Riverine women united to strengthen their role in their communities

Through ASMAMJ, women now engage in income generation activities

March, 2022 - Riverine women who live by the Juruá River, in the municipality of Carauari, have been working to strengthen their role in their communities. They rely on the support provided by the Association of Agroextractive Women of Médio Juruá (ASMAMJ), which promotes empowering activities and projects developed by women. 

With about 160 members, ASMAMJ is a representation of the historic struggle celebrated on March 8, International Women's Day. ASMAMJ serves an area in the state of Amazonas that can only be reached by boat, after a six-day journey from state capital Manaus, or by plane. Women struggle to access the same conditions enjoyed by men.

Traditionally, riverine, Indigenous, and quilombola women play important roles in the environmental management and biodiversity conservation of the Amazon. In addition to looking after their homes and taking part in community activities, some hold leadership positions and supplement their family income working in sustainable value chains or with natural resources. 

Despite the key role played by women, their work has been historically undervalued. Many are  marginalized in their communities' decision-making processes. They are among the most affected of all vulnerable groups when dealing with the impacts of climate change, which exacerbate inequalities, including gender inequalities.

“We want to implement projects that promote visibility, empowerment, income, and unity", says Rosângela Cunha de Lima, a member of the São Raimundo community and the newly elected president of ASMAMJ.

And complete: "May these riverine women start recognizing their own strength. May they never lower their heads again, or take shelter in their silence when facing a sexist society. I intend to encourage them to feel important and engaged, so that they understand that they can and will be whatever they want”.  

ASMAMJ is a local community organization engaged as an implementer for the Médio Juruá Territory Program (PTMJ), along with ASPROC, AMECSARA, AMARU, CODAEMJ, and ASPODEX.

Coordinated by SITAWI, the PTMJ has USAID/Brazil, the Partnership Platform for the Amazon (PPA), and Natura as strategic partners. It also includes the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, ICMBio, the State Secretariat for the Environment (SEMA), and OPAN.

Impact - “The Médio Juruá region has a beautiful history of struggle and resilience in pursuing their rights and a better quality of life. However, women have traditionally remained invisible, despite their important contributions. This is why I am so proud to have been elected president of ASMAMJ. I am a young woman representing a group of women who, since the beginning, have adopted our plea for recognition as a 'war cry'. ASMAMJ brings women together and maintains their history alive, but now as protagonists,” adds Rosângela.

Rosângela has been strongly influenced by her mother and her grandfather. She mentions the importance of engaging the community in the sustainable management of pirarucu as a way to strengthen the participation of women in their communities. 

In addition to the work they do gutting and cleaning the fish, they are now training to participate in inventory activities. This is an important management step to establish the amount of fish each community may sell every year. They also use pirarucu scales to produce biojewelry. 

We live in and preserve a forest that is rich in natural resources, and that can generate income for women. I intend to encourage them to seek new production chains, in addition to innovating some that already exist. Community pirarucu management, for example, has been done in the Médio Juruá since 2011, but fish scales used to be dumped into the river. Women saw in them an opportunity to make money, and started producing pirarucu biojewels. This is the type of income generation project that we must be encouraging,” adds Rosângela.

The future — Felipe Pires, Territorial Programs coordinator at SITAWI, points out that the extraction of essential oils from local seeds and the production of biocosmetics in the Amazon will increase with the support of the Médio Juruá Territory Program. 

"We expect this new stage of the PTMJ to further strengthen female entrepreneurship, diversifying production and bringing new income generation opportunities to ASMAMJ. An important highlight is the production of essential oils and biocosmetics using the wealth of biodiversity available in this region," says Pires.

For Rosângela, the PTMJ, encourages initiatives in the region, helps communities achieve positive results and become stronger, consequently impacting forest conservation. 

The PTMJ aims to contribute to the sustainable development of the Médio Juruá region, which covers an area of over 1,020,000 hectares, including two conservation units (Médio Juruá Extractive Reserve and Uacari Sustainable Development Reserve), and part of the Deni Indigenous Territory of the Xeruã River. The program is structured around three integrated pillars: sustainable livelihoods, biodiversity conservation, and social cohesion.

According to Rosângela, one way to overcome prejudice and reduce gender bias in their society is to encourage the participation of more women in decision-making and in the daily life of their communities.

“A woman's presence always changes an environment. But such change is even greater when her voice is no longer silent. Women create, protect, care, and give life to other lives. In the same way, they play a role in the conservation of the forest, and know that they will get their subsistence from the forest and their families,” she concludes.