Southeast Asia indigenous women take action to combat development-induced violence

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Forty-three participants, twenty-nine of whom were indigenous women from eight countries in Southeast Asia and Timor Leste, gathered in Chiang Mai, Thailand from October 30 to November 2, 2012, in the first-ever Southeast Asia Regional Consultation on Development, Access to Justice and the Human Rights of Indigenous Women, organized by the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) in collaboration with the UN WOMEN Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific under its Regional Programme on Improving Women’s Human Rights in Southeast Asia funded by the Canadian International Development Agency. They were joined by an indigenous expert from the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Representative on Child Rights of Indonesia to the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children, representatives from the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand and the National Commission on Violence Against Women of Indonesia. Aside from representatives from the UN WOMEN Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, the regional women’s rights NGO Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development also was there to listen and explore commitments to advance indigenous women’s rights.  Five case studies on indigenous women’s struggles against development projects and corporate operations were presented as well as 11 other testimonies. The issues confronting the women centered on the following:

 

1. non-recognition of their rights to their lands, territories and resources and their right to decide, according to their needs, priorities and vision, and how to develop these as part of their right to self-determination

2. displacement from their territories without their free, prior and informed consent, lack of measures to mitigate the impact of displacement like resettlement and compensations programs designed with their inputs, limited/lack of or access to remedies for post-displacement issues, lack of a grievance mechanism

3. violence against indigenous women arising from the appropriation of their land, territories and resources for national development and business, are exacerbated by the gender violence that arises from the forced relocation, forced mergers of villages of different cultures without proper processes on how to live in a multi-cultural setting, lack of psycho-social support on addressing the impacts of displacement and forced relocation, forced integration of women into the cash economy, commercial entertainment/sex industry, militarisation and discrimination by the mainstream society.

The common and urgent issue that emerged from the presentations and discussions was that the right to land, territories and natural resources of the indigenous peoples are being systematically violated both by states and corporations. This has very serious and adverse impacts and consequences to indigenous women, especially in relation to their roles in sustainable resource management, food security, enhancement of traditional knowledge and biodiversity, maintaining community cohesion and cultural heritage among others.

The consultation helped the women realise that there are many other indigenous women and communities which are facing similar problems and that many are active in the defense of their territories. They came up with the Action Points to Combat Development-induced Violence Against Indigenous Women in Southeast Asia. The major strategies they agreed on are capacity-building for them to analyse their situation, articulate their own issues and act on them, advocacy to be able to influence policy and decision-makers at all levels for the respect, recognition and protection of their rights both as women and as indigenous peoples, and network-building to be able to mobilise support to address their issues, concerns and welfare.  It was agreed that there is a need to collaborate with each other and with other relevant actors to address this issues and strengthen the capacities of indigenous women to raise their voices and to be empowered to achieve social justice, equality and sustainable development.

The UN WOMEN Regional Director, Roberta Clarke, committed to support the Action Points and to mobilise the UN WOMEN country offices to look into the situation of indigenous women because they belong to the section of society who are marginalised in terms of access to justice, information, services, and opportunities, and more.  These are all aimed at supporting the strengthening of indigenous women’s movements and their organizations, at the same time, recognizing and taking into account the barriers and limitations they face.

AIPP will coordinate the work lined-up in the Action Points with the participants and their organisations and the collaborating agencies like UN WOMEN.