Inter Press Service, August 9, 2004
Women Suffer Double, Triple,
GENEVA, Aug 9 (IPS) - Abuses against indigenous
or other minority women, referred to merely
as ''double discrimination'' by experts and
activists, has not yet been understood in its
Although both men and women belonging to ethnic
minorities and indigenous peoples suffer discrimination,
it is women who do so in a multi-pronged fashion,
argue Fareda Banda and Christine Chinkin, researchers
with the Minority Rights Group (MRG), an international
organisation based in Britain.
''Sexual violence of nearly epidemic proportions
and multiple forms of discrimination against
minority and indigenous women could be better
prevented,'' say the experts.
However, they ''are inadequately understood and
confronted by existing rights mechanisms and
legal instruments,'' they state in a report
produced for the current session of the United
Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial
Discrimination (CERD), meeting Aug 2-20 in
Banda, at the University of London's School of
Oriental and African Studies, told the session
that U.N. agencies should begin to focus on
''how gender intersects with minority and indigenous
The authors of the MRG report call the phenomenon
''intersectional discrimination'', stating
that ''Race, gender, class and other forms
of discrimination or subordination are the
roads that structure the social, economic or
''These roads are seen as separate and unconnected
but in fact they meet, cross and overlap, forming
complex intersections,'' and women who are
marginalised because of sex, race, ethnic identity
or other factors are found at these intersections,
say Banda and Chinkin.
During a debate in the U.N. session, Banda noted
that a person's ''sex'' refers to the biological
differences between men and women, while ''gender''
refers to aspects of social relations that
are not based on sex, but are rooted in ''socially
constructed'' cultural and societal attitudes.
The MRG study says key gender issues and indicators
are ignored in studies on human rights and
minorities, while at the same time, the rights
of minorities are ignored by experts focusing
on gender equality and the rights of women
-- a problem they dubbed the ''institutional
silence on intersectional discrimination''.
To illustrate, the authors cite the reports of
Mexican expert Rodolfo Stavenhagen, U.N. Special
Rapporteur on the human rights of indigenous
people, which they say ''present indigenous
women's rights as simply an 'add-on' to men's.''
They say that while his first report underlined
that marginalisation, especially of indigenous
women and children, remains a persistent problem,
it made ''little further reference to women''
when discussing questions like land rights,
homelands, education and culture.
''For example he criticises the absence of a
maternity clinic in one of the population centres
of the Atacameño people in Chile and
the high infant mortality rate,'' say Banda
But ''The consequences of there being no local
accessible maternity care for Atacameño
women are discussed in terms of the effect
on the group rather than the added burden for
And with respect to Mexico, he mentions the violence
suffered by women in the impoverished southern
state of Chiapas, but without explaining the
form taken by that violence, the broader context,
or the consequences, say the two authors. Nor
does he specifically refer to gender violence,
Stavenhagen's report also discusses the genocide
committed a decade ago in Rwanda by the Hutu
ethnic group. But while ''the focus was on
ethnicity, Tutsi women were targeted differently
to Tutsi men because they were Tutsi and because
they were women,'' says the MRG report.
''Tutsi men were killed while Tutsi women were
subject to sexual violence -- as part of the
genocide -- and then killed,'' it adds.
The situation of women in Sudan, and in the eastern
region of Darfur in particular, was brought
up by Mary James Kuku, with the Delibaya Nuba
Women Development Organisation from Sudan.
Kuku said indigenous and minority women in Sudan
''don't have any status. They are the marginalised
of the marginalised.''
''Our problem is we are illiterate, we don't
have chances to go to school, because we are
minority and we are indigenous. And even if
you have the chance to go to school...you are
supposed to deny your language, you are supposed
to deny that you are African, you become an
Arab, even though you don't look Arab'' due
to the colour of your skin, said the Sudanese
And in the conflict-stricken region of Darfur,
women need medicine and food, but they also
need education, because ''without education
there is no way you can ask for rights,'' added
<< Inter Press Service -- 8/9/04 >>
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