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Holding governments accountable to indigenous and ethnic minority women

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cedaw_thank_you_front.jpgTwenty-five women participated in a regional training workshop on CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) for Indigenous and Ethnic Minority Women in Bangkok, from 26 -30 May 2008.

The five-day workshop saw women share their experiences and challenges on how Indigenous women can tackle multiple discrimination,both as women and as minorities.

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(Bangkok) Women from indigenous communities and ethnic minority groups suffer multiple forms of discrimination– as members of minority and indigenous groups within a dominant society, and as women, who are not only members but part of a marginalised section of their own communities.

Based on this awareness, 25 participants from six countries gathered at a five-day workshop in Bangkok to learn and plan how to promote women’s rights within their communities and at the national level using the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Themed ‘Southeast Asia Regional Training and Strategic Planning Workshop on the CEDAW for Indigenous and Ethnic Minority Women’,the event was organised on 26-30 May 2008, by FORUM-ASIA, in cooperation with the Asian Indigenous Women’s Network (AIWN), and supported by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

For many participants—who come from Cambodia, Laos, Philippines, Thailand, Timor Leste and Vietnam—this was their first encounter with human rights standards such as the CEDAW, and the UN Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and on Minorities.

This activity is part of the efforts of AIWN to examine the implementation of CEDAW among indigenous and ethnic minority women in each country in Southeast Asia. Participants are expected to monitor the implementation of CEDAW of their respective countries and contribute to national shadow reports


Training resource person Amarsanaa Darisuren of UNIFEM stressed that for indigenous and ethnic minority women the concept of “intersectionality” was important to note.

Intersectionality underlines the multiple layers of discrimination that women experience based on their contexts, in this case as members of indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities. Within those identities, they also have to reckon with discrimination due to age, class, religious belief, and other categories.

Because of their multiple identities, Ms. Darisuren said there is a need to concretely assess women’s rights that are enumerated in CEDAW in the context of their experience and specific cultures as members of indigenous and minority groups.

For example, the right to avail of education services should be viewed not only in terms of access on the same level as men but also in their experience as members of minoritized groups and its appropriateness to their distinct cultures.

Many participants shared how women from their communities are typically unable to go to school because they live in remote areas, and their cultures tend to prioritize boys over girls when sending children to school.

In addition, those who are able to go to school are disadvantaged since teaching is conducted mostly in the national language most often by non-local teachers who have limited sensitivity to the culture of the community.There is thus a need to examine more closely the distinct experience of indigenous and ethnic minority women when viewing their rights under CEDAW, particularly in the context of the human rights standards on ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples rights.

Indigenous or Minority

Intersectionality can also be used to highlight human rights violations as members of minority groups since both DRIP and DRM are non-binding human rights standards. These declarations are unlike CEDAW, in which the state party has an obligation to implement the convention. In the regional context, despite similarities of characteristics and conditions of different ethnic groups, they are categorized differently by each government.

Most governments in Asia do not recognize the applicability of the concept of “indigenous peoples” for their minority communities, which carries different obligations for states. In terms of human rights standards, while minority rights are individual rights, indigenous peoples also enjoy additional rights that are collectively held by the community, including the right to manage the affairs of their communities based on their traditions, and the right to land and natural resources.

These rights are invoked by indigenous peoples as part of the right to self-determination, a right which is not included in the Minority Rights Declaration. This means that indigenous peoples in different countries in the region cannot enjoy the same set of rights as others, even though they may all be classified as indigenous peoples under the DRIP.  Engagement with the national and international CEDAW processes are therefore important to indigenous and minority women to promote their rights as indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities by monitoring their govenrment’s implementation of their obligations. It should be noted that CEDAW, along with the Convention of the Rights of the Child, are the most widely ratified international human rights laws in the region.

The workshop ended with a commitment to bring together indigenous and ethnic minority women to contribute to NGO reports by conducting further studies on the CEDAW in the context of the particularities of their communities; to ask State parties to disaggregate data based on gender and ethnicity, and to analyse emerging issues in this age of globalization within the framework of women’s human rights.