Forest Peoples Programme Supporting forest peoples’ rights

Toolkit on Indigenous women's rights in Africa

5 March, 2015

Forest Peoples Programme has created this toolkit to help indigenous women in Africa to better understand the African human rights system and how to use it effectively to secure their rights.

Here follows the introduction to the toolkit by the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa:

Indigenous women form one of the most vulnerable groups on the African continent. They face multiple forms of discrimination associated especially with their indigenous identity, their gender, culture, religion and language. This multiple, or intersectional, discrimination is a significant obstacle to the ability of indigenous women to exercise their rights. As such, it limits their access to education, healthcare and justice along with their participation in political and decision-making processes. Throughout Africa, indigenous women are exposed to physical, psychological and sexual violence. They live in precarious conditions and, indeed, in extreme poverty. The situation of indigenous women is worrying and we must take action.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights has been working on the question of indigenous peoples since 1999. The Commission recognises the specific obstacles which indigenous peoples face in gaining recognition, exercising and enjoying their rights. The Commission has established a Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities. Part of its mandate is to formulate recommendations and proposals for measures and activities designed to prevent and remedy violations of the freedoms and fundamental rights of indigenous peoples/communities. This demonstrates the Commission's willingness to give special attention to this question. However, despite this, to date, the Commission has given very little attention to the question of the rights of indigenous women as women belonging to a specific group.   

Conscious of the difficulties inherent in interpreting and applying the concept of "indigenous peoples", and the lack of general consensus on the definition, the Commission has identified a set of characteristics to enable the identification of indigenous peoples in Africa. This was adopted in the Report of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities, published in 2005. Since then, the Commission has repeatedly called on the African states to recognise the existence of indigenous peoples in their territories and to harmonise their national laws with the provisions of the African Charter and other applicable international standards, such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Indigenous women's rights are human rights. Protection of their rights within the communities to which they belong is based on national laws and on the African system of human and people's rights. It follows that indigenous women can only enjoy their human rights fully when the collective rights of their communities are respected. Thus, respect for the rights of indigenous women comprises an individual and a collective dimension which must be taken into account. 

The somewhat limited attention to the rights of indigenous women on the part of the African Commission does not signify a lack of interest in the question. Far from it.  One explanation, among others, is that the organisations that work to defend indigenous women have little or no knowledge of the African system of human and peoples' rights, the possible routes to claiming those rights, and the ways of becoming involved with the Commission. In my role as Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa, I believe that it is essential to rectify this situation and to equip these organisations to enable them to access the African Commission.

Publication of this information toolkit is intended to achieve this objective. The toolkit has been created in order to introduce indigenous women, and the organisations which represent them, to the African system of human and peoples' rights. It highlights the different routes available to ensuring that the rights of indigenous women are valued and taken into account by the African Commission.

I sincerely hope that the various actors involved in the struggle for the rights of indigenous women will make good use of this valuable resource. I hereby call on them now to engage with the African Commission and to work with its different mechanisms in order to advance the cause of indigenous women in Africa and put an end to their marginalisation.

Maître Soyata Maïga
Commissioner/Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa
African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

The toolkit is comprised of 11 Information Notes:

1- The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

2- The women's rights Protocol

3- The Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa

4- The Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities

5- Legal standards pertaining to the rights of indigenous peoples and women

6- Other useful forums for asserting the rights of indigenous women

7A- Have your voice heard at African Commission level

7B- Have your voice heard at government level

8- How to prepare an alternative report

9- The communications procedure of the African Commission

10- How to make an oral intervention before the African Commission