From our diverse  identities, we women make our contributions to the world. We must, however, highlight the inequalities that Indigenous Women still have to deal with, like the lack of access to education, economic and social opportunities. Indigenous Peoples make up 6.2% of the world’s population (ILO, 2019)1, yet we represent 15% of the world’s impoverished people (UNPFII, 2020). The recent Global Study on the Situation of Indigenous Women and Girls in the framework of the 25th Anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, shows that Indigenous Women consistently find themselves at the bottom of all social and economic indicators.2

In this context, we must ensure the measures that protect our rights are culturally appropriate and take into account the particularities that prevent us from fully exercising our rights. Accordingly, international instruments must offer specific responses to address the difficulties we face and guarantee our access to equal opportunities. A good example of this is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), whose States Parties must take actions to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the human rights of women and girls in all circumstances. It is important to emphasize that the Convention is a legally binding instrument, which means that the adhering states are forced to comply with these obligations. 

In a world where women, in all our diversities, experience profound inequalities, this instrument has a special relevance for our lives. However, CEDAW does not specifically recognize Indigenous Women and Girls as bearers of individual and collective rights. This means that the Convention does not offer adequate protection against the multiple forms sources of discrimination we face. 

Following our worldview, we are connected with Mother Earth. We resist and fight discrimination and violence not only as individual women, but as collective beings, intrinsically related to our peoples to form a whole. Therefore, we have given ourselves the task to carry advocacy work in decision-making spaces, with the goal of transforming the realities of inequalities and injustices. 

In order to carry out this process, we have had to join forces through dialogues between women leaders, Indigenous Women’s organizations,  allied organizations from the civil society, as well as to persevere over time. This is a strategic task for improving the lives of 186 million Indigenous Girls and Women, a task which we can only carry out collectively.

We are filling the gaps for the path ahead. Today, the force of the wind is in our favour. Sisters, without losing the strong and constant rhythm of our pace, FIMI, the regional networks of Indigenous Women and MADRE invite you to join the CEDAW Campaign for Indigenous Women and Girls. This initiative is the fruit of what we have sown previously, and our energy is required to get the CEDAW Committee to formally adopt a General Recommendation for Indigenous women and Girls  in 2022. Together we are stronger and can bring about a world free from racism and discrimination! 


1 Implementing the ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention No. 169: Towards an inclusive, sustainable and just future, International Labor Organization, 2019

2 Global Study on the Situation of Indigenous Women and Girls in the Framework of the 25th Anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, FIMI, 2020


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. 


The best way to decolonize the world is to re-indigenize those spaces in which we work for equality and fair conditions. We do not want to be above anyone else. We launched this event by singing, as a way to celebrate everything that we are. We thanked our ancestors, who made it possible for us to be here. We also started the event by recognizing the spiritual elements, calling upon the life-creating forces to lead fruitful conversations.

As Indigenous Women leaders, we have shared a space for dialogue within the Generation Equality Forum in Mexico, bringing our voices together to establish strategies to overcome the structural challenges we face around the world. The session, held on March 30, 2021, was organized by the International Indigenous Women’s Forum (FIMI) and saw the participation of Indigenous Women leaders with extensive local, regional and international experience. The inclusion of the voices of Indigenous Women in the transformative actions coming from the Forum to achieve effective gender equality was what made the event so important.

Indigenous Women have been preparing and working to have a political impact in the international stage for a long time. FIMI and the regional networks -the Continental Network of Indigenous Women of the Americas (ECMIA), the Alianza de Mujeres Indígenas de Centroamérica y México, the African Indigenous Women’s Organization, the Asian Indigenous Women’s Network and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Alliance – have carried out preparatory work during two previous sessions, all in order to attend  the Generation Equality Forum with a clear message agreed by consensus from a diversity of voices. 

We had also presented this common statement on February 10, 2021, in a high-level dialogue between Indigenous Women and key actors in collaboration with Mexican ambassador Ms. Yanerit Morgan. “The Forum is a key event to highlight the challenges faced by Indigenous Women and their contributions, from the local level to the global scene,” pointed out Sandra Creamer, leader of the Wannyi/Kalkadoon people from Australia and member of FIMI’s Board of Directors.

The road travelled since Beijing 

All this advocacy work has been possible thanks to the path opened by Indigenous Women leaders at the Beijing Conference in 1995. The Fourth World Conference on Women marked a milestone, where “the Indigenous Women of the world presented for the first time a statement representing our way of thinking. We presented an opinion to the whole world,” explained Dialys Ehrman, Indigenous leader of the Kuna people of Panama who participated in the Indigenous Women’s tent in Beijing. It also was from that moment that Indigenous Women’s organizations began to emerge in a more coordinated manner.

Since then, “as Indigenous Women we have empowered ourselves, learning to negotiate, to lead advocacy work in international organizations, to prepare documents, to carry out studies and research  and began  telling our own story”, Ehrman added. 

Structural challenges for Indigenous Women

However, Indigenous Women around the world continue to face structural inequalities that prevent us from fully exercising our rights. Emily Lerosion, Indigenous Leader of the Samburu people of Kenya and director and founder of The New Dawn Pacesetter organization, has outlined some of the key issues. 

To start with, there’s the right to education. “This is where all our problems begin.” Whenever large-scale projects come to our communities, for example, “due to a lack of education, as Indigenous Women we do not have the knowledge to oppose them”, explained Lerosion. 

The right to speak and express ourselves on issues that directly impact us is also fundamental. Adriana Uex, a young Mayan leader and member of the National Coordination of Indigenous Women of Mexico (CONAMI), has issued a call for people to stop speaking on our behalf and for youth and Indigenous leaders to be given a voice. Talking for the youth, she has expressed a will to “be present as rights holders, free from any paternalistic grasp”. 

Uex has also advocated for an “effective participation” as opposed to “palliative inclusion”. “The diversity of voices must be present whenever a decision about something involving us is taken. In a perfect world, we would not have to be demanding all this, we would already be recognized as political and legal holders” she added.  

As an example, Emily Lerosion spoke of the difficulties that arise from the absence of our voices to condemn issues like those of traditional practices that violate the rights of Indigenous Women and girls. “As women, we do not have the right to give our opinion or to say no, and this condemns us to a role of victim.”

Indigenous Women as agents of change

To shed this label of victim that is imposed on us as Indigenous Women, we strive to position ourselves as agents of change. “Of course, we suffer from inequalities,” said Teresa Zapeta, Executive Director of FIMI, “but this label prevents us from seeing that we are capable of building something new, and that we actually are doing so.” Across the world, Indigenous Women have organized to meet their challenges. “We created our own organizations at the community, regional and national levels. This allows us to work as a group and to share experiences and strategies,” said Emily Lerosion. 

This organizational capacity, which has been reinforced during the pandemic, has been one of the most valuable contributions of Indigenous Women. For example, Dialys Ehrman has explained how women have played a fundamental role in implementing the COVID-19 protocol in the Indigenous region of Kuna Yala, in Panama. 

Another of the great contributions of Indigenous Women in this process towards equality has been to understand the issue “not only as a power struggle between genders, but as encompassing all the different diversities”, explained Teresa Zapeta. Intersectionality as well as the concept of environmental justice “are contributions of Indigenous Women and are now key themes at the Forum”. 

But for words to become transformative actions, we must continue fighting for our rights as Indigenous Women, raising our voices in all their diversity. 


Several Indigenous Women leaders have participated in various events of the Generation Equality Forum, held virtually from March 29 to 31, 2021. Indigenous Women of the world have been able to raise their voices, demands and strategies by participating at this global meeting intended to define the transformative actions that will be taken over the next five years to achieve gender equality.

Through the virtual events, participants have discussed the role of Indigenous Women in the face of climate change, the impact of COVID-19, the various types of violence and inequalities that we still face as Indigenous Women and Girls, and the direction the feminist movement should be taking.

“Nobody wants a feminist movement made up only of academics and the upper class. Feminism is rooted in diversity, in dialogue,” claimed Tarcila Rivera Zea, Quechua activist and chair of the Board of Directors of the International Indigenous Women’s Forum (FIMI-IIWF). This event has been a great opportunity for the particular contributions of Indigenous Women to be included in the global agenda towards gender equality.

The Need for an Intersectional and Decolonial Perspective in the Feminist Movement

Throughout the event, intersectionality has been the word uniting the voices of Indigenous Women. “The challenge is to make sure that, beyond the good intentions, intersectionality actually be put in practice once the Forum is done,” stressed Myrna Cunningham, co-founder and vice president of the Indigenous Initiative for Peace. “The colonial model keeps gaining strength around the world, and if we are not serious about applying intersectionality, everything will be ever more homogeneous,” she added.

Throughout their years of struggle, Indigenous Women have been gaining important rights, especially in normative law through the adoption of international and national legal instruments that pressure States into adopting specific policies.

However, as highlighted by Norma Don Juan Pérez of the National Coordination of Indigenous Women of Mexico (CONAMI), “all progress made is overshadowed by racist, non-intersectional policies”, which continue to fuel the different types of violence against Indigenous Women. “That is why we need to transform the way power is exercised,” stated Norma Don Juan. “Our ability to solve problems has to be recognized, and we have to be considered as subjects of law, able to define how we want to exercise our rights.”

Tarcila Rivera Zea has provided some practical solutions to include intersectionality and face the specific challenges of Indigenous Women. One of them is to push forward the general recommendation of the CEDAW Committee on the Rights of Indigenous Women and Girls.

It is also important to promote economic opportunities, and for Indigenous Women’s organizations to receive funding more directly. This requires believing in their ability to manage resources, as pointed out by Monica Aleman, senior coordinator of the Ford Foundation’s BUILD Program. Finally, it is important to build agendas that reaffirm this intersectionality, so as not to leave out any sector of society.

Indigenous Women Are the Best Guardians for Mother Earth

There is a certain consensus around the fact that Indigenous Women are those most affected by climate change. Crop failure caused by floods and extreme droughts undermines the progress made with the issue of food security. “Climate change is a nightmare in my country,” acknowledged Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, co-founder and president of the Association of Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad.

But at the same time, Indigenous Women are in a position to bring solutions. In the community, “they are the agents of change, they have a deep knowledge of the climate and of their environment, and they can offer environmental solutions. They should be included at the negotiation tables for the national plans,” added Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim. With the COVID-19 crisis, for example, the value of healing practices, spirituality and traditional medicine has been reaffirmed.

Additionally, Indigenous Women as guardians and defenders of Mother Earth have long been insisting on “the concept of ecological and environmental violence”, which has “challenged and expanded the established definition of violence,” explained Nicaraguan Indigenous Leader Myrna Cunningham.

For the challenges posed by both climate change and COVID-19, Lucy Mulenkei, Vice President of FIMI, has a recommendation: “Don’t work alone. We need to work with boys and girls, youth, families and communities.”

Violence and Inequalities Persist Against Indigenous Women and Girls

Although great progress has been made with regards to specific regulations and legislation, leading to the creation of government policies and programs to prevent violence, there is still work to be done for these words and intentions to actually become reality. Black, disabled and/or Indigenous Women continue to be the ones with the highest mortality criminalization rates. “The problem is the structural and economic inequality from which the violence stems,” explained Elvira Constantina Pablo Antonio, from the National Network of Indigenous Women of Mexico.

For Adriana Uex, young Indigenous Woman and a member of the National Coordination of Indigenous Women CONAMI, “racism and discrimination are the barriers” that are raised with these inequalities, which are in turn translated into a poor access to public health systems, the denial of our rights to make decisions about our own bodies, or child marriages.

Another type of violence affecting Indigenous Women very acutely is the appropriation of indigenous territories by transnational corporations, a situation that is aggravated by state-sponsored violence and impunity. “We need to provide global answers” from an “intercultural and feminist” perspective, recommended Norma Don Juan Pérez, from CONAMI.

According to Sandra Creamer, Executive Director of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Alliance and a member of FIMI’s Board of Directors, corporations and states must be held accountable. “We have to establish international standards and focus our efforts around Human Rights conventions and guides,” she said.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, these inequalities have worsened. The ultra-rich have made huge profits while the wealth gap has widened. “Many Indigenous Women have had to migrate from rural areas to the city, where they do not have access to services,” explained Teresa Zapeta, Executive Director of FIMI.

This leaves us with “a complicated context, where we see progress at the same time as intensifying violence”, concluded Norma Don Juan Pérez. This is why Indigenous Women are making a call to action. In the words of Elvira Pablo, from the Youth Generation Equality Working Group: “We are tired of hearing pretty words and commitments without seeing immediate action. Now is the time to start acting.”