Indigenous Women and the UN system



Indigenous women have always been part of their peoples’ struggles, whether nationally or at international fora. There is a legacy of extraordinary women, who came to the UN since the very first year of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations, in 1982 in Geneva, Switzerland. Today, at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues indigenous women participate in great numbers and have a strong voice.

The interface between indigenous women’s movement and the international women’s movement varies through the years. Not always were they close, most of all due to particularities in the situation of indigenous women who live in communities in struggle. However, in recent years the two movements are getting closer. For instance, indigenous women are now raising stronger voices in claiming the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

Despite their enormous assets and contribution to society, indigenous women still suffer from multiple discrimination, both as women and as indigenous individuals. They are subjected to extreme poverty, trafficking, illiteracy, lack of access to ancestral lands, non-existent or poor health care and to violence in the private and the public sphere.  This violence is exacerbated when indigenous communities find themselves in the midst of conflict and women become the target of violence with political motives, when going about their daily work, fetching wood or water for the family.

Indigenous Women and the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Today, at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues indigenous women participate in great numbers, have their own caucus and have a strong voice. Since its first session, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) has paid special attention to indigenous women. The special theme for UNPFII’s Third Session, held in 2004, was indigenous women.  The session was enriched by three preparatory meetings held in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. During the fifth session of the UNPFII in May 2006, within the special theme “the Millennium Development Goals and indigenous peoples: redefining the Goals”, special attention was given to indigenous women. An important set of recommendations on indigenous women, which can be found below, was adopted by the Forum.

The Permanent Forum has adopted more than 150 recommendations directly referring to the situation of indigenous women. The recommendations of the UNPFII regarding indigenous women addresses a wide range of issues, including education, culture, health, human rights, environment and development, conflict and political participation. Recommendations on these and other topics have been addressed to States, UN agencies and bodies, indigenous peoples and civil society.

In 2015, the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues prepared a Note on the Twenty-year review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and beyond: a framework to advance indigenous women’s issues (E/C.19/2015/2).

In 2009,  the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues prepared an Analysis on progress in the implementation of the recommendations of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues regarding indigenous women (E/C.19/2009/8)

The International Indigenous Women’s Forum (FIMI) also prepared an Analysis and follow-up of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues recommendations related to Indigenous Women, which is available in English and Spanish.

During its fourth session a Task Force on Indigenous Women (TFIW) was initiated on 11 June 2004 following a decision of the Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality (IANGWE) at its February 2004 session and the recommendations of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) at its Third (2004) Session regarding indigenous women. The TFIW was formed with the purpose to integrate and strengthen gender mainstreaming as regards indigenous women’s roles and the special concerns of indigenous women as an emerging key issue in the work of the United Nations system. Therefore, the duration of the TFIW was from 2004 to 2006.

Technical cooperation with indigenous women

In December 2005, the General Assembly approved the project entitled Engaging indigenous women: local-government capacity-building through new technologies in Latin America under the Development Account. The main objective of this project is to strengthen the capacity of institutions at the national and community levels in Bolivia, Ecuador and Perú to engage indigenous women in decision-making processes by utilizing new information and communication technologies (see document A/60/6(Sect. 34), annex, sect. W, for a fuller description).