Indigenous Women as the Key to Sustainable Development

During the 2WCIW, Indigenous Women around the world talked about their role in monitoring and implementing the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030.

By Joan Kibichum (Kenya)
Opinion article

For the last two decades, the world has made remarkable advances in human development. Extreme poverty has been significantly reduced, access to basic education and health outcomes have improved, and significant progress has been made towards promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment. Nonetheless, despite these significant gains, extreme poverty remains a major challenge, with over 700 million people worldwide living on less than US$ 1.90 PPP (purchasing power parity) per day (UNDP, 2016). In spite of the efforts and policies put in place, inequalities are still being witnessed.

Today, there is a pressing need to promote sustainable development. The new sustainable development agenda lays out a vision that intends to end poverty and promote prosperity people’s wellbeing, while protecting the environment by 2030.

The Sustainable Development Goals need Indigenous Women to be at the centre of the implementation and monitoring of their progress. This human-centred design will ensure that the Indigenous Women’s agenda is championed the world over. According to FIMI (2020), there are 77.9 million Indigenous Peoples in Africa, of whom 38.7 million are women; 82% of these women live in rural areas, with the remaining 18% in urban zones. Indigenous Women in Africa should be heard and given a space to push for their place at the table where conversations about


Indigenous Women and women in general are ongoing.

Empowering women and closing gender gaps in health, education, labour markets and other areas leads to lower poverty, higher economic growth, increased agricultural productivity, more resilient communities, better nutrition, and better child education. Failure to address gender inequalities and discrimination against Indigenous Women, on the other hand, will impede, if not jeopardize, achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Indigenous Women’s organizations and movements have been strengthened and expanded in the last twenty years through joint efforts and alliances among different key actors and partners. Important milestones have allowed the inclusion of the perspectives of Indigenous Women in international discussions on human rights, gender-based violence, female genital mutilation, sexual and reproductive health, as well as access to water and hygiene; one of these was the Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing 1995, organized by the United Nations.

Conferences, seminars and webinars on issues that impact Indigenous Peoples and Communities attract huge numbers of international partners, senior government officials, fellow Indigenous Women and worldwide media coverage. These platforms can be utilized by Indigenous Women to have their voices heard and get recommendations adopted and implemented.

In order to implement the SDGs, women’s contributions must be recognized, as well as their equal and meaningful participation in decisions that affect their lives and communities. When inequalities are addressed and policies are reformed, Indigenous Women and Girls can be agents of change and equal partners to men in the pursuit of inclusive, just, equitable and sustainable growth in the different Indigenous Communities.

The various Indigenous Women’s organizations and movements need to exert pressure for recognition, women’s rights and protection against domestic exploitation and abuse in communities. There is also a need to compel the different governments to compensate Indigenous Peoples for the atrocities they have faced over the years and for land lost to other communities or governments. These measures will ensure that Indigenous Communities protect their biodiversity and conserve their lands, territories and dignity, respectively.

It is necessary to introduce and source funding for community empowerment programmes where women can be trained and equipped with skills that will help them generate income and be financially independent. There is also a requirement to have more training workshops at community level to help in capacity building and educating Indigenous Women on the various issues that affect them either directly or indirectly.

In order to put an end to hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture, Indigenous Women have to ensure that their communities have food sovereignty by pushing for policy and legislative reforms that ensure women’s equal access to and control over productive assets, including land.

2WCIW, a game changer for Women

The Second World Conference of Indigenous Women (2WCIW) has been a game-changer for Indigenous Women around the globe. Cindy Kobei, Chair of the Ogiek Youth Council, believes that events such as the 2WCIW alongside global movements lead to African Indigenous Women gaining global recognition and coming together to network. They provide spaces to generate data and information, deliberate, agitate and discuss the challenges faced by Indigenous Women in Africa, and devise recommendations that will put Indigenous Women of Africa on the map and grant them a seat at the table in international fora that determine policies which directly impact them.

Mary Supeet, a presenter on Mayian FM Radio who has been following the 2WCIW, adds: ‘it is a platform where Indigenous Women can hear about situations that affect them throughout the world, and which they themselves can address through the platform. They can also learn from other Indigenous Women, how they can solve issues affecting them, listen to what they are going through, and the strategies they are using to overcome all these challenges.’

Substantive knowledge, data and conversations about the breadth and depth of the Agenda will be key to realising the SDGs. Indigenous Women will benefit from more platforms to speak about the challenges that they face in their day-to-day lives in their various communities across the world. It is only then that Indigenous Women will be able to articulate, implement and monitor sustainable development and the 2030 Agenda. This will ensure that the slogan ‘Nothing about us without us, everything about us with us’ endures. And it is only then that Indigenous Women will not be sidelined from conversations shaping the SDGs and 2030 Agenda, as well as their role in implementing and monitoring them.