Statement to the World Conference of Indigenous Women

By | 28 October, 2013


Statement by James Anaya, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.World Conference of Indigenous Women Lima, Perú 28-30 October, 2013.

Good morning. I am pleased to greet all those present, and especially those women who have traveled to Lima from various parts of the world. I would like to thank the conference organizers and, in particular, the Continental Network of Indigenous Women of the Americans and the Center for Indigenous Cultures of Peru for the invitation to participate in this important conference.

I regret not being able to personally join you. I would have liked to be there with you to listen and participate in discussions on various important topics regarding the human rights of indigenous women. However, it is impossible for me to be in Lima. At this time, I am in a hotel room in Dayton, Ohio, in the United States where I am preparing to provide a lecture for an event to which I committed long before the invitation arrived for the event in Lima. Nevertheless, I am thankful for available technology that allows me to greet all those present and provide some brief comments.

Since the organizers have provided interpretation in various languages, I will now continue with my comments in English.

In my work as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples I have the opportunity to regularly interact with indigenous women through meetings, conferences, country visits, and educational activities. This interaction allows me to hear directly from indigenous women about the challenges they face, advances they have made, and their aspirations for the future of their families, communities, and broader society.

Within the international human rights system there exists today a broad constellation of human rights standards relevant to indigenous women. As women, indigenous women are guaranteed the rights enshrined in numerous international human rights instruments that specifically address women as such, most notably the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women and the Beijing Platform of Action. As indigenous people, indigenous women are guaranteed enjoyment of the rights affirmed, most notably, in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Although not a treaty, the Declaration represents an authoritative common understanding, at the global level, of the minimum content of the rights of indigenous peoples, upon a foundation of various sources of international human rights law. As I´m sure your have discussed, or will discuss, of particular note is article 22 of the Declaration, which provides that “particular attention shall be paid to the rights and special needs of indigenous elders, women, youth, children and persons with disabilities in the implementation of this Declaration.”

While these advancements in international standards are significant, many of the challenges that indigenous women face today are the same or similar to those that have been reported at numerous international conferences over recent decades. By way of example, indigenous women continue to experience obstacles that limit their full participation in decision making and equal access to opportunities within their communities and the broader societies in which they live. In particular, indigenous women often experience compounded discrimination that is the product of societal attitudes and practices that stifle the voices of women and undermine the rights of indigenous peoples. I have observed that discrimination and ill treatment of indigenous women is often present in, and aggravated by, the development of extractive industries and large-scale projects within indigenous territories.

As many of you are aware, over the last several years I have carried out a study and reported on extractive industries affecting indigenous peoples and their rights. It has become evident through information received within the context of the study that extractive industries have different and often disproportionately adverse effects on women. These include increases in women’s workload, increases in their vulnerability to sexual and other forms of violence, unwanted changes in gender roles, increased economic dependence on men, negative health consequences, loss of traditional land rights, interference with sites of special significance to women and the marginalisation and disempowerment of indigenous women. On the other hand, if the development of natural resources within indigenous territories is undertaken in a manner that is respectful of indigenous peoples rights, indigenous people may benefit from that natural resource development, as we are seeing in some cases across the globe. States and indigenous authorities should work to ensure that indigenous women in particular are free from any adverse effects of extractive industries, that they are abled to participate effectively and on a nondiscriminatory basis in decision-making about extractive industries within their peoples’ territories, and that they are able to join in any benefits that come from the natural resource development. For their part extractive companies should exercise due diligence to identify the potential effects of their activities on indigenous women and fully respect their rights.

In addition to extractive industries, another major issue of concern for all indigenous peoples worldwide is violence against indigenous women and girls. Throughout my time as Special Rapporteur, I have heard compelling stories of suffering of indigenous women and girls caused by violence, and inspiring stories of perseverance and of steps to overcome that suffering. During my recent visit to Canada, the grave problem of missing and murdered indigenous women surfaced as a recurring subject of concern. And of course as those present are well aware it is not a problem that is limited to Canada.

As expressed by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Radisha Manjoo, in her report to the General Assembly in October 2011, overcoming violence against women requires a holistic approach, that is, one which involves (a) considering human rights as universal, interdependent, and indivisible; (b) understanding violence against women as being within a continuum that spans interpersonal and structural violence; (c) acknowledging the structural aspects and factors of discrimination, including structural and institutional inequalities and; (d) examining social or economic hierarchies between women and men and also among women.

In a similar vein, combating violence against women and girls in the indigenous context must be achieved holistically; it cannot be addressed in isolation from the range of rights recognized for indigenous peoples in general. Related to this, combating violence against indigenous women and girls also requires remedying the structural legacies of the history of colonialism and discrimination that indigenous peoples have faced. This includes advancing the range of rights guaranteed for indigenous peoples, most prominently those enshrined in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In closing, it is true that indigenous women continue to face a range of challenges, many of which are related to histories of discrimination, oppression, and violence. However, in my experience as Special Rapporteur, time and time again I have witnessed the power, perseverance and potential of indigenous women to overcome these challenges and to bring about positive change to their communities and beyond. I commend your efforts in organizing and carrying out this conference. It is one of many examples that demonstrate how indigenous women and their advocates are creating a future in which indigenous women are fully valued under conditions of equality. I wish all those present the best for the remainder of the conference, and I look forward to hearing about the outcomes of this event.