Profiles for change: Lola Cabnal, Ak’Tenamit

Whether she is working in Guatemala or connecting with colleagues at environmental policysetting in Marseille or Glasgow, Lola Cabnal of Ak’Tenamit is shining a light on the impacts of violence on Indigenous women who are connected to Mother Earth and her defense.
The Director of Environmental Advocacy for Ak’Tenamit, Lola Cabnal is a Maya Q’eqchi’ woman from Guatemala coordinating diverse local and international agencies on environmental protection. Though Guatemala is rich in biodiversity, climate change has not only worsened environmental degradation, but also the close relationship Indigenous Peoples have had with nature, resulting in socioeconomic challenges. Among these changes, Indigenous women are likely to feel the brunt of these impacts most acutely.

Climate change and pandemic impacts on women’s safety

Not only does climate change degradation result in women spending increasing time traveling further to collect fuel, food and water for sustenance and livelihoods, the added impacts of unsustainable and extractive activities further undermine the resilience of Indigeous Peoples who rely on and safeguard nature.

“At home, though indigenous women have fundamental roles in defending Mother Earth and conservation, our work is not seen as important or acknowledged. Not only are women hindered from having land titles or rights and access to it to manage their own crops, their working hours are not remunerated, and they suffer attacks. The violence is compounded as indigenous women are often forced to live with their abusers or raise children alone when abandoned. A situation that has worsened in the past years because of the issue of emigration; because of the increase in poverty due to unemployment or economic development alternatives.”

Click to view a short film (4 min) featuring Lola Cabnal, describing her perspectives on GBV-environment linkages

In particular, the COVID-19 pandemic is having significant impacts on Indigenous women and reflect similar observations and experiences seen worldwide. Of these Lola shares that:

“From the beginning of the pandemic until today, everything has changed. The situation is getting worse every day due to the closures of activities, businesses and other restrictions that have occurred that do not favor the majority and especially indigenous peoples, women, children and youth, because access to education is a huge setback.”

Together, these challenges have further negatively impacted women’s ability to continue to defend nature while balancing demands for increased care work at home. These tensions have also resulted in more cases of domestic and intimate partner violence. 

“When Mother Earth is exploited and in distress, our cosmos and our own way of life are also threatened – which worsens the tensions and violence women face at home and in communities as well as our struggles with other extractionist activities and policies that also use violence as a form of oppression and control.”

Taking action for resilience and safeguarding rights

However, despite these challenges, Lola shares that action is being taken to address areas of risk that underpin tensions. Organizations, such as Ak’Tenamit, are implementing strategies to cope with the education and economic problems communities are facing to help build resilience and alleviate tensions worsened by COVID-19 – as Lola notes that “our youth are our future” – and Indigenous women contribute each day to strengthen food sovereignty through their knowledge, agriculture and kitchen gardens. 

Ak’Tenamit is also working to empower young women by providing them with scholarships to ensure access to decent and fair employment and to also build their profiles as change agents to ensure solutions and best practices that do not exploit natural resources and Mother Earth. 

Reflecting on her experience, Lola shares that:

“It is necessary and urgent to have direct engagements with communities and Indigenous Peoples, to create answers to the problems and crises that make women, girls and boys with scarce resources more vulnerable. We want strategic solutions based on traditional culture, knowledge and practices. It is necessary to launch innovative development and technologies for women and young people to reduce the inequality gap and be more resilient; be participants in decision making, in the construction of plans, programs and projects that are developed in our communities. And all of this applies to ways in which gender-based violence and environment links can be addressed as well as strengthening an adaptable climate justice.”

You can learn more about Ak’Tenamit here.
You can also read another profile on Lola Cabnal via UN Women here.