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Latin America

As a region, Latin America boasts the highest level of progress on legal frameworks recognizing collective tenure rights. But despite crucial advances, we continued to see persistent challenges in consolidating communities’ collective land titles and protecting their lands from increasing pressure by extractive, agribusiness, and development projects. 2022 was a pivotal year for Indigenous, Afro-descendant, and local community women’s movements across Latin America. RRI’s member organizations increased women’s representation and participation in national and regional organizations and discourses on rights and reforms, and women led robust grassroots efforts to drive implementation of existing legal frameworks.

Our coalition members also used strategic litigation in both national and international courts to force government compliance with constitutional and legal rights of IPs, LCs, and ADPs. The year saw major momentum for major regional alliances in our coalition, such as AMPB, COICA, and the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, who strengthened their capacity to influence national, regional, and international policy makers, the private sector, and donors.

Here are a few highlights of our achievements in Latin America.

RRI supported the creation of a unique regional plan by the Coordinator of Territorial Women Leaders of Mesoamerica (CMLTM), a semiautonomous wing of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests, to help Indigenous and local women gain access to international spaces on climate, particularly at the United Nations, with clear advocacy messages and agendas. This project also strengthened the organization’s presence in Mesoamerica, increasing its connection with regional and national authorities and giving its members a seat at the table in climate discussions, particularly those on women’s role in climate change mitigation and adaptation.

In Latin America, RRI worked with CMLTM to channel direct funding for Indigenous and local community women from the Fund for the Development of Political and Entrepreneurial Capacities for Indigenous Women and Local Communities (FOMUJER). The Fund sponsored five projects in Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico to jump-start women-led economies, including through the production of artisanal goods and institutional strengthening of local women’s organizations. We also helped publish a Book of Mesoamerican Recipes in Spanish that documents, for the first time, women’s use of traditional medicinal knowledge and recipes as a strategy for treating illness and pandemics.

Young woman on a river in Colombia | Credit: William Martinez

In Colombia, the Afro-descendant Women’s Association of Northern Cauca (ASOM) and the Process of Black Communities (PCN) helped establish 15 community-defined protected areas in eight community councils, totaling over 10,000 hectares. These protected areas contribute to local, national, and international goals related to climate change mitigation and biodiversity conservation while improving the overall quality of life of the communities, their livelihoods, and food security. RRI supported training for over 150 women, men, and youth in Colombia, teaching them how community councils work and how to advocate for rights-based environmental management strategies.

RRI published a report on September 29 identifying the status and future of rights-based conservation in the Amazon of Colombia and Peru. The launch of the study in Bogotá was strategically chosen to influence Colombia President Gustavo Petro’s administration in the new government’s National Development Plan and to advocate for rights-based approaches to conservation in the country. The report was covered by 19 regional and international news outlets and its findings have since become a key resource for actors involved in the consultation process of the Plan, which is set to be finalized this year.

“We must move beyond lip service around gender equity to ensure that gender justice and women’s collective land and water tenure rights are a key part of the climate finance ecosystem.”

– Solange Bandiaky-Badji, RRI Coordinator

Our region-wide initiative to assess and secure the collective tenure rights of Afro-descendant Peoples led to the launch of the first-ever cartographic mapping tool that shows Afro-descendant Peoples’ territorial presence in 16 countries. This is an ongoing collective effort between 20 Afro-descendant grassroots organizations, led by PCN and the National Coordinator of Quilombola communities, with technical GIS support from the Pontifical Universidad Javeriana’s Observatory of Ethnic and Campesino Territories. The cartographic tool is a breakthrough for the Afro-descendant movement’s national and global advocacy, with data showing significant overlap of their inhabited lands and territories with areas of ecological importance for climate change mitigation and adaptation. The tool has also helped identify at least 1,271 protected areas in the region that overlap with Afro-descendant Peoples’ territories and shows that they have legal rights to only 5 percent of their 205 million hectares of land.

Kaonge Quilombo, Iguape Valley, Bahia, Brazil. A woman prepares a traditional Kaonge syrup. | Credit: Rafael Martins

RRI also helped strengthen the Afro-descendant movement by supporting a coalition of 19 organizations with a common agenda to promote the recognition and protection of ADP rights and self-determined development. The coalition’s recent “Declaration of Chota” called for the defense, conservation, and protection of Afro-descendant territories and their environments and brought attention to the impacts of climate change in these territories in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In Guatemala, RRI’s SRM fueled a legal effort by the Indian Law Resource Center to bring the case of the Maya Q’eqchi’ Agua Caliente community to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR). After struggling to legally secure its lands for over 40 years and fighting violations by the state and private mining companies, we helped the community present three expert witnesses and one of its leaders to testify before the Court, and file four amici briefs. The Court also permitted a testimony by land titling expert, Roberto Morales, in favor of the community. A dynamic media strategy using radio and social media further helped put pressure on the government, including through news coverage by over 40 national and international news outlets. The campaign led to a decision by the IACHR to overrule the state’s objections in favor of the community. While a final ruling is awaited, the welcome decision has instilled new energy to the community’s struggle.