Tag Archives: Africa

Day 30- Indigenous Rights

Indigenous women all over the world face discrimination on multiple levels on a daily basis and historically were systematically targeted for extinction through rape and slaughter. Indigenous women may utilize many labels to identify themselves such as Native, First Peoples, First Nations, Aboriginal, etc. but for continuity’s sake I will use the label Indigenous throughout this post. I was unaware that March 21 is celebrated as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, but it is, and was celebrated by Dialogue Between Nations, “an interactive global communications network and an educational forum….”

Earlier this month we have seen examples of Indigenous women’s activism in the US, Peru, and Oceania. While the challenges of each individual woman across the globe are specific to her life and circumstances, some issues almost universally affect Indigenous women. According to Wikipedia some 300-350 million Indigenous people, making up roughly 6% of the total population, inhabit more than 70 countries around the world and represent more than 5,000 distinct peoples. Climate change, gender-based violence, poverty, legal obstacles, and linguistic discrimination are the most common issues affecting Indigenous women worldwide.

Linguistic discrimination: As a linguist the rate of extinction of Indigenous languages physically pains me; as a humanitarian the loss of the worldviews associated with these languages is traumatizing. Many, if not most Indigenous peoples are denied their right to speak their native languages, and this fact plays a role in all other forms of discrimination against Indigenous women from housing and education to health care and democratic representation. The amazing group Cultural Survival is one of many that focuses on linguistic justice, among other issues, in the fight for Indigenous rights.

Climate change and environmental issues: This 1995 declaration by Indigenous women at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing explores the effects of biocolonialism on Indigenous women. There is a long history of discrimination against the Igorot peoples of Cordillera in the Philippines, especially with regard to land rights, unsustainable farming, and soil erosion. This article discusses the potential impact of REDD+ on Indigenous women. United Nations Radio has aired this piece about deforestation and property rights of Indigenous women. In honor of the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day the Asian Indigenous Women’s Network issued this statement underscoring the needs of Indigenous women in relation to the environment.

Gender-based violence: For all its positive traits, Canada’s dirty little secret are the disappearances of Indigenous women that are chronicled by Amnesty International and many other organizations. The ongoing saga of the murder of Native American activist Anna Mae Aquash is chronicled by Indigenous Women for JusticeWomen’s Campaign International explains the violence that Arhuaco and other indigenous women of Colombia face due to internal conflict here. Amnesty International also speaks out against sexualized violence against Indigenous women in the US.

Poverty: Also in 1995, in Guatemala, this Agreement on the Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples was drawn up. The New York-based Indigenous Women’s Fund of the International Indigenous Women’s Forum has a concise and thoughtful plan of action for helping Indigenous women from around the world overcome the poverty that has been imposed on them. International Funders for Indigenous Peoples is also an international funding organization working for Indigenous peoples’ rights. This concise article from genderaction.org highlights the problems Indigenous women face as a result of “gender-blind” approaches to finance from International Financial Institutes. From here you can download Indigenous & Tribal People’s Rights in Practice produced by the International Labor Organization.

Health issues: The UN Population Fund, UNFPA, has produced this report on empowering Indigenous women with regard to reproductive rights. Another group dealing with reproductive justice for Indigenous women is the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center. The Indigenous Portal is one group that recognizes the interconnection of Indigenous peoples’ land degradation and lack of reproductive justice.

Human Rights and legal obstacles: Native Planet is one of many NGOs working for the socio-political rights of all the world’s Indigenous peoples. The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will hold its 10th session May 16-27 2011 in New York. From 2002, this paper highlights some of the issues faced by Indigenous women in Africa, and has recommendations for ways to improve Indigenous women’s rights. Here is a Guide to Indigenous Women’s Rights Under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), published in 2004. A 2005 factsheet on the rights of Indigenous Canadian women on- and off-reservation can be found here. Many groups in Canada, including the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, participated in the first National Aboriginal Women’s Summit NAWS I in 2007. The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs recommends the now out-of-printIndigenous Women: The Right to a Voice edited by Diana Vinding. Here is a list of articles dealing with Indigenous women’s rights in Canada. This project of the UN Development Program addressed Indigenous women’s rights in Asia. Oxfam also works for the rights of Indigenous women, like Calel from Guatemala. The Aotearoa Indigenous Rights Trust works for the rights of Indigenous Maori people in New Zealand. The Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee works across the African continent for the rights of Indigenous peoples there. Finally, the Society for Threatened Peoples (Gesellschft für bedrohte Völker in the original German) tackles everything from political imprisonment and land rights to slavery and environmental degradation.


Day 9- Women’s Activism in Africa

A composed satellite photograph of Africa.

Image via Wikipedia

North Africa has been in the news recently for its people’s uprisings. Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt are all currently in very precarious situations but the people of these nations, men and women, have shown that they want democracy and are willing to give their lives to earn it.

Sub-Saharan Africa is largely ignored by America unless the political events that occur will affect the US, such a high-profile oil spill in Nigeria which could raise gas prices in the States. The tragedies and travesties of the rapes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the upheaval in Sudan and its Darfur region, and the poverty and desperation in Somalia go largely unnoticed by American news outlets and the American people.

Today I’d like to give a sample of what women (and feminist men) are doing across the African continent to advance social justice and true equality.

Liberia: The women of Liberia bravely stood up against dictator and war criminal Charles Taylor and helped bring about an end to their country’s brutal civil war in 2003. Their story was told in the 2008 documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell. Subsequently Liberia elected Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female head of state in Africa. An all women UN peacekeeping unit from India still provides inspiration for Liberian women and shows them that women can do or be anything they set their minds to. Today the women of Liberia are still working for peace in their region and in the world. These women are raising their voices for the women of neighboring Ivory Coast.

Cotê d’Ivoire: In honor of International Women’s Day, and to protest the killing of women protesting Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to recognize the November 2010 elections, thousands of Ivorians marched yesterday in an event that left three men and one woman dead.

Nigeria: Last year at this time women in Nigeria were protesting a religious massacre. Last week (2 March 2011) Nigerian women found themselves protesting the presence of cattle herders on of their farm land. In February a small group of women protested the imposing of a female candidate into a federal position for which they elected a man. These women recognize that simply because a candidate is a woman does not necessarily mean she will represent women or fight for women’s rights.

Sudan: Women in Sudan, especially in the Darfur region, understand what it means to be completely ignored and have their rights denied. In the recent referendum however, women turned out in large numbers to show their support for the cessation of Southern Sudan. OftenSudanese women’s stories go untold, but small groups of women are slowly finding their voices and demanding justice. For the second time in two weeks a group of women staged protests against the government’s detention of protesters.

Ethiopia: One of my favorite feminists, native Ethiopian Billene Seyoum Woldeyes, is helping to bring gender equality to her motherland through her blog Ethiopian Feminist.

Kenya: Wangari Maathai is perhaps one of the most well-known women in the world. The 2004 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in the Greenbelt Movement, Maathai continues to improve the world around her both through her environmental activism and her women’s rights advocacy.

Uganda: One of Uganda’s favorite journalists, Rosebell Kagumire, covers stories and brings attention to everything from vote rigging to violence against women, both in Uganda and around Africa, in her blog.

Somalia: Women in Somalia suffer under some of the worst poverty in the world. Often left without a means to support themselves, many women-heads-of-household work all day and resort to begging to feed their families, often going hungry themselves. Despite this, Somali women make the time to protest the lack of women in parliament and push for higher quotas.

Democratic Republic of the Congo: Because of the efforts of the V-Day campaign the atrocities committed in the DRC have been given at least a little public attention in the US. The widespread use of rape in the DRC as a weapon of war has drawn the sharp criticism of the UN and organizations around the world, like Amnesty International. The women of the DRC have joined forces with these international organizations and demanded safety and dignity.

Mozambique: While Mozambique is making significant progress in gender issues, one of the most dire problems women there are fighting against today is climate change. Because of the feminization of poverty and the differential affects of climate change, rising sea levels and land degradation on women, the people of Mozambique have begun to pay attention to solutions that specifically address women’s relationship to the environment.

Namibia: Forced sterilization of women is not a new concept, but HIV+ women in Namibia who were sterilized without their knowledge or consent have demanded justice. Staging sit-ins with the slogan my body, my womb, my rights thousands of women have shown their support and raised their voices in solidarity with their HIV+ sisters.

South Africa: The shameful “rape capital of the world” (a title South Africa dubiously shares with the DRC) has come a long way since apartheid, but the country’s lesbians are constantly at great risk. So called “corrective rape” of lesbians in South Africa has reached epidemic proportions with police refusing to take complaints seriously, but women around the world have demanded an end to this inhumane practice.

To learn more about women’s roles and rights in Africa, visit Solidarity for African Women’s Rights, Human Rights Watch, All Africa, Women of Africa and the newly formed UN Women.


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