Traditional and Indigenous women are empowered through PCAB Series: PCAB Transforming Lives

Quilvilene Figueiredo da Cunha

PCAB Transforming Lives

PCAB has empowered over 41,000 women to have pride in their work, protect their land, and increase access to alternative income. The program, in some cases, allowed women’s financial independence. 

Through capacity building and the strengthening of sustainable chains, riverine, quilombola and indigenous women are increasingly joining local associations and looking for recognition of their work power. 

The PCAB Newsletter will feature a series on life-changing stories. From the mouths of beneficiaries you will see how USAID/Brasil and partners are improving livelihoods and ensuring conservation of biodiversity in the Brazilian Amazon. In this first themes story we focus on women who live in the heart of the Amazon and how they perceive the changes in their lives. 

1 - Autonomy

We will meet a riverine woman who works in the state of Amazonia sustainably managing pirarucu fishing. A recent study showed that 8 out of 100 women receive pay for participating in fishing activities in communities without sustainable management. On the other hand, in communities that have introduced pirarucu management (as, for example, Médio Juruá), 77 out of 100 receive pay for their work. 

She is Quilvilene Figueiredo da Cunha, 26 years, living in São Raimundo, an isolated riverine community about 36 hours away from the municipality of Carauari (AM). She works in the management of wild pirarucu, and is a member of a women's association supported by the Médio Juruá Territory project

What is the role of women in wild pirarucu management?
Quilvilene – Women's tasks include working in the fields, domestic chores, and collecting andiroba and murumuru seeds. Half of all pirarucu managers are women. However, we do not engage in fishing – this is done by men. We are in charge of processing, cleaning, and sanitizing the fish.

Has there been any change in women’s roles in the community?
Quilvilene – The type of organization that we have at Médio Juruá is positive – but women have always acted behind the scenes. We are still developing our roles. In the past, we only helped to run the place, and provided food, but now we are taking part in the meetings. We are not just in the kitchen anymore. We are increasing both our empowerment and financial autonomy, through the seed and oil project.

Can women now earn their own income?
Quilvilene – We now get paid for our work in the fish industry. We can use the money we earn collecting andiroba and managing pirarucu as we wish. However, when women work in the fields together with their husband, and the income belongs to the family. In this case, it is he who decides how it will be spent. This is how it works here at Médio Juruá – we still have a very strong male-biased culture. But we are trying to change it.

What are your projects for 2021?
Quilvilene – In our assemblies, we have introduced mentoring projects and empowerment processes, which aim to boost income generation. For 2021, the association will start a handicraft project. We are also planning to involve women in counting the pirarucu (first stage of management), which currently is only done by men. Some have already expressed their interest, and that is why we have decided to deliver training on that. I think women will be great at counting because they are good observers.

2 - Voices

We will meet another woman living in a quilombola community speaks about the challenges she faces on a daily basis. She seeks to give visibility to their role in the community. 

Angilene Gomes Balbino, 39, lives in Rolim de Moura do Guaporé, a quilombola community in the state of Rondônia. Angilene is a teacher and the chairperson of their community association. She participated in the program that trained quilombolas and equipped them with data collection tools to study the reality of these Amazon communities.

What is your typical day like?
Angilene – In the mornings, I teach. In the afternoons, I am busy with lesson planning and some admin work at the association that I chair. And later, I do some housework. My school is not recognized as a quilombola school. I fight for the right to provide quilombola education to our community.

What is your assessment of the Sharing Worlds Program?
Angilene – It has been beneficial to us all. It helps us to understand the lives of quilombola women, and the difficulties we face in helping to top up our family income while also doing our household chores. We still have to overcome a major challenge, which is the fact that women's work is not appreciated. We are making an effort to get organized and add visibility to our contribution.

How can you engage women in this work?
Angilene – Through projects, we can make women understand their importance in the community, and show that we are fundamental for the development of our family, and of everyone. 

One thing that came up during the survey in the communities was the challenge of fighting violence against women. What have you done about that?
Angilene – We do not yet have a program to address that. We are working on it, trying to find the best way to overcome this challenge. 

3 - Leadership

An indigenous woman presents her views on women's roles in indigenous villages. Maria Leonice Tupari, 43, lives in the Sete de Setembro indigenous land, in the municipality of Cacoal, state of Rondônia. She is the state coordinator of the Rondônia Indigenous Women Warriors Association.

Why did you decide to set up an indigenous women warriors’ association? 
Maria Leonice – The association was created in 2015 to help overcome the challenges faced by indigenous women and increase our representation. We used to be kept in the background. We felt the need to be empowered – based on knowledge – and become more active in our communities. Another goal is to strengthen income generation projects. We delivered training workshops on different topics.

What has changed after women started participating more? 
Maria Leonice – In the beginning, few women attended our meetings. So, we started holding annual assemblies only for women, so that we could talk more openly about our feelings. We have attended a Forest Trends training program, and started another project that will focus on the role of women in managing the land. An example is the case of the Igarapé Lourdes indigenous land, where women are leading the fight against illegal mining and logging. They are doing that thanks to their strength and their search for knowledge. In other indigenous territories, many women have been made chief. 

How has this change helped in the daily life of the community? 
Maria Leonice – We always hear women saying that they want to keep the forest standing. We work with handicrafts made with products that we get from nature. If there is deforestation, we will not have the raw material we need for our crafts. Here at Sete de Setembro, we need clay for our pottery work. If the forest is gone and there is no riparian vegetation, the river will dry up, and the clay will no longer be fit for our work. We need it. Deforestation also makes it difficult for us to protect our culture. 

Do you also develop income generation projects?
Maria Leonice – The association is starting to focus on income generation. At Guajará Mirim, for example, women were no longer making baskets because they had no buyers. We are now working to change that, and this strengthens our traditional knowledge. We are also promoting traditional cropping. We will buy inputs to encourage them to plant and work on their vegetable gardens. Our biggest challenge today is how to maintain our land. It is useless to fight for better health, education and way of life if we do not have a land to live on.