Friday, November 30, 2018



1. Through its various human rights protection and promotion mechanisms, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (hereinafter the “IACHR” or the “Commission”) has consistently received information regarding numerous human rights violations faced by and specific to indigenous women in the Americas. During hearings and working visits in the past years, indigenous women from all over the Americas and organizations working to advance their human rights have reported to the Commission on various forms of discrimination that affect indigenous women with a severe impact on their personal integrity, cultural, and spiritual life. The Commission has also received numerous reports of acts of physical, psychological and sexual violence perpetrated against indigenous women, and information on formidable geographic, economic, and institutional barriers they face to adequately access basic services.1 The Commission has 
also dealt with a range of human rights violations against indigenous women through its individual petition and cases system.

2. The information received by the IACHR has also shed light on gaps at the international level in the protection of the rights of indigenous women, and the need for more responsive approaches and methods to address their individual cases and concerns.3 In this regard, the Commission has received concrete requests from indigenous women in the region to thoroughly examine the specific issues affecting them and issue recommendations to the States on this subject. 

3. Based on these considerations, the IACHR has decided to prepare a comprehensive report on indigenous women’s human rights in the Americas. The IACHR hopes this report will constitute an important step forward in dealing with the specific priority situation of indigenous women with the goal of promoting that States and the international community undertake further research and analysis of these topics, from a gender-based and ethno-racial perspective, and with a holistic approach, taking into consideration all historical, social, economic, and cultural variables which have a bearing on the human rights violations inflicted on indigenous women in the hemisphere. 

4. As part of this initiative, a questionnaire was circulated among OAS Member States and non-state actors in December 2014, which permitted the collection of valuable information on the main challenges and advances in the respect and guarantee of the rights of indigenous women in various countries. The IACHR is grateful to the States and civil society organizations which answered the questionnaire and submitted their responses to the Commission. Several meetings with indigenous women and experts on the subject matter were held in Guatemala, Peru, and Washington, DC between 2013 and 2014. This initiative was also complemented with IACHR visits to several countries of the hemisphere, during which specific information was gathered on the situation of indigenous women, including to Colombia (2012), Suriname (2013), Guatemala (2013), Canada (2013), and Honduras (2014). Additionally, the IACHR has conducted a number of hearings between 2013-2016 focused on the situation of indigenous women at the regional level and in specific countries. The Commission thanks Denmark for the support it offered in making this initiative possible, in particular with regard to its Mesoamerican component, and the concrete situation of indigenous women in Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. 

5. During the implementation of this project, the Commission has been able to document the ways in which indigenous women have historically faced prejudice based on the multiple facets of their identities. A confluence of factors, such as racism, sexism, poverty and the structural and institutional inequalities stemming from them, as well as human rights violations related to their territories and the natural resources contained therein, heighten indigenous women’s vulnerability to violations of their rights.4 All of these sources of discrimination against indigenous women combine, creating superposed layers of mutually reinforcing human rights violations. 

6. As will be discussed throughout this report, the lives of the vast majority of indigenous women in the hemisphere are still marked by major impediments to the fulfilment of their civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. Among others, they are faced with severely restricted opportunities to enter the labor market; unique geographic and economic challenges in order to gain access to health and education services; limited access to social programs and services; high rates of illiteracy; scarce participation in the political process; and social marginalization. 

7. This political, social, and economic marginalization of indigenous women contributes to a continuous situation of structural discrimination and makes them particularly susceptible to a variety of acts of violence prohibited by the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Eradication and Punishment of Violence against Women (hereinafter, “Convention of Belém do Pará”) and other Inter-American instruments. This marginalization and vulnerability of indigenous women is enhanced when States fail to produce comprehensive and disaggregated statistics, and do not properly document the differentiated forms of violence that affect indigenous women. Indigenous women are more likely to suffer acts of physical, psychological, and sexual violence within specific contexts. Violence against indigenous women is a fixture during armed conflicts, during the execution of major development, investment, and extractive projects, the militarization of indigenous lands, and in the context of their work as human rights defenders. Most of these acts are met by no response or a deficient response by State authorities, enabling the path for impunity. Indigenous women also face specific obstacles in attempting to obtain safe, adequate, effective, and culturally appropriate access to justice when their human rights are violated.6 Most justice systems throughout the hemisphere still lack a gender and ethno-racial perspective in their processing of individual cases, reflected in the scarcity of interpreters, translators, and legal personnel trained and sensitive to the culture and worldview of indigenous peoples. 

8. This report examines these challenges and seeks to promote more research and analysis concerning the specific human rights violations faced by indigenous women and the human rights standards and principles that should guide the response of States to their concerns. The report incorporates the perspective of indigenous women in the analysis of the human rights violations they experience, the human rights standards applicable to them, and the recommendations the Commission formulates for the Member States of the Organization of American States (hereinafter “the OAS”) to assist them in addressing the serious challenges they face. 

9. It is important to clarify in this report that indigenous women do not constitute a homogeneous group. Indigenous women are present throughout the hemisphere: in North, Central, South America, and in the Caribbean. They live in different countries with varying colonial histories and contemporaneous realities, have faced various degrees of dispossession of their lands and resources, and reside in urban areas or on their ancestral lands and territories. They also have diverse cultures and traditions, speak different native and “colonial” languages, and have differing needs and concerns.7 The Commission understands the term “indigenous women” to include women of all ages, from young girls to older women. In previous reports, the Commission has noted that, given the immense diversity of indigenous peoples in the world and the risk that a strict definition of “indigenous peoples” turns out to be restrictive, the term "indigenous peoples" does not have a precise definition in international law.8 It certainly follows that neither does the term “indigenous women.” Women’s selfidentification as a member of an indigenous community is therefore the principal criteria for belonging within this category.9 

10. Despite these differences, indigenous women in the Americas also have a common denominator: having historically faced and continuing to suffer multiple and overlapping forms of discrimination, based on factors such as their gender, ethnicity, age, disability, and/or situation of poverty, both from outside and within their own communities, or resulting from the historical and structural remnants of colonialism. All of these different layers of discrimination have increased their exposure to enduring human rights violations in every aspect of their daily lives, from their civil and political rights, to their economic, social and cultural rights, to their right to live free from violence. This report seeks to provide a detailed picture of the general human rights situation of indigenous women in the hemisphere, to identify current challenges, as well as to provide States with guidelines for the design and implementation of measures to ensure indigenous women’s human rights. 

11. Although this report will discuss the various forms of violence and discrimination which indigenous women face, the Commission’s focus is on their status as holders of rights and empowered actors as opposed to victims. It is abundantly clear that indigenous women make unique contributions and play fundamental roles within their families, their communities, their countries, as well as at the international level. Indigenous women are the guarantors of their culture. They have actively and successfully participated in the processes that lead to the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the adoption of the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, among other     

12. The instant report consists of six chapters. The first chapter provides a brief account of the activities conducted by the IACHR pertaining to indigenous women’s rights. In the second chapter, the Commission establishes guiding legal principles and international standards that States must consider when developing laws, programs, and policies aimed at protecting the human rights of indigenous women, as well as priority themes and issues which need to be addressed by the States. In the third chapter, the IACHR examines the different dimensions of violence against indigenous women, emphasizing the particular ways in which they are affected, both individually and as a community, and the dimensions of the holistic approach that must guide States’ efforts to provide a response to this serious human rights situation. The fourth chapter addresses access to justice for indigenous women, highlighting the major obstacles they face. In the fifth chapter, the Commission examines generally some of the main challenges indigenous women still face in the protection of their basic economic, social, and cultural rights, also describing obstacles standing in the way of the full exercise of these rights. Lastly, in the final chapter, the Commission draws conclusions and makes recommendations based on the analysis presented in the report. 

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