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CEDAW adopts pioneer binding instrument on the rights of Indigenous women and girls

At its 82nd session on 26 October, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) adopted general recommendation No. 39 on the rights of Indigenous women and girls. This is the first time CEDAW calls on State parties to pay more attention to issues affecting Indigenous women and girls specifically and to take measures to comply with their obligations under CEDAW. The adoption of the recommendation is the result of a concerted effort by Indigenous women's organisations around the world and their supporters, including IWGIA. 

In June 2021, IWGIA presented a written submission to CEDAW that gathered the voices, perspectives and experiences of Indigenous women and girls – particularly from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Arctic – with the aim of making them part of the process of the general recommendation. The outcome document adopted by CEDAW goes in line with many of the concerns and recommendations provided in IWGIA’s written submission.

CEDAW’s document stresses that all actions, legislation and policies to prevent and address discrimination and gender-based violence against Indigenous women and girls must be based on the recognition of their “multifaceted identity” and “intersectional experience”. It also gives recommendations regarding specific dimensions of Indigenous women and girls rights that State parties are obliged to, including their participation in political and public life; rights to land, territories and natural resources; and rights in the areas of education, work, health and culture, among others.

In its written submission, IWGIA underlined the urgency for States to recognise Indigenous Peoples in their constitutions and protect and promote Indigenous land rights, the violation of which has gendered impacts on Indigenous women that increase their vulnerability.


Foulani woman, Diffa region, Niger
Foulani woman, Diffa region, Niger. Credit: IWGIA

CEDAW’s document acknowledges the legal lack of recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ land rights in many countries and recommends State parties to “recognize legally the right to self-determination and the existence and rights of Indigenous Peoples to their lands, territories, and natural resources in treaties, constitutions, and laws at the national level”.

Furthermore, the document recommends State parties to collect disaggregated data on Indigenous women and girls. This point had been raised in IWGIA’s submission as important for designing better tailored and more efficient public policies and programmes.

General recommendation No. 39 is an important step by the international community towards the recognition and promotion of the rights of Indigenous women and girls. However, for it to have a real impact at the domestic level, it is crucial that Indigenous Peoples and their organisations hold national governments accountable and responsible for implementing the recommendations. One way to do this is to document the gaps between the recommendation and national legislation and policies in alternative or shadow reports and submit them to CEDAW when countries are being reviewed.

Tags: Women, Global governance



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

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