Women of the Amazon Series

Each month, we will feature a story through the lens of gender from the Amazon; this month we highlight Indigenous leader Alcimara Karipuna

February 2023— “We, women, have a very broad view of nature: we are careful and sensitive. Exchanging knowledge, learning, and experiences in training programs is very important,” says Indigenous leader Alcimara Karipuna.  Ms. Karipuna is the Deputy General Coordinator of the Karipuna People's Indigenous Association (AIKA) in the state of Amapá. 

Alcimara is the first woman to hold a coordination position at AIKA since the association was created in 2010 in the municipality of Oiapoque (Amapá). She is one of the Indigenous women who fight for increased female participation in decision-making in their communities in the Amazon. Ms. Karipuna is from the Santa Isabel village, her father was a chief in the Uaçá Indigenous Land, and she descends from a family of leaders.

AIKA was one of eight organizations selected to implement projects for the recovery of degraded areas and restoration of native vegetation on Indigenous lands. The project is part of the Forest Management and Fire Prevention Program in Brazil, carried out by the United States Forest Service (USFS), with support from USAID/Brazil, under the Partnership for the Conservation of Amazon Biodiversity (PCAB), in collaboration with the National Indigenous Peoples Foundation (FUNAI). More information is available at here.

How did you start working with the association?
Alcimara: I am the first woman to coordinate our Karipuna association. Before that, I worked at a youth organization here in Oiapoque called OIJO (Oiapoque Indigenous Youth Organization). AIKA held an assembly meeting to elect a new Board. They had not  progressed in a long time, and the association almost had to close, as no-one wanted to take up a leadership position. I arrived on the last day of voting and was nominated. It happened just like that, a decision from the inside. I was elected with 97 votes.

How were you welcomed into AIKA's coordination team, being the first woman to hold this position in the association?
Alcimara: I wanted to participate and found it hard to believe that I could be fill that role. Women tend to fear these situations, they question “will I make it? what am I actually going to do within this organization?” In addition to feeling more comfortable in those spaces, I managed to overcome my personal fear of being there once I started working there. It's not easy being a young woman. Although some people are on your side and trust you, others do not believe in your potential as a woman. Joining the association was and still is a great experience. I got involved in many initiatives, making our association appreciated again—and working together with our general coordinator, who has always encouraged me.

And how did your family accept your new role and leadership?
Alcimara: I come from a family of leaders. My grandfather was the head of a post. My father was a chief, and my paternal grandfather too. Most of my uncles had some sort of chief training or involvement in our Karipuna communities. So I come from a lineage of leadership. They say it's in the blood, and we can't say no. 

What results have you achieved by occupying this leadership and decision-making position?
Alcimara: My trajectory within the association has been very positive. I believe I have grown a lot, as I had trust in myself. I got rid of that fear of sharing my ideas and contributing to my people. Today, I can see that I am playing a historic role in our association: as the first woman to lead it. We have managed to engage in discussions and decision-making.

What is your message to other women?
Alcimara: My message is that they occupy leadership spaces and are always present in decision-making in their organizations. Being in these spaces makes us understand that it is not just about making decisions and defending the rights of our territories, but also about gaining respect and the rights of our own bodies. Our body is territory and needs to be respected and defended. It is also to ensure empowerment and self-confidence.

Throughout 2023, the PCAB newsletter will share stories of women's struggles and success - told by women themselves. They include Indigenous and riverine people who work and contribute to the development of their traditional communities.  We will include women who live in protected areas of the ecological diverse Amazon rainforest. 

In 2022, more than 12,000 women earned an income thanks to USAID/Brazil projects. Many of the activities developed under the PCAB depend on female participation and leadership; 41% of the 29,000 project beneficiaries in Brazil were women.