Newsbrief, TerraViva United Nations

Indigenous Latin Americans Excluded From Development

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 15 2016 (IPS) - Poverty and education gaps have decreased significantly among indigenous communities in Latin America, but many continue to be left out of social gains, according to a new World Bank study released Monday.

The report, Indigenous Latin America in the Twenty-First Century, found immense social progress made in Latin American countries during the first decade of the millennium, dubbed the “golden decade.”

In much of the region, indigenous political participation has increased. In Bolivia, indigenous people’s representation in parliament is approximately 30 percent. More countries have also accepted indigenous traditions in electoral processes including Oaxaca, Mexico where 418 out of 570 municipalities are managed according to indigenous customs.

These developments are, in part, due to the creation of international treaties and declarations such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted in 2007.

The study also found that 70 million people were lifted out of poverty, including indigenous peoples in Bolivia, Brazil, and Peru. Access to primary education was one of the greatest and clearest achievements during the golden decade, the World Bank said. In countries such as Ecuador, Mexico and Nicaragua, the education gap between indigenous and non-indigenous children closed.

Despite progress, indigenous communities continue to be excluded from development.

“Latin America has undergone a profound social transformation that reduced poverty and expanded the middle class, but indigenous peoples benefited less than other Latin Americans,” said World Bank Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean, Jorge Familiar.

The report found that though poverty rates have decreased within the indigenous population, the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Latin Americans has either remained stagnant or widened.

In the region, indigenous persons make up 14 percent of the poor and 17 percent of the extremely poor, despite representing less than 8 percent of the population.

Being born to indigenous parents increases the probability of being raised in a poor household regardless of parents’ level of education or the size or location of the household, the report stated.

In Ecuador, the probability of a family to be poor increases by 13 percent if the household is indigenous. The probability of being extremely poor increases by 15.5 percent. Other indicators, including gender and geography, further highlight gaps in indigenous social inclusion.

For instance, in Ecuador, if the same indigenous household is headed by a woman, it is 6 percent more likely to be poor. Indigenous women also have higher levels of illiteracy and school dropout rates across the region.

Along geographical lines, in Peru, an indigenous rural household is 37 percent more likely to be poor than an urban household. But even within urban areas, indigenous families continue to live in poorer living conditions with less sanitation and more disaster-prone households than their non-indigenous urban counterparts.

In the report, the World Bank urged for the multi-faceted inclusion of indigenous communities, especially in light of the newly-adopted Sustainable Development Agenda.

“If indigenous peoples are to assume their role as key actors in the post-2015 agenda, their voices and ideas need to be considered,” said Senior Director for the World Bank’s Social, Urban, Rural & Resilience Global Practice Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include commitments concerning indigenous peoples’ rights to education, land and markets.

The study recommends the effective implementation of national laws to guarantee indigenous political participation; strengthen indigenous communities’ access to education; improve data collection strategies to better implement targeted programs and; include indigenous persons in setting development targets.

“Inclusion of indigenous peoples in development policies and programs is not just about poverty reduction – it is the process of improving the ability and opportunity for them to be active stakeholders in society,” Ijjasz-Vasquez remarked. “Their inclusion is morally right and economically smart for nations,” he concluded.

The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, established in 2002, is set to reconvene in May 2016 to discuss indigenous peoples in relation to conflict, peace and resolution.

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