Political participation by indigenous peoples in Latin America still low – UN report

In Latin America and the Caribbean there are approximately 50 million indigenous peoples, about 10% of the total population. Photo: UNDP Peru

22 May 2013 – Indigenous peoples in Latin America have undergone an unprecedented mobilization in the past 20 years, but political participation, particularly among women, is still low, the United Nations said in a new report released today.

Intercultural Citizenship – Contributions from the political participation of indigenous peoples in Latin America, released by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), cites several factors that have helped boost the political participation of indigenous peoples in the region.

These include an increased number of indigenous movements, which also benefited from communications technology, including mobile phones, the Internet and social media; the expansion of their rights after countries signed and recognized crucial international conventions; and an increased number of Government agencies advocating for indigenous issues.

At the same time, the report highlights the fact that indigenous women’s political inclusion has been a major challenge, since they face the ‘triple discrimination’ of being female, indigenous and poor.

“Beyond women’s usual difficulties in breaking the political glass ceiling, especially in developing countries, indigenous customary law further hinders women’s political participation in the region,” states a press release on the report, which was released today during the 12th session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues that is meeting in New York.

“Even though women have the right to vote and several countries in the region have put in place quotas for women participation in political parties and public offices, indigenous women’s political participation – along with their sexual and reproductive health – are crucial issues that still lag behind,” it adds.

The report examines the region’s six countries with highest percentage of indigenous peoples and greatest progress in political participation: Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru.

It finds that among Mexico’s 500 lower house representatives, 14 are indigenous and four of them are women (2012-2015). In Guatemala, there are 158 seats in parliament, 19 of which are occupied by indigenous peoples, three of them women (2012-2016).

Of the total 92 deputies in Nicaragua’s National Assembly during 2006-2009, three were indigenous peoples and two of them were women. Among Ecuador’s 124 MPs, seven are indigenous and two of them are women (2009-2013.)

In Peru, there are 130 parliamentarians and only nine are indigenous peoples, and two of them are women (2011-2016). Bolivia, where indigenous peoples are the majority of the population, 41 of the 130 MPs are indigenous, and only nine of them are women.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, there are approximately 50 million indigenous peoples, about 10 per cent of the total population. However, in two countries, Peru and Guatemala, indigenous peoples encompass almost half of the population, and in Bolivia, they are over 60 per cent of the total population.

Even though in Mexico indigenous peoples cover only 10 per cent of the total population, Mexico and Peru contain the largest indigenous population in the region: about 11 million people.

“Beyond cultural barriers, indigenous peoples own little, often unproductive land, and live below the poverty line, which hinder their political inclusion,” said Heraldo Muñoz, UNDP Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Poverty levels among indigenous peoples have hardly changed, despite Latin America’s immense achievements in poverty reduction in recent decades, according to the report.

“The white-mestizo population has benefited, but not the indigenous peoples, as if they lived in a world secluded from the most positive aspects of development,” stresses the report, written mainly by indigenous leaders and experts.


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