The work of the Forest Peoples Programme is to support indigenous peoples and other forest peoples to defend their human rights, in particular their collective human rights to self-determination, to their lands, territories and cultural heritage, to self-representation, and to exercise their customary law. In adopting a rights-based approach we also accept that these collective human rights must be exercised in ways that are consistent with other human rights. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples makes the very same point. A basic principle of human rights law is non-discrimination and much of the purpose of the UN Declaration and other laws and jurisprudence related to indigenous peoples is to redress centuries of injustice based on ingrained prejudice, outright discrimination and ensuing violence against indigenous peoples.
A gendered approach immediately brings out the fact that indigenous men and women, lower status groups, the elderly and children, all experience these injustices differently. Indigenous women may be more easily deprived of lands than their menfolk, may be subject to sexual exploitation and further discriminated against when it comes to pay, education, health-care, access to justice and the other services of the State. Sometimes it is indigenous men who suffer, notably when hunting peoples lose access to their territories and game, and they are deprived of the honour and identity that comes from their valued role. In working with forest peoples to end discrimination, we face with them the further dilemma that not all discrimination and injustice comes from outside but may inhere in their own customary systems.
The articles assembled in this special edition of our newsletter open up this aspect of our work with our partners. In Indonesia, Thailand and Guyana attention to women’s systems of land use shows how these complement male systems of land use. When indigenous women also mobilise to defend their rights, then the collective force of the society is strengthened, not divided This ENewsletter highlights discussions among indigenous women themselves, on how best to approach issues of gender discrimination in their own countries and communities.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has been particularly responsive to the push by indigenous women in Africa to gain redress. At the same time our partners in Nepal, Colombia, the Philippines and Uganda affirm their wish to see their rights addressed within the framework of indigenous rights and not in opposition to it. What this means above all is that in building solutions to injustice this must be done by the peoples themselves through the mobilization and transformation of their own societies and not through imposed programmes of social reform.
Self-determination without discrimination is the way to build better futures and in doing this each people will find their own path, starting as they do in different places and having their own ways of dealing with each other. For us in FPP, we are happy to see our partners’ work on Gender and Land Rights beginning to bear fruit and look forward to continuing to support them on this new journey.