|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on Violence against Indigenous Women and Girls
Teaching young girls and their communities about their individual and collective human rights was the key to ending traditional harmful practices and gender-based violence in marginalized indigenous areas worldwide, representatives of groups supporting those communities said today at a Headquarters news conference.
Despite a plethora of international bodies and protocols to protect women, throughout rural Africa young teenage girls from poor indigenous families were still routinely forced to quit secondary school, undergo female genital mutilation and marry men chosen against their will — a trend those groups hoped to change.
“That’s still going on despite the fact that we’re talking about it at all these high levels,” said Agnes Leina, Founder and Executive Director of the Kenya-based Il’laramak Community Concerns. For her, emancipation from violence began with home-grown, community-based approaches that taught families that keeping girls in school benefitted their communities and the nation as a whole.
“We use the approach of education, because when a girl is educated then she knows how to say no,” she said. “We have to give her a voice to say no to any form of violence against her body, against her soul, against her mind.”
But too many poor indigenous Kenyan girls could not afford the uniforms, books and supplies needed to stay in school, Ms. Leina lamented. She called on Kenya’s new President to honour his pledge to truly make secondary education free — a promise his predecessors had made, but not upheld.
Women and girls of the Batwa tribe in Rwanda faced similar challenges, according to Marthe Muhawenimana, Coordinator of the Rwanda-based Communauté des Potiers du Rwanda. Rwanda’s Government had ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and set up a Gender Ministry, a trust fund and a national commission for women’s rights. But, gender–based violence continued. Girls from vulnerable, marginalized, indigenous communities continued to be raped by non-Batwa men who believed sex with a Batwa girl would cure backache.
To address that, she said her organization taught courses on matrimonial, land tenure and inheritance rights; held community discussions about gender-based violence; and taught women how to report violations to the authorities. It was also lobbying the federal Government to ensure women held 30 per cent of the country’s decision-making positions.
Shimreichon Luithui-Erni, Programme Coordinator of the India-based Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, said the root cause of gender-based violence in her region could be traced to land grabbing and the exploitation of indigenous communities’ resources by large development firms. The indigenous communities became poorer, social cohesion unravelled and frustrated men resorted to alcoholism and assaulting women.
Her group aimed to tackle those ills through local training and awareness-raising projects that groomed indigenous women to be social mobilizers and human rights defenders, she said. The project, which was backed financially by the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, taught women to lobby for their rights, report violations to the police, seek recourse through the justice system, and form their own support networks.
Asked about the prevalence of female genital mutilation in Kenya, Ms. Leina said it was very high among nomadic, pastoralist communities, particularly the Turkana, in north-western Kenya, where virtually all girls underwent the procedure. As recently as five years ago discussion that questioned the practice was taboo, but today she and others could and did openly challenge its merits.
As for sex education of boys in schools to help end gender-based violence, Ms. Muhawenimana said the problem was Batwa children were often too poor to attend secondary school. The Rwandan Government’s 2006-2008 programme to help Batwa children attend State schools was meritorious, but much more aid was needed.
Ms. Leina said her organization’s sex education programmes for boys had led to a marked change in some boys’ attitudes, and it had empowered sexually active teenagers with the information they needed to practice safe, responsible sex.
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