Thursday, December 6, 2018



78. Through the implementation of its protection and promotion mechanisms, the IACHR has consistently received information on the acute forms of violence that indigenous women face in the Americas. This chapter of the report will examine the different dimensions of the violence that indigenous women face and the particular way in which they bear the impact of these incidents individually and collectively.  

A. Structural Discrimination and Violence  

79. The definition of "violence against women" contained at Articles 1 and 2 of the Convention of Belém do Pará serves as a basic reference in the present report.165 Article 1 of the Convention defines violence against women “as any act or conduct, based on gender, which causes death or physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, whether in the public or the private sphere”. It then goes on, in Article 2, to explain the different forms of violence covered, including violence: a. that occurs within the family or domestic unit or within any other interpersonal relationship, whether or not the perpetrator shares or has shared the same residence with the woman, including, among others, rape, battery and sexual abuse; b. that occurs in the community and is perpetrated by any person, including, among others, rape, sexual abuse, torture, trafficking in persons, forced prostitution, kidnapping and sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as in educational institutions, health facilities or any other place; and c. that is perpetrated or condoned by the state or its agents regardless of where it occurs. 

80. The IACHR has interpreted article 2 of the Convention of Belém do Pará to include obstetrics and spiritual violence as forms of violence against women, given their widespread nature in the hemisphere. Obstetrics violence encompasses all situations of disrespectful, abusive, neglectful treatment or denial thereof that take place during the pregnancy, childbirth or postpartum period, in private or public health facilities.166 This form of violence can manifest itself at any point during the provision of maternal health services to women. It can manifest itself through actions such as the refusal to provide complete information on a medical situation or treatment, the disregard of pain, verbal humiliation, forced and coerced medical interventions, physical violence, invasive practices, or the unnecessary use of medication, for example. Examples of obstetrics violence which indigenous women have faced include being forced to give birth in a supine position rather than a vertical position; coerced sterilizations procedures; or shackling of indigenous women deprived of liberty during labor, among others. 167 Spiritual violence takes place when acts of violence and discrimination against indigenous women not only harm those women individually, but also negatively impact the collective identity of the communities to which they belong. 168 In this regard, the IACHR has understood the barriers to securing indigenous status classification in Canada as rising to the level of cultural and spiritual violence against indigenous women. 169 
81. As indicated earlier, the Commission monitors the situation of indigenous women based on the premise that there exists a close connection between acts of violence which are committed against them and the historical discrimination that they still face, based on the intersection of their gender, race, ethnicity and frequent situation of poverty.170 As discussed earlier, indigenous women have historically been the subject of racism, exclusion, and marginalization, factors which influence the structural and institutional discrimination they still face from all sectors of government and society. The Commission has received information from indigenous peoples throughout the Americas indicating that “the problem is not merely that indigenous women do not enjoy their right to equality before the law, but that laws are written and interpreted in ways that discriminate against and endanger them,” impeding their right to de jure and de facto equality. 171 This institutional discrimination often deprives indigenous women of social and economic services because they lack the necessary state identification documents;172 obstructs access to health services on the basis of their indigenous language, traditional dress or use of and belief in the effects of traditional medicine;173 and limits access to justice because of linguistic, geographic, cultural, economic and social barriers.174 

82. In addition, the IACHR has repeatedly stressed that discrimination against indigenous women is “a root cause of both the violence itself and the nonresponsiveness to that violence.”175 As was pointed out to the IACHR by civil society organizations and indigenous peoples and organizations, these discriminatory attitudes contribute to “stereotyped, discriminatory perceptions that indigenous women are inferior, sexually available and/or easy victims;”176 provide the perpetrators with a sense of confidence that acts of violence against indigenous women will not be carefully investigated; and lead to dismissive responses of the police and broader society to indigenous women’s requests for help which are not deemed serious or worthy.177

83. It is also important to note that the multiple forms of discrimination faced by indigenous women are committed and sustained by both non-indigenous and indigenous perpetrators.178 For example, organizations such as the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (hereinafter “ECLAC”) have documented reports from indigenous women alluding to the patriarchal and unequal structure that exists in their own communities, which leads to the continuation of practices and beliefs that negatively impact their health and development.179 

84. In this sense, according to the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples: 
[T]he endemic violations of collective, civil and political, and economic, social and cultural rights can be seen as constituting a form of structural violence against indigenous women. Structural violence results in women being victimized by the realities of the circumstances of their everyday life and routinely excluded from the rights and resources otherwise guaranteed to citizens. Structural violence is interlinked and mutually reinforcing with other forms of violence […].180 

85. The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women and the International Indigenous Women’s Forum have also observed that the social and economic marginalization of indigenous women makes them invisible to the State and undercuts their ability to both resist and report the human rights violations perpetrated against them, making them easy targets for violence.181 The Commission recognizes that this impunity and invisibility undermines the ability of indigenous women to change their social and economic circumstances, and perpetuates the cycle of marginalization. In this sense, the former Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Anna has affirmed that: 
Impunity for violence against women compounds the effects of such violence as a mechanism of control. When the State fails to hold the perpetrators accountable, impunity not only intensifies the subordination and powerlessness of the targets of violence, but also sends a message to society that male violence against women is both acceptable and inevitable. As a result, patterns of violent behaviour are normalized. 182 

86. The poverty and marginalization faced by most indigenous women often results in violence against them,183 and such violence imposes a stigma on the victims within their own community and further marginalizes them.184 The stigma causes victims to refrain from reporting the violence and maintains the invisibility that causes and perpetuates these acts, solidifying the conditions of powerlessness and vulnerability that made the violence more possible in the first place.185

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