The Development Law Service

Forgotten Nourishment: How Indigenous Women's Right to Adequate Food is Tied to the Health of Our Planet


There are 476 million Indigenous people globally and more than half of these are women. Their unique cultures, knowledge and traditional practices are valuable contributions to biodiversity and are indispensable for the conservation of ecosystems.[1] Indigenous women (IW) in the rural world have a fundamental role to play as guardians of ancestral knowledge, as they are often the ones who care for, procure and manage the natural resources they need, such as water and fuelwood, seeds and medicinal plants. Moreover, they play a key role in passing on traditional knowledge to younger generations.[2]

The fact that their food and nutritional security is highly dependent on the well-being of their environment and biodiversity results in IW being among the groups most vulnerable to environmental degradation and climate crises. Exacerbating the situation is the fact that they often experience intersectional discrimination due to the confluence of more than one discriminating factor, e.g., gender, ethnicity and age, among others. They are also directly affected by disasters and climate change as food producers and agricultural workers, and, in crisis situations, they often experience exacerbated pre-existing gender inequalities.[3]

In spite of Articles 12 and 14 of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which provides for specific guarantees related to women's participation in food production and consumption decisions, IW are still largely excluded from decision-making processes and procedural justice mechanisms, i.e., access to court.[4] In practice, IW are often not included or consulted in global policy discussions and decisions. This is partially due to the lack of disaggregated data on IW, which is an important component of building their visibility.[5]

Climate change has been an ongoing struggle for Indigenous People as it has direct and indirect impacts on agriculture and their livelihoods. Direct impacts are those caused by changes in physical characteristics such as temperature levels or rainfall patterns on specific agricultural production systems. Indirect impacts refer to those affecting production such as changes in the behaviour of pollinators or invasive species. In addition, studies indicate that an increase in CO2 production reduces the nutritional value in certain foods, such as flour from major cereals, the concentration of proteins, vitamins, and minerals. [6] These, among other things, also have an impact on family education and the intellectual and physical development of children. Fisheries are also impacted as rising temperatures, combined with increasing acidification, may endanger marine ecosystems, and may lead to severe shortages in the production of capture fisheries.[7]

Women are disproportionately affected by climate change, in the form of greater vulnerability to climate shocks and natural disasters. They also are also often more vulnerable to acute food insecurity. This is due to the fact that they face additional risks, barriers, and disadvantages of multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination related to, for example, gender, age, ethnic group, and economic status.[8]

In conclusion, the empowerment of IW is a fundamental condition for the eradication of hunger and malnutrition in the world. Despite intersectional discrimination, IW demonstrate great capacity to be agents of change for a decent life by actively engaging in leadership positions to advocate for the rights and needs of their communities and ensure Indigenous voices are heard and respected, while also promoting the preservation and revitalization of their cultural heritage, empowering Indigenous youth through education, and advocating for environmental sustainability and social equality. 

States are obliged under international law[9] to respect, protect and fulfil their right to adequate food, increase their resilience to the impact of climate change, and ensure their participation in decision-making processes. Policies and laws that reflect their needs are required for this. In this regard, LEGN is committed to supporting indigenous communities by promoting, for example, their Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC).

Gaia Falabella (FAO)

[1] FAO. Indigenous women, daughters of mother earth. 2020.

[2] FAO. 2018. Campaña Global para el empoderamiento de las mujeres indígenas para el Hambre Cero. (only in Spanish)

[3] General recommendation No. 37 (2018) on the gender-related dimensions of disaster risk reduction in the context of climate change CEDAW/C/GC/37  

[5] FAO. 2021. Libro Blanco/Wiphala sobre sistemas alimentarios de los pueblos indígenas. Roma. (only in Spanish)

[6] FAO. 2015. Climate change and food security: risks and responses.

[7] Ibid.

[8] FAO. 2023. The status of women in agrifood systems. Rome.

[9] See for example, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007)