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Statement from Indigenous Women’s Organisations of Nepal on COVID-19

The WHO has declared the outbreak of COVID 19 as a global pandemic. The entire world has been caught unprepared to cope with this pandemic. Indigenous Peoples to healthcare, essential services, sanitation, information and other preventive measures like clean water, food, medicines etc. Indigenous Peoples possess their own distinct tradition, culture, and religion and have religious faith worshiper of ancestors, lands, territories and resources live in both urban and rural areas with their own identity.

They have their distinct traditional livelihood and collective ways of life. They are the custodians of traditional knowledge, skills, practices, languages, culture and are in extreme poverty and thus more prone to infectious diseases. Many Indigenous Peoples have customary self-government systems that are effective in preventing pandemic but the government does not formally recognize such systems though Nepal is a party to ILO Convention no. 169 and the UNDRIP.

Though Nepal Government is putting in place a series of measures to address the situation, there is a great deal to be done. Luckily at the time of this statement, Nepal doesn’t have the death cases yet, but COVID-19 is gradually spreading in the districts/Provinces day by day. Government preparations are not strong enough to cope with COVID-19 in terms of health facilities, medical suppliers and insufficient well-equipped infrastructure. The economic crisis owing to the pandemic is going to be a huge problem. Due to the shrinking economy and lack of access to economic markets, combined with an significant proportion living hand to mouth, most Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous women’s are facing a problem of surviving even when not infected with the virus.

Indigenous Peoples have been displaced from their ancestral lands. In the name of aggressive development like hydropower, mining, drinking projects, road expansions, dams and airports - Indigenous Peoples have been deprived of their human rights and collective rights to own their natural resources (communal land). This has created great inequality. There is a lack of participation and representation in the decision making level Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous women especially don’t have access to information. Information is in Khas Nepali language which is an official language

We urge the State to take immediate actions to ensure Indigenous women are well informed, protected and prioritized during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this regards, access to information in their mother tongue to ensure it is accessible is key. The indigenous women have tremendous indigenous knowledge; they are known as knowledge holders - and these critical knowledge holders are vulnerable to pandemic, threatening more than their health but the traditions and knowledge of the community. The state must give special priority to them during these situations.

The State should ensure Indigenous Peoples’ right to self-determination and customary self-government systems, as their customary practices and customary laws to prevent outsiders from entering into their territories must be fully respected.

We urge the State to include the specific needs and priorities of Indigenous peoples in addressing the global outbreak of COVID 19. Indigenous peoples can contribute to seeking solutions. Their good practices of traditional healing skills and knowledge, such as healing of communities to prevent the spread of diseases and of voluntary isolation, are being followed throughout the world today.  The state must recognize indigenous peoples’ customary institutions, as the legitimate representatives of indigenous peoples.

Indigenous Women’s key recommendations for COVID -19 to Nepal government and CSOs are:

  • Ensure that Indigenous women effectively engaged in decision making related to COVID 19 to protect the communities.
  • Respect right to self-determination as enshrined in the UNDRIP
  • Include indigenous peoples’ representatives, leaders and customary institutions in emergency and health entities in their communities.
  • Respect Indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) in the prevention, development, and implementation and monitoring of measure to address COVID-19.
  • Ensure all information in Indigenous language in public announcement, messages related to COVID-19.
  • Make sure the access to, and management of, clean water and sanitation, particularly for Indigenous Peoples in remote areas to avoid risk of infection.
  • Disaggregated data of Indigenous Peoples must be collected, in terms of infection, health impacts, and economic impacts and gender based violence.
  • Ensure access to education for Indigenous Children, Girls and Youth by providing necessary tools for remote learning in close cooperation with customary institutions of Indigenous Peoples.
  • All the relief support should be distributed equally to their needs.
  • The government works in partnership with Indigenous women’s organizations as we can play a key role in awareness raising our own communities.
  • Nepal government should work in partnership with Indigenous customary self-governance systems mainly Ghampa (Mukhiya), Badghar, Majhiharam, Guthi, etc in line with UNDRIP and Convention ILO 169.
  • Respect human rights and collective rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • There should be no restriction on Citizenship certificate for relief distribution.
  • The Government, UN agencies, CSOs, allocate budget and awareness campaign to address the priority and safety of vulnerable communities like Indigenous women, youth, girls, children. LGBTI, person with disability, pregnant and elderly.

Stay safe and make your communities safe through social distance. 

About IWGIA

IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. The Indigenous World 2019.

Contact IWGIA

Prinsessegade 29 B, 3rd floor
DK 1422 Copenhagen
Denmark
Phone: (+45) 53 73 28 30
E-mail: iwgia@iwgia.org
CVR: 81294410

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