Press Release

IACHR Publishes Report on the Human Rights of Indigenous Women in the Americas

October 27, 2017

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Montevideo —The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) today is publishing a report on the human rights of indigenous women in the Americas. The report describes the different forms of discrimination indigenous women face, based on various facets of their identity. It also analyzes how these situation increases indigenous women’s exposure to violence and discrimination, and limit their adequate access to justice and to their economic, social, and cultural rights. In this report, the IACHR establishes governing principles that should guide the action of States to prevent and address all human rights violations that affect indigenous women in the hemisphere, through a holistic, gendered and intercultural perspective.

Because of their multidimensional identity, indigenous women are exposed to intersecting forms of discrimination related to cultural identity, sex, and gender, among other factors, both outside and within their own communities, or as a result of historical and structural remnants of colonialism. The intersection of these sources of discrimination creates superposed layers of mutually reinforcing human rights violations.

 This discrimination creates obstacles to indigenous women’s ability to exercise their civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, and to their access to justice. They still face limited opportunities to enter the labor market; unique geographic and economic challenges in access to health or educational services; limited access to social programs and services; and little opportunity to participate in the political process. Indigenous women who want to practice traditional forms of subsistence often face great obstacles in access to traditional lands and resources. In terms of indigenous women’s access to justice, the main obstacles are geographical, socioeconomic, cultural, and linguistic, and are related to the failure of States to address the situation. This political, social, and economic marginalization of indigenous women contributes to a permanent situation of structural discrimination that makes them especially susceptible to various acts of violence.

Indigenous women face diverse forms of violence—not just physical, psychological, and sexual violence but also obstetric and spiritual violence—which are prohibited by inter-American human rights treaties, including the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women. Indigenous women and girls tend to suffer more acts of violence in specific contexts: in the context of armed conflicts; during the implementation of development, investment, and extraction projects; when their territories are militarized; in the domestic sphere; when they act as human rights defenders; during processes of migration and displacement; among other contexts.

The Commission notes that this report was prepared based on information provided by indigenous women and leaders. Although indigenous women suffer discrimination and human rights violations, those who have interacted with the Inter-American Commission in different spaces have rejected being characterized as victims and have demanded recognition as holders of rights and empowered actors. The IACHR’s focus in on the recognition that indigenous women make unique contributions and play decisive roles in the history of their peoples’ struggle for self-determination, for their collective and individual rights, and for their rights as women.

The report includes a series of recommendations to assist States in their ongoing efforts to prevent and respond to human rights violations affecting indigenous women. The IACHR observes that, in devising and implementing measures to ensure respect for indigenous women’s human rights, States should adopt a holistic approach in all laws and policies that affect indigenous women to address the multiple and interconnected forms of discrimination they encounter in different contexts, and include it as well in the prevention, investigation, prosecution, and punishment of all forms of violence against indigenous women. This approach should consider the sex, gender, and history of racism and discrimination faced by indigenous women and their worldview. States should be guided by principles of equality and non-discrimination, should have as a foundation the right of indigenous communities to self-determination and cultural identity.

In dealing with indigenous women, it is essential that States consider the conception that indigenous women have of their human rights, the individual and collective nature of the rights that are applicable to them, and the unique relationship indigenous women have with their territories and natural resources. Addressing any right of indigenous women involves taking into account their culture, traditions, and forms of organization, as well as the collective rights of the peoples to which they belong. This makes it even more essential for indigenous women to actively participate in decision-making spaces. The IACHR insisted that States create spaces for the full and active participation of indigenous women in the design and implementation of initiatives, programs, and policies at all levels of government. In addition, the Commission recommended that States adopt all appropriate measures to promote and protect indigenous women’s economic, social, and cultural rights with the goal of ensuring full access to basic health and education services, food, and water.

The IACHR recognizes the effort made by several States in the region to address the human rights situation of indigenous women. However, there are still major barriers, and it is essential for States to continue working to find solutions to address the specific needs of indigenous women, fully respect and protect all their human rights, and include them in these processes, incorporating a comprehensive, gender-based, and ethno-racial perspective.

 A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and defense of human rights in the region, and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 169/17