In early April, UN Women warned States that violence against women had risen undeniably together with the expansion of the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, indigenous women across the Continent are denouncing in a report that the pandemic has intensified the sexual violence and poverty they experience due to their ethnicity, gender and economic situation.
The Continental Network of Indigenous Women of the Americas (ECMIA), a network conformed by more than thirty women and mixed-gender indigenous organizations of twenty-three different countries, reports in this document how the health-related and confinement measures put in place by States have violated indigenous women’s rights.
Gelga Guainer, a young indigenous activist from Paraguay, reported that twenty indigenous girls of the Guarani and Nivacle peoples, aged between 11 and 17, got pregnant during the quarantine. “They are confined in their communities; therefore, they are exposed to sexual violence. Neither traditional authorities nor government institutions are adequately responding to this situation”, she declared.
Elizabeth Carrasco, an indigenous interpreter at the Judiciary in the Chaco province in Argentina, also reports that travel restrictions put in place during the quarantine prevent indigenous women from reporting the domestic and sexual violence they suffer. “It takes nearly 45 km (28 miles) on foot to reach the police station. Since they do not speak Spanish, they are sometimes discriminated. This affects the possibility of a report being made”, she explained.
On the other hand, Norma Don Juan, indigenous women rights’ defender in Mexico, told us about the protests of the Rarámuri women, who are migrant domestic workers in different cities and who have lost their source of income. “Indigenous women working at restaurants or grocery shops point out that their salaries have also been cut by half or that they have been fired”, she denounced.
ECMIA has warned in the report that the measures taken by the States to address this pandemic were designed by and for privileged, urban and non-indigenous groups, and have turned out to be ineffective or unenforceable in indigenous peoples and communities. Apart from the different forms of violence already mentioned, there are other inequalities such as the lack of access to water that prevents frequent hand-washing, or electricity and the Internet, which prevents indigenous women from taking part in distance learning.
According to ECMIA, one of the key problems that prevent the design of effective actions that protect indigenous women is the lack of official data, which hides the number of indigenous deaths and infected people in the Americas, and of data disaggregated by gender that would allow us to know how many indigenous women are suffering from violence and a damaged economy as a consequence of the pandemic and where they are.
Indigenous women in the northern, southern and central part of the continent are asking States to ensure a full, representative, informed and effective participation of indigenous women and their organizations in the design, implementation, follow-up and assessment of measures taken to face this health emergency and mitigate its effects in the post-crisis context.
Also, they demand the establishment of emergency funds, economic subsidies and other specific measures for indigenous peoples that would ensure access to basic needs during the state of emergency and that would help them resume their economic activities on a medium and long-term basis, focusing on indigenous women and youth.
Likewise, they urge governments to coordinate with indigenous community boards and organizations to support, establish and strengthen strategies and mechanisms to prevent, respond and protect indigenous women and girls affected by violence, including shelters run by indigenous women and community surveillance networks.
ECMIA issued a position statement on May 25 where it ratifies indigenous women’s rights violations exposed in the report, urgently calling upon the States of the continent to avoid a pandemic genocide and an increase of gender inequality that puts indigenous women at risk in a particular way.