As part of the global campaign CEDAW for Indigenous Women and Girls, Indigenous Women leaders around the world discuss how to bring their voices to CEDAW to establish a specific General Recommendation on their rights.

Indigenous Women and girl leaders from different parts of the world  participated in a virtual event entitled “Walking Together on the Path of Change” where they shared strategies and  ideas so that their voices, perspectives and demands can be reflected in a General Recommendation of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on the rights of Indigenous Women and Girls. 

The conversation, which took place on Thursday, March 18, 2021, was organized by the International Indigenous Women’s Forum (FIMI), MADRE, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) / Indigenous Peoples and Development Branch / Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNDESA/IPDB-SPFII) and the Rosa Luxemburg-Stiftung Foundation (RLS New York Office).

In her welcome address, Ms. Teresa Zapeta, FIMI’s Executive Director, stressed the importance of having a binding instrument such as a General Recommendation of the CEDAW, which would directly influence national public policies from the international level. Along the same lines, Ms. Gladys Acosta, Chairperson of the CEDAW Committee, highlighted the importance of ensuring that the rights consecrated in a document actually reach people’s lives. she added that the Committee has established a group of 15 experts of different nationalities to carry out collective consultations and listen to the demands of Indigenous Women. The aim of this initiative is to create a recommendation “from the bottom up”. 

In fact, the development of this recommendation did not begin just now. It is part of a journey tracing further back, in which Indigenous sisters have started working as a network and “have managed to draw attention to the issues to be discussed”, said Ms. Mirian Masaquiza, Associate Officer of Social Relations of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) and moderator of the event. This process of collective building draws in  more participants. “At FIMI, we are coordinating with the regional networks of Indigenous Women to draft a statement including all points of view,” explained Ms. Lucy Mulenkei, Vice President of FIMI and Director of the Indigenous Information Network.

Looking for Intersectionality and the Inclusion of a Diversity of Voices

In their debate, the panelist shared their views and identified key issues to include in the recommendation. To begin with, all of them pointed out the importance of preserving the diversity of voices, including those of women and girls with disabilities and from the LGBTQ2S+ community. “We must make a collective interpretation of our rights and integrate them holistically into CEDAW, with an inclusive and intersectional approach so that nothing affecting us is done without us,” said Patrima Gurung of the National Indigenous Disabled Women Association of Nepal (NIDWAN).

For her part, Ms. Sara Mux, from the Ixpop Collective, highlighted this diversity of voices to emphasize the importance of “equality between men and women and between women among themselves”. In this regard, CEDAW is an “instrument of strategic importance to highlight the multiple layers of discrimination and racism”, she added.

The Concept of earth for Indigenous Women and Indigenous Peoples

Another fundamental factor of the importance of presenting a specific General Recommendation on the rights of Indigenous Women and Girls, distinct from the recommendation on rural women, is the concept of connection with Mother Earth as understood by Indigenous Peoples. As explained by Indigenous young woman Sareya Taylor, of the White Mountain Apache Tribe, representative of the ECMIA North, “for many people the Earth is just the earth, but for us Indigenous Peoples, the Earth is our mother, our life support. Respect for the Earth is very important because it is a source of healing.”

The control over land, territory and natural resources, which within Western and dominant power structures translates to access to land ownership, is thus key to “ensuring the economic empowerment of Indigenous Women and reducing poverty”, declared Ms. Lucy Mulenkei. Likewise, Patrima Gurung has pointed out that “these state structures regarding the land represent an important obstacle in our lives, subjecting us to dynamics of exclusion that are very hard to break”. 

Education and the Reduction of Violence

Education and violence against Indigenous Women  are other key topics that were mentioned in the conversation. While  education was presented as a fundamental tool to improve the lives of Indigenous Women and Girls, on the other hand, both Sareya Taylor and Ms. Shilpa Pullela, Vice Chair  of the Bureau of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), has highlighted how the different types of violence have more impact on Indigenous Women. In Australia, for example, Indigenous Women face 32 times more violence than non-indigenous people. 

Shilpa Pullela suggested combating violence through consultation processes in which Indigenous Women could speak about what they believe is important, without an agenda imposed from above, as has been done with the Wiyi Yani U Thangani report.

As stated by Ms. Pullela and Ms. Masaquiza at the conclusion of the event, it is of vital importance that this year Indigenous Women and Girls keep advocating for their voices to be included in the General Recommendation of the CEDAW as well as in the 65th edition of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW65). 

In this regard, Ms. Gladys Acosta offered a recommendation for Indigenous Women’s organizations: that they take the 16 articles of the Convention, read and discuss them within their communities, then convey their ideas to the Committee so that they are included in each one of the articles. All this as a way to pass on a  “global message” of Indigenous Women to “a world that has become disoriented, that has lost its connection with the earth and the other human beings, giving priority to wealth for the sake of wealth”, commented Ms. Acosta. “And you return us to the core, to what is truly fundamental,” she acknowledged. 

Although COVID-19 has made this task more difficult, since many indigenous communities do not have electricity, much less internet access, networks of Indigenous Women around the world continue to make their voices heard. In the next months, many other activities will follow as part of a campaign to bring the demands of Indigenous Women to the General Recommendation of the CEDAW. The aim is to push international bodies and national states to adopt guidelines and policies that respect our individual and collective rights, thus making this a better world to live in.