Photo: Luminita Cuna

Indigenous women in the spotlight of the UN Commission on the status of Women

by Luminita Cuna
Indigenous women were placed in the spotlight during this year’s 61st session of the UN Commission on the status of Women (CSW61), the largest gathering on gender equality and women’s rights.  The focus area of CSW61 was the empowerment of indigenous women. This marked a historic gathering for indigenous women.
As a clear sign of leadership and self-determination, indigenous women created and presented their own definition of empowerment. This was published in the Political Statement in the framework of CSW61: Empowerment of Indigenous Women on the Asian Indigenous Women’s Network and endorsed by several indigenous organizations like FIMI, Chirapaq, AIWN, Tebtebba.
“We believe that each culture has its own concept of empowerment and that must be taken into account. For us, indigenous women, empowerment is linked to the full exercise of our individual and collective rights in accordance with our worldview, it is part of our collective responsibilities to protect and live in peace with the Mother Earth; Empowerment includes the right to freely exercise the economic, social and cultural development of each of our indigenous peoples as well to have control over our territories and their resources, which are often undermined by large corporations with the support of the States”
In line with the above definition, indigenous leaders’ discourses during CSW61 highlighted what needed to be done in order to empower indigenous women as they understand it. Donors specifically can enhance funding to indigenous women, by both listen to how indigenous women are defining these terms and reflect on how  programs can help reinforce these views through our funding practices.
Speaking about participation, Otilia Lux de Coti (Guatemala) recommended parity democracy as the governing model of democracy. She emphasized that equal and just participation is necessary, because states have long excluded indigenous women from national economic and political systems. This economic empowerment of indigenous women has to go hand in hand with their political participation. States need to start providing opportunities for their equal inclusion. Funders could get involved by providing training for leaders and support for indigenous organizations to help their voice be heard.
Vicky Tauli Corpuz (Philippines), referring to the significant impacts of climate change on indigenous women dependent on traditional livelihoods, noted that solutions will come from strengthening indigenous communities and that indigenous women are the ones managing natural resources in a very sustainable fashion. There are plenty of opportunities for donors to work together with indigenous women and their organizations to implement mitigation and adaptation programs, and also to build resilience of indigenous women to climate change effects.
Because the main activities of indigenous women are production activities (agriculture, handcrafts) in which they are utilizing their traditional knowledge, indigenous women know how to use only the necessary resources, setting an example for the concept of sustainability, highlighted Tarcila Rivera Zea (Peru). Indigenous women welcomedonor partnerships for countless sustainable initiatives.
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Photo: Luminita Cuna

Lakshmi Puri (UN Women) called the need for movement building to support and provide resources for indigenous women. She emphasized the triple discrimination indigenous women suffer for being women, indigenous and poor or living in remote areas. She highlighted the need of education and training for indigenous women so they can exercise their voice and participate in leadership roles in both traditional and non-indigenous institutions. Creating or financing education and training programs could be a great opportunity for donors who want to support indigenous women organizations to get involved.
Indigenous women are at the forefront of the fight for defending their territories, their cultural and human rights and they are key in the perpetuation of their traditional knowledge for generations to come. They are however suffering of various forms of violence and, although they are the pillar of their communities, they lack access to resources which hinders their potential to win their fight. Indigenous women use innovative strategies to acquire and advance their agenda which lies at the intersection of environmental sustainability, social justice and economic empowerment, hence it is imperative for donors to consider them in their funding decisions.
As IFIP describes in the Funding Indigenous Issues: Strategies for Support funders should consider two approaches when supporting indigenous peoples: the empowerment and ecosystems approach. The empowerment approach like Indigenous-led philanthropy is based on respecting the right of indigenous peoples to determine the nature and use of resources that come into their communities. The ecosystems approach is another funding method that respects the indigenous worldview that all life, human and nonhuman, is interrelated. These approaches often result in flexible program areas that show fluidity and appreciation for different interpretations of an issue.
This is a critical time for donors to get involved in supporting indigenous women. The advances indigenous women attained at international level created a spectacular momentum which funders can help move forward.