10 May 2012
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference Launching Expert Study on Violence against Indigenous Women


To address the problem of violence against indigenous women and girls, Governments and United Nations agencies should compile disaggregated data on the scourge, which was institutional and structural in nature, but which also occurred at home and in the communities, correspondents heard at a Headquarters press conference.


Mirna Cunningham Kain, a member of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, whose eleventh session was under way in New York, presented a study, which enlisted experts from seven regions to analyze the situation of violence against indigenous women from those regions.  The Forum, she explained, had addressed the issue of violence against indigenous women and girls since its third session, and had agreed last year to conduct the study.


Ms. Cunningham Kain was joined at the briefing by Joan Carling, Secretary-General of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact of the Philippines; Agnes Leina, Executive Director of Il’laramak Community Concerns of Kenya; and Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, President of the Native Women's Association of Canada.


Outlining the recommendations of the expert group, she said those included a call on Governments and United Nations agencies to support the different strategies being promoted by indigenous women at local and national levels.  It also recommended that indigenous organizations strengthen the institutions of self-government so they could harmonize customary administration of justice with international human rights standards and principles.  The experts felt that all discussions and legislative measures adopted to address violence against women in general should include the full and effective participation of indigenous women.


She said that violence against indigenous women was a multifaceted problem that was not just related to individual rights or human rights, but also involved a lack of recognition of the collective rights of indigenous peoples.  When those were not respected, indigenous people became even more vulnerable.


Violence against indigenous women and girls came from many different places, Ms. Cunningham Kain said, including from their homes and communities, where they played their traditional roles.  Such harmful practices should be harmonized with international standards.  Indigenous women and girls also faced institutional violence, which concerned legislation and public policies and programmes that acknowledged the importance of one culture without allowing for any multicultural dimension.


Another type of violence against indigenous women and girls was structural in nature, usually as a result of militarization, ecological contamination or extractive industries, said Ms. Kain.


Ms. Carling noted that two thirds of the world’s indigenous people lived in Asia and the majority belonged to the most marginalized sections of the society, particularly women.  Indigenous women and children, particularly those living in remote rural areas, experienced extreme and multidimensional cases of violence and discrimination.  Although some indigenous institutions provided protection to indigenous women, practices allowing violence against them were prevalent.


Domestic violence was often treated as a domestic matter, and there were no community sanctions imposed on abusive husbands in most communities.  Instead, victims of domestic violence had to fend for themselves.  Also, women suspected to be engaged in witchcraft, without evidence or proof of wrongdoing, were often subjected to torture or even death by stoning, with the community’s approval.  The victims were often poor and uneducated indigenous women.


Another main source of violence against indigenous women and girls was armed conflict and militarization, Ms. Carling continued.  Indigenous peoples were often in remote areas where armed groups were active.  The women suffered disproportionately all forms of abuse, from rape to forced torture, meted out to those who were vocal against the armed groups.  Militarization under the guise of securing natural resources had also led to abuses, harassment, impregnation and abandonment of indigenous women by military personnel.


Ms. Leina said that in Kenya, 7 out of every 10 women had suffered violence.  The youngest recorded victim was only two years old while the oldest was 96, meaning that age was not a barrier.  Laws existed in the country to check the violence, but they were very difficult to implement.  Among the pastoralist community, the number of victims was the highest due to illiteracy.  Every woman in that group had been the victim of female genital mutilation and almost all had experienced domestic violence.


She said the pastoralist women were socialized to accept that it was no big deal to be beaten by their partners.  The culture perpetuated the situation.  Her group, Il’laramak Community Concerns of Kenya, recommended education as the best course of action, particularly for girls, so that they would know their rights and could learn to say “no”.


Ms. Lavell said that the Native Women's Association of Canada was at the United Nations to express its grave concern about the lack of action concerning the many missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls in Canada.  The group had brought that to national and international attention.  The situation was not of the Canadian aboriginals’ making, but had been imposed on them, bringing about dysfunction within the community.  Aboriginal women had very strong roles in the community.  Her Association wanted a national inquiry on missing and murdered aboriginal girls and national action plans funded and recognized by all States, including Canada, to deal with related protection, policing and justice systems.


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For information media • not an official record