Gender Manual: Good Practices and Lessons Learnt by an Indigenous Peoples Organization

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We are not born with Gender. We are not given it at birth. It is something that we do. It is something that we perform and it is socially constructed. We are all surrounded by gender from the minute we are born. Questions like ‘is it a boy or girl?’ set the tone of our social construction of gender from before we can remember. Gender is present in all of our institutions, actions, beliefs, culture and relation­ships. Gender is a part of all cultures, including indigenous and non-indigenous communities alike. Yet, we are rarely afforded the time to explore notions of gender and the impacts it has on gender equality.

Indigenous peoples in Asia, estimated to be more than 260 million, are disproportionately suffering from multiple forms of discrimination and oppression based on their ethnicity, race, location and economic status; rendering them part of the poorest of the poor, most politically dis-empowered and culturally and socially discriminated. In addition to this, indigenous women, estimated to be 50 % of the total indigenous peoples population are even more discriminated and marginalized on the basis of the intersectionality of their gender and ethnicity.

The dimensions of gender oppression and exploitation of indigenous women have distinctive features in the customary laws, practices and belief of indigenous peoples. The practice of customary law is still prevalent, and more dominant, than national legal systems in many indigenous communities across Asia. Customary practices relating to indigenous women have both positive and negative aspects in relation to women’s rights governing the daily lives of indigenous women in many communities. Indigenous customary laws are largely against violence against indigenous women (VAIW) as they provide due recognition to the physical integrity of women as child bearers. On the other hand, customary laws do not consider women as equal to men in almost all aspects, including in decision-making. Traditional governance systems are only for men, and in general, the heavy agricultural work is left to the women. The traditional patriarchal system and mentality still prevail in the relationship of indigenous men and women.

Whilst there is much work to be done in the field of women’s rights, it is im­portant that we acknowledge the importance of addressing underlying issues of gender that impact the situation of indigenous women. Furthermore, it is equally as important that we recognise that gender affects everyone. Addressing gender inequalities is not the responsibility of women alone. It requires the action and support of all men and all women, indigenous and non-indigenous alike. This manual hopes to introduce a number of core elements to the subject of gender, as well as provide some practical tools for mainstreaming gender within an indigenous people’s organisation. By sharing AIPP’s experiences in implementing our Gender Policy, we hope to continue the much needed discussion, at the same time as supporting our members, partners and friends to join the fight for gender equality.

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