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LATIN AMERICA: Indigenous, Black Women Face ‘Triple Glass Ceiling’

Kintto Lucas

QUITO, Aug 9 2007 (IPS) - Indigenous and black women in Latin America and the Caribbean face three-fold discrimination because of their gender, race and social class, in politics and at work.

That is how it was put by participants in a panel on “Citizenship and Political Participation by Indigenous and Afro-Descendant Women” at the 10th Regional Conference on Women that ended Thursday in the Ecuadorean capital.

Guatemalan indigenous activist Otilia Lux de Cotí said that from the indigenous women’s point of view, the struggle for women’s right to participate is inextricably linked to the struggle for indigenous peoples’ right to participate.

We are discriminated against by governments, by men, and often by other women, so in order to correct historical inequalities, we must restructure the state and build an egalitarian society, said de Cotí, formerly Guatemalan minister of culture and sports.

Therefore, when demanding minimum quotas for women’s participation, quotas for indigenous and Afro-descendant women should also be specified, she said.

“We want to salvage democracy, and to do so we must rebuild it according to our vision for it: democracy in Latin America can only be intercultural,” she said.

Afro-Brazilian leader María Inés Barbosa said that sexism and racism are part of the very foundations on which nation states in Latin America and the Caribbean were built.

“To eliminate sexism and racism, we need to change society, but often at international forums we change the words we use so as not to have to change society. This cannot go on; we must change society instead,” she said.

“Leaving self-deception aside, often the documents that emerge from these meetings say one thing, but real life for indigenous and Afro-descendant women outside is another thing, because we are the poorest of the poor,” she said.

Margarita Antonio, a Miskito Indian woman from Nicaragua, said countries and United Nations agencies should keep working towards providing better training and education for women, who should share the knowledge they acquire with those who stayed home in their communities, to bridge the gaps that also exist between different groups of women.

The panel, organised by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the Secretariat of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), was attended by more than 100 women representing regional organisations.

Indigenous women presented their manifesto in favour of building a “plurinational” state.

In spite of quantitative and qualitative advances, mid-way through the decade devoted to achieving the Millennium Development Goals and the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, we are facing a critical situation exacerbated by the increasing implementation of macroeconomic policies that ignore the collective rights of our peoples, the document says.

It also says that advances in respect for the human rights of indigenous women are tied to the struggle to protect, respect and exercise the collective rights of their peoples, as well as indigenous people’s unity, based on their territories, natural resources, collective traditional knowledge and full recognition of their institutions for self-government.

We recognise the importance of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as tools to make progress on strategies for women’s sustainable development and human rights, although the targets used to measure progress do not include cultural or ethnic indicators, says the manifesto, which was made public on Wednesday.

The MDGs were adopted in 2000 by the U.N. member countries as a platform to combat poverty and inequality all over the world, improve health, education and gender equity, fight pollution, and adopt a sustainable development model and a fairer system of international trade. The deadline for fulfilling the MDGs is 2015.

The indigenous women’s document urges states to immediately adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, approved by the Human Rights Council in June 2006, as the basic platform for indigenous women’s development and equitable participation.

A study by the United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW), another of the panel’s organisers, found that indigenous women experience access to resources and positions of power in a different way from non-indigenous men and women.

Women account for nearly 60 percent of the 50 million indigenous people in Latin America and the Caribbean, and they face triple discrimination: as women, as indigenous people and as poor people, the study says.

This year the Regional Conference on Women is focussing on the contribution of women to the economy and social protection, particularly through unpaid work, and on political participation and gender parity.

On the subject of political participation by women, in addition to reforming electoral systems with affirmative action measures, a number of aspects of political culture which produce discriminatory bias must be changed, says another study presented on Tuesday by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

The necessary changes should address unequal access to financing, the unequal influence of social networks, and the unjust use of time which demands that women focus on reproductive work (repetitive chores like cleaning, cooking and caring for children and the elderly), the ECLAC study says.

The emergence of women leaders in the region, the increasingly autonomous electoral behaviour of women, and the female vote in favour of women candidates are part of the new democratic scenario, says the ECLAC study on “Women’s Contribution to Equality in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

Parity is one of the symbols of the new democracies, and is an ethical measure which can strengthen the legitimacy of democratic institutions, the study says.

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