2020 Laureate Lottie Cunningham Wren. Credit: Joe Jenkins

Women’s rights must also protect indigenous women, Lottie Cunningham Wren says

News 24.06.2021

Ending discrimination against indigenous women must be an integral part of ensuring women’s rights worldwide, 2020 Right Livelihood Laureate Lottie Cunningham Wren told a United Nations expert panel on Thursday, warning of the added challenges indigenous women often face.

Cunningham, who is an indigenous rights lawyer in Nicaragua, spoke to the UN treaty body responsible for monitoring and assisting the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Indigenous girls and women often face higher risks of violence and harassment, Cunningham warned. They are threatened, in particular, by armed settlers who come to their ancestral lands in search of natural resources, she told the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

“The violent invasion of third parties, settlers in indigenous territories, in addition to causing the forced displacement of entire communities, disproportionately affects indigenous women, children and adolescents,” Cunningham said.

“[They] have to face uprooting from their environment, rupture of the social fabric, separation from the family, forcing mothers to assume the role of single providers.”

Cunningham, who is from the Miskito indigenous group, has long fought to uphold the human rights of indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants in Nicaragua, protecting them and their livelihoods from armed settlers.

She called on the Committee to recommend specific ways that countries should ensure the rights of indigenous women.

“Develop campaigns and programmes against racial and gender discrimination aimed at preventing discrimination against indigenous women,” she said.

She also called for improving the effectiveness of judicial systems to better protect the rights of indigenous women, especially when they have been the victims of violence. Cunningham noted that violence against indigenous women and girls often goes unpunished.

Countries should respect indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination and let them decide over what development projects they want to allow on their territories.

The discussion, which took place virtually, was meant to seek input for an upcoming General Recommendation – a set of new guidelines – on how the treaty should be implemented when it comes to ensuring the rights of indigenous women and girls in particular.

The convention on the elimination of discrimination against women is the most comprehensive international human rights treaty on women’s rights. It has been joined by 189 countries, encompassing almost all nations around the world. The committee of experts that monitors its implementation issues recommendations from time to time defining what states should do to fulfil their obligations under the treaty.

Cunningham received the 2020 Right Livelihood Award “for her ceaseless dedication to the protection of indigenous lands and communities from exploitation and plunder.”

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