Governments gathered today at the High-level Political Forum at United Nations Headquarters in New York are discussing Sustainable Development Goal 13, on climate action. But while these discussions take place on what will clearly be another set of missed international goals, rural and Indigenous women in communities far removed from New York skyscrapers are self-organizing at the local level. They are clear that their own climate action and resilience can only be achieved through securing their land rights and sustainable livelihoods, where indigenous women have control over the land they grow food on, their local economies and the decisions that affect them. They also recognize that without women’s rights, leadership and participation in decision-making there can be no meaningful progress in achieving sustainable development.
A variety of Indigenous women’s groups in Kenya’s Marsabit, West Pokot and Narok Counties in are protecting their community’s land and livelihoods from the challenges they face. Empowering themselves through training and skill-sharing, these women show us how they successfully build the power of their collective voices from the ground up.
Indigenous women in West Pokot, Marsabit and Narok Counties are self-organizing in their communities. They are paving their own path towards realizing their land rights and women-led, community-based livelihoods. Through training and skillsharing amongst themselves, women’s groups are exchanging ideas for income-generation, tackling women’s participation in local decision-making and overcoming food security challenges. In this photo, women are marching to celebrate International Women’s Day and to raise the visibility of indigenous women’s issues such as land rights and women’s empowerment.
“When ignorance prevails, privileges and chances are lost, and we have lost many opportunities because we are not aware of them…when we are empowered and have dialogue we are able to share, learn and experience, and we are able to take the lessons home and to the community.” Sylvia Kapelilie,Ywalateke Village
For many communities in Kenya, all sustainable development challenges are linked to land rights. The Kenyan constitution guarantees ownership rights for land equally between men and women, and the Community Land Rights Act ensures the inclusion and participation in decision-making of indigenous women. The Matrimonial Property Act also guarantees land rights for women. Despite this, landgrabbing is rife in the communities, both by local leadership and because of megaprojects. This occurs without the free, prior and informed consent and participation of the women affected. Entrenched patriarchy ensures that women are not aware of their rights, and even when they are, the legal system is of no use to women with limited financial resources. Young widows are also often dispossessed of their land and rights to it. The women understand that in order to ensure their land rights they must commit to supporting and educating each other, and demand their rights themselves.
“In the Rendille community, you cannot talk about development without discussing land and our rights to land. Women’s land rights are important if we are to ensure women’s empowerment and the development of the community as a whole. Now it’s Rendille women leading landscape restoration initiatives and advocating for land rights.” Nchilalon Segelan, Merigo Women Group
Diverse and secure income generation is vital to indigenous women in Kenya. In Narok County, women’s main economic activities are farming, small-scale beekeeping and tree nursery enterprises. The women’s groups have begun advising each other on different income generating opportunities including keeping poultry, traditional vegetable farming, fruit farming and bead making. Through such skill-sharing, the women’s groups are exchanging experiences on how to start and sustain their income generation and how to raise and manage capital.
Food sovereignty is key to climate resilience. The traditional food systems of indigenous communities in Kenya face numerous challenges such as access to clean freshwater. To address this and strengthen food security and climate resilience, communities in Pokot County are planning the restoration of traditional food practices such as traditional seed varieties, rainwater harvesting to support farming and planting, post-harvest preservation and storage, agroforestry with fruit trees and sustainable management of livestock pastures.
The indigenous women’s groups are trying to address why women do not engage in local leadership and decision-making, and how they are prevented from doing so. Women face challenges in accessing public services since county development programmes do not reflect women’s needs, and public officers (who are mostly men) do not understand women’s issues. But by joining forces and paying visits to county offices as a group, women can make their demands, attend public county hearings and ensure that programmes reflect women’s issues.
Already looking ahead, the women’s groups in West Pokot, Marsabit and Narok Counties are working beyond their own communities to enhance networking and communications with other women’s groups further afield. Having formed a network, they aim to implement joint projects on food sovereignty, environmental governance and other issues. Their objective is to strengthen the women’s movement at the local level and to influence county development agendas to include women’s priorities. They call for strengthening women’s advocacy networks at local and county level, with links to national level advocacy networks, ensuring that women’s voices can be heard at all levels of decision-making.
This photo essay is based on trainings facilitated by the Indigenous Information Network, an organisation based in Kenya, and member of the Global Forest Coalition, as part of the Women2030 Programme. During the trainings, 39 indigenous women’s organizations took part in sessions on implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through women’s participation in decision-making, food security, local development, land rights and sustainable livelihoods.
The Women2030 Programme is a coalition of five women and gender network organizations collaborating to realize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in a gender-equitable and climate-just way. Follow Women2030 on Facebook and Twitter.
The Global Forest Coalition is a worldwide coalition of 99 NGOs and Indigenous peoples’ organizations from 62 different countries striving for rights-based, socially just forest conservation policies. Follow the Global Forest Coalition on Facebook and Twitter.
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