Indigenous Women and our Demands: From the Individual to the Collective 

After her divorce, Sandra Lovelace Nicholas returned with her son to the Tobique Reserve, in Canada, where she was originally from. Upon her return, she learned that because of her marriage to a non-indigenous person, she and her son had lost their Maliseet identity and, with it, their access to housing, health care and education. This led Lovelace Nicholas to undertake a legal battle that, after many years, marked a milestone in the fight for the rights of Indigenous Women.

Our Identity Is Collective

The indigenous identity comes from the indigenous communities or nations that preceded the colonial states, yet it is currently denied by many of those states. Despite the fact that the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognizes the right to self-determination, various member states of the United Nations have yet to align their constitutions with the dispositions of the Declaration. This has led to situations of exclusion and discrimination, mainly against women, as in the case of Sandra Lovelace Nicholas.

“For Indigenous Peoples, the right to self-determination is synonymous with decolonization.” Elsa Stamatopoulou, first Head of the Secretariat of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, explains that for Indigenous Peoples and individuals, self-determination is a human right that represents a starting point for historical reparation. 

One of the three pillars that support the United Nations Declaration is self-determination. With the recognition of this right, we reaffirm our identity as First Nations. Having a legal identity as Indigenous Peoples allows us to preserve our governance systems and ways of life, and to be participants in the construction of Well-Being. This will be achieved as long as we move within the framework of human rights. The other two pillars have to do with land and cultural rights.

Unfortunately, the non-recognition of the indigenous governance system is a form of domination by the States, keeping the Indigenous Peoples out of sight. We can witness this in the “national development strategies” based on the extraction of natural resources and their export in the form of primary products. These strategies do not respect the principle of prior, free and informed consent of our communities.

“Development” serves as a pretext to carry out projects that put our health at risk and threaten the environment. For example: oil extraction in the lower Amazon basin has caused unfathomable natural disasters in the communities of Pastaza, Corrientes, Tigre, Marañón and Nazarhed. A single barrel of oil can contaminate close to 80 million litres of drinking water. In other words, the equivalent of 32 Olympic pools of oil-contaminated water flowed in the Utcubamba River because of just one barrel. This makes the water poisonous to all life forms in the river and its surroundings.

According to the indigenous worldview, the territory is a living organism that is deeply related to the harmony between community, family and people. For this reason, indigenous people do not speak of “development”, but of Well-Being, which is a way of advocating for our ancestral knowledge and our ethical principles to protect our lives. 

According to Andrea Carmen (Yaqui), International Executive Director of the Council of Indigenous Treaties, as human beings, indigenous people enjoy individual rights, but the rights to self-determination, to land, and to preserve our languages and our culture are exercised collectively. For this reason, it is important for indigenous people to talk about their individual as well as their collective rights, because our identity is collective. 

Our Individual Rights Must Also Be Respected

The recognition of our collective rights as Indigenous Women must also come with respect for our individual rights. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples indicates that the Peoples must respect the human rights of the indigenous people that make them up. In other words, indigenous identity and rights cannot and should not be imposed on anyone. Furthermore, the political duties of indigenous people, according to their system of governance, must be aligned with international human rights standards.

In this sense, Indigenous Women have spoken out against the specific discrimination we receive inside as well as outside of our territories. In fact, the Political Declaration and Action Plan of the world’s Indigenous Women, adopted at the Global Conference of Indigenous Women, refers to the limited access to education and health that we and our daughters have. It also points out that we are the ones with the highest rates of poverty and infant and maternal mortality. In this document, we also highlight that we are subject to different forms of violences, including domestic violence and sexual abuse, in contexts of human trafficking, armed conflicts, environmental and political violence, and violences inflicted by extractive industries. 

What happened in the ’60s and ’70s in Greenland is an example of this triple discrimination. At that time, the Government of Denmark decided to implant contraceptive devices in some 4,500 Indigenous Girls and Women, without their consent, to prevent the growth of the Inuit indigenous population and to promote the “modernization” of the island. This practice is considered a violation of the human rights of girls and women which, in turn, had a collective consequence for the Inuit Indigenous People. Indeed, it is estimated that during that period, pregnancies were reduced by half, from 1,674 in 1964 to 638 ten years later.

As Indigenous Women, we are aware that attempts have been made through time to dominate our peoples through our bodies. For this reason, it is important for us and for our peoples to achieve reproductive justice, so that wa can affirm our right to decide whether we want to be mothers or not, and to raise our daughters and sons in safe and healthy environments.

Standing tall, Indigenous Women follow the path laid out by Sandra Lovelace Nicholas forty years ago. Together, we fight the violences made against the land, the ancestral culture and the bodies; we defend our rights, both individual and collective. 

Inuit Women of the Arctic design strategies for collaboration between Indigenous Organizations and the UN for the implementation of CEDAW’s General Recommendation No. 39

April 20, 2023.- To strengthen the Inuit Women’s movement in the Arctic and keep an open dialogue on the implementation of CEDAW’s General Recommendation Number 39 (GR39), we met in a parallel event to the 22nd session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII). The event was organized by the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), the Permanent Mission of Denmark in New York and the International Indigenous Women’s Forum (FIMI), with the aim of promoting the application of this binding international instrument with which States are required to protect the individual and collective rights of Indigenous Girls and Women around the world.

In his opening address, Binota Moy Dhamai, Chair of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2022–2023), a subsidiary body of the United Nations Human Rights Council, explained that GR39, which has been adopted thanks to the hard work of the Indigenous Women’s movements, recognizes the voices of girls, youth and women as agents of change and leaders inside and outside their communities.

“The General Recommendation identifies and addresses the different forms of intersectional discrimination they face, but also mandates access to justice,” Moy Dhamai said. “They have worked hard so that the plan of the Danish government to implant contraceptives to reduce the birth rate in Greenland, carried out in the 1960s and 1970s, never happens again for the Inuit Women and Girls,” she said.

Tarcila Rivera Zea, FIMI’s President, gave a brief overview of the GR39 in her speech. She recalled that different Indigenous Women’s organizations have been articulating themselves in a continental network to protect their rights over the past 30 years. “There were many international instruments that worked to guarantee equality between women and men, but a fundamental piece was still missing: an instrument that specifically addressed the protection of the rights of Indigenous Girls and Women,” she said.

Rivera Zea recognized that the implementation of the GR39 is a challenge. “The objective of the Recommendation is to guide the States to adopt relevant legislative, political and other measures to guarantee compliance with their obligations in relation to the rights of Indigenous Girls and Women. We need to strengthen the negotiation between national governments and international organizations. We need to discuss the actual implementation to see it come down from the global to the local levels, and from there fight corruption to strengthen the protection of rights and access to justice,” she explained.

Gerri Sharpe, President of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, expressed her gratitude for the dialogue that was launched at this meeting between representatives of international organizations and the Inuit women who live in the different arctic regions of the world.

“We are committed to ensuring that the human rights and priorities of Inuit women are equitably included in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Action Plan, which is now being developed by the Canadian federal government in partnership with indigenous organizations,” Sharpe stated. “GR39 will be an excellent tool for collaborative work with the different local authorities,” she added.

Tove Søvndal Gant, member of the UNPFII, recognized that there are still inequalities, structural violence, and alarming corruption rates in some of the countries that have ratified their participation in programs to protect women. “The political will of public officials will be key to adapting the recommendation to local circumstances, and to preventing dishonesty from blocking its full operation,” she said.

She further added that “the governments of Denmark and Greenland should strengthen their political cooperation and ensure that the document is translated into the respective indigenous languages, so that the inhabitants can understand it”.

Finally, talking about how to design collaboration strategies between Indigenous Organizations and the UN, which promote the implementation of GR39, Rosalee Gonzalez, co-coordinator of the northern region of the Enlace Continental de Mujeres Indígenas de las Américas (ECMIA), explained that the most important thing is to continue strengthening the political and citizen participation of Indigenous Women at the General Assembly.

“We need to train the Indigenous Women at the UN so that we may be highly qualified and have experts in the Office of the High Commissioner who know about our needs and issues inside and outside of the indigenous territories,” she said. 

The women leaders, she said, play a very important role in monitoring and overseeing the actions implemented by the governments to guarantee effective implementation. Additionally, the women members of civil society organizations can present alternative reports to the committees, showing the gaps and challenges in the application of the recommendation that may not be mentioned in the official reports presented by the States.

Indigenous Women Discuss and Develop Strategies to Advance the Implementation of RG39

April 17, 2023.- In a parallel event to the 22nd session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) at the UN headquarters in New York, Indigenous Peoples Rights International (IPRI), the UN Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples, the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), The Christensen Fund, The Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University, the Abya Yala Indigenous Forum, and the International Indigenous Women’s Forum (FIMI) came together to keep moving forward in the implementation of CEDAW’s General Recommendation number 39 (RG39), a historic achievement for Indigenous Girls and Women around the world, considering the multiple forms of discrimination we face.

The UNPFII is an advisory body that promotes the respect and full application of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In this occasion, it was a key bridge for international institutions, UN agencies and Indigenous Organizations to meet in order to continue advancing in the implementation of RG39, a legally binding human rights instrument that contemplates the different dimensions of discrimination suffered by Indigenous Women, both as women and as Indigenous People.

During the meeting’s introduction, Joan Carling, Kankana-ey Igorot activist from the Philippines and IPRI’s Executive Director, explained that the Recommendation addresses the individual and collective rights of Indigenous Women, “specifically the issues and concerns of Indigenous Women defenders, recognizing the risks and various forms of attacks that loom over them when they carry out their daily activities, seeking access to and control over their lands and natural resources”. She added that the implementation is important in that it calls on the States to guarantee that the rights defenders are not criminalized or made the target of reprisals for their work.

Tarcila Rivera Zea, Quechua woman from Peru and FIMI’s President, warned that the actual implementation of the Recommendation faces great challenges: “we must help our own organizations understand that the implementation not only benefits girls and women, but that the Indigenous Peoples as a whole can use it to push for a national policy that directly serves the communities”.

In her opening address, Arhuaca leader Leonor Zalabata Torres, Colombian ambassador to the United Nations, affirmed that “social participation in the States’ decisions plays an important role for peace, the sustainable development of the Earth, and the brotherhood and solidarity of the Peoples”. CEDAW’s Recommendation Number 39, she added, “allows us to decide how we want to live our cultures, in consensus and in unity with our realities”. Indigenous Women “have had a relevant role in this because we have been able to guarantee and preserve our ancestral wisdom and, with it, the permanence of the First Peoples”.

Gladys Acosta, former president of the CEDAW Committee, commented that “at a time when the dynamics of death seem to want to prevail, RG39 is a broad reflection on the rules of life and their prevalence”. She assured that “what we have achieved with the Recommendation, working with Indigenous Women and Organizations, is to respectfully collect the worldview, the spirituality of the Peoples and to recognize the deep connection between their rights and the communities’ territories and natural resources”. General Recommendation Number 39 “is a tool to use in our fight”, she said.

“It insists on the obligation of the member States to provide access to education, health and political participation inside and outside the communities, urging them to take measures against gender violence, including those perpetrated by the State or associated organizations,” she warned.

Nukila Evanty, Executive Director of the Women Working Group (WWG), and Rosalee González, Co-Coordinator of the Northern Region of the Enlace Continental de Mujeres Indígenas de las Américas (ECMIA), agreed that structural racism aggravated by gender discrimination continues to be a daily reality for the Indigenous Girls and Women of the world. RG39 “responds to a permanent call from the First Peoples to create a specific instrument to promote and protect our rights. It represents a growing movement for greater inclusion while preserving the cultural identity of our peoples,” said González.

The Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, Åsa Regnér, recognized the valuable partnerships that Indigenous Organizations and Women established to achieve this strategic recommendation, noting that it is important that we all continue working on its implementation. “There is evidence that Indigenous Girls and Women are three times more likely to suffer violence than their non-indigenous counterparts. Indigenous Women defenders are even killed for protecting the rights of other women, and yet these attacks seldom make it to the headlines in the news.” “The actions that we promote, she said, should help make visible the degree of violence that is really experienced.”

Sara Olsvig, International President of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), recalled when the Danish government forced the implantation of contraceptive devices on women to reduce the birth rate in Greenland. “Between 1966 and 1975, some 4,500 Inuit girls and women received an intrauterine device (IUD), often without their knowledge,” she explained. This forced family planning project violated the health of women who suffered pain, infections and difficulties getting pregnant for several years after, she said. “The recommendation that we have in our hands can help us make sure that such shameful violations of women’s bodies never happen again,” she added.

Concluding the event, Puyr Tembé, president of the Federação Estadual dos Povos Indígenas do Pará (FEPIPA), explained that despite this Brazilian Indigenous Women’s organization being relatively young, “we have managed to strengthen and multiply our voices by occupying institutional spaces that help us to create public policies that are better aligned with our needs and interests”.

“We have made significant progress in the formal recognition of our rights from within the government, and General Recommendation Number 39 is a relevant tool that recognizes us as Indigenous Women agents of change, inside and outside our communities, allowing us to reach for the full exercise of our political rights,” she concluded.

Indigenous Women open a strategic dialogue at CSW67 between key stakeholders, United Nations mechanisms and the donor community for the effective implementation of CEDAW’s GR39

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.

Indigenous Women urge the effective implementation of CEDAW General Recommendation 39 and the construction of a digital age with cultural relevance and gender equality

March 6, 2023.- To guarantee that the principles of inclusion and intersectionality guide technological innovation and reduce discrimination and gender inequalities, within the framework of the 67th session of the Commission on the Legal and Social Condition of Women (CSW67 ) at the UN, the Coordination Meeting of Indigenous Women organized by the International Forum of Indigenous Women (FIMI) was held in parallel.

CSW67 is the main international body dedicated exclusively to the promotion of gender equality and the development of international norms that promote the empowerment of women. This year will also be a fundamental space to amplify our voices and fight for the effective implementation of CEDAW General Recommendation Number 39 (RG39), a binding international instrument for the protection of the individual and collective rights of Indigenous Girls and Women around the world. .

In the event we gather leaders from different regions, who reflect on our objectives, achievements, gaps and pending challenges in the promotion and protection of our rights. During the reflection, we discussed the obligation that the States Parties assumed to develop and implement comprehensive policies that effectively protect the rights and principles of substantive equality and non-discrimination, and we agreed on the urgency for Indigenous Girls and Women to participate in the construction of a digital age that narrows gender gaps and promotes inclusive technological innovation ecosystems that eliminate violence.

The gathering began with a spiritual ceremony led by Malia Nobrega-Olivera, an Indian from the Hanapēpē Valley, Kona, Kaua’i in Hawaii, Director of Strategic Partnerships and Community Engagement for the School of Hawaiian Knowledge, and the Loli Aniau, Makaala Aniau program. (THE MA).

During her participation, Tarcila Rivera Zea, Quechua from Peru, President of FIMI, gave a warm welcome and recalled that the origin of the International Forum of Indigenous Women, made up of organizations from seven socio-cultural regions, is based on meetings that we have maintained since 1995 during the signing of the Beijing Declaration of Indigenous Women, “laying the foundations for our claims as indigenous people and as women,” she said.

Today, more than 30 years later, the articles with which we then “defined our rights and positions as Indigenous Women, are still more valid than ever to recover, share, reflect and continue projecting our aspirations globally,” said Tarcila Rivera Zea.

In a video broadcast during the event, Lucy Mulenkei, Masai from Kenya, Co-Founder and Vice President of FIMI, said that the meeting will be important because “we will hear diverse voices that will inform our experience working on issues that impact Indigenous Women and Indigenous Peoples in general”.

Teresa Zapeta Mendoza, Maya K’iche from Guatemala, Director of FIMI, recognized the strategic alliances that have been made over time to achieve common historical purposes among Indigenous Women from different regions, despite violence and inequalities. “This year, in addition to discussing together the challenges we face in the digital age to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, we are celebrating the approval of RG39, which is a bridge to ensure our rights.”

“The General Recommendation is a historical fact that not only favors Indigenous Women and Girls, but also the human rights of Indigenous Peoples around the world,” she insisted.

The participating sisters recognized that governments must assume responsibilities and commitments in the fight against violence, and we named some demands and actions to move forward with civil society and other key actors to implement technological solutions that allow empowerment and the transformation of roles and social norms. traditional; promote the access that Indigenous Women have to digital technologies in rural and non-rural areas to reduce inequalities; strengthen, through digital education, feeling, living and thinking as women belonging to Original Peoples; eliminate technological gaps to guarantee the rights of Indigenous Women and Girls with disabilities so that they know the international instruments that protect them; understand that the installation of a digital infrastructure, especially in rural areas, is not the solution to achieve connectivity for all because it is necessary, they said, to learn what limits women in managing technology and generate adoption and use strategies close to users and their communities; Generate and promote access to information on digital violence or cybercrimes against young people and Indigenous Women.

Finally, Teresa reiterated that the articulation of women has been essential for the adoption of CEDAW General Recommendation 39, and assured that this is a unique opportunity to integrate the collective priorities, worldview, experiences and lessons shared by the women. Indigenous Women to achieve transformative change and guarantee the preservation of different cultures and our individual and collective identities.

Adoption of CEDAW Recommendation 39: a bastion in the drive for Indigenous Women’s human rights

Without doubt, coordinated local, regional, national and international work will be key to implementing Recommendation 39 of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on Indigenous Women and Girls. Within this framework, a panel discussion was held, supported by the International Indigenous Women’s Forum (FIMI), MADRE, Indigenous Peoples Rights International (IPRI) and regional networks of Indigenous Women.

Teresa Zapeta, FIMI Executive Director, highlighted that full generations of Indigenous Women have actively taken part, from local to global level. This has enabled the adoption of General Recommendation 39.

In presenting the welcome ceremony, Ms. Zapeta paid tribute with the sacred light of all our ancestors: ‘mainly all those Indigenous Women and Girls who have dedicated their lives to building this pathway. We honour your path and existence’.

Tarcila Rivera Zea, a leading Quechua activist and coordinator of the Continental Network of Indigenous Women of the Americas, as well as head of Chirapaq and FIMI President, cited joint articulation and work in achieving shared goals as major activities.

Underlining that the process can be traced back over 40 years, she highlighted the recommendation of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) in 2004. This asked the CEDAW Committee to include the specific issues of Indigenous Women and was reaffirmed in 2019. Moreover, Ms. Rivera Zea stated that the most important thing is for all women around the world to be and feel part of it.

‘It is important that we celebrate the approval of this general recommendation together, with the major challenge of implementation at domestic level still remaining.’

Joan Carling, Indigenous activist from the Cordillera in the Philippines and Executive Director of IPRI, pointed out that it has taken over 15 years for CEDAW to discuss a recommendation on the rights of Indigenous Women and Girls. She highlighted that the participation of women from the seven regions worldwide in the process underscores the need for recognition of their individual and collective rights, which are indivisible. She also pointed out the need to ensure Recommendation 39 includes accountability mechanisms regarding human rights violations.

‘The work of CEDAW has been essential to understanding the non-discrimination of Indigenous Women and Girls. In turn, Recommendation 39 is a milestone to understanding States parties obligations in the effective protection, intersectional nature and recognition of Indigenous Women in all their diversity’, highlighted Leonor Zalabata, member of the Arhuaco People of Colombia and the first Indigenous ambassador to the United Nations (UN). 

Ms. Zalabata also spoke about the value of ensuring respect for the right to free, prior and informed consent in environment-related policies. She celebrated that the adoption process of the recommendation recognises Indigenous Women and Girls as leaders and agents of transformation with the right to be heard. She underscored that the process is the result of the work of women’s organisations ‘connected to the land and the needs of our peoples’. 

Margaretha Karlberg Uttjek, a Sami professor, agreed on the need to implement the rights of Indigenous Women and Girls locally, regionally and nationally, underlining collective rights. Ms Karlberg spoke about the need to consider free, prior and informed Consent in Recommendation 39. She outlined the importance of including intersectional perspectives, and incorporating stories and experiences in the recommendation, as well as its implementation at all levels, despite colonial societies having discredited ancestral wisdom and knowledge.

Recommendation 39 is also an instrument to educate all people, sustained Lucy Mulenkei, FIMI Vice President, and founder and co-founder of different indigenous networks. The discrimination suffered by Indigenous Peoples and Communities comes from diverse sources and has multiple impacts. 

Ms. Mulenkei stressed the importance of ongoing debate and promoting the rights of Indigenous Women and Girls. She called on using Recommendation 39 as a tool that needs to be understood by Indigenous Peoples and Communities. She also mentioned its value as a tool of inclusion for Indigenous Women in decision-making arenas such as the United Nations and the private sector. ‘Often when they look at us, they think that we have no skills, but we do. As Indigenous Women, we are pushing forward and must work together’, she asserted. 

Sonia Gutiérrez, lawyer, Guatemalan politician and Indigenous defender of human rights, highlighted the importance of Recommendation 39 as a comprehensive instrument to advance rights, and underscored that it is an inherent specific tool for Indigenous Women and Girls.

For effective implementation, Ms. Gutiérrez recommended: considering it as a bastion, a specific tool in driving human rights forward as Indigenous Women and Girls. We must take charge of this tool built by women and ensure greater articulation towards an action plan that enables actions to be implemented. The tool is also an inspiration to bolster our work and demand our rights.

The experts called on all Indigenous Women and Girls to be mindful of the implementation processes for Recommendation 39 that was adopted on 26th October 2022. They also invited them to take part with hope and strength in the coordination established for full realisation of their human rights.

*For more information on General Recommendation 39, please visit:


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.”