Indigenous Women and Sustainable Development
Posted on: Wednesday, June 6, 2007
A MADRE Position Paper
Indigenous Peoples have fought for centuries against genocide, displacement, colonization, and forced assimilation, preserving their cultures and their identities as distinct Peoples. The ongoing attack has left Indigenous communities among the poorest and most marginalized in the world, alienated from state politics and disenfranchised by national governments. Today, Indigenous Peoples, who occupy some of the last pristine environments on Earth, are at the forefront of the struggle against corporate globalization and privatization of natural resources.
The United Nations estimates that there are over 300 million Indigenous Peoples living in 70 different countries. But this number, like most figures on Indigenous Peoples, is imprecise. The lack of data on Indigenous Peoples is an urgent concern, because it is used by states to avoid responsibility for guaranteeing Indigenous rights, such as access to basic services. The statistics that are available paint a picture of poverty and inequality. Indigenous Peoples in the Americas have a life expectancy 10 to 20 years less than the general population. In Central America, Indigenous Peoples have less access to education and health services, are more likely to die from preventable diseases, suffer higher infant and maternal mortality rates, and experience higher levels of poverty than non-Indigenous populations.
The richness of Indigenous Peoples' natural resources and culture stands in contrast to their lack of material wealth. Indigenous women play a key role in preserving their Peoples' natural resources and traditional knowledge, which are the foundation of Indigenous wealth and culture. Traditionally, women are responsible for conservation and maintenance of natural resources and for preserving and transmitting Indigenous knowledge. Indigenous women are the primary producers of food in their communities and the custodians of biodiversity for many of the world's ecosystems. They are practitioners of medicine, pharmacology, botany, and nutrition, and the keepers of the agricultural technology that sustains the polycultures critical to maintaining biodiversity the world over. In addition to being the stewards of environmental, technical, scientific, cultural, and spiritual knowledge, Indigenous women are the primary transmitters of this knowledge to younger generations. As such, Indigenous women hold the keys to combating poverty in their communities and creating and implementing strategies for sustainable development.
Respect for collective rights, such as sovereignty and self-determination, is vital for protecting Indigenous Peoples' human rights. Violations of Indigenous Peoples' sovereignty make Indigenous communities uniquely vulnerable to the abuses of corporate globalization. In most places, corporations are not required to compensate or even consult with Indigenous communities before cutting down their forests, drilling for oil on their lands, mining their mountains, or displacing people from their homes. Meanwhile, the vast natural wealth found on Indigenous Peoples' lands makes Indigenous communities a target for profit-seeking corporations and governments. Indigenous cultural heritage, including extensive knowledge of plants and animals, is also vulnerable to exploitation. Historically, this knowledge has been developed, shared, and used collectively. But international trade rules like the World Trade Organization's TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) fail to recognize collective intellectual property. As a result, Indigenous Peoples' knowledge—particularly in the areas of pharmacology and botany—is being appropriated by individuals and corporations seeking patent rights.
Recently, Indigenous Peoples have made significant progress using the international arena to demand their individual and collective rights. Indigenous activists have established worldwide networks to carry their issues to the highest levels of international decision-making bodies, forcing national governments and international bodies to recognize their human rights.
Indigenous women have been at the forefront of the international Indigenous movement, and have stressed that gender equality and increased political participation of Indigenous women are essential aspects of Indigenous Peoples' human rights. Historically, pervasive disparities between women and men within Indigenous communities have been reinforced by colonization and neoliberalism, while egalitarian Indigenous beliefs and practices have been undermined. Indigenous women must therefore defend both the rights of their Peoples as a whole and their rights as women within their communities. Today, Indigenous women activists are working in the international arena to push for a rights-based approach to meeting the UN Millennium Development Goals and win the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Many Indigenous women see the Declaration as a key to establishing a framework for Indigenous human rights law—including recognition of Indigenous Peoples' collective rights—that is essential to empowering Indigenous Peoples and defending their social, economic, and cultural rights.
MADRE supports this work by facilitating the International Indigenous Women's Forum (IIWF/FIMI), a global network of Indigenous women working to secure the collective rights of Indigenous Peoples in the international arena and the rights of Indigenous women within their communities. MADRE also supports Indigenous women's community-based work for human rights in Colombia, Guatemala, Kenya, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Peru.
Archives"Press Room" Home December 2013 November 2013 October 2013 September 2013 August 2013 July 2013 June 2013 May 2013 April 2013 March 2013 February 2013 January 2013 December 2012 November 2012 October 2012 September 2012 August 2012 July 2012 June 2012 May 2012 April 2012 March 2012 February 2012 January 2012 December 2011 November 2011 October 2011 September 2011 August 2011 July 2011 June 2011 May 2011 April 2011 March 2011 February 2011 January 2011 December 2010 November 2010 October 2010 September 2010 August 2010 July 2010 June 2010 May 2010 April 2010 March 2010 February 2010 January 2010 December 2009 November 2009 October 2009 September 2009 August 2009 July 2009 June 2009 May 2009 April 2009 March 2009 February 2009 January 2009 December 2008 November 2008 October 2008 September 2008 August 2008 July 2008 June 2008 May 2008 April 2008 March 2008 February 2008 January 2008 December 2007 November 2007 October 2007 September 2007 August 2007 June 2007 May 2007 April 2007 March 2007 February 2007 January 2007 December 2006 November 2006 October 2006 September 2006 July 2006 June 2006 April 2006 March 2006 January 2006 December 2005 November 2005 September 2005 August 2005 July 2005 April 2005 March 2005 November 2004 October 2004 April 2004 March 2004 January 2004 December 2003 October 2003 September 2003 June 2003 April 2003 January 2003 September 2002 June 2002 January 2002 November 2001 October 2001 September 2001 August 2001 January 2001
Kaitlyn Soligan, Media Coordinator
PHONE: +1 212 627 0444
MADRE Makes News
Los derechos de las mujeres empiezan en nuestra union (El Diario, July 30, 2013)
Women Organising To Survive: Syria's Civil War And Beyond (AWID Friday File, July 5, 2013)
Des sages-femmes israéliennes et palestiniennes unies pour sauver des vies (Opinion Internationale, June 28, 2013)
Preparándonos para otro huracán (El Diario, June 24, 2013)
Change, and I mean it (Huffington Post, June 24, 2013)