Recommendation 39 of the CEDAW Committee is a proposal from Indigenous Women for the benefit of all humanity
| 2022-07-29

Eighteen years ago,the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues presented a recommendation for the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) to take into account the distinct reality of Indigenous Women.

Since 2004, we have been working from the local to the global levels, making our way to the 82nd session of CEDAW in Geneva in 2022. We survived a pandemic and the adversities of a globalized world to open dialogue with the CEDAW Expert Committee and offer a first reading of the draft of Recommendation 39, which includes our contributions.

The process that the Indigenous Women’s movement went through with CEDAW is a good example of how to lead consultations in order to draft a recommendation that includes the reality and voices of Indigenous Women worldwide. Thirty Indigenous Women leaders, representing the seven sociocultural regions of the world, made their way to the heart of the United Nations, in Geneva, to bring a proposal that would allow them to enjoy a life without violence and discrimination.

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The General Recommendation 39 is a proposal of universal interest, as it involves all of humanity. It covers topics such as gender-based violence against Indigenous Women and Girls, climate change, water, land and air pollution, sustainable and clean energy, food, gender equality, migration, armed conflicts, health and education, among others.

The work strategy in this space began with a coordination meeting among the delegation. We discussed and agreed upon the key issues to bring to CEDAW’s Expert Committee. 

“To understand the Indigenous Women’s rights issues, first we have to shed our skin. We have to leave behind what we have learnt at school and in the media in order to re-learn about the direction of the world,” suggests Gladys Acosta, Chair of the CEDAW Committee, emphasizing that the Committee has taken on the responsibility of responding to a historical debt owed to us, thus committing to include the contributions of Indigenous Women and adopt Recommendation 39 in October 2022.

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“The Recommendation must be understood through the lens of the Indigenous Peoples’ worldview and spirituality. It has been pushed by Indigenous Women to the UN to recognize their individual and collective rights.” Gladys Acosta, Chair of the CEDAW Committee

The creation of synergies is important for Indigenous Women to live with dignity and without discrimination, claimed Victoria Tauli Corpuz, Igorot woman from the Philippines,  who is the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples from 2014 to 2020. Dialogue between governments, businesses, citizens, non-governmental organizations and educational institutions is important for achieving this. 

The dialogue between Indigenous Women and experts from the Committee was based on the recognition of both parties, bringing in the contributions of all involved. 

The General Recommendation is seen in a positive light in the Sami region, which encompasses Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia. Ragnhild Marit Sara, a Sami from Norway, explained that she watches over the land as a way to raise awareness and put an end to mineral extraction and wind energy investments. These projects pose a threat to Sami land rights and culture, as they impact reindeer pastureland.

Alicia Limtiaco, a Chamoru from Guam, invited those present to support this recommendation so that governments allocate funds for public policies and programs to face the climate crisis, seeing how Indigenous Women and their families will be the first island climate refugees due to rising sea levels by 2040. 

This recommendation will have a very important impact on the lives of Indigenous Youth worldwide, because human trafficking and violence are both related to exploitation and extractivism. Armed groups are forging alliances with the governments and public forces, explained Lizbeidy Monterrosa from Colombia.

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Esupat Ngulupa Laizer, Maasai from Tanzania, agrees that the recommendation will help protect Africa’s Indigenous Women from genital mutilation. Young women between the ages of 12 and 15 suffer significant damage to their mental and physical health from this practice.

In the words of Lucy Mulenkei, Maasai from Kenya, Vice President of FIMI and Executive Director of the Indigenous Information Network, the General Recommendation will allow for the recognition of Indigenous Peoples based on the principle of self-determination, as many Member States still do not recognize Indigenous Peoples in Africa.

As stated by Dutch Ambassador Paul Bekkers, achieving the effective implementation of the Recommendation will require actions focused around three areas: 1. Feminist policies 2. Funding to build strong movements 3. Diplomatic will to promote an agenda of gender equality where different coalitions can be included.

“The indivisibility of rights is a fundamental principle. All types of violence impact Indigenous Women and Girls. We have many recommendations to offer, but we keep monitoring the pending initiatives in the different countries and we know that the implementation phase remains a challenge,” commented Tarcila Rivera Zea, Quechua woman, President of the International Indigenous Women’s Forum (FIMI).

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With what we achieved at CEDAW’s 82nd session, we honour the struggles, the principles and the path already travelled by the Indigenous Women who preceded us in their quest for equality. Today it is up to us to lead the way to the buen vivir of our peoples, as we look at the implementation of the Recommendation as our next challenge.

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