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Gender and Indigenous Women

Indigenous women often face double discrimination: they are discriminated as indigenous and as women. Discrimination as women they experience not only from the surrounding society but often also from within their own communities. Integration into national society and the adoption of elements of mainstream culture often leads to a further weakening of the status of women in indigenous societies.

Indigenous women thus suffer from a range of problems related to the violation of their rights. These include among others: lack of participation in decision-making processes, lack of control over income to sustain themselves and their families, lack of land rights, lack of access to education, harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation, domestic violence and gender based violence in situations of armed conflicts and militarization.

As part of the general human rights principles guiding IWGIA’s work it promotes gender equity and mutual respect in all of its activities. The support for indigenous women’s rights and empowerment is a cross-cutting aspect in IWGIA’s activities whenever it is relevant and feasible. IWGIA seeks to integrate the issue of women’s rights and participation in key activities such as in the land and natural resource rights and capacity building/awareness raising projects. While promoting gender sensitivity and participation of women in all its activities, specific women-focused projects will be supported when considered of particular urgency.

Promoting gender equality among indigenous peoples can pose significant challenges. IWGIA aims at both supporting gender equity and at supporting indigenous peoples’ cultures, customary laws and institutions, and these two aspects might at times collide. Among and within indigenous communities there are different views on the issue of women’s rights, and some of those views might contradict the principle of gender equality and women’s empowerment. There are no easy solutions to such dilemmas. However, IWGIA, in its partnerships with indigenous and other organisations, seeks to uphold the fundamental human rights principles including women’s rights.

IWGIA perceives cultures as dynamic, constantly adapting to changing circumstances, and in which there are different perceptions of and “voices” on a particular matter, such as gender relations. IWGIA chooses to strengthen those voices in society which are in accordance with fundamental human rights principles, including women’s rights. In line with its non-interference principle IWGIA shall not actively do its own advocacy on women’s rights, but shall support partners who work for empowerment and equity of women. The work of such organizations should not be perceived as contradicting traditional cultures and values, but rather as attempts of promoting discussions and gradual change of particular aspects of traditional cultures which are harmful to women. Such work should be done in a sensitive and respectful manner that does not create tensions and conflict within the respective communities.

Read the Guidelines for Practitioners from IGNARM: Integrating Indigenous and Gender Aspects in natural Resource Management from 2005. Copyright 2005: WWF, IWGIA, KULU, Nepenthes & DIIS. Editors: Gertrud Bjørning and Elisabeth Kiørboe. Authors: Elisabeth Kiørboe, Diana Vinding, Martha Salazar, Vibeke Tuxen and Helle Munk-Ravnborg.

Read IWGIA's Strategy on Gender and Indigenous Women