Safeguarding women’s rights in the Amazon is necessary for protecting a region increasingly threatened with deforestation and climate change, indigenous activists said on the sidelines of a global climate conference in Egypt on Nov 16.
The Amazon spans rapidly developing countries in South America including Brazil and Ecuador.
The region is famous for its rainforest, which plays a major role in the world's climate. It is also home to about 25% of Earth’s biodiversity and is a primary trapper of carbon dioxide.
Heralding his country's return to join the global fight against climate change, Brazil's president-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva pledged on Nov 16 to protect the Amazon region and to create an indigenous ministry.
Some indigenous rights campaigners say local women are the main victims of agribusiness and corporate projects in the region, which they blame for damaging ecosystems.
One is Helena Gualinga, an indigenous climate activist from Ecuador.
"Women are the main custodians of territories such as the Amazon and defenders of land there,” she said.
According to her, indigenous women face threats and violence due to their efforts to protect lands against deforestation and other climate-harming practices.
"So protecting them by guaranteeing their basic rights helps protect the Amazon,” Gualinga said.
She said oil and mining companies, supported by governments, are doing business in the region.
This, in her view, puts the future of the indigenous people in the area at stake.
"It’s a future we can’t imagine because of climate change implications.”
Taily Terena, an indigenous rights activist from Brazil, agrees.
"Our region, known as the wetlands of Brazil, used to have a lot of natural floods. But in the last five years, this is not happening any more. The rain season is changing.”
Terena sounds upbeat after leftist Lula won in Brazil's recent presidential election.
He defeated the right-wing incumbent, Jair Bolsonaro, who adopted a permissive policy towards deforestation.
Lula, who previously ruled Brazil from 2003 to 2010, promised on the campaign trail to strive for zero deforestation.
"With Lula, we are optimistic that things can change,” Terena said.
"We’re going to have more perspective regarding social programmes, for example.”
Lula is due to take office on Jan 1.
In an address to the climate conference in Egypt’s resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Lula pledged to fight against climate change and for protection of the Amazon.
"There is no climate security in the world without a protected Amazon region," Lula said.
He also announced that he would fight deforestation in all Brazilian ecosystems, rebuild the environment and punish environmental crimes.
It was Lula's first official international speech since his election in late October.
"I want to tell you Brazil is back," he said.
Lula drew the most attention on Nov 16 at the climate conference, known as COP27.
Brazilians jostled each other and often erupted in cheers at his public engagements. More fans, meanwhile, gathered outside the hall where he delivered his speech in Sharm el-Sheikh.
Brazil has offered to host the 2025 edition of the UN climate conference.
"We will speak to the secretary-general of the United Nations and ask that the COP be held in Brazil in 2025 – and in the Amazon," he said.
The United Arab Emirates will host the COP28 next year. It is not clear yet where the 2024 edition of the conference will take place.
For their part, governors of Brazil’s Amazon states have committed themselves to work together and to protecting the region.
They made the pledge in a letter handed over to Lula at the climate conference in Egypt.
They voiced readiness to "build a fruitful and effective relationship" with the new government.
"The price of the current development model is environmental degradation and social exclusion,” read the letter.
The nine states of the Brazilian Amazon together are as big as Western Europe. – dpa