On 10th February, UNESCO, and UN Women jointly organized a dialogue session on 10 February 2023 to commemorate the 8th International Day for Women and Girls in Science. The dialogue focused on the importance of equal participation and leadership of women and girls in the field of science.
In this regard, NIWF’s Program Officer Nuva Rai attended the event as a Panelist, at the UN House, Pulchowk, Kathmandu with a focus on the importance of meaningful and effective participation of Indigenous Women and Girls in the field of science. She also highlighted the need for the recognition of Indigenous Knowledge and the contribution of IW/G in the conservation of the IK.
e would like to express our thanks to UNESCO Nepal and UN Women for providing us the platform to discuss the topic of Women and Girls in Science with NIWF’s Program Officer Ms. Nuva Rai as one of the panelists.
It is important to amplify the voices of indigenous women in science and innovation, as they bring unique perspectives and experiences that can enrich and diversify the field. Indigenous peoples have a long and rich history of understanding and using science and innovation in their own unique ways. By incorporating these perspectives into mainstream science and innovation, we can create more inclusive and culturally sensitive approaches that can benefit everyone.
Furthermore, by promoting the participation of indigenous women in science and innovation, we can help address the systemic inequalities and barriers that have traditionally prevented them from pursuing careers in these fields. This can not only help to increase diversity and representation but also help to address some of the complex challenges facing our world today, such as climate change, health, and social inequality.
These are some of the topics covered by Program Officers, Ms. Nuva Rai:
Why should women and girls be in science from your sectoral perspective?
Indigenous Peoples have a strong link to land, territories, and nature. This has developed Indigenous knowledge which can help deal with contemporary issues. But the dominant powers assimilating Indigenous peoples into the dominant cultures has resulted in the risk of loss of Indigenous knowledge, and practices and has marginalized Indigenous communities which often manifests as a form of discrimination or violence. So, being an Indigenous Girl, one has to face multiple forms of marginalization of being Indigenous, Youth, Woman, Queer, or any other social and economic identities. This poses a great barrier the access to services like education that affects the participation of IW/G in science. But if we can amplify the success stories of IW in science it can create a positive ripple effect and encourage more IW/G to join the field of science.
Since science is an integral part of development. It can help bring solutions to global problems related to the environment, health, or poverty. Involvement of IW can bring wider perspectives in terms of knowledge, experiences, and practices in the overall process of development to the grassroots. Issues faced by IW can be addressed only by IW. So to build an equal society we need more IW in science. Adding more of Indigenous Women synergies is very important as it can help ensure that science is inclusive, and accessible and addresses the grassroots problems faced by IP.
What might be some ways in which indigenous women in Nepal are leading conservation efforts and adaptation as well as response to climate change? Could you share an example of indigenous women’s knowledge and practices?
Indigenous Knowledge is a way of life and guidance created by our ancestors by following their own nature-based observations and methods which have been passed from generations to maintain the harmonious bond between humans and nature. Among indigenous people, I am from the Rai community. In my community, I have seen women using Ban khirro leaf and pulp paste which is spread on crops or sometimes through irrigation channels where the scent of the pulp kills the pests. There is also a practice where the umbilical cords of a newborn are placed in bamboo and then hung in the tree for the child’s prosperity which is then regarded as a scared tree.
We also have devi sthan inside the forest area where we celebrate our Chandirituals; Chandi is a sacred festival where we celebrate the cultivation and the reaping of the crops where I have witnessed many of our women elders lead the communal dance of paying tribute to nature.
The trees around these areas are considered sacred and are protected in which women play a huge role in maintaining the area.
So, my mom is from the Magar community where similar to the Rai community, we have our ancestral temples deep inside the forest so the area is protected and maintained by the women. We also worship the water sources which again are maintained and cleaned by women. We have a strong belief that littering in these sacred areas or cutting down the trees in these areas will anger our deities and ancestral spirits so women make sure that these areas are clean. Another practice that I have seen in my Magar community is that marigold is always planted around the agriculture field. It works as beautification as well as can control pests as marigold releases limonene which is a natural pesticide.
This practice of worshiping water sources, forests, trees, land, and soil is a very common practice among Indigenous Peoples around the world.
With these examples what I am trying to highlight is the role of Indigenous Women in understanding nature through ecological and biological knowledge that contributes to restoration conservation and optimum use of natural resources. However, to make these practices run for a sustainable future, it is high time we ensure the individual and collective rights of Indigenous Women and Girls through:
- Meaningful and effective participation in private, public, and political spheres,
- Implementing FPIC in development programs,
- The plans and policies need to reflect and explicitly mention IW and should also be effectively implemented
I would like to stress that like the UN, our policies should reflect that Indigenous Knowledge has equal footing to scientific knowledge and should acknowledge the role that Indigenous Women play in protecting this Indigenous knowledge.
From your perspective, could you share one recommendation to ensure meaningful participation and leadership of women and girls, in all their diversity, in your sector?
GAP and WAY FORWARD
If we look at The Constitution of Nepal’s Part 4 Article 51 j’s section 8. It mentions the need to make the indigenous peoples participate in decisions. The National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) 2014-2020 touch a little about IK. While the Protected Area Management Strategy 2022-2030 mentions the need of rep and participation of IPs. So even if our constitution and policies have acknowledged the IK there seems to be a gap when it comes to the implementation.
With the rise of research in IK and its use, it is important to engage IW. As only acknowledging the IK is not enough, we need to actively engage with the IK holders as well. As the saying goes, “Nothing about us without us”, any sort of involvement of IK should include IW. We need to ensure IW has effective and meaningful participation in policy, programs, and biodiversity conservation as without IW some issues and gaps will never be addressed.
We need to include more IW/G in the research as well as the science sector while honoring their link to their roots and engaging with them in a manner that is necessary to them and not what we believe is necessary. For this, we all need to work towards an environment where IW/G has an enabling environment. And for this, everyone in this room plays a role. We need to consciously start choosing not only how we interact but also how we think to create a positive and enabling environment for the increased participation of IW/G in science.