Victoria Tauli-Corpuz’s report to the Human Rights Council examines the state of indigenous women’s rights around the world.
A new report by UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz concludes that indigenous women experience extremely high rates of sexual violence, trafficking, domestic violence, and gender based killings. It has been estimated that one in three indigenous women are raped during their lifetimes.
States are sometimes complicit in these violations. The report states that “military officials may perpetrate sexual violence as a weapon to weaken the resolve of indigenous communities in militarized disputes over land and resources.” In Fiji, India, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Thailand, and Timor-Leste, militarized conflict over indigenous land has led to gang-rape, sexual enslavement, and the murder of tribal women. In both Canada and the United States, indigenous women are significantly more likely to be raped or murdered than non-indigenous women.
Because women are marginalized in both indigenous and state justice systems, they rarely achieve justice for these violations. Complex jurisdiction issues between indigenous communities and national justice systems can create confusion regarding who is responsible for prosecuting those who violate indigenous women’s rights, and loopholes can help perpetrators evade prosecution.
This violence is linked to a multitude of mutually reinforcing human rights abuses, including violations of indigenous women’s rights to self-determination, to use their traditional lands and resources, and a number of economic, social, civil, and political rights. While indigenous women have varied circumstances, the structural violence leading women to be “victimized by the realities of the circumstances of their everyday life” is a trend that persists across the globe.
Many of the violations faced by indigenous women are connected to their status as Indigenous Peoples, but gender-based discrimination amplifies these problems. Because Indigenous Peoples often inherit land without any formal title, they are highly vulnerable to land grabbing. In many countries, women already face barriers to inheriting and holding land under both indigenous and state law. When land is seized, compensation and jobs are more likely to benefit men, while women typically lose their traditional livelihoods and face increased vulnerability to abuse, exploitation, and trafficking. In some cases, indigenous communities whose land rights are threatened have further subjugated the rights of women, as women’s rights have been considered “external values,” and therefore divisive to the indigenous struggle.
Land grabbing and insecure land rights also contribute significantly to indigenous poverty. Indigenous Peoples account for 5% of the world’s population but represent 15% of those living in poverty. As many as 33% of people living in extreme rural poverty globally are from indigenous communities. This wealth gap persists even in wealthy countries. In Canada’s western provinces of Manitoba, British Colombia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, unemployment was as high as 13.6% among Indigenous Peoples, but only 5.3% for the non-indigenous population.
Indigenous women also face routine violations of their right to health. Indigenous Peoples have a life expectancy up to 20 years lower than their non-indigenous counterparts, and indigenous women have particular difficulty accessing sexual and reproductive health care. They also experience higher than average maternal mortality and STD rates. Historically, they have faced forced sterilization and forced marriages to nonindigenous men as part of “assimilation” programs.
In spite of provisions in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples calling on states to pay special attention to the rights of indigenous women, insufficient international attention has been devoted to this issue, especially given the scale of the abuses against them. A lack of disaggregated data and systemic weaknesses in national data collection on Indigenous Peoples limit the ability to measure progress and promote accountability; specific information on human rights violations against indigenous women is rarely available. Women are also often excluded from indigenous decision-making structures as well as national political processes, hampering their ability to address the other challenges they face.
“States must find a way to strike a delicate balance between protection of indigenous women and respect for self-determination and autonomy of indigenous peoples. Engagement and consultation with indigenous women and girls is central to finding that balance,” the report concludes.
There has been progress on some fronts, including 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. Some governments have also taken action. Quota systems were established in Bolivia, Nicaragua, Peru, Colombia, and Panama to ensure the political representation of women. The Saskatchewan Provincial court in Canada instituted a new court that conducts proceedings in the Cree’s native language and takes into account traditional values in sentencing.
The report calls on all states and the international system to take urgent action to safeguard indigenous women’s rights and protect them from all forms of violence.
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The United Nations Human Rights Council appointed Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz as Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in June 2014, tasked with monitoring, reporting and advising on the situation of Indigenous Peoples’ rights worldwide. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity.
Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz is a member of the Kankana-ey, Igorot Indigenous Peoples in the Cordillera Region in the Philippines. She played a key role in drafting and negotiating the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and pushing for its adoption by the UN General Assembly in 2007. She was the Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues from 2005-2009. Ms. Tauli-Corpuz is an indigenous activist and leader who has an expertise on human rights (particularly on indigenous peoples’ rights and women’s rights), development and environment issues, institution building, community organizing and leadership development.
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