The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the most important intergovernmental body addressing gender equality in the world, ended its 65th session last Friday with a pledge to “promote and protect the rights of indigenous women and girls by addressing the multiple and intersectional forms of discrimination and barriers they face, including violence,” as noted in the preliminary document of agreed conclusions issued by UN Women.
With the aim of strengthening women’s voices and leaving no one behind, the document, which will be signed by the UN Member States, expresses a pledge to “ensure indigenous women’s empowerment and effective participation in decision-making processes at all levels and in all areas, and to remove legal barriers to their full, equal, and effective participation in political, economic, social, and cultural realms.”
According to activist Tarcila Rivera Zea, the document supports the demands that indigenous women have made to the States since the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995, and the signing of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a document adopted by the UN Member States that has since set the standard in the construction of programs and public policies on gender equality and women’s rights.
A report on the progress, gaps, and challenges identified by indigenous women since the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action reveals that 25 years later, and despite the existence of national laws and specific references to indigenous women in human rights and development statutes, “the gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous populations persist, and indigenous women continue to bear vast disadvantages.”
The study published by the International Indigenous Women’s Forum (IIWF), the Continental Network of Indigenous Women of the Americas (ECMIA), and CHIRAPAQ Center for Indigenous Cultures of Peru, reveals that indigenous women are criminalized and murdered for defending their territories, and that pressure from extractive industries forces them to migrate. This exposes them to multiple other forms of violence, such as sexual and labor exploitation. For the female leaders who participated in the CSW65, this reality is still not fully addressed by the States.
The statements submitted to the Commission by CHIRAPAQ in Peru and by ECMIA at a continental level recommended that States promote the creation of specific public policies to eradicate and comprehensively prevent political violence affecting indigenous women. The statements also recommended that States promote the effective participation of indigenous women in public life and guarantee that indigenous women’s realities will be dealt with by State institutions.
Barriers to being heard
The coronavirus pandemic has forced indigenous women to participate in sessions virtually, with the connectivity shortcomings in their territories being one of the greatest difficulties in ensuring their effective participation. In addition, most information and discussion documents are available only in English.
Another barrier faced by indigenous women was poor participation and representativeness during all sessions. “Despite many efforts, indigenous women remain underrepresented in decision-making spaces, and in some cases, we are invisible. The most important issue about these international scenarios is that they allow civil society and organizations to create opportunities for information, discussion, sharing experiences, and developing articulated proposals,” said Rivera Zea.
Despite the difficulties, the leaders of the Continental Network of Indigenous Women of the Americas (ECMIA) emphasized the willingness of some States to dialogue with them. Marcela Guerrero, Minister of the Status of Women of Costa Rica, emphasized in her meeting with the States that the future of countries must be built in alliance and hand in hand with indigenous organizations. “From the point of view of our work, we are ready to recognize this diversity and these intersectionalities,” she said.
Indigenous youth on the global scenario
Following the CSW65, the Equality Generation Forum was held in Mexico. This event was jointly organized by UN Women and the Governments of Mexico and France to renew efforts and generate greater commitment for the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. In this forum, the young leaders of the ECMIA Committee on Children and Youth raised their voices for the recognition of their rights.
Elvira Ayuuk, a young Mixe of Mexico and a member of the Commission, stated at the opening of this event that the coronavirus pandemic further accentuated gender-based violence and femicides worldwide. “Girls should be carrying dreams, not coffins,” she said in a statement that went viral on social media.
The sustained participation of the indigenous women’s movement in the sessions of this international intergovernmental body has once again forced States to rethink their strategies to combat gender inequities and violence, in order to consider the particular realities of the more than 28 million indigenous women in Latin America.