Indigenous World 2020: Indigenous Women at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)
The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women. It is a functional commission of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
The CSW is instrumental in promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards of gender equality and empowerment of women.
In 1996, ECOSOC expanded the CSW’s mandate and decided that it should take a leading role in monitoring and reviewing progress and problems in the implementation of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. During the CSW’s annual sessions, representatives of Member States, civil society organisations, and UN entities gather for two weeks at the UN headquarters in New York to discuss progress and gaps in the implementation of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the key global policy document on gender equality, adopted by the 23rd Special Session of the 2000 (Beijing +5) General Assembly. In addition, they discuss emerging issues that affect gender equality and the empowerment of women.
During the CSW sessions, the Member States agree on measures to accelerate progress on these issues and promote women’s enjoyment of their rights in political, economic and social realms. The conclusions and recommendations of each session are forwarded to ECOSOC for follow-up.
2020, a strategic year for Indigenous women
2020 is of crucial importance for the agenda of Indigenous women at the UN, given that it marks the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The eyes of states, organisations and allies will be set upon the evaluation of the achievements, challenges and recommendations for gender equity in a world where, paradoxically, violence against women is on the rise, yet women are increasingly organising themselves. Indigenous women arrive on this stage with hundreds of years of experience in defending the lives of our peoples and our territories, with lessons learned through 20 years of global organisation, and with a diagnosis developed through consensus regarding the public institutional actions necessary for a more dignified and equitable life of Indigenous women.
In this framework, it is worthwhile to review the progress made on the agenda of Indigenous women at the CSW sessions, with particular emphasis on Session Number 63 held in 2019, and on the steps we are taking in advance of Session Number 64.
The Participation of Indigenous Women in the CSW
The first globally coordinated participation of Indigenous women took place at the Fourth World Conference on Women (which led to the adoption of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action). Since then, with support from friendly states, the Secretariat of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, as well as NGOs and feminist allies, Indigenous women have made major contributions, from an Indigenous perspective, to attain a world not only with greater gender equity and less violence against women, but also greater sustainability.
In particular, the International Forum of Indigenous Women (FIMI) has focused its efforts on this international setting and facilitated coordination to increase visibility and engagement of Indigenous women, thereby ensuring a significant presence in decisions taken at this high-level forum and that the voice of Indigenous women is included in the work to be carried out by states and international institutions.
By raising a voice built through consensus, spaces have been opened through which the perspectives and specific demands of Indigenous women have gained visibility during the CSW sessions. This was first accomplished during Session Number 49, held in 2005. Later came Resolution 56/4, of 2012 (with the section entitled Indigenous Women: Key Actors in Poverty and Hunger Eradication). Reference to Indigenous women was also included in the document adopted at Session Number 57, and at Session Number 61, in which recognition was given to the importance of economic empowerment for improvement of our social, cultural and political engagement, as well as the importance of our contributions to the communities.
The Commission’s Session Number 62 focused on gender equity and the empowerment of rural women and girls. There, Indigenous women made very significant contributions, on account of which CSW’s recommendations to the Member States and UN institutions made an urgent call to include the specific conditions, proposals and demands of Indigenous women in decision-making processes.
During Session Number 63, held 11-22 March 2019, FIMI made recommendations based on the following considerations, which are worth highlighting.
First, it was pointed out that the intersection between access to decent work, social protection, public social services and infrastructure is fundamental for attaining gender equality, the eradication of poverty and to ensure social bonding and inclusive development. It was also emphasised that Indigenous women have a lower level of participation in the remunerated labor force, especially in formal employment, and also have less access to social protection systems addressing specific gender risks, such as maternity and nonremunerated family responsibilities, which diminish their power to have income of their own.
Other challenges for Indigenous women that FIMI presented were unequal access to culturally relevant education and training, lack of recognition and respect for traditional knowledge in national policies, as well as lack of access to credit and market facilities.
At the community level, it was indicated to CSW that rural and Indigenous communities are dealing with critical conditions of vulnerability when faced with infrastructure development projects. This is despite the indication, in General Recommendation No. 34 on the Rights of Rural Women, which states that Member States must ensure that projects are implemented only after participatory gender and environmental impact assessments have been conducted with full participation of rural women, and after obtaining their free, prior and informed consent.
Based on these considerations, Indigenous women called upon Member States, multilateral organisations and key actors to consider the following recommendations pursuant to Agenda 2030:
- Ensure that public investments are made for social protection services and infrastructure with a gender approach in order to support the economy of nonremunerated care and to contribute to job creation for Indigenous women who live in rural areas, with special attention to youth and women with disabilities.
- Promote and protect the rights of Indigenous women and girls through the implementation of specific measures, ensuring access to quality, intercultural, inclusive education, healthcare, public services – including maternity and reproductive rights –, economic resources, access to decent work and to systems of justice in order to eliminate all forms of violence.
- Invest in sustainable infrastructure in keeping with international human rights standards, respecting the right to free, prior, and informed consent at all stages, and the means of subsistence and traditional knowledge of Indigenous Peoples, including the protection of and dialogue with human rights defenders.
- Take concrete measures to eliminate political and structural violence against women, particularly for women in rural and Indigenous zones, by designing public policies and programmes with their corresponding budget allocation, guaranteeing their full and effective participation and respect for their cultural diversity.
- Adopt the recommendation of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues to organise an interactive high-level dialogue on the rights of Indigenous women, coinciding with the 25th Anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women, in order to review progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, with a special tie-in to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
Paragraph 25 of the agreed conclusions of CSW Session Number 63 mentions that the low levels of birth records of Indigenous women may make them more vulnerable to marginalisation, exclusion, discrimination, violence, statelessness, exploitation and abuse. Its recommendations included express mention of the promotion and protection of the rights of Indigenous and rural women, recognising the intersectionality of discrimination and the barrier constituted by violence, as well as the need to ensure access to quality, inclusive education, health services, public services, financial resources, land, natural resources and decent work.
A call is also made for ensuring truly significant participation of Indigenous women in the economy and in decision-making processes for the protection of ancestral knowledge, and for recognition that Indigenous women in rural contexts often face higher rates of violence, poverty, limitations on health services, and access to information and communication technologies to financial resources and services, infrastructure, education and employment.
Finally, a call is made to recognise the contributions of Indigenous women at a cultural, social, economic, political and environmental level, including in the mitigation of climate change.
Looking Towards CSW 64
In the CSW discussions, the collective voice of Indigenous women has been key for including measures that move local economies to eradicate poverty, procure sovereignty, food security and sustainable development.
The importance of this inclusion lies in the fact that the resolutions and recommendations emanating from the CSW constitute a very important framework, which Indigenous women can use as a basis for advocacy in public policies and programme actions since they are commitments assumed by the Member States. It is therefore necessary that Indigenous women at all levels be familiar with these commitments in order to be able to demand that the states fulfill them.
Unfortunately, many commitments appear to just stay on paper. Implementation is the greatest challenge for Indigenous women, which includes having the states assume these commitments at a national level and succeed in making them operational through a legal framework with the necessary resources for their full and effective exercise.
The discussions that have been taken place, and those that will take place in 2020, also demonstrate that it is still necessary to address challenges presently restricting Indigenous women from fully exercising their individual and collective rights, equity and well-being; the various degrees and manifestations of discrimination and violence; an aggressive appropriation of our lands and resources; militarisation of our territories; forced displacement and migration; as well as criminalisation and repression of social protest, including gender violence, exploitation and human trafficking.
Shedding light on the specific situation of Indigenous women in statistics and public policies; combating the violence they are suffering; gaining access to justice, education and health services (including sexual and reproductive health services) with cultural relevance; accessing quality and culturally adequate education; ensuring economic empowerment of Indigenous women and their organisations; land ownership; the right to free, prior and informed consent; the protection of territories; the exercise of political engagement; and full participation in the implementation of Agenda 2030 are fundamental points of advocacy in order to implement the recommendations of the 1995 Beijing Declaration of Indigenous Women, which Indigenous women affirm as totally pertinent and current.
Article prepared by the International Forum of Indigenous Women (FIMI)
Notes and References
 General Assembly, United Nations. A/RES/S-23/3. Further Actions and Initiatives to Implement the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Consulted March 2, 2020: https://www.acnur.org/fileadmin/Documentos/BDL/2006/4657.pdf?file=fileadmin/Documentos/BDL/2006/4657
[Available in English at: https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N00/652/05/PDF/N0065205.pdf?OpenElement]
 UN Women. The Beijing Platform for Action: Inspiration Then and Now. Consulted March 2, 2020: https://beijing20.unwomen.org/es/about [Available in English at: https://beijing20.unwomen.org/en/about]
 United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
E/2005/27 E/CN.6/2005/11. Consulted March 2, 2020: https://undocs.org/E/CN.6/2005/11
 UN Women. “Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work - 2017 Commission on The Status Of Women – Agreed Conclusions”. Consulted March 2, 2020: https://www.unwomen.org/-/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/csw/61/csw-conclusions-61-web.pdf?la=en&vs=5452
 United Nations. Report of the Commission on the Status of Women. E/2018/27 E/CN.6/2018/20. Consulted March 2, 2020: https://undocs.org/es/E/CN.6/2018/20 [Available in English at: https://undocs.org/en/E/CN.6/2018/20]
 UN Women. Official Documents. Consulted March 2, 2020: https://www.unwomen.org/en/csw/csw63-2019/official-documents
 Beijing Declaration of Indigenous Women. NGO Forum, Fourth United Nations World Conference on Women. Consulted March 2, 2020: http://www.chirapaq.org.pe/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2018/03/Declaracion-de-las-Mujeres-Indigenas-en-Beijing.pdf [Available in English at: https://www.asianIndigenouswomen.org/index.php/Indigenous-womens-human-rights/csw/23-beijing-declaration-of-Indigenous-women/file]
This article is part of the 34th edition of the The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced. Find The Indigenous World 2020 in full here