Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women Holds Briefing for States Parties on its Draft General Recommendation

OHCHR

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today held an informal briefing for States parties on its draft general recommendation on the rights of indigenous women and girls.

In opening remarks, Nahla Haidar, Committee Vice Chair, said the Committee sought to actively promote the rights of indigenous women and girls, however, despite the existence of relevant international legal frameworks, indigenous women and girls worldwide continued to face discrimination, gender-based violence and other rights violations.

Paulo David, Chief of the Indigenous Peoples and Minorities Section of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that it was crucial that the draft general recommendation recognised self-determination as a fundamental core element to ensure that indigenous women enjoyed their human rights, including allowing women to live free from gender-based violence and any other form of discrimination.

Opening remarks were also made by Eleanor Dictaan-Bang-Oa, Asian Indigenous Women’s Network; Sara Mux, the Ixpop Collective; and Committee Expert Leticia Bonifaz Alfonzo.

In interventions, States reiterated their support and commitment to the draft general recommendation. It was important to have a general recommendation which referred specifically to indigenous women and girls, as the Committee did not currently have ones. One State said it planned to dedicate a part of its 2022 contribution to the Office of the High Commissioner to the Committee. A speaker noted that the draft assumed all indigenous women and girls were attached to the land, which was not the case anymore as globalisation had caused indigenous people to be displaced from their land. The speaker hoped there would be statement in the draft to reflect this, to ensure these women were also protected. Several speakers also drew attention to the challenges and obstacles which existed when it came to eliminating violence against indigenous women and girls.

In closing remarks, Ms. Haidar highlighted the importance of synergy, stating that this draft general recommendation also related to all women, women in conflict, stateless women, rural women, displaced women and many other groups of women. This had been a great interaction and Ms. Haidar thanked the speakers for their comments, suggestions and support. All suggestions would be taken on board.

The following States took the floor: Bolivia, Guatemala, Peru, Australia, Ukraine, Denmark, Nepal, Guyana, Paraguay, Mexico, Costa Rica, Spain, France, Ecuador, and Philippines.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s eighty-second session is being held from 13 June to 1 July. All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage. Meeting summary releases can be found here. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed via the UN Web TV webpage.

The Committee will next meet at 5 p.m. on Friday, 1 July, to close its eighty-second session.

Opening Statements

NAHLA HAIDAR, Committee Chair, said the Committee sought to actively promote the rights of indigenous women and girls, however, despite the existence of relevant international legal frameworks, indigenous women and girls worldwide continued to face discrimination, gender-based violence and other rights violations. In 2019, the Committee had embarked on a draft general recommendation which aimed at strengthening the rights of indigenous women and girls and since then, Committee Chair Gladys Acosta Vargas had been at the lead of the process. The Committee would hopefully be in a position to adopt the draft general recommendations in October this year. The Committee was honoured to have many representatives of States in the meeting and looked forward to a fruitful exchange and discussion.

PAULO DAVID, Chief of the Indigenous Peoples and Minorities Section of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, congratulated the Committee for an excellent job on the draft general recommendation. The Committee had been a pioneer in working on indigenous peoples’ rights. He commended the Committee for its consultation process, which was a model, including through regional meetings which provided input by States and indigenous women leaders. General recommendations were important for building on treaty obligations and were key for developing rights and providing advice to States for implementation.

It was crucial that the draft general recommendation recognised self-determination as a fundamental core element to ensure that indigenous women enjoyed their human rights, including allowing women to live free from gender-based violence and any other form of discrimination. According to the report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women just presented to the Human Rights Council, indigenous women and girls faced grave, systematic and continued acts of violence while perpetrators enjoyed impunity. These increased levels of violence were rooted in historic and patriarchal powers, enabled by a legacy of colonialism. The Office of the High Commissioner would be pleased once the general recommendation was adopted and would make all efforts to disseminate it properly. It would also encourage other human rights mechanisms to build on this important document.

ELEANOR DICTAAN-BANG-OA, Asian Indigenous Women’s Network, said the Committee’s draft general recommendation on the rights of indigenous women and girls was a welcome advancement in respect to the rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous women and girls. To be born as an indigenous female predisposed one to challenges and barriers to a life with dignity. The adoption of the draft general recommendation would be an historic milestone in the achievement of State commitments to the Beijing Declaration and would be a gamechanger in leaving no one behind in the context of sustainable development. Ms. Dictaan-Bang-oa urged the Committee to make a difference to the lives of indigenous women and girls, saying the adoption of the general recommendation would make the Convention more meaningful to indigenous women.

SARA MUX, Ixpop Collective, expressed deep concern about the conditions of inequality and the effects of intersectional discrimination and continuous racism that indigenous women experienced. The draft general recommendation represented hope for the individual and collective rights of indigenous women and girls. Perpetrators of the persecution of human rights defenders who were persecuted, kidnapped, imprisoned and sometimes murdered in different countries must be held to account. It was also important to draw attention to cases of trafficking and sexual exploitation and forced marriages that indigenous women and girls experienced. The draft general recommendation required States to make substantive transformations to eliminate conditions which affected the full enjoyment of rights by indigenous women and girls.

LETICIA BONIFAZ ALFONZO, Committee Expert, said that the draft general recommendation was guided by the principle of self-identification. Behind the life of every indigenous woman and girl was colonialism, enforced displacement and armed conflicts. These factors were underlying gender discrimination and the discrimination which existed was intersectional. There was a close connection between indigenous women and their land and natural resources. She stressed the importance of the effective participation of indigenous women and girls in public and political spheres. The key issue was to understand equality and non-discrimination from the perspective of indigenous women.

Policies needed to be developed to eliminate discrimination against all women and girls. It was important to ensure access to justice for indigenous women, which needed to be consistent with human rights practices and in line with the Convention. Subsequently, one of the recommendations would be to ensure that indigenous women had access to a justice system, free from racial and gender bias.

Gender-based violence was a form of discrimination and severely affected indigenous women and girls, with indigenous women more likely to experience this than non-indigenous women. This caused a collective damage, as well as spiritual, social and cultural damage to indigenous women and their communities. Reparations needed to be sought for all gender-based violence against indigenous women and girls and their effective participation in political life needed to be ensured. Indigenous women had the right to participate and be leaders in politics, at all levels, with no limitations due to discrimination. The challenges faced by human rights defenders needed to be recognised. There needed to be an analysis of peace and security issues relating to women and girls. States needed to promote the free and informed participation of indigenous women in all spheres of decision making. Ms. Alfonzo thanked all those involved in drafting the general recommendation.

Interventions by States

In their interventions, States reaffirmed their support for the general recommendation drafted by the Committee and commended the Committee for its work. One State hoped that the general recommendation would protect the rights of indigenous women and girls and pay the historic debt owed to this group. Another State noted that it was important to have a general recommendation which referred specifically to indigenous women and girls, as the Committee did not currently have one. One speaker was pleased to see chapters on the right to health and gender-based violence within the draft, while another speaker hoped that the general recommendation would significantly contribute to ending all forms of violence against indigenous women and girls.

One State was delighted to see that the draft general recommendation took the intersectionality of discrimination against indigenous women and girls into account, hoping it would help overcome structural barriers caused by colonialism, and would give indigenous women and girls around the world access to better living conditions. One State noted that the treaty bodies were suffering from a lack of resources and was planning to dedicate a part of its 2022 contribution to the Office of the High Commissioner to the Committee. One speaker noted that the draft assumed all indigenous women and girls were attached to the land, which was not the case anymore as globalisation had caused indigenous people to be displaced from their land. The speaker hoped there would be a statement in the draft to reflect this in order to ensure these women were also protected. Several speakers also drew attention to the challenges and obstacles which existed when it came to eliminating violence against indigenous women and girls.

During the discussion, several States highlighted strategies and actions implemented by their Governments to recognise the collective rights of indigenous women and girls, as well as the importance of ensuring gender rights were cross cutting across all policies. Several delegations drew attention to the challenges and obstacles which existed when it came to eliminating violence against indigenous women and girls.

Responses by the Committee Experts

A Committee Expert was mindful of the significance of the draft general recommendation. At one regional consultation, the Expert had listened to the testimonies of indigenous women representing all of the Americas, and had come away with two takeaways. One of these was the deep spirituality of indigenous women and girls, including through honouring the land and environment. The second was that the individual and collective rights of women and girls were inextricably linked. The Expert thanked States speaking today for their support and commitment.

Another Committee Expert noted that if human rights protection could be provided for non-indigenous women, then indigenous women should also enjoy human rights. The Committee was ready to help indigenous women to overcome what was challenging them in their rights.

One Committee Expert acknowledged the indigenous and custodial landowners in Australia and throughout the world. The Expert put on record the Uluru statement from the heart, in which Australia called for a First Nations voice, and emphasised the importance of native title rights and the recognition of indigenous peoples in Constitutions.

A Committee Expert thanked all who had expressed their solidarity to strengthen the drafting of the important general recommendation. Indigenous communities were vibrant, full of colour and active. Their positivity had contributed a lot to bring the draft general recommendation to this stage. Indigenous communities globally would benefit from the general recommendation, and it would help all States in their unity and diversity.

One Committee Expert said the draft general recommendation would do a lot for the progress of human rights all over the world. There was a link between this general recommendation, and the one from 2016 on rural women. It was the Committee’s wish that the document would be used by all States parties for the benefit of human rights.

A Committee Expert said the general recommendation was not just important for women, but for all members of the family, and for people all around the world.

Closing Remarks

NAHLA HAIDAR, Committee Vice Chair, highlighted the importance of synergy, stating that this draft general recommendation also related to all women, women in conflict, stateless women, rural women, displaced women and many other groups of women. This had been a great interaction and Ms. Haidar thanked the speakers for their comments, suggestions and support. All suggestions would be taken on board.

Ms. Haidar thanked Committee Chair Gladys Acosta Vargas in her absence for her commitment and said it would be fantastic to adopt the draft general recommendation in October, at the same time as the fortieth anniversary of the Committee. This consultation had been another step in the process and the Committee looked forward to continued collaboration on this matter. It was only together that a difference could be made.

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