Indigenous Women—from local to global

Indigenous Women from around the globe came together on 19th August 2021 to talk about the movement’s role in monitoring and implementing international instruments. Below is a summary of the opening panel from the second day of the 2WCIW.

Antonia Ramírez Marcelino
‘The most important challenge is to sustain the progress we have made and achieved. Although the pandemic has stopped us from meeting in person, we are together spiritually to broaden and spread what we are doing. It is the only way for States—the decision-makers—to realise we are empowered, that we have the instruments and we are going to put them into practice,’ stated Ecuadorian activist Miriam Masaquiza on the second day of the Second World Conference of Indigenous Women (2WCIW). The event brought together over 500 leaders from around the globe who shared the realities and challenges they face at a local and global level. One of the most ambitious challenges internationally is to monitor the implementation of treaties, compacts and protocols (known as international instruments) to ensure individual and collective human rights.
The 2WCIW is the most important summit on the rights and demands of women from Indigenous Peoples in recent years. Online working groups were organised at the conference where women from the Americas, Africa, Asia, the Arctic and the Pacific discussed and exchanged experiences on the global agenda of the Indigenous Women’s movement.
Mariam W. Aboubakrine, former chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNFPII), deemed that ‘recognition as women has been hard. Nonetheless, as Indigenous Women we have committed to defending and promoting the rights of women and, as guardians of our territories, to the monitoring and implementation of international instruments’.
Aboubakrine insisted that to reach local level, international wellbeing must come about from the States. ‘We need State allies to develop the national policies that we need and to support us internationally to move forward with our rights, alongside other interested parties; we need cooperation and allies,’ she underlined.
There is no recognition without participation
For Joan Carling, activist and founder of the organisation Indigenous Peoples Rights International (IPRI), one of the biggest problems is the limited participation of Indigenous Women on the global agenda. Carling stated that ‘there are no specific programmes or budgets’ but many bureaucratic and cultural barriers that determine the lack of inclusion and advocacy of Indigenous Women, which in turn makes it difficult to remove the different forms of discrimination they face.
Carling emphasised that in order to attain effective participation for Indigenous Women, the SDGs need to be promoted amongst Indigenous Peoples and particularly amongst women, in order to widen their participation at local and national level. ‘We need to be listened to in order to achieve Goal 5 “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” There is still much to do for the voices and aspirations of Indigenous Women to be heard and included’.
Mirian Masaquiza, from the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, recounted her 21-year experience within the UN system. ‘When I arrived, I didn’t know how the UN worked. I learnt thanks to the sisters who came before me, including: Myrna Cunningham, Tarcila Rivera Zea and Otilia Lux. They have been an essential pillar to open up many of these spaces.’
Moreover, she highlighted that Indigenous Women have established mechanisms such as the International Indigenous Women’s Forum (FIMI) in order to influence international pro-human rights organisations. ‘I remember that years ago some women wanted a special recommendation from the Permanent Forum solely addressing Indigenous Women, whilst many of our brothers said the right to land, territory and resources is more important. So, there was a lack of agreement in the movements but, from their position, Indigenous Women have advocated for the rights of Indigenous Peoples in general and, one step at a time, we have made our mark and moved forward.’
Recommendations from experience
In her speech, the chair of the Fund for the Development of Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean (FILAC), Mirna Cunningham, shared recommendations for more effective international political advocacy.
She first acknowledged the strength of the global work put in by local organisations of Indigenous Women. As an initial recommendation, she invited attendees to recognise the nature of the space where they were undertaking international advocacy. For example, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is a space that receives recommendations from Indigenous Peoples for member states. It does not, however, receive reports of human rights violations, which do have a space at the UN headquarters in Geneva. Another example provided by Cunningham was the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), as a space to promote rural development policies.
As a second recommendation, she explained that it is important to create alliances with Indigenous or non-governmental organisations with a consultative status. This enables them to provide the view of Indigenous Women in consultations for studies, recommendations, projects and other activities undertaken by the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
For her third recommendation, the leader insisted on Indigenous Women occupying spaces that other women from the movement have opened up in the past; not ceding space to men or other people through fear or getting left behind doing preparatory work. Work in other places is strategic as established recommendations and agreements need to be monitored. For her, this is where the success of an agreement resides.
Lastly, she underlined that advocacy should be done from an intercultural and intersectional approach. ‘As women, if we fail to set out the different forms of oppression we experience in our proposal, nobody else will.’ She ended her intervention with the following invitation: ‘Let us remember that we have three human rights systems that cover our demands: as women, as women from Indigenous Peoples and through collective rights. Moreover, we are a diverse group: rural, urban, disabled, sexually diverse, elderly and young women. In this sense, an intersectional focus is essential in the proposals we put forward. We should respect ourselves and not be the ones denigrating the work that other women are doing. We need to come together—this is how we have built the traditional knowledge of Indigenous Peoples across the generations, where we learn and create, this is how we should undertake our international work.’
In turn, the Ambassador Yanerit Cristina Morgan Sotomayor, recognised the huge efforts of Indigenous Women’s organisations in making structural gender inequalities visible from the Beijing Conference in 1995, as well as their participation in the Generation Equality Forum, an initiative organised by UN Women and chaired by the governments of Mexico and France. Indigenous Women’s organisations and other stakeholders have agreed commitments to fund public policies with States, the private sector, philanthropic organisations and civil society. The participation of Indigenous Women’s organisations should be inherent to designing monitoring mechanisms and measuring impacts for on-the-ground activities by the government of Mexico and other friendly nations to achieve the Forum’s objectives.
The panel closed with the presentation of two online tools where Indigenous Peoples can obtain information about their rights: Yanapaq and the Indigenous Navigator. We invite you to take a look at them!