For years, women’s voices have been silenced or ignored, their stories met with apathy or dismissal. This year’s International Women’s Day theme, “The Time is Now: Rural and Urban Activists Transforming Women’s Lives,” takes women off the mute button and gives them a megaphone with which to share their experiences, capitalizing on the momentum of #MeToo, #AnaKaman, #YoTambien and other campaigns that amplified all women’s voices around the world over the past year.
The U.N.’s particular focus on rural women activists, many of whom live in indigenous communities, acknowledges and celebrates those who are often the most marginalized. Indigenous people make up less than 5 percent of the world’s population but represent over 15 percent of the poorest, reflecting the added burden faced by these communities. Indigenous women must navigate the challenges and dangers of environmental destruction, displacement, and sexual and gender based violence. United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz warned that violence against indigenous defenders had become a worrying global “epidemic." In 2014, 40 percent of environmental defenders murdered were indigenous persons, several of whom were women. In the last two years alone, there were over 100 cases of violence against indigenous women defenders, targeted because of their work, gender and status as a minority.
In honor of International Women’s Day, we are pausing to celebrate indigenous women who have demonstrated strength and leadership in the face of escalating threats to themselves and their communities. Below are two profiles of advocates we are privileged to work with through our Justice Defenders Program.