By Tarcila Rivera Zea*
Putting an end to the conditions of poverty and exclusion suffered by indigenous women is the best way of eradicating violence.
Pressure forces on indigenous territories push women to the cities, where they become victims of labour and sexual exploitation.
Peru was recently the venue of the World Conference of Indigenous Women, where female leaders from Africa, the Pacific, Europe, Asia, Latin America, North America and Russia were gathered. With a single voice, indigenous women from the world over spoke out against all forms of violence, from whatever quarter and in any of its manifestations.
We are opposed to aggression against our persons originating from domestic violence, sexual abuse, practices such as genital mutilation, and the most extreme form of violence: femicide. However, for indigenous women, violence finds multiple forms of expression which, even today, are not visible to other people.
We live in countries which refuse to acknowledge our existence and where nothing is done to guarantee our protection. We are deprived of the possibility of a good-quality education and of enjoying economic independence. Neither are we aware of the obligations that our countries have towards us. We believe that this situation of complete vulnerability, in which we find ourselves submerged, is a form of violence.
For indigenous women there exists a further form of violence that is equally or even more pernicious: that which is directed against nature. While the Inuit women of Greenland can see how rising water levels obliterate their communities as a result of climate change, the Quechua indigenous people of Peru must confront mining corporations to defend their water resources.
Every day this pressure forces indigenous women to leave their communities for the cities, where they are employed unfairly or become victims of sexual exploitation. The guardians of these territories are thus disappearing, and with them their heritage of traditional knowledge, which guarantees the world’s biodiversity and which may provide the answers in facing up to the onslaughts of climate change.
Our own experience has shown that we shall not be able to eradicate violence simply by attacking its effects.
Peru is the country with the second-largest population of indigenous women in Latin America, with approximately 3,2 million. According to a study made by the World Bank in this country, 60% of the women who are victims of violence are more likely to lose their unborn child during pregnancy; 21,3% suffer complications at childbirth; and 19,6% catch a sexually-transmitted disease. More than one half of these women live in rural areas.
Violence against women also affects the health and wellbeing of their children, and the cost of all this is met by citizens as a whole. According the United Nations Development Programme – UNDP , in Latin America alone, we invest 2% of the GDP in palliating the consequences of violence. In Peru, the state spends an average of 36 million soles (about 12 million US dollars) in social programmes which attenuate, but do not eradicate, the problem.
An indigenous woman who has access to a good education has greater possibilities of breaking free of poverty, of becoming a part of the productive workforce of our countries, furthermore ensuring the sustainable management of the resources.
On the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, we ask all those who are able to contribute to the eradication of this problem to act immediately. We indigenous women need sustainable programmes which lead to a change in this reality. The decision to invest in us constitutes not only the discharge of a moral obligation, but also a way of boosting the development of our countries.
* Tarcila Rivera Zea is one of the most well known indigenous activists in Peru and the world. Among her outstanding achievements are the foundation known as the Continental Network of Indigenous Women of the Americas – ECMIA and the International Forum of Indigenous Women – FIMI. She is President of CHIRAPAQ Centre for Indigenous Cultures of Peru, an association devoted to the affirmation of cultural identity and the recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples.