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Inter Press Service, August 9, 2004

Women Suffer Double, Triple, Quadruple Discrimination

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 full dimension.

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 Geneva.

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 issues.''

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 political terrain.''

''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 and Chinkin.

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 women.''

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, they add.

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 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 activist.

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 Kuku.

<< Inter Press Service -- 8/9/04 >>

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