17th March 2022.– Within the framework of the 66th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, a side event titled ‘Contributions towards the forthcoming CEDAW General Recommendation on Indigenous Women and Girls’ was held, in collaboration with the Mexican National Institute for Women, the International Indigenous Women’s Form (FIMI) and UN Women.

The meeting aimed to bolster the consultation process to adopt the CEDAW General Recommendation, as well as the cross-cutting focus on climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes for the rapid implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development with a gender perspective.

The event brought together Indigenous Women from different parts of the worlds to reflect, through their own experience and cosmovision, on how to ensure that the General Recommendation is an effective tool to promote and protect the individual and collective rights of Indigenous Women and Girls and contribute to their empowerment within the communities. In this vein, the discussions arising from this reflection are expected to feed into the drafting of the General Recommendation and set the tone and aspirations for the next consultation process.

The event started with a spiritual ceremony led by Jandi Craig, an Indigenous Woman from the White Mountain Apache Tribe, human rights defender and former Indigenous Fellow at the OHCHR; the other participants were: Nadine Gasman, President of the Mexican Institute for Women, (INMUJERES); Miriam Huacani, Deputy Minister for Equal Opportunities, Ministry of Justice and Institutional Transparency of the Plurinational State of Bolivia; Maria Noel Vaeza, Regional Director for the Americas and the Caribbean at UN Women; Belén Sanz, UN Women Mexico representative; Tarcila Rivera Zea, President of FIMI; Gladys Acosta, CEDAW Committee Chair; Sara Mux, Ixpop Collective, Guatemala; Faith Nataya Saningo, Olorukoti Knowledge and Resource Centre, Kenya; Eleanor Dictaan-Bang-oa, Asian Indigenous Women’s Network (AIWN), Philippines, and Teresa Zapeta, Executive Director of FIMI. The event was moderated by Elvira Pablo Antonio, the Policy and Member Engagement Officer for Latin America and the Caribbean at Girls Not Brides, and a member of the former Youth-Generation Equality Working Group.

Nadine Gasman, Chair of the Mexican Institute for Women, highlighted that Mexico believes ‘the adoption of General Recommendation 39 on the Rights of Indigenous Women and Girls is essential to providing a guide for states on legislative, political, social and cultural measures that ensure their rights are protected’. Moreover, Ms Gasman added that ‘in Mexico we have closely monitored the production process of this General Recommendation and are seeking to prioritize the voices of Indigenous Women and Girls as protagonists and leaders both inside and beyond their communities’.

In turn, the UN Women Representative in Mexico, Belén Sanz, underlined that ‘at UN Women and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, we will be working on supporting the regional consultations, especially in Mexico where we are sure we will hear diverse voices to enrich this General Recommendation’. She also insisted on ‘the importance of the individual and collective dimension of the rights of Indigenous Women, rights related to natural resources, water, territory and land, and, of course, the interactions between all rights that the new General Recommendation must recognize.

Tarcila Rivera Zea, a Quechua Indigenous Woman from Peru, recalled that ‘we started the process for the General Recommendation at the 2004 Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, in the belief that we have particularities as women and girls due to our ethnicity and the multidimensional nature of different forms of violence’. She emphasized that ‘we hope this General Recommendation ethically, morally and politically obliges Member States and Women with Disabilities must be present in the recommendation, in addition to all our diversities’.

 Sara Mux, a Kaqchikel Mayan from Guatemala, underscored that ‘this recommendation will be a key instrument to contribute to the intercultural and decolonized interpretation of human rights’, stressing that ‘Member States will be accountable and this will enable us to generate changes in light of the inequalities and invisibility we face as Indigenous Women’.

 Faith Nataya Saningo, a Maasai Indigenous Woman from Kenya, stated that the General Recommendation involves justice for different communities, with it being ‘necessary to recognize Indigenous Peoples and to implement specific actions that safeguard our rights’. In similar terms, Eleanor Dictaan-Bang-oa, a Kankanaey Igorot from the Philippines, reaffirmed the urgent call to eliminate the reasons underlying the exploitation of and discrimination against Indigenous Women—issues presented to the CEDAW Committee—in the hope that they are categorically considered.

Teresa Zapeta Mendoza, a K’iche Mayan from Guatemala, acknowledged the valuable alliances forged in order to attain an historic and strategic recommendation that represents reparation for colonialism and inequalities in the seven regions of the world.  She announced that thanks to collective efforts, a website will be launched on 25th March to enable the alliances to remain connected to one another and expand on information. To round off, she mentioned missing hearing the voices of Member States at the meeting in order to dialogue: states remain distanced from Indigenous Peoples and, therefore, Indigenous Peoples need to stick together, as only together are stronger.

In turn, Gabriel Muyuy Jacanamejoy, Technical Secretary of the Fund for the Development of the Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean (FILAC), stated that the General Recommendation is an historical milestone not only in support of Indigenous Women and Girls, but also for the human rights of Indigenous Peoples around the globe. ‘At FILAC, we will continue to work to ensure the rights of women and girls in our Indigenous Peoples.’

Miriam Huacani, Deputy Minister for Equal Opportunities at the Ministry of Justice and Institutional Transparency of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, mentioned that it is important to recognize the remaining challenges, and move forward with civil society and different government bodies. Moreover, she recognized that the struggle against violence must be led by governments.

In her closing remarks, the Regional Director for the Americas and the Caribbean at UN Women, Maria Noel Vaeza, highlighted that this ‘General Recommendation should call on states to consider action for fully exercising the rights of Indigenous Women in their national and budgetary laws, and programmes, taking into account their intersectionalities and recognizing their contributions to the development of nations and the preservation of our great communal home—planet earth’.

Concerns about the human rights of Indigenous Women have gathered momentum in international discussions on the environment, culture and development. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted in 2007 sets out international standards and a crucial guide to building societies that ensure full equality and the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The rights of Indigenous Women are protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and later International Compacts and Treaties on Human Rights, which include sex and race as categories to be considered in protecting the right to equality and prohibition against discrimination. Nonetheless, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is the sole binding international instrument that specifically protects the rights of women, including Indigenous Women. The next CEDAW General Recommendation is a unique opportunity to include collective priorities, the cosmovision, and shared experiences and lessons from Indigenous Women for a transformative change and to ensure the preservation of the different cultures that represent the embodiment of their identity, survival and development.

The event can be viewed at this link.