Press for Progress: International Women’s Day
March 08, 2018
Dear Members, Partners and Friends,
On March 08, 2018, we are once again celebrating International Women’s Day. We, as indigenous women, join in solidarity for this year’s campaign theme: Press for Progress. Recent reports suggest that globally-realised gender parity is more than two centuries away. Meanwhile, global activism for women’s equality is building momentum, with movements such as the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns shining light on the injustices facing women in many sectors.
We, indigenous women in Asia and allies of indigenous women everywhere, want to take this opportunity to shine the light on the injustices facing us, those which systematically prevent us from experiencing parity on many levels; and which prevent us from experiencing empowerment. Building on the current momentum within the broader women’s rights movement, there has never been a better time to Press for Progress.
Gender inequality is prevalent in many of our communities. Traditional customary institutions, which are often still the primary governance unit, are almost always patriarchal and perpetuate the political disempowerment of indigenous women that is visible at all levels. Compared to indigenous men, we receive less education and subsequently have less employment opportunities inside and outside of our villages. We have less access to health care, including sexual and reproductive health, as we have less mobility outside of our villages. If we do have access to a modern health care facility, we often face discriminatory or culturally insensitive behaviours from health service providers.
Indigenous men are still expected to the the main, and in some cases, the only source of familial cash income, and they are the ones that are granted the roles of community leaders and representatives. Indigenous women, on the other hand, are expected to take care of the well-being of their families and the domestic responsibilities, as well as engaging in other non-cash forms of livelihood activities such as collecting natural resources and water.
Agricultural production in indigenous communities was traditionally a role for indigenous women, and we spent most of our time working in the fields to produce food for our family’s health and well-being. These gender roles leave indigenous women with with little or no access to financial resources, including household and cash assets. To make matters worse, these days, production of crops for export is often controlled by transnational corporations and private businesses and we are no longer able to be self-sufficient. As a consequence, what little bargaining power we had is reduced, and our social status is deteriorating as we struggle to fulfil our traditional roles.
Our communities and our traditional ways of life are relentlessly being threatened by infrastructure, industrialisation and so-call conservation efforts. These factors contribute to the persistent poverty which is found in many indigenous communities, and which affects indigenous women in particular. We lack access to land, education and credit, and we have limited participation in decisions making processes at all levels. We are examples of the feminisation of poverty.
The loss of land, water and natural resources intensifies our existing challenges, as our domestic and subsistence responsibilities increase as a result. We often have lower levels of education and – in many places – lack formal identification papers. We are often excluded from job opportunities that could bolster our livelihoods.
Reluctantly, we are often forced to migrate out of our communities in search of income. Our vulnerability is amplified in these cases, particularly for indigenous women who are stateless – they face heightened risk of trafficking and often turn to prostitution.
Land and security of tenure can provide sustainable livelihood security for indigenous communities, as well as the preservation of traditional and cultural knowledge systems. By securing our access to land, our critical role in our communities is validated, and this can transform our lives. Secure access to land and natural resources will ensure stability in our livelihoods and and facilitate more opportunities for income generation, in turn, increasing indigenous women’s self-esteem and contributing to a shift in the gendered division of labour in the community and the household, and ultimately, decision-making at all levels. Long term, securing the land titles for indigenous women can change asset holding patterns and reverse the power dynamics in patriarchal societies.
We, indigenous women in Asia, demand progress! We are the holders of the traditional and local knowledge that can sustain the natural environment. We have knowledge of “a diverse range of seed varieties and livestock breeds, natural enemies of pests, fodder and grazing land, forest produce, and wildlife, as well as knowledge about past climate variability” which is crucial in the current global battle against Climate Change and the future of our planet! We are the carers of our youth, the future of our communities! We cannot wait another 200 years – we deserve parity NOW!
On this occasion of International Women’s Day 2018, we call upon States, Civil Society and indigenous communities to implement the following recommendations:
- Implement land tenure reforms in a gender-equitable manner, ensuring that communities have recognised security of tenure and that indigenous women have representation in community decision-making bodies for these lands.
- Develop a holistic approach to supporting indigenous women’s economic empowerment based on the respect and protection of their collective land and resource tenure rights and by ensuring the interlink between the social, organizational, cultural and spiritual dimensions that characterize indigenous peoples’ livelihoods and ways of life – taking into account the specific needs and priorities of the youth;
- Provide and secure full and meaningful participation in the public domain, including equitable representation of indigenous women in decision-making bodies and processes that affect their rights as indigenous peoples and as women;
- Ensure indigenous girls and women’s access to formal and informal education, including higher education and alternative personal development institutions in relevant languages and with culturally-sensitive curriculum;
- Support and ensure access to safe and affordable health care, free from discrimination, negative attitudes or humiliating behaviour and establish/rehabilitate health centres in remote areas, particularly women’s health. Where necessary, implement capacity building programmes for indigenous women, ensuring that they are aware of key protection mechanisms including health and sexual rights.
- Recognize, protect and resource the contributions and roles of indigenous women in unpaid care work and natural resource management, as well as ensure the equitable benefits and entitlements necessary to their wellbeing;
- Ensure that national legislation ensures labour protections are extended to all workers, including indigenous women in the agricultural sector;
- Wholly implement the Convention to Eliminate Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and take all measures available to improve the economic and social conditions of indigenous women;
- Develop a participatory action plan to implement the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly Goal 5 on the empowerment of women and girls, with inputs from indigenous women.
 World Economic Forum, The Global Gender Gap Report, 2017: https://www.wherewomenwork.com/Career/640/Global-Gender-Gap-WorldEconomicForum
 Report of the Expert Group Meeting on the CSW 62 Priority Theme: Challenges and Opportunities in Achieving Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Rural Women and Girls: http://www.unwomen.org/-/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/csw/62/egm/expert%20group%20report_revised_final.pdf?la=en&vs=2252