Indigenous World 2019: Indigenous Women at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)
The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is the main international intergovernmental body devoted exclusively to promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment. It plays a crucial role in promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality in which women throughout the world live, and drafting international standards on gender equality and women’s empowerment.
The Commission plays a leading role in follow-up and review of progress made and difficulties encountered in implementing the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the main international document on gender equality, as well as on emerging issues that affect gender equality and women’s empowerment.
During the Commission’s annual period of sessions, representatives of UN Member States, civil society organisations and UN bodies meet for two weeks at the UN headquarters in New York to discuss progress made and gaps found in the application of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. On the basis of these discussions, the Member States agree actions to speed up progress in this regard and to promote women’s enjoyment of political, economic and social rights. The conclusions and recommendations of each session are sent to the Economic and Social Council for follow-up.
Indigenous women’s involvement and influence in global decision-making spaces such as the Commission on the Status of Women is highly relevant in strategic terms as it has a direct impact on the individual and collective rights of 185 million indigenous women throughout the world, who belong to more than 5,000 different indigenous peoples.
Indigenous women at the 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women
The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is a fundamental space for raising awareness of, and positioning, the individual and collective rights of indigenous women among the representatives of Member States, United Nations bodies and ECOSOC-accredited non-governmental organisations (NGOs) attending the session from around the world.
Since its first intervention at the 56th session of the CSW in 2012, the Indigenous Women’s International Forum (FIMI) has actively helped coordinate indigenous women around political advocacy, ensuring a presence at this high-level political forum with the aim of making known their views on the agreed conclusions, and thus promote gender equality and the empowerment of indigenous women and girls.
The 62nd session of the Commission was held from 12 to 23 March 2018 and considered the issues, challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls. Rural areas are home to many indigenous women around the world, with unique and distinct realities that require specific approaches and measures to tackle their issues in a culturally-sensitive way and guarantee their individual and collective rights.
Indigenous women’s contributions include their sustainable practices and livelihoods, being agents of change that provide food security, health and wellbeing in the communities despite the deep inequalities, racism and discrimination they face. The recommendations made by the indigenous women who participated in the coordinating meeting for the CSW 62 thus addressed the main priorities of the world’s indigenous women:
- To encourage the organisation of a High-Level Forum on indigenous women, including regional consultations, with the effective participation of indigenous women, to review progress and challenges in implementing the 2020 Beijing Platform for Action, focusing on the linkages with and progress made in the situation of indigenous women and the Sustainable Development Goals.
- To recognise that access to ownership and control of lands, territories and resources, and free, prior and informed consent are critical for indigenous women’s empowerment and for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, including protecting indigenous women’s human rights defenders.
- To recognise indigenous women and youths with disabilities as being the most vulnerable to climate disasters and to provide contextually-relevant and culturally-sensitive safeguards, along with technical and financial support to ensure their economic, social and environmental protection and wellbeing.
- In consultation with, and on equal terms, to take concrete actions to ensure technical and financial assistance for the economic activities of indigenous women, taking into account their knowledge and cultural context, including data disaggregated by ethnicity and gender, in order to formulate appropriate public policy interventions that ensure empowerment, wellbeing and services in rural contexts and indigenous communities.
Through these recommendations, indigenous women were endeavouring to get States, the Commission and other UN institutions to urgently consider the need to consider the specific conditions of rural indigenous women in their decisions, along with issues specific to the context of rural indigenous women in order to collectively address the gaps and challenges as seen from the perspective of these women themselves.
It should be noted that the resolutions, recommendations and paragraphs that mention and include indigenous women in the CSW ultimately form the framework for advocacy documents. This is because the States are supposed to take these resolutions up as part of their internationally-assumed commitments. Nonetheless, if this information is not disseminated from the global level down to the local by the indigenous women themselves then its impact will be limited; it is therefore essential that the indigenous women leaders take up the commitments made and use the documents as tools for political advocacy work in their countries.
Drawing on the previously stated recommendations, the Commission established policies and measures that governments and other interested parties will need to implement, organising them under three headings:
- Strengthening of regulatory, legal and policy frameworks;
- Application of economic and social policies for the empowerment of all rural women and girls;
- Strengthening of the collective voice and leadership of all rural women and girls and their participation in decision-making.
Two of the headings directly involve indigenous women, their individual and collective rights.
On the issue of strengthening regulatory, legal and policy frameworks, the Agreed Conclusions document states that
The Commission recognizes that indigenous women and girls living in rural and remote areas, regardless of age, often face violence and higher rates of poverty, limited access to health care services, information and communication technologies (ICT), infrastructure, financial services, education and employment, while also recognizing their cultural, social, economic, political and environmental contributions, including to climate change mitigation and adaptation.
In light of the previous recommendation, it is clear that rural indigenous women and girls continue to be denied access to wellbeing and the exercise of their fundamental rights. It is therefore important for Member States and interested parties to envisage legal frameworks that seek to provide them with a life free from violence and that improve their living conditions through access to social justice. This recommendation also recognises the contributions of indigenous women to the cultural, social, economic, political and environmental spheres, and opens a window of opportunity for Member States and interested parties to implement public policies, programmes or mechanisms that eliminate all forms of racism and discrimination, and in which indigenous women are included as rights-holders whose contributions are essential to finding solutions to the realities that are critically affecting life on our planet.
In terms of applying economic and social policies for the empowerment of all rural women and girls the recommendation was to:
Invest in and strengthen efforts to empower rural women as important actors in achieving food security and improved nutrition, ensuring that their right to food is met, including by supporting rural women’s participation in all areas of economic activity, including commercial and artisan fisheries and aquaculture, promoting decent working conditions and personal security, facilitating sustainable access to and use of critical rural infrastructure, land, water and natural resources, and local, regional and global markets, and valuing rural women’s, including indigenous women’s, traditional and ancestral knowledge and contributions to the conservation and sustainable use of terrestrial and marine biodiversity, for present and future generations.
This conclusion notes the importance of indigenous women’s participation in the process of formulating projects, programmes and policies aimed at achieving food security and better nutrition not only because it is their right but also because their contributions are relevant and relate to concrete realities. It is also necessary in this regard to envisage that, once they are included in all economic sectors, technical support will be essential to ensure a positive impact on their standard of living. While it is therefore important to implement a strategy of knowledge transfer and tool handling for the economic activity being taken up there should above all be a sustainable approach that guarantees financial incomes that will actually empower women.
The following was also included within the recommendations for economic and social policies to empower all rural women and girls:
Promote and protect the rights of indigenous women and girls living in rural and remote areas by addressing the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and barriers they face, including violence, ensuring access to quality and inclusive education, health care, public services, economic 23 March 2018 resources, including land and natural resources, and women’s access to decent work, and promoting their meaningful participation in the economy and in decision-making processes at all levels and in all areas, while respecting and protecting their traditional and ancestral knowledge, and noting the importance of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for indigenous women and girls.
Last but not least, this recommendation lays the foundations for guaranteeing the individual and collective rights of rural indigenous women and girls by seeking to align the decision-making of Member States’ representatives and UN bodies with regard to legislation so that it results in public policies that are in line with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Challenges in implementing the resolutions
Whether the States are really committed or not will be seen in the extent to which they implement the resolution. Different UN resolutions have been approved by States but many of them remain no more than paper commitments. The main challenge lies in ensuring that States have the political will to implement the resolution nationally and this is something that will be seen specifically in relation to public policies, programme development, institutional harmonisation along the lines suggested in the recommendations and the allocation of the necessary and appropriate resources.
One proposal is for more indigenous women to be included in the government delegations participating in the CSW, as well as in the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, in order to improve political advocacy. This is very important in terms of ensuring that the recommendations of both mechanisms are coordinated and that their implementation is realised through public policies. Such complementary coordination and harmony has yet to be achieved.
Notes and References
 See Foro Internacional De Mujeres Indigenas, “Political Statement by the International Indigenous Women’s Forum to the 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women” at http://bit.ly/2SLf6wO
 2018 Agreed Conclusions of the Commission on the Status of Women, p1.
 Ibid, p6.
 Ibid, p11.
 Ibid, p17.
Article written by the International Indigenous Women’s Forum (IIWF/FIMI)