Forest Peoples Programme Supporting forest peoples’ rights

Indigenous women raise their voices at CEDAW

7 October, 2011

In July, the 49th Session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) met in New York. Indigenous women in Nepal, under the umbrella of the Nepal Indigenous Women’s Federation (NIWF), attended the session for the first time to defend and explain the findings that they had presented to the Committee in their Shadow Report. 

The report was supported also by the Lawyer’s Association for the Human Rights of Nepal’s Indigenous Peoples (LAHURNIP) and by the Forest Peoples Programme, and represented the first national level, self-researched and written, report on the status of indigenous women in the newly emerging Nepalese republic.

The report highlighted some serious concerns that indigenous women have in the newly emerging polity, including restrictive rules against self-representation of indigenous peoples in the Constituent Assembly, and long-term concerns like bonded labour among the Tharu people, and a disproportionately high number of indigenous women and girls being trapped into human trafficking.

Ms Yasso Kanti Bhattachan and Ms Sangeeta Lama attended the session for NIWF. Yasso said, “For we indigenous women of Nepal, the submission of shadow report on the rights of indigenous women of Nepal and 3-minute presentation to the CEDAW Committee members during informal meeting between NGOs and CEDAW committee members were indeed a ground-breaking historical event.” Yasso also attended a pre-session training event by the International Women’s Rights Action Watch – Asia Pacific (IWRAW-AP). She said, “I learned much from the IWRAW training “From Global to Local” and I already benefitted by applying the learned ideas and techniques during the sessions, and these ideas and techniques would be useful in our future endeavor including lobbying to protect and promote rights of indigenous women of Nepal.”

The Committee responded well to the discussions that the delegation had with them over the course of the session, and recommendations were provided to the Nepal State responding to three key demands in the shadow report, namely equitable political participation through quotas for indigenous women, the need to address access to education by indigenous girls and the need to more effectively respond to the on-going challenges of bonded labour among the Tharu. Although some areas of the Shadow Report were not picked up, including land and resource access complaints, the experience of the Session was effective in highlighting the specific and multiple discriminatory issues that indigenous women face.

NIWF is now planning a national workshop to translate and disseminate the CEDAW recommendations, both those related to indigenous women and the general recommendations. The workshop will involve the women and communities who contributed to the original report and aims to strengthen their capacity to monitor national level implementation of the recommendations.