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New study brings violence against indigenous girls and women into focus

© © UNICEF/NYHQ2013-0297/Markisz
On 28 May 2013, indigenous activist Jessica Vega Ortega speaks at the panel discussion Breaking the Silence on Violence against Indigenous Girls, Adolescents and Young Women.


A new study on violence against indigenous girls, adolescents and young women brings widespread human rights violations into focus.

NEW YORK, United States of America, 4 June 2013 – The issue of violence against indigenous girls and women is not only under-discussed and under-studied, but it also remains concealed, in most countries. Indigenous communities have been historically marginalized and continue to be discriminated against, and it's young girls and women who pay the highest price.

Breaking the Silence on Violence against Indigenous Girls, Adolescents and Young Women, a new study launched by UNICEF, UN Women, UNFPA, ILO and the office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, is a call to action that brings the widespread human rights violations against girls and women in indigenous communities into focus.

Big step forward

"The fact that we are recognizing and talking about the violence against women and indigenous girls is a big step forward," said Jessica Vega Ortega, an indigenous activist, at a special event launching the publication at UNICEF New York headquarters.

"For us, the term 'violence' is very significant because we suffer much violence, especially exclusion, poverty, and migration. We are exposed and discriminated for speaking our language, we are ignored or not listened to – in my opinion, that is violence.

"We are afraid to express ourselves in our language," she added. "We are afraid of being humiliated and abused. There is violence inside the community and from people outside our community who are taking what belong to us."

Another layer of subordination

Based on illustrations from Africa, Asia Pacific and Latin America, the study finds that violence against indigenous girls and women is heightened because of, among others, the history of colonial domination, dispossession of indigenous peoples, economic and political exclusion and the lack of such basic services as healthcare, schooling and birth registration.

"This study is important because it documents how being from an indigenous community adds another layer of subordination for the girls and young women who experience violence," said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta. "The study highlights the urgency of recognizing the various forms and extent of violence among indigenous girls – from domestic violence to communal conflict to exploitation as domestic workers."

"This study is more than research to shed light on a serious, yet neglected, social issue," said UN Women Deputy Executive Director, Policy and Programme Bureau, John Hendra. "It is a call to action for Governments, UN agencies, communities and civil society organizations to take urgent action to address these human rights violations."

Indigenous girls and women continue to face neglect, abuse and exploitation, human trafficking, forced and bonded labor and other slave-like practices. The report explains that this violence contributes to trauma, low self-esteem, poor health and poor school performance, and is often associated with high incidences of depression, alcohol and drug abuse, self-harm and suicide.

Much to learn

According to Permanent Representative of Guatemala to the United Nations H.E. Gert Rosenthal, "The report alludes…to indigenous families forced to submit young girls to give up their education and seek employment, often as domestic servants in urban areas, submitting themselves to sub-standard working conditions and low wages, as well as to the risks of sexual exploitation," he said. "We still have much to learn regarding the scope, breadth and characteristics of this type of violence, but the report is certainly a step in the right direction," he said.

The study exposes critical gaps in knowledge and data on violence against indigenous girls, women and adolescents. "There should be an enhancement of the research, monitoring and reporting on this issue," explained Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, lead consultant for study. "As we have seen, there is an utter lack of data on what the situation is like, and the report urges the governments and UN agencies to be more involved in the monitoring and reporting for these issues."

Stop violence before it starts

The report is more than just new evidence. The report pushes policy-makers to use existing data better and to make a solid case for an effective response.

"One fundamental component of national efforts for violence prevention and for the effective protection of children, including indigenous girls and adolescents, is the enactment of legislation that explicitly prohibits all forms of violence in all contexts," wrote Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Violence against Children Marta Santos Pais, in a special note.

Prioritizing prevention is one of the major recommendations highlighted in the report. "While it is important to address cases of violence and provide victims and families with support of their need, it is essential to stop the violence before it starts," said Ms. Gupta. "The study highlights the need to intensify community action and mobilization through legal awareness and the active engagement of men and boys, especially the elders in indigenous communities.

"We must also address the limited access that indigenous communities, particularly women and girls, have to the media, as seen from the examples provided in the report, since the media is an important means for changing harmful gender norms," she noted.





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