Indigeneity and Environmental Security: A Gendered Analysis

The intersection of a complex tapestry of indigenous communities against the backdrop of an environmentally challenging global landscape maintains a dual role. As both frontline custodians of ecosystems and disproportionately affected populations, these communities are grappling with the consequences of dynamic environmental changes. At the heart of this intersection is the neglected figure of indigenous women, who find themselves navigating a distinct set of vulnerabilities that place them at the center of environmental and social complexities.

Indigenous women, despite being pivotal to the sustainability and resilience of their communities, frequently find themselves marginalized and obscured in mainstream discussions on environmental issues. Their unique experiences, intricately woven into the fabric of their cultural and environmental contexts, often go unnoticed. By highlighting the unique experiences of indigenous women and acknowledging their pivotal role in shaping the narrative of indigeneity, environment, and security, this essay aims to recognize the intricate relationship between these characteristics. It delves into specific examples drawn from diverse geographical regions and unique socio-political environment of the Global South to encapsulate a significant set of challenges faced by indigenous women, offering insights into the diverse ways in which they navigate and respond to environmental transformations.

Assessing the scholarly landscape surrounding this topic, we find a progressively highlighted significance of indigenous knowledge in sustainable resource management. Within this body of literature, specific emphasis has been placed on the agency and contributions of indigenous women (Mustonen et al., 2022; Johnson et al., 2021). These women, as producers, custodians, and consumers of traditional knowledge, play crucial roles in shaping and sustaining the delicate balance between their communities and the environment. By exploring the intersectionality between gender and indigeneity, studies have uncovered the intricate layers of challenges faced by indigenous women (Sinclair et al., 2022; Gender and Indigenous Peoples, UN 2010; Exploring and Tackling Barriers to Indigenous Women’s Participation and Organization, ILO 2021). These challenges are often compounded by patriarchal norms and unequal power structures within their societies. The subsequent complexities add to the need to amplify the voices of indigenous women and shed light on the nuanced dynamics that shape their experiences in the face of environmental transformations.

Through this study, I embark on unraveling the intricate interconnectedness of indigeneity, environment, and security by homing in on the gender-specific effects of environmental insecurity on indigenous women. By doing so, I aspire to contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the challenges faced by these women in the unique contexts of South Asia and Latin America. The intention is not only to shed light on their struggles but to advocate for inclusive and gender-sensitive policies that recognize the distinctiveness of their experiences.

Through the lens of indigeneity, environment, and security, the study aims to illuminate the lived realities of indigenous women facing evolving environmental dynamics. Their narratives are not isolated but intricately interwoven, presenting a holistic picture of the intertwined forces shaping their lives. By acknowledging and amplifying these narratives, this essay seeks to catalyze a shift in the discourse surrounding indigenous women, urging for their active involvement in shaping the future of their communities and environments. It is through this interconnected exploration that the essay endeavors to bring forth a more profound understanding of the challenges, resilience, and agency of indigenous women in the face of complex environmental realities.


The examination of indigenous women’s experiences, histories, and cultures becomes essential to consider the interplay with security, and environmental facets that have shaped the lives of indigenous communities in any sensitive region of the Global South which includes Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania which have been historically marginalized and economically disadvantaged in comparison to the Global North (North America, Europe, and parts of Asia).

This section considers the intersection of gender, indigeneity, history, culture, security, and the environment, shedding light on the unique challenges and strengths of indigenous women in these contexts.

Historically, indigenous women in the Global South have played vital roles within their communities, serving as caretakers, knowledge keepers, and cultural transmitters. However, colonialism and patriarchal structures often led to the erasure or marginalization of their contributions (Moreton-Robinson, (2020); Suzack et al., (2011)). Colonial powers often suppressed indigenous cultures, imposing their own values, governance structures, and religions. The consequences of these historical events continue to reverberate through the social, economic, and political fabric of many indigenous communities in the Global South (Domínguez and Luoma, (2020); Crook, M., Short, D., & South, N. (2018)). Understanding the historical context helps recognize the resilience and agency of indigenous women in preserving their cultural practices, languages, and traditional knowledge, despite centuries of oppression and discrimination.

Indigenous women hold distinct cultural identities and roles within their communities. They often hold important positions as spiritual leaders, healers, artisans, and guardians of cultural heritage. Their knowledge about medicinal plants, sustainable agricultural practices, and artisanal crafts contributes significantly to their communities’ well-being and economic activities (Gaudet, J. C., & Caron-Bourbonnais, D. (2015); Ciofalo, (2017)) However, cultural preservation can be challenging as globalization and modernization may exert pressures that threaten traditional ways of life.

Indigenous women in the Global South face multiple security challenges that arise from intersecting systems of discrimination (Tovar-Restrepo, M., & Irazábal, C. (2014); Saikia, (2020)) They often experience gender-based violence and are disproportionately affected by conflicts over land and resources. In some communities, the extraction of natural resources for global markets exacerbates these challenges, leading to displacement and loss of livelihood. Ensuring the security of indigenous women involves addressing not only gender-based violence but also issues related to land rights and access to resources (Speed, 2019).

The environment is central to indigenous communities’ ways of life, as many of them practice sustainable traditional livelihoods closely connected to nature. Their understanding of ecological balance and resource management has sustained ecosystems for centuries (Whyte, (2017); Ens, Emilie J (2012)). However, industrialization, deforestation, climate change, and resource extraction projects often threaten the environmental integrity of indigenous territories.

Environmental Insecurity

As a pressing issue, environmental insecurity significantly affects indigenous communities worldwide. Among these communities, indigenous women face distinct challenges and vulnerabilities due to their unique roles, responsibilities, and societal dynamics (Sultana, 2017).

One critical aspect of environmental insecurity impacting indigenous women is the loss of livelihood. Many indigenous women rely on natural resources and traditional practices for their economic sustenance, such as agriculture, fishing, and gathering of forest products. However, environmental degradation disrupts these activities, leading to the loss of income and economic independence for indigenous women (Jahan, 2008).

The loss of livelihood also contributes to food insecurity among indigenous communities, hitting women particularly hard. As primary caregivers and food providers in many indigenous societies, women are responsible for ensuring their families have access to food and nutrition (Harper et al., (2019); Kuhnlein et al (2013); (2017; Steinfield, L., & Holt, D. (2020)). Environmental challenges like deforestation and climate change disrupt local ecosystems and agricultural practices, making it difficult for indigenous women to procure sufficient food for their families.

Furthermore, environmental insecurity puts indigenous women at a higher risk of experiencing violence and exploitation (Csevár, 2021) As traditional guardians of their communities’ well-being, women often face increased exposure to hazardous conditions when they have to travel longer distances to find food, water, or other resources in the face of environmental disruption. The scarcity of resources and competition for access can lead to conflicts, leaving indigenous women vulnerable to physical and sexual violence.

Another crucial factor to consider is the influence of traditional gender roles and power dynamics within indigenous societies. Patriarchal structures can limit women’s participation in decision-making processes concerning environmental management and resource allocation. This exclusion prevents them from having a voice in shaping policies and strategies that directly affect their lives and exacerbates their exposure to environmental risks (Memon, (2020); (Aubrey, 2019))

To address these issues and improve environmental security for indigenous women, it is vital to adopt an intersectional approach that recognizes their unique circumstances and experiences. Policymakers and organizations need to involve indigenous women in the design and implementation of environmental protection initiatives, taking into account their traditional knowledge and practices related to sustainable resource management.

The Nexus: Interconnectedness of Indigeneity, Environment, and Security

In the context of academic discussions or analyses, a nexus implies the presence of a complex and interdependent relationship among multiple variables or concepts. It suggests that these elements are not isolated but rather interconnected and can influence each other in various ways.

The term “nexus” in the current context is used to underscore the intricate and interconnected relationships between indigeneity (the state of being indigenous or belonging to an indigenous community), environment (natural surroundings and ecosystems), and security (the state of being free from danger or threat). This section highlights how changes in the environment impact indigenous communities, leading to security challenges, and how these insecurities, in turn, affect indigenous women, particularly in the Global South. It emphasizes that these three elements are not separate but are part of a complex web of interactions, requiring a comprehensive and integrated approach to address the issues effectively.

Indigeneity, environment, and security together represent a complex web of interconnections, where changes in one element have profound implications for the others. By examining the relationships between environmental changes, socio-economic challenges, heightened insecurity, and gender-based vulnerabilities, we can better understand the critical issues that require attention and intervention.

Alice Blondel in a technical background paper titled “Climate Change Fuelling Resource-Based Conflicts in the Asia-Pacific” commissioned by Human Development Report Unit highlights the knock-on effects of climate change which could compound existing low-intensity conflicts, spill insecurities into neighboring countries and create new bases for insecurity. Indigenous peoples are among the first to face the direct consequences of climate change, due to their dependence upon, and close relationship, with the environment and its resources. Deleterious environmental changes, driven by factors like climate change, deforestation, and resource exploitation, have a direct impact on the socio-economic fabric of indigenous communities. These changes disrupt traditional livelihoods, access to natural resources, and cultural practices that are closely intertwined with the environment. As a result, indigenous communities often face challenges related to food security, clean water access, and overall well-being. In regions where environmental degradation and resource extraction are prominent, such as the Amazon, Africa, Asia, mining activities have led to land degradation, deforestation, and water pollution, adversely affecting the health and socio-economic conditions of indigenous peoples. These disruptions create socio-economic vulnerabilities within these communities, making them more susceptible to insecurities. Moreover, as traditional livelihoods become unsustainable, communities are forced to leave their ancestral lands and territories in search of better living conditions, leading to displacement. Displacement poses numerous challenges for indigenous communities, including loss of cultural identity, marginalization, and land rights issues. Forced migration disrupts social cohesion and traditional support systems, leaving communities more vulnerable to various security risks.

Women as part of the nexus

In the remote expanse of southwest Bangladesh, the women of the Mundas1 community find themselves at the forefront of climate change impacts. Here, the multifaceted repercussions, ranging from sea-level rise to heightened water salinity, exert profound effects on their daily lives as caregivers and providers. The challenges extend beyond environmental shifts, influencing the Mundas women’s roles within their communities and households. Mundas women are the main caretakers of their homes and are responsible for providing food, fuel, and water, as well as caring for the family’s well-being. In recent years, there have been fewer crops to feed households and to be sold for income because of the increased salinity and soil erosion. The marine life that the Mundas have become dependent on is changing rapidly, and fishing and farming are now inconsistent and unpredictable means of subsistence. Facing this unreliable income, husbands often leave to find wage work elsewhere, doubling the burden of domestic work on women. Climate change has intensified existing social problems for the women in the Mundas community. As central figures in managing the consequences of these changes, they grapple with the task of balancing traditional responsibilities with the evolving demands imposed by environmental instability. They are extremely vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters (Siddique, 2020).

Simultaneously, in the northern reaches of Colombia and Venezuela, Wayúu women confront the ecological disruptions caused by large-scale coal mining. This formidable struggle revolves around the defense of their ancestral territory and the protection of vital water resources. The Wayúu women, deeply rooted in matrilineal traditions, embody resilience as they navigate historical adversities, armed conflicts, and present-day environmental challenges (Castillo, 2023). Their experiences exemplify the intersectionality of indigeneity, environmental justice, and cultural preservation, reinforcing the notion that indigenous women are not passive victims but active agents in safeguarding their communities. The impact of Cerrejón, one of the largest open-pit coal mines in the world, on water resources has been a major concern for the Wayúu people. Mining activities have caused environmental inequalities and transformed local water dynamics, significantly affecting the Ranchería River and its water streams. This disruption has not only dispossessed the Wayúu people of their access to water but has also transformed their cultural and daily relationships with water territories (Ulloa, 2020).

In the North-Western Himalayas, Gujjar women, integral to the nomadic pastoralist way of life, contend with conflicts over grazing rights and contend with the repercussions of altered rainfall patterns. As essential contributors to the management of livestock and household affairs, they grapple with the changing dynamics of water resources, crucial for both their traditional lifestyle and domestic needs. The challenges faced by Gujjar women encapsulate the broader complexities of environmental change, grazing policies, and the preservation of traditional livelihood practices (Lone, Niwas, and Taqa, 2023). Climate change and the subsequent impacts has altered rainfall patterns in the regions inhabited by Gujjars, leading to water scarcity and affecting both highland and lowland pastures (Sabin et al., 2020). Gujjar women, responsible for water management, face increased challenges in securing water resources for their livestock and domestic needs. By practicing seasonal migration with their livestock to access grazing lands in forested areas, the Gujjar women also face stringent forest conservation policies and the creation of protected areas have restricted their grazing rights, leading to conflicts with forest authorities and threats to their traditional livelihood practices (Muhammed, 2020; Gooch, 2009).

In each of these cases, indigenous women emerge as central figures, intricately connected to the resilience and adaptability of their communities. Their stories provide nuanced perspectives on the gendered dimensions of environmental challenges, emphasizing the vital role that indigenous women play in not only adapting to change but also actively shaping the responses and strategies employed by their communities. However, as producers, custodians, and consumers of traditional knowledge, women have been recognized in major international agreements (e.g., the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples [UNDRIP], 2007).

At the intersection of diverse indigenous experiences across Bangladesh, Colombia, Venezuela, and the North-Western Himalayas, a common thread weaves through the tapestry of indigeneity, environment, and security. This shared nexus forms the heart of this study, highlighting the nuanced and interconnected nature of the challenges faced by indigenous women worldwide.  Despite assuming pivotal roles as ecological guardians within their respective communities, indigenous women find themselves disproportionately vulnerable to the multifaceted impacts of climate change, environmental degradation, and socio-economic injustices. The repercussions extend beyond the tangible effects, such as altered water dynamics and restricted access to vital resources. Systemic inequalities further compound these vulnerabilities, casting a shadow on their agency and resilience.

Within these complexities, indigenous women are disproportionately affected by heightened insecurity and displacement due to existing gender inequalities and discrimination. They face unique gender-based vulnerabilities, particularly during times of insecurity and upheaval (United Nations, 2019). The breakdown of social structures and traditional support systems exposes women to increased risks of human trafficking, domestic violence, and sexual exploitation (IWGIA, 2018). As seen through the examples, in regions like Latin America and Southeast Asia, indigenous women are often subjected to exploitation and abuse during conflicts and displacement. This further underscores the need to focus on the specific challenges faced by indigenous women in the Global South. Addressing the issues arising from the nexus requires a targeted approach, with a particular focus on indigenous women in the Global South.

Scholarly research, such as that from UN Women (2019), emphasizes the importance of gender-sensitive policies and interventions to empower and protect indigenous women. Efforts should be made to enhance their agency and participation in decision-making processes related to environmental conservation, resource management, and conflict resolution.  The differential impacts of environmental degradation on indigenous women are rooted in their roles and responsibilities within their communities. Indigenous women often hold crucial responsibilities related to food security, water collection, and resource management, which are intimately linked to the environment (Tomberge et al., (2021); Macgregor, Arora-Jonsson, and Cohen, (2022)). When environmental degradation occurs, the burden of coping with the consequences falls disproportionately on women, affecting their well-being, livelihoods, and overall socio-economic status.

Research by Islam and Sharma (2021) highlights that environmental changes can lead to increased unpaid workloads for women, such as longer hours spent collecting water or foraging for resources when they become scarce. Consequently, this reduces their time for education, income-generating activities, and participation in community decision-making processes. Such restrictions further perpetuate gender inequalities, limiting women’s economic opportunities and empowerment within their societies.

As the nexus generates intensified insecurity, indigenous women face unique and pronounced challenges during times of conflict and displacement. They experience increased risks of violence, exploitation, and abuse, exacerbating gender-based vulnerabilities. The breakdown of social structures and support systems during displacement exposes women to heightened threats, including human trafficking, domestic violence, and sexual exploitation (Kangaspunta, 2019).

Furthermore, cultural and identity preservation becomes increasingly difficult for indigenous women in the face of displacement. Forced relocation often disrupts traditional practices, limiting their ability to transmit cultural knowledge and practices to future generations (Pearson, J., Jackson, G., & McNamara, K. E. (2021)). This loss of cultural continuity further impacts the well-being and resilience of indigenous communities.


The experiences of indigenous women in different parts of the Global South make clear the complex relationship between indigeneity, environment, and security. Indigenous groups confront serious environmental risks, as demonstrated by the cases of Mundas women in southwest Bangladesh, Wayúu women in northern Colombia and Venezuela, and Gujjar women in the North-Western Himalayas. Due to their crucial roles as ecological guardians in their communities, indigenous women have been disproportionately affected by social inequities, climate change, and environmental degradation.

Indigenous women have historically served as cultural transmitters, information keepers, and caregivers for their communities, yet colonialism and patriarchal frameworks have frequently neglected and repressed them. Indigenous women have persevered admirably in conserving their cultural traditions, languages, and traditional knowledge in the face of these obstacles. However, projects that damage the environment and take resources undermine traditional ways of life, resulting in food instability, water scarcity, and economic difficulties. Furthermore, patriarchal norms restrict women’s ability to participate in decision-making, increasing their vulnerability to environmental threats.

A comprehensive and integrated strategy is required to effectively address the issues at the intersection of indigenous people, the environment, and security because of their linkages. For promoting indigenous women’s active engagement in environmental protection projects and decision-making processes, gender-sensitive policies that acknowledge the particular problems of indigenous women are essential. Indigenous women should be empowered by inclusive efforts to design sustainable resource management and conservation policies by acknowledging their agency and traditional knowledge.

The complex structure of interactions inside the nexus emphasizes the demand for deeper study and analysis. This study aims to investigate and shed light on the effects of environmental insecurity on indigenous women in the Global South that are particular to gender. Policymakers and groups can adopt tailored interventions to preserve indigenous women’s rights and well-being by understanding the difficulties and vulnerabilities they confront within their historical and cultural contexts.

In conclusion, it is crucial to promote a peaceful coexistence between indigenous people and the ecosystem they depend on by recognizing the agency of indigenous women, recognizing their contributions as knowledge keepers, and incorporating them in decision-making processes. The challenges faced by indigenous women in South Asia and Latin America will be addressed more effectively and sustainably with the help of a thorough understanding of the interaction between indigeneity, environment, and security. This will ultimately result in these communities having a more equitable and resilient future.



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