Equality and territory: The common struggle of indigenous women in the Andes


Teresita Antazú, a “cornesha” or leader of the Yanesha people, one of the 55 indigenous peoples officially recognised in Peru, who from a young age fought against the patriarchal power and the inequalities faced by indigenous women, takes part in a demonstration in defence of native peoples of the Amazon rainforest. PHOTO/Mariela Jara/IPS

(IPS) – “At the age of 18 I was the first female leader in my organisation, my grandfather who was a male chauvinist demanded that I be beaten because I was sitting among men,” said Teresita Antazú, an indigenous leader of the Yanesha people in Peru’s Amazon region.

Now, almost 57 and after a lifetime dedicated to breaking down barriers, she believes that over the past three decades, indigenous women in her country and throughout the Andean region have achieved visibility, formal recognition of their rights and openness of institutions to their demands.

But they are still victims of violence compounded by the fact that they are both indigenous and women. They also face discrimination and growing threats to their territories, as Antazù – the first female “cornesha” (highest authority) of the Federation of Yanesha Native Communities – told IPS from her home town of Constitución, in the jungle in central Peru.

For Rosa Montalvo, an Ecuadorian documentary filmmaker who has worked for 25 years with indigenous women in the Andean region, the current struggle for territory and equality is a common thread providing continuity with the exploits of Bartolina Sisa, an Aymara resistance leader executed on Sept. 5, 1782 for rebelling against the Spanish conquistadors.

It was in homage to Sisa that the Second Conference of Latin American Organisations and Movements, held in Bolivia in 1983, declared Sept. 5 the International Day of Indigenous Women.

“Like Bartolina Sisa, indigenous women today are struggling to keep their cultures alive in their communities, to continue to exist as peoples and to have the opportunities they deserve, preserving the continuity of the new generations, especially now that there are stronger attacks on their territories,” Montalvo told IPS from Quito.

She was referring, for example, to the case of Colombia, where the National Indigenous Organisation, which groups 102 native peoples, reported that between November 2016 and July 2018, 65 activists were killed by illegal armed groups. This was after a peace deal signed by the government and left-wing guerrillas put an end to half a century of armed conflict.

“Indigenous communities have been left more vulnerable in a serious scenario of territorial disputes, with women being severely affected because they remain in their territories to sustain life and are exposed to violence,” explained Montalvo, who is also a member of the non-governmental International Land Coalition.

Indigenous territories are also under threat, with impacts on the lives of native peoples and women, in countries like Ecuador and Bolivia despite their progressive constitutions, said Montalvo.

“Both countries still have an agro-export economic model, which poses a threat to indigenous territories,” said the Ecuadorian documentary-maker.

Territory is life for indigenous peoples and women, it is their source of livelihood, and the basis for their culture and worldview. If their territory is encroached upon, their very existence is jeopardised.

The Andean States have signed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and International Labour Organisation Convention 169, which guarantee prior, informed consultation in order to carry out investment projects in the territories of indigenous communities.

However, these commitments are not enforced and extractive activities are impacting on the livelihoods, cultures and worldviews of native peoples, say experts and indigenous leaders.

“That is why we speak of several types of violence, as violence that occurs against our bodies and in our territories,” Tarcila Rivera, a Peruvian member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, told IPS.

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