PRESS RELEASE: Protect the Indigenous Women who are Defending Human Rights and the Environment in Papua

The research by Yayasan Pusaka entitled ‘Mama Ke Hutan’ (Mama Goes to the Forest, 2021) describes the position of  Indigenous Women in the raging contestation over natural resources in Papua. In addition to being excluded from the decision making process related to customary areas, they are also driven away from their living space and source of livelihood, and end up as day laborers on their land. The common practice of bequeathing land title to the male lineage has led to the continuous exclusion of Indigenous Women from the decision making arena in relation to natural resources, and in certain conditions, they have to deal with the perils of stigmatization, labelling, pressure and violence when they are fighting for and expressing their rights. The situation is also a result of the expanding commodification of land for large-scale private and public projects, such as Oil Palm Plantations, Industrial Forests, Mining, Special Economic Zones, up to the Food Estate Megaproject, from one period to another. In fulfilling their investment ambitions, the government and the capital owners do not feel that they need to listen to the voice of indigenous women, let alone taking them seriously into consideration. Which begs the question, who are the ones truly impaired in the future by such investment activities?

Despite the immense cultural and social challenges faced by Indigenous Women in fighting for their rights, they continuously strive at the frontline in the fight for the rights to land, living space and source of livelihood. From the findings in the research by Yayasan Pusaka, the indigenous women’s most compelling motivation which became the argumentation of their resistance against such land-based investment is the awareness that the forest, land, river and air are vital and inseparable parts of their lives. Forest is a “market” – where they fulfill the needs for clothing, housing, food and nutrition for their families, it is market to find all of their household needs, particularly food, it is a living pharmacy – a site for traditional medicines, and also a library – where they keep the knowledge of life, history and the universe, which will one day be passed on to their respective descendants. Replacing such diverse functions of the forest with an unfamiliar and unaffordable commodity would be an unbearable loss.

Yayasan Pusaka Bentala Rakyat views that the Indonesian Government’s commitment towards realization of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Constitutional protection of the right to non-discrimination against the indigenous Papuan women are still far from optimal. In the document of Joint-Submission to the 80th Session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, which was undertaken jointly with Lembaga Advokasi Peduli Perempuan (eLAdPPer) Merauke, the Indonesian Government is deemed to have failed in adopting the cross-sectoral framework to address the discrimination and obstacles encountered by Indigenous Women towards their advancement. Conversely, the government’s policies are at the same time weakening the rights of customary communities and failing to protect women’s rights. In addition, the Indonesian Government’s failure in recognizing the collective territorial right and decision making of the customary communities has also hindered the Indigenous Women’s ability to enjoy the rights protected under CEDAW.

In observance of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence 2021, Yayasan Pusaka has organized a series of discussions and dialogues with the Indigenous Women in Sorong Selatan regarding human rights and environmental issues. The forum became a venue for exchanging experience, knowledge and opinion among the Indigenous Women in examining the extent of the processes undertaken for fulfilling and upholding human rights, environmental and climate justice, the state’s commitment towards recognition and protection of customary communities, as well as the recommendations which need to be implemented in the future by various stakeholders.

The Indigenous Women described how the numerous investment projects on their customary land have led to environmental changes and social conflicts, and affected their respective livelihoods. Matelda Baho, an Indigenous Woman from the Maybrat Tribe for example, described how the cultural identity of the Baho clan is threatened to become extinct as a result of oil palm plantation investment. “If the Baho people pass through the forest, they use the gnemon trees to make signs. Only us the Baho people who understand the signs. The oil palm company came, demolish and remove the forest. The trees which I marked for my family to pass, have been devastated by the company, she said. The Ganemo trees (gnetum gnemon linn) which grow in the forest are used by the communities as food and raw materials for noken, and at the same time they become sacred trees for the Baho Clan.

In this moment of Observance of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (16 HAKTP) 2021, the Indigenous Women who are also Women Environmental Human Rights Defenders (WHRD), are urging the state’s presence to recognize, respect and protect the Indigenous Women, as well as requesting all relevant stakeholders to preserve the environment and the forests, stop the violence in any form whatsoever, and engage the indigenous women in any decision making. Yayasan Pusaka is taking the momentum of 16 HAKTP to reiterate such hopes of the Indigenous Women to be immediately actualized by the state. In the next 16 days, our social media will be crammed with messages from the Indigenous Women Human Rights and Environmental Defenders.

We also call for the following:

  • That the Indonesian Government immediately expedite the ratification of the Bill on Recognition and Protection of the Rights of Customary Communities in order to provide certainty of the rights to customary land and the right to FPIC in a national law.
  • Cessation of the expansion of oil palm concessions, logging and mining on customary communities’ land which are conducted with no regard to the principle of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), due to the potential pollution on the living space and impairment of their ability to fulfill the basic needs.
  • The Indonesian Government must work with the customary communities, particularly the indigenous women, to address the adverse effects of agribusiness and prioritize the support for traditional livelihoods above the expansion of natural resources extraction.
  • The Indonesian Government must proactively engage the indigenous women and their communities to ensure that they are empowered to participate in the decision making process when formulating policies which affect their communities.
  • The Indonesian Government must respect and protect the rights of indigenous women, as well as offer capacity building, training, social services, and resources, in a culturally appropriate manner through their representative institutions.

Thank you

Jakarta, 25 November 2021

Contact Person:

Amelia Puhili : +62 822-9897-2694 (Campaign Division Staff of Yayasan Pusaka Bentala Rakyat)

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