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CEDAW General Recommendation 39: historical in protection of indigenous women's rights

With the approval of General Recommendation 39, CEDAW obliges for the first time at the international level to protect and guarantee the individual and collective rights of indigenous women and girls

 The Recommendation approved on October 26, is a binding international instrument that must be complied with in the international framework on human rights.
The Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is the broadest international instrument on the human rights of women and girls.  (Photo Credit FIMI)

Mexico City.- The United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) approved General Recommendation Number 39 (RG39), a binding international instrument for the protection of individual and collective rights of women and indigenous girls of the world

 With this adoption, CEDAW obliges the States that ratify it to immediately develop and implement comprehensive policies that protect in a more effective way, these rights and principles of substantive equality and non-discrimination against this particular sector of the population.
RG39 recognizes the right of indigenous women and girls to nationality, education, work, health, equality in the marriage and family relations, culture, land, territories and natural resources, social protection and economic resources, food, water, seeds and a healthy, free and sustainable environment, it also contains a specific chapter on the effects of COVID-19 on the lives of indigenous women and girls.

The International Fund for Indigenous Women (FIMI) and other regional women's networks synthesized the key messages of RG39, recently approved, which you can consult here.
 Gladys Acosta Vargas, president of the CEDAW Committee.  Photo credit: FIMI

During the session, Gladys Acosta Vargas, who chairs the CEDAW Committee, assured that "indigenous women and girls are disproportionately affected by gender violence, as well as by inequality and discrimination, and continue to be harassed by a limited access to justice, education, decent employment and health care, simply because of who they are”.

During the adoption, which was ratified on October 26, 2022, the Committee made up of 23 chosen experts, recognized in the approved guide that indigenous women and girls are also affected by intersecting forms of discrimination, linked to sex, gender, condition and other characteristics and factors, and called for the protection of indigenous women human rights defenders and environmental activists.

 "Discrimination against indigenous women and girls is unacceptable and all states must address it in a meaningful way by removing all structural barriers they face and ensuring that their individual and collective rights are fully respected," Acosta Vargas ratified.
Tarcila Rivera Zea, executive president of the International Forum of Indigenous Women.  Photo: FIMI

 A historical fact

RG39 on indigenous women and girls is important because although the rights of this sector of the population have already been recognized in other international conventions, they have been constantly violated, so an instrument was necessary to guarantee them, hence the Recommendation is an interpretation of how the binding international framework on human rights should be fulfilled, and what is the nature of the obligations of the States Parties, assured the President of the Committee.

The recommendation also signifies the first historical participation of indigenous women who were able to instill their perspectives in the creation of jurisprudence within the international human rights system and raise their priorities and concerns on the national and international agenda.
Based on input from organizations and experts, the Committee was able to develop a specific recommendation, create a working group to draft it, and hold a stakeholder consultation.  NGOs were able to provide information and contribute to the debate.  Therefore, the contribution and active participation of indigenous women in the process was extremely important.

The indigenous Quechua Tarcila Rivera Zea, president of FIMI, recalled that the background of the Recommendation was in 2004, when organized indigenous women presented a series of recommendations to the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Affairs that was taking place in New York;  Its objective was to recognize that girls and women live specificities due to their cultural and ethnic origin and to set a precedent in the understanding of collective rights from them.

 The RG39, she said, should have an impact on almost 400 million indigenous women and girls in the world, for which, among other things, it should include regulations to recognize the multiplicity of discriminations that women experience;  eliminate racist and colonialist mentalities in the world;  remember girls and women with disabilities;  and that all countries have disaggregated figures on indigenous women;  as well as strengthening their access to political participation and representation in decision-making to guarantee their rights and include their experiences and demands in public policies.

From the International Fund of Indigenous Women we receive with great joy and satisfaction the approval by the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), of General Recommendation Number 39, and we believe that the collective rights of girls and indigenous women have been fully collected, it becomes a great challenge for the States Parties its implementation in the national scenarios.


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