Climate change has taken centre stage in the news recently. From Iceland mourning its first glacier lost to climate change, to the fires currently blazing through the Amazon rainforest, to Greta Thunberg’s zero-emission Transatlantic sailing trip, it is becoming difficult to ignore these harsh new realities. 

These realities are particularly worrying for indigenous people – especially indigenous women for whom the impacts of climate change are doubled. 

The UN estimates there are 370 million indigenous people living in over 90 countries worldwide. They represent 5% of the global population but are custodians of 80% of the world’s biodiversity. Respecting their rights is central to protecting our shared environment. 

However, indigenous people and their voices and rights are frequently forgotten, overlooked or exploited in the quest for profit by governments, corporations and surrounding societies. This often has disastrous implications. 

Fortunately, indigenous women around the world are refusing to become victims of climate change and are rising up for climate justice. 

One such woman is Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim (pictured). Ibhrahim is an environmental activist who comes from the Mbororo pastoralist community of Chad. She is a champion for the rights of indigenous people and indigenous women in particular. 

Ibhrahim is heavily involved in high-level policy discussions on climate change. She co-chaired the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change to establish their climate change priorities. As a result, the Paris Agreement expressly refers to indigenous people and their rights. 

Recently, Ibhrahim has been working to draw attention to the disappearance of Lake Chad, something which is fuelling conflict and insecurity in the region due to the growing resource scarcity. 

It also makes women’s lives more difficult because they are the ones generally tasked with collecting water for cooking, washing and other activities. With 90% of the Lake now gone, women in the watershed regions must walk further each year to get water for their families. 

Globally, women are the most vulnerable to climate-related displacement. UN Studies show 80% of people displaced by climate change-related events are women. 

Probably because they are on the frontline of climate change, Indigenous women’s participation globally in climate solutions and knowledge is extensive. 

Currently in the Americas, indigenous women of the Tongass region are working to protect their rainforest (the largest national forest) from industrial logging and the associated loss of wildlife habitat and indigenous ways of life. Indigenous women are coming together across Brazil to march for the Amazon and indigenous rights in resistance to President Bolsanaro’s destructive actions and policies. In the Pacific region, indigenous women are also leading the way in adapting to climate change. 

Ibhrahim says indigenous women are not “victims”, rather they “have the solutions through our indigenous people’s traditional knowledge that we developed since centuries.” 

It is time for the world to wake up and pay attention to what these women on the frontlines of climate change are saying and doing. They are key to solving the climate crisis. With so much at stake, we cannot afford to look the other way. 


For more stories of women taking action on climate change, check out Former Irish President Mary Robinson’s podcast Mothers of Invention



Photo: World Economic Forum via Flickr



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