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United Nations



General Assembly

Distr.: General

6 August 2015

Original: English

Human Rights Council

Thirtieth session

Agenda item 3

Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil,
political, economic, social and cultural rights,
including the right to development

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli Corpuz


Indigenous women experience a broad, multifaceted and complex spectrum of mutually reinforcing human rights abuses. The present report is a study on the situation of indigenous women globally. It focuses on the common themes and patterns experienced by indigenous women across all regions.



I. Introduction 3

II. Activities of the Special Rapporteur 3

A. Participation in international conferences 3

B. Country visits 3

C. Report on international investment and trade regimes 3

III. Rights of indigenous women and girls 3

A. Collective rights 5

B. Economic, social and cultural rights 6

C. Civil and political rights 10

D. Multiple forms of violence 12

IV. Key challenges and promising practices 17

A. Key challenges 17

B. Promising practices 19

V. Conclusions and recommendations 20

A. Conclusions 20

B. Recommendations 21

I. Introduction

1. The present report is submitted to the Human Rights Council by the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples pursuant to her mandate under Council resolutions 15/14 and 24/9. The Special Rapporteur provides a summary of her activities since her previous report to the Council (A/HRC/27/52) and undertakes a thematic analysis of violations against indigenous women and girls.

II. Activities of the Special Rapporteur

A. Participation in international conferences

2. The Special Rapporteur participated in a number of international dialogues and conferences:

(a) The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, with which she coordinated her work, including by holding parallel meetings with indigenous peoples and organizations during their regular sessions;

(b) The fourteenth session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, held in New York in April and May 2015, during which she shared her views on indigenous peoples’ right to self-determined development and economic, social and cultural rights;

(c) The international expert group meeting on an optional protocol to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in January 2015;

(d) The first session of the Open-ended intergovernmental working group in charge of elaborating a legally binding instrument on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights, in July 2015, at which she delivered the keynote speech.

B. Country visits

3. From 20 to 28 November 2014, the Special Rapporteur visited Paraguay. She noted that the country had ratified all the core international and regional human rights instruments, but observed a number of issues relating to the violations of the rights of indigenous peoples, with the foremost concern being the security of their rights to lands, territories and resources.

C. Report on international investment and trade regimes

4. The Special Rapport will present a thematic report on international investment and free-trade regimes and their impact on the rights of indigenous peoples to the General Assembly at its seventieth session.

III. Rights of indigenous women and girls

5. Indigenous women experience a broad, multifaceted and complex spectrum of mutually reinforcing human rights abuses. That spectrum is influenced by multiple and intersecting forms of vulnerability, including patriarchal power structures; multiple forms of discrimination and marginalization, based on gender, class, ethnic origin and socioeconomic circumstances; and historical and current violations of the right to self-determination and control of resources.

6. Despite many barriers to inclusion, indigenous leaders and advocates have made significant strides in achieving recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights and perspectives, including the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the establishment of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous women actively participated in the processes that gave birth to all those mechanisms and thus feel some ownership over the Declaration and the mechanisms.

7. All the provisions of the Declaration apply equally to indigenous women and indigenous men. Article 22 (2) specifically provides that States shall take measures, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, to ensure that indigenous women and children enjoy the full protection and guarantees against all forms of violence and discrimination. In the outcome document of the high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, which focused on indigenous women, the participating Heads of State and Government, ministers and representatives of Member States invited the Human Rights Council to consider examining the causes and consequences of violence against indigenous women and girls, in consultation with the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples and other special procedures mandate holders.1

8. Despite the progress made, systematic attention to the specific vulnerability of indigenous women has remained limited in relation to the scale of abuses against them. Furthermore, what international attention has been given to the issue has not sufficiently focused on the nexus between individual and collective rights, nor on how intersecting forms of discrimination and vulnerability contribute to ongoing abuses of indigenous women’s rights. That has created a gap that has contributed to ongoing widespread impunity in relation to the rights of indigenous women and girls.

9. There have been some promising signs of progress towards closing that gap, such as the efforts taken by indigenous women to empower themselves by establishing their own organizations and networks, and making their issues more visible at national and global levels. Indigenous women’s participation in the United Nations world conferences on women has increased with time, the highlight being the conference in Beijing in 1995, where participants ensured references to indigenous women and achieved the adoption of the Beijing Declaration of Indigenous Women, which has served as a guiding framework in many of their subsequent efforts to build and strengthen their organizations. It must be recognized that the United Nations has established a solid gender equality and women’s rights regime, which has opened up more possibilities for indigenous women to engage in debates on gender issues. Several Special Rapporteurs, including the previous rapporteurs on indigenous peoples’ rights, have contributed through raising awareness of issues facing indigenous women and have made relevant recommendations.

10. To contribute to addressing any continuing gaps in monitoring and implementing the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Issues, the Special Rapporteur dedicates the present report to the issue of indigenous women and girl’s rights. While recognizing the great diversity in the experiences of indigenous women, she will take a global approach, focusing on common themes and patterns experienced by indigenous women across regions. The Special Rapporteur will highlight examples of specific rights violations and issues from different countries, which are illustrative but not exhaustive. In analysing the situation of indigenous women, she will consider both the gendered forms of violations against indigenous women and the gendered effects of human rights abuses that target indigenous communities as a whole. In that way, the Special Rapporteur hopes that the forms of oppression, discrimination and violence that indigenous women face —because they are women and because they are indigenous — can be better understood.

A. Collective rights


11. A cornerstone of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, self-determination is defined as both a choice to determine political status, as well as the right to have autonomy over economic, social and cultural development. Self-determination is a right in itself and has been conceptualized as a precondition for the fulfilment of other rights.

12. When examining the rights of indigenous women and girls, it is vital to consider the unique historical experiences of indigenous communities. Many forms of violence and abuse against indigenous women and girls have a strong intergenerational element. Violations of the broad right to self-determination of indigenous peoples are historically and currently endemic. Those have included gross and sustained assaults on the cultural integrity of indigenous peoples; denigration and non-recognition of customary laws and governance systems; failure to develop frameworks that allow indigenous peoples appropriate levels of self-governance; and practices that strip indigenous peoples of autonomy over land and natural resources. Those patterns of violations are vividly exemplified by colonization, but have also been perpetuated by post-colonial power structures and State practices. Those violations of the right to self-determination have been highly detrimental to the advancement of the rights of indigenous women and girls in a number of ways.

13. The response of indigenous communities to attacks against self-determination has, at times, additionally subjugated the rights of women. In the battle for indigenous communities to assert their right to self-determination, women’s rights have often been considered divisive and external to the indigenous struggle and connected to “external values” or “Western values” that privilege individual over communal rights. Such a false dichotomy between collective and women’s rights has, paradoxically, further entrenched the vulnerability of indigenous women to abuse and violence. Indigenous women are therefore stripped of their right to self-determination by both violations against their collective rights, as members of indigenous communities, and violations against their individual rights, as sub-collectives within those communities.

14. Such multiple victimization and the denial of the agency of indigenous women has had a pronounced impact on the prevalence of violence and abuses through the entrenchment of power structures that create and perpetuate systematic vulnerability. The further loss of women’s agency caused by those violations then negatively impacts collective efforts to fight group rights, thereby contributing to negative cyclical patterns.

Land rights

15. A strong link to the land, territory and natural resources is a characteristic that is commonly associated with indigenous peoples. Despite relevant provisions in international human rights law, indigenous peoples experience weak protection of their land and property rights, which exposes them to risks of displacement, expropriation and exploitation. Indigenous peoples inherent the right to the land that they traditionally occupy and use. They often do not hold formal titles to their land and their right to such land is one of the rights most violated. That allows Governments to impose destructive development projects or to lease and sell indigenous land without obtaining their free, prior and informed consent. Large-scale economic projects have been constructed on indigenous lands. Additionally, mass tourism has been encouraged in areas that are of significance to indigenous peoples. The implementation of those projects has repeatedly caused forced displacement and migration, ecological degradation and armed conflicts. Furthermore, the commodification of land that is inherent in such practices is an assault on indigenous cultures and the importance placed on land.

16. Land appropriation is not gender neutral and indigenous women’s rights interact with violations of collective land rights. In indigenous communities where matriarchy and matrilineal practices exist, the loss of land will likewise undermine indigenous women’s status and roles. The gendered effects of those violations become manifest in situations where indigenous women lose their traditional livelihoods, such as food gathering, agricultural production, herding, among others, while compensation and jobs following land seizure tend to benefit male members of indigenous communities. The loss of land and exclusion of women can create vulnerability to abuse and violence, such as sexual violence, exploitation and trafficking. Additionally, the secondary effects of violations of land rights, such as loss of livelihood and ill health, often disproportionally impact women in their roles of caregivers and guardians of the local environment.

17. External threats to indigenous land rights are not the only cause of abuses of women’s rights in relation to land. The roles that women hold within indigenous communities and the way that some indigenous property frameworks reflect patriarchal power structures. Indigenous women commonly experience significant barriers to holding and inheriting land. especially when they are widowed.

B. Economic, social and cultural rights


18. Indigenous peoples account for 5 per cent of the world’s population, while representing 15 per cent of those living in poverty. As many as 33 per cent of all people living in extreme rural poverty globally are from indigenous communities.2 Those figures are particularly alarming given the wealth of natural resources that are located within indigenous territories. That level of poverty is a violation of indigenous people’s rights to development, as well as their economic and social rights to an adequate standard of living, housing, food, water, health and education. Such poverty is deeply interrelated with abuses of land and self-determination. The denial of self-determination in relation to development pathways and control over natural resources is also a central causal factor in the prevalence of poverty among indigenous communities. It is related to and mutually reinforced by the exclusion of indigenous people’s perspective and agency from dominant development paradigms.

19. High unemployment is an important issue in relation to the poverty experienced by indigenous communities, as indigenous peoples are disproportionally represented within the world’s unemployed. When indigenous people are employed they often face wage discrimination and exploitation in the workforce, which further fuels poverty. The following are some examples of those trends:

(a) In Australia, the indigenous unemployment rate was 15.6 per cent in 2006, that is, just over three times higher than the non-indigenous unemployment rate, while the median indigenous income was around half of the non-indigenous income;

(b) In the western provinces of Manitoba, British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada, unemployment among indigenous people was as high as 13.6 per cent, but stood at only 5.3 per cent among the non-indigenous population;

(c ) In New Zealand, the unemployment rate for the Maori is more than twice as high as the national average (7.7 per cent compared to 3.8 per cent) and the income of indigenous households is 70 per cent that of the national average.3

20. Some of the poverty reduction initiatives put in place to support indigenous communities are not always culturally sensitive and are therefore ineffective. For example, the practice of providing conditional cash transfers to poor indigenous families in exchange for compliance with preconditions, such as sending their children to school or requiring pregnant women to go for check-ups and to deliver in rural clinics or hospitals. Such practices have tended to be blind to the cultural values of indigenous peoples and also do not address the specific root causes of poverty.

21. Indigenous women are directly affected by poverty and weaknesses in programmes designed to tackle it, as well as by unemployment trends and wage-related discrimination. The multiple forms of discrimination, based on gender, age, socioeconomic situation and ethnic origin, experienced by indigenous women make them highly vulnerable to poverty. In addition, the overall poverty experienced by indigenous peoples tends to have a disproportionate impact on women, due to their role as caregivers and managers of resources.

Right to food

22. Food insecurity is not well-managed or understood within indigenous peoples due to a severe lack of relevant data. However it is widely recognized that indigenous people experience significant food insecurity and therefore suffer with widespread violations of their right to food. A range of interconnected and mutually reinforcing factors contributes to significant levels of food insecurity. As identified by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, loss of a culture, land and insecure access to lands, territories and natural resource have been key drivers of this phenomenon amongst indigenous communities. Like poverty, violations of the right to food affect indigenous women directly and also have a disproportionate impact on them because of their roles as food and water providers, caregivers and managers of resources.

23. There is an emerging trend whereby indigenous peoples’ lands are being grabbed by political and business actors who want to set up industrial food production farms or lands for production of biofuels, such as sugar cane and jatropha. Indigenous peoples’ livelihoods such as rotational agriculture, pastoralism, hunting and gathering which have ensured food security for them are now increasingly being threatened. These have lead to the destruction of indigenous women’s livelihoods that are land-based.

Right to education

24. Indigenous peoples, in particular women, tend to have low levels of educational attainment and literacy compared with non-indigenous populations. That situation is a violation of the right to everyone to an education. Such violations of the rights of indigenous persons to an education are multi-dimensional and brings into consideration the issues of access, quality and inclusion.

25. Indigenous children’s inability to access education is generally caused by the geographical and political marginalization of indigenous communities. When education is available, it is often blind to the specific needs of indigenous children. Curricula are often not taught in indigenous languages, which undermines indigenous children’s ability to achieve school readiness and express their cultural identity in school. National school curricula tend to have very little, if any, focus on indigenous peoples, their issues and histories. Some national curricula even reinforce negative cultural stereotypes about indigenous peoples and indigenous students frequently find that the education provided by the State promotes individualism and a competitive atmosphere, rather than communal ways of life and cooperation. It is also common for indigenous children to experience racism and discrimination and ethnically motivated bullying in school. Furthermore, the education available to indigenous children is not always of adequate quality. The physical buildings in which indigenous children are educated can also fail to be fit for purpose, and teaching staff and materials may also be of poor quality.4

26. Some indigenous peoples prefer to set up their own indigenous schools, which ensure that traditional knowledge holders are involved in teaching and their culture is valued. In some countries, indigenous peoples initiate the setting up of schools because the State does not provide schooling in their communities owing to the remoteness of the location or the small population size. The Special Rapporteur noted that in some indigenous territories which have become sites of armed conflicts, the army or paramilitary personnel occupy schools, which are therefore required to close down.

27. As a result of those factors, indigenous children often experience significant gaps in educational attainment compared with non-indigenous populations and dropout rates are high among indigenous children. For example, in Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru, there is an average gap of three years between indigenous and non-indigenous children in relation to the schooling undertaken by those aged 15 or older. Those trends are mirrored in other countries with indigenous populations. The gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous educational attainment are also reflected in the proportion of those attending post-secondary education institutions.5

28. In that connection, indigenous girls tend to be more disadvantaged than indigenous boys.6 In additional to the factors impacting overall indigenous dropout rates, girls can experience a number of additional barriers. Firstly, their role within communities often means that they are expected to help with domestic and care responsibilities. Secondly, indigenous girls may also be subjected to child marriage, so that their roles as wives and sometimes child bearers mean that they have to leave school. Thirdly, indigenous girls may face the risk of sexual violence and rape during long journeys to school, as evidenced in the report of the Working Group on Discrimination against Women in Law and in Practice on its visit to Peru.7 The significance of this barrier to education is exacerbated by the presence of legislation in some States that prohibits women and girls from being able to seek abortion services, even if they become pregnant following rape.8

Right to health

29. There are examples of profound physical and mental health inequalities between indigenous and non-indigenous people. For example:

(a) In the United States of America, a Native American is 600 times more likely to contract tuberculosis than a non-Native American;

(b) Worldwide, over 50 per cent of indigenous adults suffer from type 2 diabetes;

(c) Indigenous peoples’ life expectancy is up to 20 years lower than their non-indigenous counterparts;

(d) Indigenous peoples experience disproportionately high levels of maternal and infant mortality, malnutrition, cardiovascular illnesses, HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, such as malaria and tuberculosis;

(e) Suicide rates of indigenous peoples, particularly among youth, are considerably higher in many countries. For example, the suicide rate for Inuit in Canada is around 11 times the national average;

(f) Child mortality rates among indigenous communities are usually above the national average.9

30. Many of those poor health outcomes are influenced by modifiable risk factors, such as drug abuse, poor nutrition and alcoholism, which have worryingly increased within indigenous communities. The increase in risk factors has been identified as being strongly connected with the historical colonization and dispossession of indigenous peoples, which has resulted in the fragmentation of their social, cultural, economic and political institutions.10

31. Against the backdrop of growing physical and mental health concerns, non-indigenous health systems often do not take into account the indigenous concept of health, and therefore create barriers to access by indigenous people. Epidemiological data often fails to capture information on indigenous communities and the socioeconomic determinants of health, thereby making them “invisible”. If data is included, it is generally not disaggregated, so that the specific needs of indigenous women are not understood in the context of national healthcare policy and planning. In addition, there are often no clear integration mechanisms for health care personnel, communities, traditional healers, policy makers and government officials. Furthermore, the facilities available to indigenous communities and women are also often not suitable to their specific needs and cultural preferences.

32. Women acutely feel the low levels of health within indigenous communities. They are disproportionately affected by illness owing to reduced coping capacity caused by the denial of broader rights. Women also play a primary role in overseeing the health and well-being of their families and communities, and can be particularly affected by the suffering of children and other family members. Their gender and role as child-bearers also make them vulnerable to specific health difficulties.

33. A grave gender-specific health concern is the issue of indigenous women’s sexual and reproductive health. Indigenous women face many barriers to sexual and reproductive rights, such as a lack of culturally appropriate sexual and reproductive health advice, geographical access to facilities and lack of supplies, such as contraceptives, poor quality care and, in some cases, legislation banning abortion services, even in cases of pregnancy following rape. That leads to higher-than-average maternal mortality rates; disproportionate representation of indigenous girls in teenage pregnancy indexes; low voluntary contraceptive usage; and high rates of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS.

34. There have also been severe historical violations of indigenous women’s rights in relation to sexual and reproductive rights in the context of denial of their rights to self-determination and cultural autonomy. Those violations include forced sterilization of indigenous women and attempts to force indigenous women to have children with non-indigenous men as part of policies of cultural assimilation. Indigenous women may also face barriers to preventive services that support their right to health, such as screening for ovarian and breast cancer.

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