This is an English summary of "Una Mujer Contra la Ilegalidad Forestal," which is written in Spanish and published on the website for La Mula. To read the full report, click here.
In the face of so much discouraging news, the story of María Elena and the Sawawo Native Community Forest Vigilance Committee is a light in an increasingly dark scenario.
When María Elena Paredes began training to become a forest custodian, that is, an official guardian of her communal forests, she already had a clear idea of what she wanted. She had reviewed the history of her countrymen, the stories of her grandparents and former community leaders. They had fled the central jungle, escaping from "progress": from the highways, from the engineers who favored the colonists, from the settlers who appropriated their land, from the loggers, coca growers and terrorists.
With little or much illusion, the community members moved from their traditional territories in Pasco and Junín and set out in search of new lands, with the offer of a lumber dealer that he would help them obtain title if they agreed to sell him the valuable timber of what would be their new home. Eventually, some promises were fulfilled and they had their title, but the company demanded more and more, so they finally decided to terminate the deal. The company soon fell into disgrace and left the area. Over the years Maria Elena and her brother and sister community members learned that the tranquility of living away from the hustle and bustle of the city, even with the shortcomings of isolation, was better than living under constant pressure from the vices that money brings.
A few months ago, a little over a year ago, with the support of an NGO, María Elena received training, equipment and improved her knowledge of her rights and duties as an indigenous person. Her performance was so good that her community elected her as the Coordinator of the Community Watch Committee. "For me it is a great responsibility to represent and defend my community," she says.
Like María Elena, women from various parts of Ucayali are increasingly involved in the development of community surveillance and control of extractive activities, including, of course, forestry activities. Carmelina, a community member from Junín Pablo, in Imiría, is proud to be part of her community committee. "We know the forest too, not just the men. Besides, we have more responsibility, because we take care of it for our children, not just to take advantage of it at the moment [...]," she says with a smile.
Women are abandoning the passive role that had been erroneously assigned to them for decades, taking the lead and leadership, even in demanding or high-pressure situations.