Indigenous women have always been part of their peoples’ struggles, whether nationally or at international fora. There is a legacy of extraordinary women, who came to the UN since the very first year of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations, in 1982 in Geneva, Switzerland. Today, at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Indigenous women participate in great numbers and have a strong voice.
The interface between Indigenous women’s movement and the international women’s movement varies through the years. Not always were they close, most of all due to particularities in the situation of Indigenous women who live in communities in struggle. However, in recent years the two movements are getting closer. For instance, Indigenous women are now raising stronger voices in claiming the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
Despite their enormous assets and contribution to society, Indigenous women still suffer from a triple discrimination: because of being women, being poor, and being Indigenous individuals. They are subjected to extreme poverty, trafficking, illiteracy, lack of access to ancestral lands, non-existent or poor health care and to violence in the private and the public sphere. This violence is exacerbated when Indigenous communities find themselves in the midst of conflict and women become the target of violence with political motives, when going about their daily work, fetching wood or water for the family.
Indigenous women and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
The UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations (WGIP) worked for over a decade on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), mentioning Indigenous women for the first time in its annual reports of its 9th session in 1991. The Declaration was eventually adopted in 2007, containing two provisions which refer specifically to Indigenous women:
- Indigenous peoples have the right, without discrimination, to the improvement of their economic and social conditions, including, inter alia, in the areas of education, employment, vocational training and retraining, housing, sanitation, health and social security.
- States shall take effective measures and, where appropriate, special measures to ensure continuing improvement of their economic and social conditions. Particular attention shall be paid to the rights and special needs of indigenous elders, women, youth, children and persons with disabilities.
- Particular attention shall be paid to the rights and special needs of indigenous elders, women, youth, children and persons with disabilities in the implementation of this Declaration.
- States shall take measures, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, to ensure that indigenous women and children enjoy the full protection and guarantees against all forms of violence and discrimination.
International achievements related to Indigenous women
The following provides a snapshot of some of the achievements in global agendas related to Indigenous women since 2015:
Indigenous peoples, including Indigenous women, as well as the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, took an active role in the consultation and negotiation processes that led to the adoption of the 2030 Agenda (see General Assembly resolution 70/155). The 2030 Agenda contains six specific references to Indigenous Peoples: three in the political declaration, two in the targets under Sustainable Development Goals 2 on zero hunger (target 2.3) and 4 on education (target 4.5) and one in the follow-up and review section, in which States expressed their commitment to engage with Indigenous Peoples in the implementation of the Goals and were encouraged to conduct regular and inclusive reviews of progress in achieving them, including at the national level, and to draw upon the contributions of Indigenous Peoples in those reviews (Assembly resolution 70/1, para. 79). The Permanent Forum has been providing input and analysis for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, working in close cooperation with the Indigenous Peoples major group. It has also included in its annual sessions a standing agenda item on the 2030 Agenda in order to gather input and suggestions on better integrating the rights of Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous women into the process at the global, regional and country levels.
In 2015, States adopted two other outcome documents that contain specific references to Indigenous Peoples: the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (see General Assembly resolution 69/313), in which States recognized that Indigenous Peoples’ traditional knowledge, innovations and practices could support sustainable livelihoods, while also calling for a focus on Indigenous Peoples in the context of social protection; and the Paris Agreement, in which States highlighted the importance of Indigenous Peoples’ traditional knowledge in combating climate change. Both outcome documents are also relevant to Indigenous women owing to their imperative role in preserving, developing, shaping and transmitting traditional knowledge.
In 2018, Indigenous women were also involved in the processes of the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform Facilitative Working Group, which was established by the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at its twenty-fourth session, held in Katowice, Poland. In that regard, the Permanent Forum invited the Platform to collaborate closely with intergovernmental processes beyond those linked to the Framework Convention on matters relating to climate change and Indigenous Peoples, in accordance with its mandate (Conference of the Parties decision 2/CP.24, para. 20; E/2019/43, para. 87). Four Indigenous women are among the 14 representatives who are members of the platform, half of whom are representatives of States parties and half of whom are representatives of Indigenous Peoples’ organizations. The platform was established in recognition of the role of Indigenous peoples as stewards of critical ecosystems, who are on the front line of efforts to address the impacts of climate change.
In 2019, Indigenous women also participated in the summit held in Nairobi to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development. In that regard, the Permanent Forum recommended that the United Nations Population Fund organize an event on Indigenous women in the context of the conference (E/2019/43, para. 88). As a result, Tarcila Rivera Zea and Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine, members of the Permanent Forum, as well as other Indigenous women, participated in the session entitled “Progress for Indigenous women and girls”. Participants assessed the progress achieved in meeting the promise made to Indigenous Peoples at the International Conference on Population and Development, highlighting the barriers to ensuring full access to sexual and reproductive health and rights and protection from gender-based violence. They called upon States and the United Nations system to disseminate, implement and follow up on the recommendations of the Permanent Forum, which include measures related to population and development.
In 2019, in the context of the Climate Action Summit convened by the Secretary-General, the Permanent Forum urged Member States to include Indigenous Peoples’ rights in the outcomes of the Summit and recommended that States, the United Nations system, Indigenous Peoples’ organizations and other partners secure funding to ensure the adequate participation of Indigenous peoples in the Summit and its preparatory meetings. As a result, a preparatory meeting for Indigenous peoples was hosted by the Government of Mexico. As follow-up, the world Indigenous Peoples’ initiative was presented at the Summit in New York on 23 September. Indigenous women participated and contributed to the discussions and reflected on indigenous peoples’ commitments climate action.
Indigenous women also participated in the negotiations conducted in December 2019 ahead of the twenty-fifth session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was held in Madrid, through various advocacy efforts, including side events, press conferences and bilateral meetings. Parties adopted a decision on the enhanced Lima work programme on gender and its gender action plan. In the decision, the States, recognizing with concern that the impacts of climate change on women and men could often differ owing to historical and current gender inequalities and multidimensional factors and could be more pronounced in developing countries and for local communities and Indigenous Peoples, and acknowledging that climate change was a common concern of humankind, noted that they should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their obligations with respect to human rights, the right to health, the rights of Indigenous Peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, the empowerment of women and intergenerational equity.
The decision sets a historic precedent for the inclusion of rights-based language within the policies and practices adopted by countries and will guide gender-responsive climate policy and action for the next five years.
In October 2022, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women adopted General Recommendation No.39 on Indigenous women. Recommendation No. 39 provides critical guidance to States parties on legislative, policy and other relevant measures to ensure the implementation of their obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, while taking into account the rights of Indigenous women and girls derived from specific instruments for the protection of Indigenous Peoples, such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ILO Convention No. 169. The Permanent Forum welcomes and endorses general recommendation No. 39 (2022), and calls upon Member States that have not yet done so to ratify without delay the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and ILO Convention No. 169.