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Did you know that rural women constitute over a quarter of the total world population? Most indigenous woman live in rural communities making them disproportionately responsible for ensuring our planet’s healthy forests and water.

Indigenous women play a significant role in reducing world hunger and enhancing food security; contributing to rural development and poverty eradication in their communities.

They also face countless challenges in their daily lives. The following are four significant hardships women endure:

1. Gender-based discrimination often denies women equitable access to productive resources, land, and economic opportunities. Many cultural norms, such as the belief that women cannot own assets or grow their own businesses, force women to struggle for independence or rely on other men;

2. The lack of basic literacy and numeracy programs creates barriers that prevent women from escaping poverty, receiving social services, and exercising their right. The majority of Latin American countries do not provide adequate education and school facilities in forest regions. If indigenous girls and young women desire a formal education, they must travel by canoes or foot for hours or even days to attend schools in nearby towns. The cost of transportation and restrictions on indigenous people’s mobility make basic education economically and physically inaccessible;

3. Rural women have limited access to health services. Indigenous women are often very knowledgeable about their traditional medicine that uses plants found in the rainforests, but when treatments for severe diseases, preventative screenings, and emergency care are required, affordable and accessible health services are not available to rural women;

4. Government fails to provide adequate social protection for rural women. UN Women states that “basic right is essential for ensuring widespread human welfare, environment for growth, social stability and economic performance.” Without understanding their basic rights or having effective channels to ask for government protection, indigenous women fall victim to illegal logging, mining, and other commercial activities that destroy their homes.

Life is certainly not easy for many indigenous women living in the rainforest, but many of these women overcome great hardships and help others. To acknowledge and honor rural women’s contributions, we compiled a few of inspiring stories to share with you.

See how Kichwa women in Peru fought against gender bias and successfully developed strong women leaderships and voices in the indigenous people’s movement.

Photographer Eric Lafforgue will introduce you to the Kuna community, one of the largest indigenous tribes. Women in this matrilineal tribe is doing amazing mapping work to help protect Panama’s forests.

Indigenous women of Laramate women used their ancestral farming techniques to combat climate change and empower themselves to participate in community decision-making process.

Contributed by: Mia Mayixuan Li