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Indigenous Women's Exchange

Guatemala and Nicaragua

Women gather together, holding signs from a workshop activity

For a few days in June, a group of 39 women gathered together in a community on the North Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua. Many were meeting for the first time but they instantly felt a bond of recognition and solidarity.

MADRE organized this exchange to convene women from our Indigenous partner organizations, MUIXIL from Guatemala and Wangki Tangni from Nicaragua.

Quote: This learning opportunity helps us to not feel alone in our struggles back home, for long we thought that the only Ixil area was the only place where a genocide was committed. These exchanges bring people together and we learned about our common pa

We are one of the few organizations creating meaningful transnational opportunities for grassroots women leaders to address shared issues, learn from their peers and develop coordinated strategies for social change. Read on to learn more about how the exchange came together and amplified Indigenous women’s voices and power.

 

What were the goals of this exchange?

  • Amplify the voices and leadership of Indigenous women and girls as climate defenders, peacebuilders and defenders of women’s rights.
  • Create alliances across generations and across borders to strengthen solidarity. 
  • Share organizing models and strategies that build Indigenous women leaders’ skills.
  • Inform local communities about international human rights tools, to integrate the voices of Indigenous women and girls into global advocacy strategies.
Wangki Tangni

The US-sponsored Contra War in Nicaragua turned Indigenous Miskito communities into battlefields. Armed groups targeted communities with mass-killings, rape, torture, and the bombings of daycares, hospitals, schools, community centers.

Decades later, communities are still healing from the legacies of this war, including the normalization of gender violence. Wangki Tangni, a grassroots organization run for and by Indigenous women, helps heal and strengthen communities. They serve over 115 communities to promote sustainable development, protect traditional culture and improve health among Indigenous people.

MUIXIL

Women laughing during an event

In the 1980’s, Indigenous Ixil communities in Guatemala suffered genocide and brutal massacres. The US provided millions of dollars in economic and military aid to fuel a vicious war against Indigenous Peoples.

Indigenous communities combat the traumas caused by war and conflict, and the ongoing threats of poverty and discrimination. Ixil women organize to support, fight for and better their community.

The grassroots organization MUIXIL was founded to support and propel Indigenous women’s organizing in Guatemala. Their work helps Ixil women build new skills and strengthen their leadership.

“It is important, the exchange, because all of us - when we exchange experiences of the work we are doing- we are learning many things. Every day more and more, we are learning how to defend the rights of women, to defend the rights of indigenous peoples, of our natural resources.”

- Naidira Leonidas, Wangki Tangni, Nicaragua

What made this exchange so special?

  • We provided a rare cross-border experience for Indigenous women leaders. Many of the participants had never met other Indigenous women leaders from outside their community.
  • This exchange emerged from the collective knowledge of the group, and we ensured that all had the chance to contribute.
  • Women as young as 22 were joined by women as old as 79. Community elders and young leaders shared their experiences and learned from each other.
  • Our partners led in creating an agenda for the exchange that reflected their needs and desires. Not only were they participants, they were experts shaping the discussion.
Ixil women show the women of Wangki Tangni to make solidarity bracelets.

Cultural Exchange

 

One of the ways that the women of MUIXIL and Wangki Tangni learned from each other was through cultural exchanges.Together, they shared their traditional dances and taught each other about the significance of their weaving.

This is resistance: reclaiming and sharing one’s culture and traditions when they have been so long under attack. This is one way that the women showed solidarity with one another.

 

Women presents her work after a planned activity

Rights Workshop

 

In a series of workshops, we incorporated new and engaging methods to share information about human rights and community organizing.

One exercise called for participants to draw themselves and explain how they saw themselves as Indigenous women. By sharing their self-portraits, these women leaders were able to identify how they see themselves within movements, communicate the needs of their community and brainstorm solutions.

 

Youth dancers in Bihmuna

Visit to Bihmuna

 

MADRE was founded after a US women’s delegation to Nicaragua. In June, we traveled back to where it all began—the community of Bihmuna, Nicaragua.

To honor our return, our partners held a healing ceremony to help women there heal from trauma, violence or illness.

We then visited the Harvesting Hope project, a MADRE-supported collective of Indigenous women farmers growing food for their families to see the success of the program and the life-changing effects of water projects in the community. Over 280 homes now have access to water pipelines and clean water!

 

Radio Station

Two women sit on opposite sides during a radio interview and Wangki Tangni's radio station

The women of Wangki Tangni introduced MUIXIL to one of their ways of organizing—the radio station!

With MADRE’s support, Wangki Tangni uses the radio as a resource to support hundreds of women. The station, called Voices of the Women of Wangki Tangni, highlights issues of women’s rights, connects women to the community resources they need, and amplifies their community organizing.

The women from MUIXIL learned about Wangki Tangni’s journey in launching and sustaining this vibrant radio station.

Extractives

Woman speaking on a microphone.

In a delegation to North Dakota earlier this year, a group of Indigenous women leaders came together to share their experiences with oil and gas mega-projects on Indigenous lands. From North Dakota to Nepal to Nicaragua to Kenya, the delegates all shared their personal experiences and strategies to confront extractive industries.

Rose Cunningham of Wangki Tangni was one of the participants in North Dakota — and she brought her learnings back with her to Nicaragua, where communities suffer from the toxic effects of gold mining. Sharing with her Indigenous sisters from Nicaragua and Guatemala, she reflected on what she learned and tactics to guard against the abuses of the extractive industry.

We shared information with exchange participants about the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)—also known as "an international bill of rights for women."

MADRE is launching a campaign to advance the CEDAW convention, in partnership with Indigenous women around the world. Because CEDAW does not mention Indigenous women specifically or offer sufficient protections, we are working with Indigenous women leaders in local communities to develop recommendations to strengthen it.

 

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What is CEDAW? Text graphic with MADRE lady logoInfographic on CEDAWBut CEDAW does not mention Indigenous women specifically. And it doesn't offer enough protections against the discrimination they face. That's why we've launched an effort with Indigenous partners worldwide to change that.We know that CEDAW can be a powerful tool for Indigenous women to assert their rights and freedoms.     We can use certain provisions to strengthen and safeguard their rights, including: Right to Self-Determiniation   Land Rights   Right to Political PartWe hold trainings on CEDAW for Indigenous women leaders around the world, in their communities. Together we create and present recommendations to ensure more representative protections for women.

 

We held a training on CEDAW for our partners at this exchange. Before we presented, only nine of the 35 Indigenous women in our workshop were familiar with the convention. By the end, our partners were informed and enthusiastic, and came up with their own recommendations on CEDAW around collective and individual rights! The recommendations included:

  • Rights to land, including land titles
  • Rights to organize
  • Rights to intellectual property and cultural expression
  • Freedom from environmental violence
  • The right to be defenders

We will continue to share more information about this effort as it develops!

Rose & Roselia

Roselia de Leon is an Indigenous community organizer in Guatemala, who works as a secretary in an Indigenous mayor’s office — one of the few women in that office. While she is seen as a leader in her community, she has never considered running for office. 

That is, until she met Rose Cunningham of Wangki Tangni. Rose, a longtime MADRE partner, is an inspirational community leader and recently became Mayor in Waspam

After meeting Rose — and seeing her in action and the care and leadership she put into the community — Roselia felt inspired to run for office in Guatemala. When she announced her decision at the exchange, the women there rallied behind her, encouraging her and offering their mentorship.

"I am excited and interested to learn from other Indigenous women. Thanks, MADRE, for giving us this opportunity. This is our chance to learn and establish connections between our social struggles," Roselia de Leon (MUIXIL).

 

Rose Cunningham and Roselia de Leon standing side-by-side.

A group of women stand around and on top of a pick-up truck

MADRE was founded in 1983 after a delegation to Nicaragua to spotlight the abuses of the Reagan administration and to stand in solidarity with local women. From the very beginning, we’ve understood the importance of bringing people together.

Read more about MADRE’s history.

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