15 December, 2019

Indigenous Women in the Philippines Participated in FAO-FIMI’s Program

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Written by Maribeth V. Bugtong-Biano

Now, I realized how important the workshop is for me because it deepened my understanding of international and national laws, especially on indigenous peoples’ rights and food security. I am very challenged to influence more women on these rights”.

Thus, is the reflection of Mary Jane Ansuban who is among the sixteen indigenous women from the Cordillera region and Mindanao in the Philippines who participated in the Programon Human Rights, Food and Nutrition Security of the Indigenous Women’s Global Leadership Schoolfrom May 2015 to June 2016. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the International Indigenous Women’s Forum or Foro Internacional de Mujeres Indigenas (IIWF/FIMI) implemented this program not only in the Philippines but also in Bolivia, Peru and India since May 2015.

The Program targeted indigenous women leaders and activists in order to increase their knowledge on international human rights instruments, treaty bodies and UN mechanisms relevant to indigenous peoples and indigenous women in particular as well as on food and nutrition security. Likewise, it aimed at strengthening the knowledge and skills of the indigenous women on advocacy.

The Program consisted of 3 stages.

The first stage involved online facilitation of knowledge and learning through a virtual platform with topics ranging from basic concepts of human rights, to relevant human rights instruments and treaty bodies, UN mechanisms for indigenous peoples and food security. The participants from India and in the Philippines interacted and shared important information and community experiences through the virtual platform. The experts and the facilitators have also contributed in the discussions. For this particular phase, FIMI served as the moderator with the Gender Unit of Tebtebba which is also the secretariat of AIWN as facilitator.

During the first stage, the participants began to design their advocacy plans with mentoring from facilitators. They presented these plans during the face-to-face stage of the Program. There were seven advocacy plans that were developed by the women, which they were also expected to implement.

The second stage was an intensive nine-day face-to-face seminar in Makati City, in Northern Philippines on 14-22 March 2016. This phase was particularly important for the indigenous women as concepts that they discussed in the virtual stage were better elucidated with the expert resource speakers. The participants had limited participation in the virtual stage as Internet connectivity to most of the participants was a challenge. Seldom connected, the use of the English language in the online platform has also limited their interaction. Nonetheless, they were able to share confidently their personal and community experiences on each subject matter in the face-to-face stage of the Program.

To deepen their appreciation of the important role indigenous women play in ensuring food and nutrition security of their communities as well as to understand the food systems of an indigenous community, the participants visited the Dumagat community in San Ysiro, Antipolo City in Rizal province, also in the northern Philippines. The community through their organization is a grantee of the Indigenous Peoples Assistance Facility of the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD-IPAF) which Tebtebba is managing. As well as improving the capacity of the Dumagat to develop and protect their ancestral domain, their project is focused on increasing their income and improving their supply of organic vegetables through their own organic farming.  

The participants had a dialogue with the indigenous leaders including indigenous women. The exchange was focused on the history of the Dumagat peoples, their culture and tradition as well as their traditional knowledge on their food systems, their livelihoods, education, health and their present struggles and efforts to realize their human rights.


The participants were ushered by the Dumagat folks to their organic farms where they are producing high valued crops.


Furthermore, the women had a chance to exercise their advocacy skills in a visit to the central office of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) which is the national agency mandated by law to protect and promote the human rights of indigenous peoples. In their dialogue, the participants articulated the pressing issues on their land, territories and resources such as land grabbing and entry of multinational corporations into their lands which threatens their food security, culture and biodiversity. Along this issue, they stressed the problems they encounter in the process of obtaining their free, prior and informed consent on projects that affect them and their ancestral domain, on militarization of indigenous communities and schools, on extractive industry, on extrajudicial killings of indigenous leaders, among others. They also  proposed actions for NCIP to undertake in relation to these problems.

In response, the NCIP officials explained their various initiatives to further advance the rights of indigenous peoples in the country noting that there are limitations to what they can deliver given their limited financial allocation and human resources. Particularly for food security of indigenous peoples, they emphasized that they do not support projects that are detrimental to the agricultural systems of indigenous peoples. They also revealed the availability of funds for development projects in indigenous communities with priority to those with Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) and Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development and Protection Plan (ADSDPP). There are no specific programs for indigenous women mentioned but such programs are incumbent upon the NCIP regional offices.

Finally, the third stage (again through the virtual platform) follows up the implementation of Advocacy Plans designed by participants. Implementation depends on the capacity of the women and their organizations. Identified as the main challenge in the implementation of the plans is the availability of funds which all of the women stated.

The advocacy plans of the women are focused on several concerns which target the particular needs of their own communities especially the women: strengthening the capacity of indigenous women to assert their rights especially in their participation to decision making and in the performance of their roles as culture-keepers and ancestral domain protectors; strengthening their indigenous governance systems; lobbying for the effective implementation of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) and the UNDRIP; strengthening their community in asserting their collective rights as indigenous peoples with their own ancestral domains in the proposed Bangsamoro autonomous region in Mindanao especially for the Teduray; changing their cultural practices that negatively affect the rights of indigenous women such as early marriage; and revitalizing their food systems especially in propagating their traditional seeds.

In addition, their plans also wanted to focus on revitalizing indigenous culture through the integration of indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) of indigenous peoples with gender considerations in the curriculum of a state university; resolving internal conflicts; reviving of traditional crafts and livelihoods; and transmitting traditional knowledge to the younger generation.

The face-to-face stage was overwhelmingly appreciated by the women stressing that it provided them opportunity to learn more about their human rights and the aspects of food security and nutrition. They were also enthusiastic to re-echo what they learned and to do their part when they get back into their communities.

The third stage was conducted in coordination with FAO Philippines and Tebtebba who both provided logistics supports.  


Reference: FAO and FIMI. 2016. Narrative Report: In Person Stage, Bolivia, India, Peru and the Philippines, 2015-2016