Indigenous Women and Girls combating Violence

Indigenous Women and Girls combating Violence

Throughout the world, indigenous women and girls experience diverse forms of violence due to their marginalization within their own communities, and in society at large. While causing harm on a personal level, this also deters their ability to engage fully in community and societal developments.

This is the focus of a report presented at the Eleventh Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples, in New York from 7 May to 18 May. The report stemmed from a three day meeting held in January, at which international experts discussed article 22 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, on violence against indigenous women and girls.

The Report titled Combating violence against indigenous women and girls: article 22 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples calls for the need for better recognition of the rights and special needs of indigenous women and girls by the UN system and Member States. Countries are urged to implement protective and empowering measures, while the UN system is called on to support any such efforts and initiatives.

However the document also highlights the important role of indigenous communities and peoples themselves in freeing indigenous women from violence and discrimination. The Report recommends that patriarchal social relations be dismantled, discriminatory policies be abolished, and strong commitments be made by indigenous institutions to enable this.

At a press conference during the Eleventh Session indigenous women leaders from Asia, Africa, Latin America and North America discussed the wide range of violence faced by women in their communities, from female genital mutilation (FGM) , common in Africa, to the torture of so-called witches in the Asia Pacific.

Myrna Cunningham Kain, the outgoing Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, stressed that collective rights must be better protected. When laws and public policies lack a multicultural dimension, she noted, they fail to protect or serve women, particularly the many subject to domestic or traditional violence.

However, Ms. Cunningham has often cautioned against focusing exclusively on domestic violence, noting that gender-based violence is compounded by economic measures, globalization, militarization, racism and ecological problems.

Other women spoke of the gendered damage and structural violence caused by militarization, ecological destruction and the practices of extractive industries; and the invisibility of indigenous women in many legal systems. They recommended more intensive monitoring of the intersection between ethnicity and gender, greater efforts to make sure that indigenous women participate in discussions on law and policies, and greater access to learning.

“What we recommend is education, education and more education, particularly for girls,” said Agnes Leina, Executive Director of Il’laramak Community Concerns, speaking from her experiences in Kenya. “So that they grow up knowing their rights and can assert themselves; so they say no to FGM, and no to gender-based violence.”

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