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FAO and indigenous women at the UN Permanent Forum of Indigenous Issues

26/04/2017 - 

On Tuesday 25 April, FAO in partnership with the International Indigenous Women’s Forum (IIWF-FIMI) organized the side event entitled: “Indigenous women empowerment: challenges and achievements” during the 16th session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), the most important body where indigenous peoples’ issues are discussed at the United Nations. 

With this event, FAO highlighted the importance of the empowerment of indigenous women worldwide in order to achieve gender equality and overcome gender and ethnic-based discrimination. It also provided a space to discuss the challenges that still remain and share successful experiences. The event was chaired by the newly appointed chair of the UNPFII, Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine.

“The exclusion of indigenous women and girls from accessing rights, education, participation in economy and development is not only unacceptable but also a great loss for our countries,” said Juan José Gómez Camacho, Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations in New York. 

Martha Ntopipo, programme manager of the Community Research and Development Services (CORDS) and founder of the Pastoralist Information and Development Organization (PIDO) talked about two levels when working towards women empowerment. First, bringing awareness to indigenous women about their own rights as a way to reverse the discrimination they face in their own communities. 

Second, the importance of education as a basis for empowerment: “If we want to see women empowered they have to be educated. Maasai girls marry as young as 12, just right after the female genital mutilation is done. So we talk to parents about the importance of children to go to school, especially for girls,” said Ms. Ntopipo.

FAO and the Leadership School of Indigenous Women 

Indeed, education on food security, human rights and advocacy are the main features of the Leadership Schools, which have been jointly devised and implemented by FIMI and FAO. “Through the Leadership Schools we want to bring together the voices of indigenous women leaders so they can speak for themselves and become the leaders of tomorrow,” said Mr. Fernandez de Larrinoa. 

“In this school we try to give women the tools to participate in decision-making. It is one of the ways in which we promote access to opportunities,” asserted Teresa Zapeta, FIMI’s programme coordinator. 

Tania Pariona, a young indigenous leader and former participant in the Global Leadership School, shared her experience as the only congresswomen in Peru that self-identifies as indigenous. “I was looked down upon because I wore my traditional attire and people assumed I was uneducated,” she reported. 

“There are many people, including women who think this is not an appropriate activity for us. Women empowerment is a permanently challenging project that implies decision-making. We can be replaced if we do not have the power or if we do not think we have the power. So the first thing we have to do is believe in the power of women,” she added. 

Adding to the debate on indigenous women’s empowerment, Ms. Zapeta stressed the importance of intersectionality: “Our life situation and the inequities we face need to be tackled from a combined intersectional point of view that includes economic empowerment, access to education, health and food security. This is the vision that we promote for indigenous women’s empowerment”.

Data on indigenous women

One recurring concern that is key to advance the rights of indigenous women at the policy level is the lack of gender and ethnic disaggregated data. “We need to work harder in producing data and statistics that can allow us to understand much better what is the situation of indigenous women in every part of the world,” said Mr. Camacho. 

“FAO is convinced that we cannot eradicate hunger if we do not work with half of the people who produce food” said Mr. Fernandez de Larrinoa, adding: “How are we going to do policy discussion on food security if we do not include indigenous women? How can we make sure that their voices are taken into consideration in policy discussions? And how can we make sure that policies reflect the needs and the aspirations of indigenous women?”

Certainly, women’s empowerment is critical to achieve food security for all but also to leave no one behind in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. 

To watch the full event click here

To watch the photos of the event click here

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