- General Recommendation 39 will be the first-ever binding instrument focused on the rights of Indigenous Women and Girls
The voices of indigenous women and girls from Latin America and the Caribbean met in Mexico to put at the center of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) a recommendation to rectify the historical discrimination, violence and violation of indigenous women's rights.
In May 19 and 20, 70 indigenous women and youth leaders from 21 countries and 24 indigenous peoples from the Americas participated in the Regional Consultation on the upcoming CEDAW General Recommendation 39 on the Rights of Indigenous Women and Girls, held in Tlaxcala, Mexico.
Hosted by the Government of Mexico, co-chair of the Generation Equality Forum and one of the leaders of the Action Coalition on Economic Justice and Rights, the Regional Consultation was organized by UN Women through its Regional Office for the Americas and the Caribbean and its Country Office in Mexico, the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR), UNICEF, the Committee of Experts of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the International Indigenous Women's Forum (FIMI), and the National Institute of Women of Mexico (INMUJERES)
The draft of the General Recommendation 39 has been the basis for a virtual global consultation with indigenous women and their organizations that the Committee of Experts and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights are carrying out worldwide. The insights and recommendations gathered directly from the voices of indigenous women will inform the text to be submitted to the CEDAW Committee for its consideration and adoption in October 2022.
General Recommendation 39 will be the first-ever binding instrument focused on the rights of Indigenous Women and Girls. It responds to their long-standing demand for a specific instrument that promotes and protects their rights.
Historically, indigenous women have persistently experienced compounded discrimination and violence based on gender and ethnicity, resulting in higher levels of poverty and violence, limited access to social services , and insufficient representation in decision-making. They have also suffered disproportionately the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The General Recommendation will guide States Parties in rectifying the historical discrimination, violence and violation of indigenous women's rights. It will also reaffirm the pivotal role indigenous women play in the survival of their culture, languages, and traditions, as well as recognize indigenous women's leadership and agency in protecting the environment and biodiversity and tackling climate change.
Gladys Acosta, Chairperson of the CEDAW Committee, stressed that General Recommendation 39 emanates from indigenous women's history of struggles and advocacy. It demands State Parties take every effort to fulfill the international obligation to prohibit all forms of discrimination against women in all constitutive aspects of the CEDAW Convention. "It is impossible to defend indigenous women's human rights without a profound auto-educative process to generate human empathy with the indigenous world," she said.
Nadine Gasman, President of the National Institute of Women of Mexico (INMUJERES), welcomed indigenous women to the Consultation. She stressed that "for us at INMUJERES, hosting this Regional Consultation demonstrates coherence with our work, with the Mexican Government's recognition of indigenous peoples and indigenous women. The recommendation will mark a beginning that commits governments to promote and protect indigenous women's rights."
Participants remarked the importance of this Consultation on indigenous women's rights and the intersecting forms of discrimination they face. They stressed that their individual and collective rights are intertwined. When there is a violation of women's individual rights, the impact affects all indigenous peoples. Indistinctly, when indigenous territories are violated, the individual rights of indigenous women and girls are in jeopardy. This interconnectivity should be reflected in the General Recommendation from an intersectional lens.
"The critical role indigenous women play in protecting the environment and in the climate change action must be recognized and the life of indigenous women's human right defenders protected. States must guarantee Indigenous women's right to participate in decision-making in all areas and sectors, including their communities. They must create electoral districts for indigenous peoples, recognize indigenous peoples' rights to their traditional forms of organization, and select their representatives according to their nomination processes." Betty Perez from the National Indigenous Coordination Council from El Salvador.
UN Women has been a strong supporter of this historical process. Indigenous women's agency and leadership strengthen the gender equality movements and struggles. "Our commitment is to continue to work with our indigenous women sisters to ensure that the outcome of this Consultation is reflected in the text that the CEDAW Committee will consider. Once adopted, we will secure the General Recommendation 39 is fully implemented and disseminated broadly. Together we will ensure the General Recommendation becomes a robust advocacy and accountability tool that will positively transform the reality of indigenous women and girls worldwide", said Belen Sanz, UN Women's Representative in Mexico.