UN Echoes SRDC’s concern over discrimination faced by indigenous women in Guyana

Indigenous women in Guyana
Indigenous women in Guyana

UN Echoes SRDC’s concern over discrimination faced by indigenous women in Guyana

This press release was issued by our partners, South Rupununi District Council, on the need to address discrimination against indigenous women in Guyana, and their response to recent UN observations on this issue.

The South Rupununi District Council (SRDC) welcomes the Concluding Observations on Guyana by the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women released on 22 July 2019. The Committee’s Concluding Observations are timely and incorporate many of the SRDC’s recommendations for government action to address discrimination against indigenous women. The SRDC’s recommendations were made in a shadow report submitted to the Committee and presented by SRDC representative Immaculata Casimero during the Committee’s 73rd session in Geneva.

The SRDC recognizes the government’s implementation of programmes for women’s development as an important step; however, as our representative Ms. Casimero noted to the CEDAW Committee, the government’s efforts often do not reach our communities. We are pleased that the CEDAW Committee shares our concerns and we hereby urge the government to adopt the recommendations of the CEDAW Committee and collaborate with the SRDC and other indigenous organizations in order to bridge the gap between the hinterland and the coastal areas.

Immaculata Casimero, an SRDC representative and women’s rights activist, travelled to Geneva, where the mentoring programme From Global to Local, organized by the International Women’s Rights Action Watch, worked with her to prepare a presentation to the CEDAW Committee. Ms. Casimero both provided important inputs into the CEDAW review process and also gained significant experience, relating:

“[T]he programme fully prepared me to give an oral statement before CEDAW. I learned about how the human rights system operate, where CEDAW fits, and how CEDAW can be used to advocate for women’s rights. Being able to work with women from other countries has been a life-changing experience where I felt motivated and encouraged to do more for the women in my territory. Listening to the experiences and challenges shared by women from other countries, I built my courage and self-confidence, knowing they are all working on a common goal in advocating for women’s equality and equity which I can then voice for vulnerable women.”

Ms. Casimero’s oral presentation and private discussion with the CEDAW committee members helped shape the Concluding Observations finally issued by the Committee. Ms. Casimero briefed the committee members on the many issues affecting indigenous women and girls in our territory and also on issues affecting women nationally. The Committee incorporated the SRDC’s concerns and recommendations, as raised by Ms. Casimero, in the constructive dialogue between them and Guyana and later into the Concluding Observations.

Notably, the CEDAW Committee called on the government of Guyana to amend its laws to guarantee the rights of indigenous women and girls, including to guarantee our rights to our traditional lands and territories; to guarantee our right as indigenous women to consultation and free, prior, and informed consent to policies and legislation affecting us; to improve the access to services for indigenous women, particularly for victims of gender-based violence and sexual offences; to increase livelihood and job opportunities for indigenous women; and to accelerate educational and awareness raising efforts to eliminate discriminatory stereotypes against women and particularly indigenous women. We quote a few of these recommendations here:

  • Expedite the approval of amendments to the Sexual Offences Act and create dedicated sections and/or time slots for the treatment of the sexual offences in courts in the hinterland, including in mobile courts…;
  • Expedite the implementation of the essential services package for victims of gender-based violence, establish shelters and crisis centres for victims of gender based violence in all regions of the State party, allocate sufficient resources to ensure their effective functioning and enhance the provision of accommodation, rehabilitation and reintegration measures for victims, especially in the hinterland;
  • Carry out nationwide education awareness-raising campaigns, including in indigenous languages and on the local radio, about the risks and criminal nature of trafficking as well as the available support services…
  • [A]ccelerate women’s, especially indigenous women’s, full and equal participation in political and public life…;
  • Take targeted measures … to improve access for women, and especially indigenous women and women with disabilities to the formal employment sector;
  • Guarantee the consultation of rural and Amerindian women and girls in the development and implementation of policy and legislative measures, including through organizations representing them, district and village councils…;
  • Amend the Amerindian Act (2006) and other relevant laws, using a gender-sensitive approach, with a view to ensuring that the rights of Amerindian communities to their lands, territories and resources are fully recognized and protected, in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
  • [G]uarantee that rural and Amerindian women (i) can fully contribute to the development of the country through its Green State Development Strategy, (ii) have given their free, prior and informed consent before initiating any development, business, agro-industrial or extractive projects affecting their traditional lands and resources … (iii) can take advantage of adequate benefit-sharing agreements, and (iv) are provided with alternative livelihoods…

The SRDC additionally highlights the need for the Government to improve access to justice in indigenous communities; to use verified data collection to determine the effects of mining on indigenous women and to combat the negative impacts of mining; to implement programs, in conjunction with indigenous communities and indigenous women, to assist with adapting to climate change and fighting the resulting food insecurity; to increase capacity-building efforts not only on CEDAW and women’s rights but also on sexual and reproductive health and on the negative impacts of gender stereotyping; and to address the issue of rising numbers of teenage pregnancies. We refer the Government of Guyana to our shadow report for more detailed concerns and recommendations on how to address them to ensure that indigenous women in Guyana can actually enjoy their rights protected under CEDAW in their day to day lives.

The SRDC urges the Government of Guyana to respect its treaty obligations, to implement the recommendations made by CEDAW, and to work collectively with the SRDC, other indigenous representative institutions, and indigenous NGOs to ensure that indigenous women can fully enjoy the rights recognized under CEDAW