To protect their communities from Covid-19, indigenous peoples in the Amazon have had to find alternative ways to stay in touch to continue to advocate for their territories and rights. The women of UMIAB are no exception.
UMIAB – the Union of Indigenous Women of the Brazilian Amazon – is a local organization that promotes the rights of indigenous women. They are a partner in the USAID-funded SCIOA project (Strengthening the Capacities of Indigenous Organization in the Amazon), which is increasing indigenous people's influence in the governance of the Amazon region in order to protect the region's environment and the rights of its indigenous people. Through SCIOA, Pact and its partners are building the capacities of indigenous organizations to access and manage financial resources and take ownership of their own development planning and priorities in the Amazon rainforest of Colombia, Peru, Brazil, Suriname and Guyana.
Technology and internet connectivity can be a challenge in remote areas of the Amazon. Still, UMIAB women from all nine Brazilian Amazon states managed to come together virtually recently for a General Assembly to elect the organization's new board. It was important to UMIAB not to allow the pandemic to delay its important work.
The elected representatives, who come from the states of Roraima, Acre, Mato Grosso, Pará and Maranhão, will lead the organization from 2021 to 2024. Telma Taurepang was re-elected as general coordinator and said that the new composition will continue to advance the agenda of indigenous women.
“Our goal remains the fight for the 'Bem Viver' (good living) of our communities and villages, the fight for education and health," she said. "Be sure that we will continue to strengthen our participation in every possible space.”
In the midst of the pandemic, indigenous women showed their resilience and capacity to mobilize by organizing this online Assembly, which gathered 68 people. Sonia Guajajara, a recognized indigenous leader in Brazil, took part in the Assembly and encouraged Brazilian indigenous women to continue in their struggle to defend their rights.
“In this pandemic, our role became evident more than ever," Guajajara said. "We do the political articulation and also have to stay at home taking care of the family, the house and the garden. This shows how we innovate and reinvent ourselves out of every challenge, but we still need the courage to face machismo.”
For indigenous women, the struggle for territory is connected to the right to life, so territorial violations are violations of the right to life.
Participant indigenous women also expressed their excitement to meet with other women who share a common identity, their goal of being stronger as an organization, and their intention to share their learnings with women in other countries, so that they too can continute to gather around the defense of indigenous women’s rights.
“It is the indigenous women who are the revolution," said Sara Gaia, an advisor with the Indigenous Peoples Program at Instituto Internacional de Educação do Brasil (IEB), which is leading the effort to support UMIAB through SCIOA. "In my perspective, we have to contribute to spreading this across the world. This project with UMIAB came from an institutional partnership in which the great challenge was to bring together women from the nine states, and it was the correct path. Today, UMIAB has shown its strength and creativity. IEB feels very honored to be a partner of this organization.”