Indigenous Women Demand the Eradication of All Forms of Violences Against Them and Their Peoples

The message was clearly expressed during the inaugural act of the 2nd Global Conference of Indigenous Women where, until September 2, 500 women leaders from around the world are gathering to discuss how to face common challenges and influence the international public agenda.

Guadalupe Ríos, Anita Gurung, Mariana Chávez, Yalina Ruíz.

On Thursday, August 12, after the birds had already welcomed the day in songs in the Americas, and as the media reported how the Afghan government was still trying to negotiate with the Taliban, Indigenous Women from all continents met online to launch the Second Global Conference of Indigenous Women, the most important summit on the rights and demands of women who are part of the world’s Indigenous Peoples. 

As the clock struck 7 am in Guatemala, Isabel Cipriano, indigenous Maya of the International Indigenous Women’s Forum, an umbrella organization for Indigenous Women’s organizations in Asia, Africa, the Pacific, the Arctic and the Americas, launched the virtual meeting by greeting the life energies and the ancestors so that “their light may guide our journey through this conference”. A conference that wanted to be celebrated in person but that, taking roots in the indigenous worldview, adapted to the pandemic and is being held remotely.

In this context, broadcasting from Capulalpam, Oaxaca, a dozen members of the Alliance of Indigenous Women of Central America and Mexico (Alianza de Mujeres Indígenas de Centroamérica y México – AMICAM), dressed in skirts and huipil, gathered in a circle around an offering of flowers, food and copal. Guided by one of them, they moved in the direction of the four cardinal points to ask the Sun and the Ancestors for their blessings for all Indigenous Women and for the success of the Second Global Conference of Indigenous Women.

From Tanzania, some fifty women from the African Indigenous Women’s Organization (AIWO), dressed in a colourful traditional attire, sang a rhythmic song for all their sisters around the world.

Rosalina Tuyuc Velásquez, a Guatemalan Mayan activist, offered a few words to summon the energy of resistance of our indigenous grandmothers, so that it may accompany our work of reflection and analysis over the next sessions.

Thirteen hours later, another inaugural act was held for the conference with the participation of women from Asia and the Pacific, who also began with a powerful spiritual opening ceremony recited by two Indigenous leaders in their own language: Weya Tahori of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Alliance (NATSIWA) and Tomomi Ganeko of the Association of the Indigenous Peoples in the Ryukyus (AIPR). Weya recited the prayer of the Maori Indigenous Peoples titled “Return of the Canoe from Hawaii,” which is about the spiritual connection of Indigenous Peoples across all the nations of the Pacific. Tomomi’s prayer was “Flowers of the Garden’s Balsam,” which is about the spirituality of the Council of the Fathers, as they call their ancestors. The virtual format did not take anything away from the greatness of this opening ceremony.

The Second Global Conference of Indigenous Women is celebrated in the context of the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a point of inflexion for the advancement of human rights for all women and girls across the world. Twenty-five years after that Beijing Platform for Action, Indigenous Women continue to see many of their rights denied, which is why they have organized this Second Global Conference of Indigenous Women. Inaugurated on Thursday, August 12, the conference will keep running over the next three Thursdays (August 19 and 26, and September 2) across two different time slots, one for the morning in the Americas-Caribbean region and the other for the morning in Asia, the Arctic and the Pacific. 

“We celebrate this Second Global Conference of Indigenous Women with a clear vision of the future, fighting for life in all of its diversity at an individual and collective level for us Indigenous Women and Peoples, but also for all beings in our environment and for Mother Nature. As Indigenous Women, we have been made invisible, but we carry the ability to drive regional processes and share our agendas, experiences and concerns, and offer contributions,” declared Tarcila Rivera Zea, president of FIMI.

Wearing the characteristic black hat of Quechua women and with the light of a white candle in the background, the activist took us on a tour of the struggle of various generations of Indigenous Women in international institutions since 1975, when the UN held in Mexico City the First World Conference on Women and only one Indigenous Woman spoke.

“It brings me great satisfaction to see how today, despite all barriers, technology can be used to articulate ourselves and build clearer proposals (21:28). (…) I am happy to share this stage, this space, and we will always be together with one mind, with the same feeling, driving us to action: to eradicate all forms of violences and exclusions across the world for our peoples, for our own lives and for the generations to come.”

Tarcila Rivera Zea

From the Philippines, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, indigenous leader of the Kankana-ey Igorot people and United Nations Special Rapporteur for the rights of Indigenous Peoples from 2014 to 2020, also recalled the long journey from the international conferences of Indigenous Women in the ’80s and ’90s, which shaped the Indigenous Women’s movement and led to the organization of the first Global Conference in 2013 in Lima, Peru, and now this second one. 

Ms. Tauli-Corpuz emphasized that it is thanks to a collective effort that Indigenous Women now enjoy increased visibility. She also highlighted the important work of the International Indigenous Women’s Forum, host of the conference, in organizing the summit as well as in drafting reports, showing up on the public agenda, and advocating in international institutions for the rights of Indigenous Women.

Six out of every hundred people are Indigenous, yet these represent 15% of the world’s poorest, according to 2020 data from the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The pandemic has now hit them especially hard, aggravating the conditions of poverty and inequality faced by the world’s 238.4 million Indigenous Women. 

Ms. Tauli-Corpuz stressed how COVID-19 increased the level of violences against women, and the urgency of addressing the issue at the Conference, together with all the other forms of violences faced by Indigenous Women, which should be capturing the attention of the places of power and decision-making.

Representing the Alianza de Mujeres Indígenas de Centroamérica y México, Sara Sibar explained in Spanish:

“Today, with the physical distance imposed by the pandemic, we find ourselves in more adverse contexts. And I believe that being here together, each one from our own space, allows us to raise our voices and strengthen and organize ourselves in networks of Indigenous Women in order to better influence public policies. Furthermore, this is also a propitious space to bring ever more life into our movements and to build a global agenda for adoption by nation states, hoping that it will have a positive economic, political, social and linguistic impact on our lives.”

Sara Sibar

The majority of the planet’s biodiversity and natural resources are located on indigenous territories, but paradoxically it is also there where poverty prevails, with dispossession becoming one of the main factors driving displacement and the disintegration of community bonds. Yet it is also within their territories that Indigenous Women are finding solutions to transform their reality, and this summit aims to shed light on the challenges they face and the proposals they bring. 

From the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP), Pragya Ray emphasized the importance of learning from the lessons of our sisters to confront violence, highlighting how Indigenous Women in Asia are facing ever more acts of violences, the persecution of human rights defenders, the plundering of land under the cover of COVID-19, and the reduction of public space for Indigenous Women.

On this topic, Sandra Creamer, Waany Indigenous Women from Australia and executive director of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Alliance (NATSIWA), insisted:

“Today we know we’re going through a different change in the world. We’re not able to travel, we are not able to see each other face to face, but this conference that’s being put together by FIMI is great, so we can be together and we can put out our voices together as a collective. We will continue to find ways so that our voices and issues are continually put on the table, and though we are not in a meeting room we will still continue to make ourselves visible. This is why this World Conference for Indigenous Women is important, because we are standing together and we will continue as Indigenous Women to make the wrongs made right. Issues that we need to address and that we discussed in our conference were violence against women and children, food security, climate change and water issues. And I know a lot of these issues are also relevant to our sisters around the world. We as Indigenous Peoples and Women, we are resilient, we will continue to stand strong, we will continue to be united.”

Sandra Creamer

The Conference offers the possibility of articulating actions from the local to the global and vice versa. In preparation for this summit, long hours of work and collaboration were spent in regional preparatory meetings – for Asia, the Pacific, Africa, Europe and the Americas. This work is now coming to life in this virtual global meeting gathering some 500 Indigenous Women leaders.

Over the next Thursdays and until September 2, they will address, from their own worldview, the challenges they face with discrimination, the violation of their rights, patriarchal and structural violences, conflicts over and plundering of land and natural resources, in addition to the issues of access to political decision-making spaces, advancing food sovereignty and facing the pandemic. 

As highlighted by AIWO’s Cindy Kobei:

“African Indigenous Women are happy because we are able to join other sisters in bringing a united voice towards advocating for the rights of Indigenous Women, and we recognize that we still have a long way to go before our rights are fully respected and recognized. So let us continue working together.” (37: 00-37: 25)

Cindy Kobei

Gudrun Eliissá Eriksen Lindi, from the Sami Council in Norway, launched a call to erase divisions and empower women across all border

“Indigenous Women want to make these issues more visible in the agenda in the Arctic region. We want to empower Indigenous Women to speak of their own cause; to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ territories and resources and the value of Indigenous Women’s connection to use of land and resources; to emphasize that violences against women is a problem concerning everyone and should be on the agenda at all levels of society, in our own communities, within the indigenous organizations and authorities, and also within the majority society and national states.”

Eliissá Eritsen Lindi

In the first panel, we heard of the experiences of Indigenous Women who have reached high positions of political representation, such as Bolivia’s minister of Cultures, Decolonization and Depatriarchalization, Sabina Orellana. 

As a Quechua politician, Orellana spoke of the challenge of breaking with the systemic discrimination that persists in some powerful sectors, despite the efforts that are being deployed in her country to build a plurinational and inclusive state. She thus insisted on continuing to work to deconstruct our patriarchal and colonial mindsets, because that is how to achieve the empowerment women, and “although we have made some progress, the challenge is now to build new policies for Indigenous Women”, she explained.

From New Zealand, Indigenous Maori Nanaia Mahuta, minister of Foreign Affairs, highlighted how the organizations of Aboriginal Women and Peoples in her country have been a key factor in the progress achieved and their increased political participation. “We need a lot of diplomacy to support the economic empowerment and education of aboriginal women, but above all to advance our socio-cultural values, which is essential to transforming the reality of society as a whole and the planet,” she said.  

During the next days of the conference, there will also be space for intersectionality, including Indigenous Woman living with disabilities. The UN Policy Brief on COVID-19 stated in June that indigenous persons with disabilities have faced greater inequalities in access to health care during the pandemic due to the lack of health information and other obstacles and barriers, such as discrimination in access to health centres.

In Latin America, the rate of disability is higher among indigenous persons than among the rest of the population, according to the Study on the situation of indigenous persons with disabilities published by the UN in 2016. And there are 54 million indigenous persons with disabilities around the world. To these people, Olga Montúfar, Náhuatl woman and vice president of the Indigenous Persons with Disabilities Global Network, pointed out that the pandemic had hit them especially hard by hindering their access to health care, medication and education. Montúfar thus considers it essential to bridge the inequality gap and to create public policies that ensure the full participation of Indigenous Women with disabilities.

Over the next three weeks, 500 Indigenous Women will meet in public plenaries and specific work sessions to strengthen the global movement of Indigenous Women and to develop a joint political statement and global political agenda. 

With deep roots in their territories, they are the mainstay of the world’s native cultures. Throughout this month of August, they will be weaving a new story by taking on big issues and challenges as they work to leave the sidelines and take centre stage to drive transformative processes for the world.

Their voices will be replicated throughout their communities and organizations, as is already being heard in community media, from Bolivia to Nepal, to community radio stations in Diidxazá language in Juchitán, Oaxaca.

The full schedule for the upcoming meetings can be found here. The opening talks of each session can be seen and listened to on FIMI’s YouTube and Facebook pages. The work sessions on individual and collective rights are closed to the general public to guarantee the security of the women leaders. The agreements that will come from these sessions will be shared on September 2 as part of the Action Plan to be presented at the closing ceremony, which will be open to the public online on the same channels.