Forest protection: a matter for the women at the top
In Bolivia’s indigenous communities, the leaders are almost always men. Ignacia Supepí Cuasase proves that women can be good leaders too. As her community’s cacique (chief), she is committed to protecting the environment there.
Before Ignacia became cacique, she worked as a farmer, rearing poultry and growing fruit. She was involved in community life even back then – as a member of Las Pioneras, a women’s organisation in her indigenous Rio Blanco community. ‘The pioneers’ gave women the opportunity to play an active role in community work and to earn their own income. Ignacia, a mother of five, recognised the importance of economic independence for women: ‘As soon as we earned money, the men respected us,’ she says.
Through various initiatives, including projects in which the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH was involved on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Ignacia networked with other indigenous women also playing a part in community work. This contact motivated the 36-year-old to put her name forward to become cacique. With the support of many other women, she did actually manage to obtain the position. Ignacia is the first woman to become head of her community – so far. ‘I hope that other women become caciques, too!’, she says.
To do that, the women need to assume responsibilities in their communities and thus become respected figures. This is no easy task. Ignacia works from morning to night, but is not paid: ‘To take on the role of cacique, you have to really want the job,’ she says. Nevertheless, she is motivated by her desire for a better future for her community: ‘My work has a green agenda: I look after the forest and fight climate change.’
Ignacia and her community live in Chiquitania, a savannah region in eastern Bolivia. Chiquitania is home to one of the world’s largest dry forests, has a rich biodiversity and is vital to the survival of the indigenous Rio Blanco community, which is why Ignacia is helping to protect the forest. A total of 18,000 hectares are being managed sustainably through initiatives in the relevant GIZ project. This has also involved scaling down the timber industry. Trees are still being felled, but sustainably and legally. People are now growing more fruit in the forest: mangos, avocados, oranges and mandarins: ‘We harvest all this fruit sustainably using a plan that will preserve the forest in the long term.’