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Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (PFII): Comparative Advantage

Primary Mandate/Concentration in Relation to Rural Women

UN Photo
A participant in the meeting of the fifth session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues listens attentively as the report of the Forum's meeting is adopted, at UN Headquarters in New York, 2006. (Photo: UN/Paulo Filgueiras)

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues' mandate on women is based on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), adopted by the General Assembly (GA) on 13 September 2007. UNDRIP is premised on globally agreed international human rights principles and builds on these to place them within the reality and context of indigenous peoples, therefore strengthening the leverage of cultural rights within the framework of the human rights based approach adopted at the United Nations level. Articles 21 to 24 of the UN DRIP specifically address indigenous women's rights.

The Permanent Forum's mandate on women is also founded in GA Resolution A/60/270, establishing the Programme of Action for the Second International Decade on the World's Indigenous People. One of the 5 main objectives of the Decade is the adoption of "targeted policies, programmes, projects and budgets for the development of indigenous peoples, including concrete benchmarks, and particular emphasis on indigenous women, children and youth". The Decade established a framework under which the rights of indigenous women are protected and promoted in several fields, such as:

  • Education: to promote bilingual and cross-cultural education programmes, and in particular women's literacy programmes;
  • Health: to integrate culturally appropriate concepts of health and wellbeing, and traditional health systems and healing practices, into policies, guidelines, programmes and projects carried out during the Decade. To ensure access and free prior and informed consent to medical treatment and to any matter that can implicate indigenous intellectual property rights;
  • International level: to ensure that programmes are focused on the full and effective participation of women, and on violence against women and trafficking. The United Nations system is called upon to include indigenous cultural perspectives in all programmes relevant to indigenous peoples and to provide leadership training for women.

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has frequently called upon states and United Nations agencies to pay attention to the specific conditions of rural indigenous women when debating policies and programmes for development with culture and identity, taking into account the heterogeneity of rural indigenous women, who live in very diverse agro-ecological areas.

Within the framework of UNDRIP, indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination, understood as the right to freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development (Article 3). The Permanent Forum is mandated to raise awareness on indigenous peoples issues and support indigenous women in their quest for leadership and advocacy tools in order to implement the UNDRIP and other internationally agreed instruments at the community level. In this process, indigenous women have channeled their energies towards making changes in their towns and communities, promoting conditions for exercising their rights, while at the same time promoting external changes, both at state and international levels. Their main concerns relate to exercising their right to self-determination, legal security over their ancestral territories and resources and the right to development with culture and identity. The concept of rurality has therefore, a deeper more comprehensive connotation.

Areas of Unique Expertise/Strength

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues provides a significant opportunity to indigenous rural women to have their voices heard by strengthening their participation especially at international level. Thanks to awareness-raising activities and the organization of training workshops, seminars and conferences, and other events of wide outreach, the Permanent Forum facilitates a process in which rural indigenous women are aware of their rights and are able to gain the knowledge and the tools to have an impact at community, state and international levels.

Indigenous women stand at the intersection of gender (being women) and racial inequality (because they are indigenous). In this respect, indigenous women experience at least five layers of discrimination; on the basis of gender, ethnicity, poverty, often being rural, and increasingly as migrants. However, indigenous women have always been part of indigenous peoples' struggles, whether nationally or at the international levels, and this has resulted in strengthening their advocacy and leadership skills. In this sense, the Permanent Forum provides a unique place where indigenous women can participate in great numbers, have their own caucus and have their voices heard.

Since its first session, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has paid special attention to indigenous women. The special theme for the Permanent Forum's Third Session, held in 2004, was indigenous women. The session was enriched by three preparatory meetings held in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

In 2004 the United Nations Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality (IANGWE) at its February 2004 session decided to establish a Task Force on Indigenous Women (TFIW) as a follow-up to recommendations arising from the Un Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at its Third Session. The task force, chaired by the PF, included UN agencies such as CBD, the former DAW/DESA, ESCAP, ECA, ILO, FAO, IFAD, INSTRAW, OHCHR, OSAGI, UNICEF, UNDP, the former UNIFEM, WHO. The main purpose of the task force was to integrate and strengthen gender mainstreaming in the work of the UN system that impacts on indigenous people, highlighting the roles of indigenous women and the urgent need to address all forms of discrimination they face. As part of its three-year programme of work, the task force collected a series of good practices that have been published, in 2007, in the book entitled "Indigenous Women and the United Nations System: Good Practices and Lessons Learned (Report on the Inter-Agency Task Force on Indigenous Women)."

During the fifth session of the Permanent Forum in May 2006, within the Permanent Forum's 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 was adopted by the Permanent Forum, significantly reframing each MDG by considering the peculiar situation of indigenous peoples.

In January 2012, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues convened an Expert Group Meeting on the theme "Ending Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls: article 22 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples" and requested that the results of the meeting be reported to the Permanent Forum at its eleventh session, to the General Assembly at its sixty-seventh session and to the Commission on the Status of Women at its fifty-sixth session in 2012. The meeting built on previous meetings and recommendations on indigenous women and girls and the focus was to analyze the concept of violence against women and girls as well as consider its multiple causes and multifaceted effects.

Approach to the Empowerment of Rural Women

The Permanent Forum has called for intercultural planning tools and an inter-sectoral approach (that also addresses education, health and violence against women's issues) in the planning and implementation of rural development and agricultural policies and strategies. Traditional and ancestral knowledge is essential to agriculture and food security. The Permanent Forum has made recommendations to States to integrate a gender framework that encompasses agricultural and economic policies and includes actions of direct benefit to indigenous women. Such measures range from providing access to funding from public budgets to policies that generate employment for indigenous women and that allow women to take advantage of education and training opportunities.

The Permanent Forum has also underlined that international cooperation is essential to pursue the agenda for development, as long as it respects and empowers existing collective forms of organization at the community level. At the same time, education for women in their own languages should be combined with productive activities. Training on entrepreneurship microcredit, together with the implementation of free prior and informed consent are central elements for the effective participation of rural women in rural institutions.

Access to land and security of tenure are crucial to achieving the objectives of poverty eradication, sustainable livelihood security and valorization of indigenous cultural value systems. This process highlights the critical role of indigenous women as responsible resource managers. Indigenous land rights are collective and indigenous women play a key role in ensuring their communities have sustainable food management systems in place. In addition, indigenous women have long been custodians of valuable indigenous knowledge related to the management of natural resources and agricultural production. Therefore, revitalizing indigenous knowledge can have a sustained impact on food security, provided a holistic approach is adopted that embraces the totality of the social organization and economic and political life in approaching rural indigenous women. Furthermore, a rights-based approach to development programming that fully incorporates and responds to the particular challenges faced by indigenous women is needed.

Rural indigenous women continue to face daunting discrimination with regard to access to and control over productive assets, such as capital, land, labour-saving technology, credit facilities. An integrated approach which combines granting land titles to indigenous women, human resource development and training on entrepreneurship, access to formal banking services and the provision of adequate infrastructures can bring about improvements in indigenous women's access to global markets, as called upon by the Permanent Forum on several occasions.

Key Tools Supporting the Rmpowerment of Rural Women

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues provides expert advice to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), as well as to programmes, funds and agencies of the United Nations. With regard to the provision of expert advice, the Permanent Forum can issue recommendations – some of which have been mentioned above, in section III) to the United Nations systems and Member States.

In order to raise awareness and promote the integration and coordination activities within the United Nations system, the Permanent Forum has developed Training Modules and a Resource Kit on Indigenous Peoples' Issues . The objectives are to achieve greater awareness, understanding and implementation of relevant policy guidance on indigenous peoples' issues by United Nations staff, particularly in relation to the effective engagement with indigenous peoples and effective recognition of indigenous peoples' rights in development processes. The goal is to achieve mainstreaming of indigenous peoples' issues in the United Nations system's work at the country level, and others during the elaboration of the Common Country Assessment (CCA) and/or United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF), but also in all phases of programme and project cycle management. In view to achieve these objectives, the Permanent Forum also organizes training workshops to United Nations country teams and also to government officials – so that they can put in place policies and legislation protecting and promoting the rights of indigenous peoples at national level. Training is also delivered to indigenous peoples as part of capacity building efforts to use international standards and polices to improve their lives at the local, regional and national levels. A training for trainers was held in Turin in 2009. As of January 2012, trainings have been held in Bolivia, Ecuador, Nepal, Cambodia, Guyana, Congo Brazzaville, Argentina, the Philippines, Central African Republic.

In order to promote, support and implement the objectives of the Second Decade, a Trust Fund was established that gives priority to projects submitted by indigenous peoples' organizations, or by organizations working directly with indigenous communities, concerning the main areas of the Second Decade: culture, education, health, human rights, the environment and social and economic development. The projects must ensure a focus on gender equality and must actively involved indigenous women.

Inter-agency Partnerships

The Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Peoples' Issues (IASG) was established to support and promote the mandate of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues within the United Nations system. Its mandate was later expanded to include support for indigenous-related mandates throughout the inter-governmental system. It allows the United Nations system and other intergovernmental organizations to implement recommendations made by the Permanent Forum and to report back to the on the implementation process.

The Permanent Forum cooperates on a regular basis with the focal points on indigenous peoples' issues established in the various United Nations agencies, in view of coordinating common actions in support of indigenous issues. The Permanent Forum is also part of IANWGE (Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality) with a view to strengthen the attention on the specific needs of indigenous women.

Specific partnerships include:

  • PFII – IFAD: Through a grant from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the UN Permanent Forum has been able to initiate training programmes to government agencies, indigenous peoples' organizations, and UN System staff at country level. The aim of the training programmes is to improve the situation of indigenous peoples at country level through capacity building and awareness-raising on indigenous peoples' issues.
  • PFII – UN Women: the UN Permanent Forum cooperates closely with UN Women in every aspect related to indigenous women's rights, even if a formal partnership has not been established yet.