human right activist was the General Secretary of the Asia Indigenous People Pact (AIPP). She was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by UN Environment in September 2018.

1.For centuries Indigenous people have been forced to assimilate and live like white people. What is the contribution of indigenous women to preserve their culture and customs?  

Photo: Jorge Jordán

Indigenous  women  are  active  indigenous  knowledge holders and  practitioners, which have sustained  the culture  and customs of indigenous peoples in  many ways. 

These include teaching their children of their  indigenous  language, on such as  the reciprocal relations of indigenous peoples with  living things and elements  in the environment,  to do no harm and always uphold the  common  good,  on  indigenous food  systems,  indigenous songs, music, dance,on  sacred rituals among others, these are all important in ensuring  that  indigenous cultures and  customs  are  not  forgotten, and social cohesion is  sustained.

However, in  patriarchal societies, indigenous women need  to be  included in decision-making processes.

2.What is the role played by indigenous women in this century? 

Indigenous  women  continue  to  play their roles as  mentioned above, and also in relation to conflict-prevention ; and in defending the lands, territories and  resources  of indigenous peoples. 

Photo: Instituto del Bien Común

Indigenous women  are impacted severely by  an increasing  number of conflicts indigenous territories  as they will not be able to do their roles and are also vulnerable to violent attacks, so it is important for  them  to take  the lead in preventing conflicts as men are  usually the  ones  involve  in conflicts  and are more aggressive. 

Likewise, given the more aggressive  plans of governments and corporation to take over the lands and resources of indigenous peoples, more and more indigenous women are in the  frontline of their community struggles to defend their lands and resources from large scale mining, commercial logging,  agribusiness  and  projects that may displace them, destroy their livelihoods, cause environmental disasters or  destroy  their sacred sites. 

Indigenous women  are the  ones closest to  nature — they know different  medicinal plants, wild food, the interdependence  between human and nature, and  thereby resource extraction and destruction of the environment will have profound impacts for future generations and  in sustaining  the environment. 

Thus, indigenous women feel they have  everything  to  lose  if they are forcibly evicted from their lands, and their resources are taken away or destroyed.

3.What are the main challenges Indigenous women have to face these days? 

Land-grabbing and destruction of indigenous peoples resources as provided above, discrimination and violence to indigenous women; and lack of participation in decision making at all levels.

4.Where is the most dangerous place on earth for indigenous women to grow up?

In countries with authoritarian and racist leaders —e.g Brazil.

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