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
The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues provides an important platform for indigenous women to express their concerns and collaborate on strategies to overcome them. Since the first session of the Forum, indigenous women consistently participate in large numbers, often holding their own caucus’ and media segments.
In 2004, the theme of the Third Session of the Permanent Forum was “Indigenous Women” and, in 2006, the Forum paid special attention to indigenous women within the theme “Millennium Development Goals and indigenous peoples: redefining the Goals.”
Forum Members have also published studies on indigenous women’s issues, including one in 2013 on indigenous women’s political participation at the international, national and local levels (E/C.19/2013/10).
During the Seventeenth Session in 2018, Forum Members and women indigenous human rights defenders held a press conference on “indigenous Women defending human rights,” once again highlighting the centrality of indigenous women in Forum activities.
Over the past 17 years, 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.