March 10, 2023 – In order to strengthen the Indigenous Women’s movement and agree on a global advocacy agenda among key stakeholders, member States, allies, and United Nations mechanisms for the actual implementation of CEDAW’s General Recommendation 39 (GR39), which protects the individual and collective rights of Indigenous Girls and Women, the International Indigenous Women’s Forum (FIMI) and the Indigenous Peoples and Development Branch of the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (IPDB/SPFII) held a strategic dialogue to broaden the reach of the Recommendation and to define and accelerate the next steps for its application around the world.
The event, held within the framework of the 67th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW67), brought together Indigenous Women leaders from regional networks in Asia, Africa, the Americas, the Arctic and the Pacific, government delegations, and donors with the aim of discussing the progress and gaps in the implementation of GR39, and the opportunity it represents to stop discrimination against Indigenous Women and Girls.
At the opening of the meeting, Tarcila Rivera Zea, a Quechua woman from Peru and FIMI’s President, insisted that the foremost challenge for the actual application of the Recommendation will be to make sure the member States create public policies that contribute to the individual and collective empowerment of Indigenous Girls and Women around the world. “The implementation will not be easy. We have worked hard and in solidarity at the local, regional and global levels, touching the hearts and minds of key decision makers to ensure the rights of women and girls are protected,” she said.
Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, Deputy Minister for Indigenous Health in Australia’s Northern Territory, declared having experienced violence firsthand as a woman. “Indigenous People, especially women, must be included at all levels of the decision-making process to reflect their strengths, knowledge and cultural identities.”
She explained that the implementation of GR39 in Australia will be done “through the creation of a permanent advisory body, which will advise Parliament on issues impacting this sector. We will be working in partnership with political actors and the donor community to achieve key economic, social and reform objectives to bridge the gaps as part of our national agreement. The authorities are determined to ensure that the Australian Parliament works together with Native Peoples to improve their lives,” she affirmed.
Haley Bathern, a young Anangu woman from Australia and a teacher at a local Indigenous Girls’ School, expressed her gratitude for this dialogue by saying, “There is no better space to promote the implementation of GR39, which will serve to maintain the connection of young women with their ancestral knowledge, work towards the recognition of their rights, and build spaces where they feel accepted, financially independent, and able to generate change in their communities.”
Joining the event remotely, Leticia Bonifazan expert from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), stated during the meeting that “it is not possible to imagine a world where the ancestral customs and worldviews of Indigenous Peoples and communities are not recognized and valued”. In this sense, she said, the Recommendation is a historical document that was generated from discussions among Indigenous Women from different parts of the world reflecting on key issues such as education, health, work, and economic empowerment. The Recommendation is built upon an intersectionnal approach, bringing together the voices of women with disabilities, LGBTI+, migrants, or those who are deprived of their freedom without knowledge of their rights.
According to Leticia Bonifaz, the most important thing will be to communicate the content of the recommendation broadly, and for the member States, through their governing bodies, to develop public policies that seek to eliminate inequalities and provide access to justice.
Rule of Law Adviser and Focal Point on indigenous issues at UN Women, Beatrice Duncan,explained that after the adoption of GR39, all member states will have four years to submit a report for the Committee to evaluate the reach of the Recommendation in the daily lives of Indigenous Women.
As she clarified, the reports will have to describe the measures taken, and the Committee may request that additional information be provided whenever it deems it necessary, in order to know how the rights affirmed in the Recommendation are being fulfilled, including collaboration strategies with Indigenous Women’s organizations at the national level.
Mariam Bouraima,from the Fulani community of Benin and a member of the African Indigenous Women’s Organization (AIWO), insisted that “member States will have to take measures to end discrimination and, through the application of GR39, involve women in decision-making spaces, as they must participate directly in the political life of their communities if they are to prevent and eradicate violence”.
Regarding how the Ford Foundation can collaborate with Indigenous Women’s movements to promote the implementation of the Recommendation, Mónica Alemán,Director of the International Program on Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Justice, explained that to implement GR39, the Ford Foundation “will allocate greater and better resources” to Indigenous Women’s organizations and other groups, so that international norms can become local realities and not just faraway dreams. “It is important to initiate and maintain an open ongoing dialogue with the International Indigenous Women’s Forum, so as to keep identifying new partners for the allocation of financial resources.”
She said that “one of the decisions we have made is to also provide political support to the movements of Indigenous Women that we support financially”. This opens an important opportunity for organizations that already receive support from the Foundation to co-participate actively in the dialogues and decide which direction to take with their partners or other donors.
In her intervention, Erika Unnis, from the Saami Women’s Forum, stated that although there have been several earlier international agreements aimed at protecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples in general, and of Indigenous Women in particular, there are still regulatory gaps that keep blocking their access to food security, to the natural resources of their communities, and to their cultural identities. All of this is manifested through the ongoing dispossession of their languages, lands, territories and natural resources. However, GR39 represents “a new starting point for all women fighting for the defence of these rights, living in rural or urban areas alike, to be aware of all the legal and administrative resources they can rely on”.
According to Eleanor Dictaan-Bang-oa, Kankanaey Igorot woman from the Philippines, from the Asian Indigenous Women’s Network (AIWN), the Recommendation includes important reflections on the issues of equality and non-discrimination, with special attention to the intersecting forms of discrimination. “As Indigenous Girls and Women, we experience intersectional forms of violences that are embedded into the very structures of the colonizing States, systematically affecting our ability to exercise our individual and collective rights,” she highlighted.
Patricia Torres Sandovala Purhépecha leader from Mexico and founder of the National Coordinator of Indigenous Women (CONAMI-Mexico), warned that the efficient and effective implementation of the Recommendation will require “political will and an adequate allocation of funds from the States and the donor community, so that programs and policies, developed based on the needs of Indigenous Girls and Women around the world, can be built collaboratively”.
Nadine GasmanPresident of the National Institute for Women (INMUJERES), recognized that the biggest challenge for the different governments will be to ensure GR39 is made available in the languages of the Peoples and communicated broadly to the communities so that more women may take ownership of this tool for the protection of their rights from childhood.
“The full institutional adoption of the Recommendation is key to achieve its effective application in institutions at all levels, whether federal, local, municipal and national. At INMUJERES, we are going to support this process to keep guaranteeing the full participation of Indigenous Women and Girls as protagonists within their communities as well as outside.”
Finally, Gladys Acosta, former president of the CEDAW Committee, pointed out that this strategic dialogue highlighted the enormous potential of the recommendation in itself, specifying that “the bulk of the responsibility to communicate GR39 in all languages through all the channels falls on the member States”. She also stated that this international instrument would have to be adopted by women’s organizations, institutions and key political actors in a collaborative and coordinated manner.