Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls

At a recent press conference held at the Commission on the Status of Women, a panel with representatives from Kenya, Rwanda and Thailand discussed issues faced by indigenous populations in those countries.  Although the countries may face different issues, it was apparent that indigenous populations were more likely to face gender based violence largely due to their minority status.

The Issues

Each of the panel participants opened their presentation by discussing some of the gender based violence that indigenous women face in their countries.  In Kenya, female gentile mutilation is a primary concern since it is often performed on extremely young victims.  In Rwanda, young girls are often forced into early marriage which effectively denies them access to the education that they need to enforce their basic rights.  Indigenous populations in Thailand are severely affected when their land is claimed by developments.  Without the knowledge of how to legally solve these disputes, indigenous groups are often labelled as "insurgents" and their communities become militarized exposing women in these communities to rape, torture and murder.  Although the issues faced within these communities are quite different, the solutions proposed by each of the presenters was the same: increased awareness through the process of education.

The Path Forward

Although the issues that were identified within each location were different, the solutions that were proposed by each presenter was the same; increased access to education to help build awareness of gender based violence in their communities.  Unfortunately, many indigenous communities around the world do not have equal access to educational programs and many NGO's working in various locations are leveraging education to empower women to assert their rights within their communities.  In addition, many of these programs extend to the entire community, including young boys and men to begin to challenge cultural practices such as female genital mutilation or child marriage.  Furthermore, these educational programs are helping to develop the abilities of indigenous communities to use existing legal systems to challenge land developments encroaching upon their territories and prevent entire communities from experiencing high levels of poverty which can ultimately lead to deteriorating conditions for their female populations.  Although this is a long term process, it is extremely important that indigenous communities are provided with access to educational programs to empower their populations and prevent women from the difficult conditions that are part of our current global society.

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