Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues Adopts Recommendations on Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls

By Sophie Russo,  VGIF UN Representative.

Agnes Liu, of the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee, on violence against indigenous women and girls at a press conference during the 11th session of the UNPFII.

The 11th session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues took place in New York from May 7 to 18, 2012. At the end of the session, the Forum adopted nine draft recommendations focusing on the Doctrine of Discovery, the 2014 World Conference, intellectual property, human rights, food sovereignty and violence against women. Considering the dire situation of indigenous women and the little attention that was paid to them in past sessions, the draft decision on combating violence against indigenous women and girls is particularly significant.

Indigenous women and girls are disproportionally affected by sex trafficking, prostitution, bonded labor, internal displacement, environmental violence, and detrimental cultural practices such as genital mutilation, witch-hunting, and bride price. High levels of interpersonal violence is intertwined with the history of discrimination and marginalization experienced by indigenous peoples, which fostered poverty, lack of access to land and natural resources, and limited access to education and health services. Moreover, policies by states and multinational corporations continue to hurt indigenous women and girls by violating the principles of indigenous communities and their human rights.

Unfortunately, there is little literature and a lack of statistics on violence against indigenous women and girls, which prevents the design of evidence-based policies. Limited domestic enforcement measures for international treaties, along with the lack of accessibility of treaty committees and familiarity with formal requirements of the international human rights framework among indigenous peoples, limit the efficiency of international treaties.

The recommendations of the Permanent Forum are based on the recommendations of the three-day international expert group meeting held in January 2012 on combating violence against indigenous women and girls. This expert group meeting aimed at ensuring the respect of Article 22 of the Declaration of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states, “states shall take measures, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, to ensure that indigenous women and children enjoy the full protection and guarantees against all forms of violence and discrimination.”

The Forum suggested that member states put in place gender-sensitive action plans and independent self-reporting mechanisms to protect indigenous women victims of violence, prosecute perpetrators and prevent human trafficking; strengthen national censuses and data collection to include disaggregated data on violence against indigenous women and girls; and implement Security Council Resolutions 1325 (2000), 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009), 1889 (2009) and 1960 (2010) which protect the rights of women in armed conflict and conflict negotiations.

The Forum also requested UN-Women and the bureau of the fifty-seventh session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) that indigenous women be included as experts on violence against women in interactive panels during the CSW57 and that the report of the international expert group form part of the official documentation of the fifty-seventh session.

To increase the effectiveness and accountability of police forces when dealing with cases of missing indigenous women and girls, the Forum recommended that United Nations agencies, bodies and other entities support the development of protocol templates for police practices, and that indigenous peoples and member states work together to ensure lawful implementation.

Indigenous organizations were also called upon to better monitor and assess violence against women and girls in their communities, and to present reports to the Permanent Forum on the subject. The Forum also encouraged indigenous organizations to make more effective use international human rights treaty bodies like CEDAW by communicating reports on violence against indigenous women and girls.

In addition to recommendations, several positive developments were underlined. The Forum congratulated UN agencies for their continuing research on violence against indigenous girls and young women and recognized their efforts to work collaboratively with indigenous women. It welcomed the adoption of a resolution on indigenous women and their roles in poverty and hunger eradication during the 56th session of the CSW, along with the increased participation of indigenous women with disabilities during the Forum’s 11th session.


For more detailed information, see:

Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues Website:

“Report of the international expert group meeting: Combating violence against indigenous women and girls: Article 22 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Recommendations of the Permanent Forum” (E/C.19/2012/L.3):

“Report of the international expert group meeting: Combating violence against indigenous women and girls: Article 22 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” (E/C.19/2012/6):

“Recommendations of the Permanent Forum” (E/C.19/2012/L.2):


BPW Equal Pay Day Workshop at CSW56

For the past four CSWs, the International Federation of Business and Professional Women has hosted a workshop at the German House Main Auditorium on Equal Pay Day. The day marks the extra days the average woman must work to make the same pay as the average man the year prior. The formula is very simple:

%pay gap * average work days (225) = the average extra days a woman must work

This year in the United States, Equal Pay Day falls depressingly on April 17th. The worst offender of the participating countries is Korea, whose women must continue to work until May 21, 2012 to make the same as men did in the year 2011.

The goal of the campaign is to raise awareness of the reasons for the wage gap. These reasons include discrimination in education and the workplace, undervaluing of women’s work, traditions and stereotypes, segregation in the labor market, the glass ceiling, and unequal balance of work and private life. Interestingly, it was argued at the workshop that although women are on average more educated in developed nations, they are still paid less because their income is viewed as supplementary to family income rather than as a bread-winning role. The long term effects of the pay gap are lower pensions paid to older women and higher poverty rates for women.  Also, because women live longer than men, they become a heavier burden on their families during their golden years.

To achieve their goal, the Equal Pay Day campaign seeks to make the pay gap transparent and sell the business case for gender equality. It does so through networking activities worldwide, organizing events, and involving increasingly more countries. The campaign created signature “red bag” which are distributed to represent the red numbers in women’s pockets. There are also several media campaigns to raise awareness, the latest of which is a satirical video which can be found here.

Evidence and Data for Gender Equality Initiative (EDGE)

By Sophie Russo, VGIF UN Representative

The lack of gender statistics has long been an excuse not to act. Because quality evidence is needed to make the case for change and design effective policies, the Evidence and Data for Gender Equality Initiative (EDGE) was launched in Busan, South Korea, at the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in November 2011. Four months later, at the occasion of the Commission on the Status of Women, UN Women and the Statistical Commission met on Friday March 2, 2012 to reflect on EDGE’s achievements and on the challenges ahead.

EDGE’s goals are to create a comprehensive database including disaggregated data on the three Es—education, employment and entrepreneurship—as well as to design international statistical standards. A set of indicators and definitions was determined by experts, which will eventually make gender data more easily comparable and useful. After the beginning of the second phase of EDGE’s development in March 2013, the new methodology and standards will be tested in 10 pilot countries. At the end of the process, gender statistics should be an integral part of national statistics, not mere ad hoc projects.

Quite understandably, EDGE cannot do this work on its own. Officials are determined to work in partnership with the OECD, the World Bank, UN entities and UN member states. A steering committee composed of statistical experts from various institutions was established to share best practices and provide counseling on the initiative’s achievements. Indeed, EDGE promotes a model that values technical and financial cooperation.

But there are still challenges ahead. Systems of data collection and national statistical capacity need to be strengthened to produce more reliable data. To achieve this, EDGE will have to improve connections and the sharing of best practices at the national and international levels. Funding is also scarce, so UN Women and the Statistical Commission must focus their efforts on acquiring funding on the basis of the Busan plan. In addition, several members of the Commission raised the concern that testing the new method in only 10 pilot countries would not be sufficient.

As the Director of the World Bank’s Development Data Group, Shaida Badee underlined, there is no quick fix. But bridging today’s evidence gaps will contribute greatly to achieving the Busan Joint Action Plan for Gender Equality and Development.

Fortunate Accidents: The Making and Aftermath of “Pray the Devil Back to Hell”

Morgan Zajkowski, VGIF UN Representative

Executive producer of Women, War & Peace Abigail Disney remains surprisingly down to earth despite the success she has had with her multiple films. The five-part film series is an emotional compilation of stories portraying women’s reaction to war and how they are immersing themselves in the peace processes. The recipient of the International Advocate for Peace Award and a 2011 Academy Award Nominee, Disney is distinguished for her films and her message: “We are shooting at each other and it’s stupid.”

At a Mission of Norway sponsored event held in the United Nations Dag Hammarskjold Auditorium on 28 February 2012, Disney spoke about her film “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” to an audience attending the 56th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. The moving documentary tells the story of 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Leymah Gbowee and her non-violent struggle in the 2003 Liberian civil war between independent warlords and dictator, Charles Taylor. “General Leymah” and her thousands of female troops formed a powerful and ultimately successful inter-faith movement protesting the war. The movement proved instrumental in pushing the peace talks forward in Ghana and the following election of Africa’s first female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Disney explained that her connection to the story was completely accidental. She traveled to Liberia to see what she could do to help support President Sirleaf and ended up piecing together the story of the Women of Liberia Peace Network from many different people. After she returned to the U.S., she recalled the anger she felt about having never heard the story before and knew that she had to make sure the rest of the world experienced it.

The next challenge was to find footage of this amazing journey, which ended up being a treasure hunt. CNN and other networks claimed to have no footage stored, further igniting her passion to make sure the story of Women of Liberia Peace Network as heard. Finally she met someone who had taken home videos of the development but had donated it to an NGO. The organization knew they had the footage but had not seen it in a long time. Ultimately, they found the tape with extensive water and sun damage, holding up a window Disney described how she felt like they had just pulled the story back from being lost in oblivion.

Disney believes that this film and Gbowee’s subsequent Peace Prize demonstrate how women are not helpless victims but invaluable social actors in own right and agents of change. She hopes that showing “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” and the other four films of Women, War & Peace series will be beacons of hope for women in conflict zones that their voice is ready to be heard.

All five of the Women, War & Peace films are currently streaming online at


CSW 56: Tunisia Moving Towards Gender Equality

Morgan Zajkowski, VGIF UN Representative

Ms. Sihem Badi, Tunisia’s Minister of Women’s and Family Affairs, spoke at a CSW 56 side event on February 28 2012 entitled “Girls: control of their bodies and access to development.”  Ms. Badi was recently elected to her seat after living in France to protect herself from the gender-based violence in her country. Despite this, she remains optimistic about the new government’s positive push to pass legislation that both protects and empowers women.

Ms. Badi explained that it is not enough to simply have civil courts enforcing women’s rights; laws need to change in order to sustain the development that Tunisia has experienced since the Arab Spring and the subsequent elections. Although the process has been slow, she gave a few examples of laws that have already been implemented: political adjustment laws have now provided women with 25% of the seats of parliament, the legal marrying age for girls is 18, and contraceptives and abortions are available.

When asked her opinion on whether or not the Arab Spring was productive for women, she gave a mixed response. She said that it has been productive, but there are still many challenges ahead for women. Specifically, the fundamentalist parties have voiced strong opposition to this new freedom for women. This is especially problematic for rural women, as Ms. Badi noted, “We have to talk to leaders about the issue—we have to convince them that providing reproductive health services will not start a feminist revolution.”

Ms. Badi also talked about the necessity to involve a variety of groups and use education as a primary means of changing stereotypes. Youth involvement is essential, especially the empowerment of girls so that they are no longer considered a target. But working with girls alone will not be enough to make real change, as she said, “We must work with men and young men in prevention strategies.”

Despite these challenge, Ms. Badi remains determined to preserve and improve the status of women in Tunisia.

VGIF-funded Project: Preventing Teenage Pregnancy in Uganda

“When it comes to teenage pregnancy, we have all failed, sometimes we see girls escaping from school to move with boys and men in bars and hotels and we do nothing about it, even some of the men here today are guilty of using young girls.” – Project Director (PELI-U)

VGIF helped to facilitate an initiative to educate and prevent teenage pregnancy in targeted communities by funding a one-year program in Nyarushanje Sub County, Rukungiri District, Western Uganda entitled“Teenage Pregnancy Prevention and Sexual Reproductive Health/HIV/AIDS Education for Rural Girls” .

PeerLink Initiative Uganda (PELI-U) reached out to young girls in four school districts, conducting workshops and meetings for parents, teachers, and community members. Interested parties were provided opportunities to discuss sex education, a rarely discussed topic. Conversations were facilitated which led to participants feeling comfortable to ask questions and later speaking publicly and with one another.

One of the most important issues identified was where girls can get help, especially if they do not feel safe or comfortable discussing the subject in their own homes.  This helped give them a voice, instilling self-worth and confidence.

Sustainable Progress: Workshops continue, providing young girls, parents, teachers, and community members opportunities to take action and prevent the cycle of teenage pregnancy. Parents noted that they have been reminded of their responsibilities which they were taking for granted. Teachers noted that they too acknowledge their role in helping students/pupils to cope with challenges and imparting life skills.  There is need for collective effort of all stakeholders in addressing the problem. Parents have continued to consult PELI-U on issues affecting their youth. PELI-U is working closely with trained teachers to sensitize students and pupils in other schools.

“Educating the girl child is vital in equipping her with knowledge and skills to utilize in self- improvement, decision making and national development.”

One Girl’s Story My step mother would abuse me day and night, I was frustrated and wanted to run away from home but I didn’t know where to go. I started going to PeerLink offices and at some stage I shared with the staff my story. They went and talked to my step mother and when my father came to the village they also talked to him. My step mother has changed and she no longer abuses me so much. I’m still worried of how my life will be but I now accept the situation I’m in and I’m ready to have my child.  I know it’s going to be difficult and I wish I had information about sex and relationships possibly things would be different.

Olivia Mugabirwe, Project Director and Executive Director of PeerLink Uganda, and Leslie Wright, Convener of VGIF UN Committee, at the VGIF CSW56 parallel event. 

So what about the boys? The role of men and boys in achieving gender equality

By Victoria Sung, VGIF UN Representative

Men and boys are frequently painted as the perpetuators of gender inequality, but new campaigns and programs targeting men and boys have become the subject of discussion in the fight for gender mainstreaming. At the CSW 56 side event “So what about the boys? The role of men and boys in achieving gender equality” hosted by the Mission of Canada and Plan International’s program Because I Am A Girl, panelists discussed the merit of male-targeted programs. Pointing to examples such as the White Ribbon Campaign that started in 1991, which asked men to wear a white ribbon in solidarity and awareness of gender-based violence, the event sought to create a conversation between men and women. This was presented as a necessity to avoid the disempowerment men often feel when presented with the issue of women’s rights.

Ravi Karkara of UNICEF called for intervention to sensitize men and boys to gender inequalities. Although he suggested approaching men and boys of all ages, he stressed that it was important to work with boys as early as possible. “We must do this to unlearn patriarchy and masculine hegemony,” he said, to the applause of the audience. As the founder of the Men Engage Alliance, he gave an example of a program in Nepal, which mapped out unsafe spaces in villages for women and girls, and engaged men and boys in a dialog on why these spaces were unsafe. Another example came from Bangladesh, where local religious leaders were involved in a campaign to “Say no to early marriage.” His suggestion to the audience and other panelists were to hold such participatory and inclusive interactions to create a meaningful exchange.

Bringing voices from the grassroots level, two youth delegates from Because I Am A Girl, Alishba from Pakistan, and Len from Cambodia, addressed the crowd. Alishba shared her own story of educating her father on her rights as a girl, including allowing her the freedom to leave the house on her own and not agreeing to an early marriage. Len stated that men are more likely to listen to other men, and suggested educational policies for fathers. Both youth delegates emphasized that gender equality should start in the home, specifically the relationship between a father and his family.

The sentiment at this event was that working only with women for gender equality provided an incomplete picture of inequality, and that involvement with men was necessary to improve the situation across the globe. This should be considered in future discussions of gender equality.

At CSW56: “Nothing about us, without us.”

By Charlotte Lorick, VGIF UN Representative

It has been an eventful CSW56 Conference thus far, featuring inspirational and oftentimes eye-opening talk on rural women’s rights. Amidst the discussion about gender equality in rural communities, there has been an underlying buzz of concern among attendees. Despite the fact that an estimated 4,000 women from across the world have made it to the conference, some are concerned that many women’s voices are still not being represented. According to Bathabile Dlamini, Minister of Social Development in South Africa, their voices may be the most important of all.

At the Socialist International Women (SIW) Side Event on Thursday, hosted by the Permanent Mission of Italy, Dlamini shared her views on the situation of rural women in South Africa. Much of her discussion focused on the many problems that rural women are facing in her country, including patriarchal cultural practices, little access to leadership positions, and inadequate control over their own resources. The last point she made was most notable of all – she expressed her concern that many of these women are incapable of sharing their personal stories with the world. She feels that the very women that this conference focuses on have little impact on the diplomatic process at the UN and have very little power to change their situation. As she put it, “We all have come here to New York and left most of the rural women at home. We are talking about their futures and well-being and they are not even included in this discussion.” I have heard similar concerns at some of the other meetings, complaints that many women were denied a VISA, or that many simply do not have the funds to make the trip. She then went on to say that the women who do manage to make the trip to New York have faced some challenges. “We are traveling so far and yet many events have no translation and we do not have access to the rooms where decisions are actually being made.”

She appealed to the NGO community, the international community, and the UN member states to rethink the current system. NGO members have not come here just to talk. They have come to New York seeking change, and to improve their lives and the lives of the millions of women they represent. The time has come for action. We all know the problems. We all know the solutions. Now it is a matter of political will and getting the governments to implement the necessary changes. To accomplish this, to encourage government action, and to ensure that the right decisions are made, it is important that politicians hear from the rural women who need their help. Or as Dlamini so rightly concluded, “Nothing about us, without us!” We now must ask ourselves: How can we, as individuals and NGOs, ensure that action is taken and that we carry her message over into CSW 57?

Experts declare HIV the “Disease of Poverty”

Morgan Zajkowski, VGIF UN Representative

According to the panel that included experts from UN AIDS and groups dedicated to HIV/AIDS research internationally, recent research showed that HIV is the disease of poverty. Such studies demonstrate that individuals that live in impoverished areas are more likely to contract the disease for a variety of reasons.

The higher contraction rate is due to factors such as access to accurate health information, HIV prevention information, and lack of access to sexual protection/prevention commodities such as condoms or clean needles, as well as general health care. However, the perpetuation of the disease in these communities in particular is not solely related to health. Lack of access to education, job training and employment opportunities often encourages impoverished individuals to engage in high-risk behaviors such as drug use and transactional sex.

Women are especially affected by HIV because they are often forced into prostitution as a means of supplementing family revenue after a job loss or to support growing health bills. Vivat International cited an example of a three orphaned girls who were forced into prostitution by their family members after their parents died of HIV. If women are also infected, such behaviors can also pass on the disease to other individuals.

While these effects can be seen around the world in small communities, the causes also stem from global issues. In the midst of the current economic crisis, funding for HIV/AIDS research and support has decreased significantly, especially because the majority of donations come from individual contributions. UN AIDS estimates that 11 to 12 billion dollars is need to reach the Millennium Development Goal to cure the disease by 2015. However, there seems to only be 8 billion available both from donors and investments by governments.

This funding gap says something about the global response that society has had to the epidemic. Instead of relying on donor initiatives, some say that countries need to start taking responsibility for their own populations that are plagued by HIV/AIDS. One solution that has been suggested is to initiate a currency transaction fee in which the funds generated are donated to the AIDS response initiative.

But in regards to the connection to poverty, suggestions of a human rights-based approach, focusing on the quality of life rather than the amount of donations, seem more appropriate. This would entail funding issues such as nutrition, housing, job security and education. Such an approach would not only address issues that contribute to the perpetuation of HIV, but also address some of the effects that arise for families after diagnosis. Other than degenerative health, individuals infected with HIV experience job loss, extreme expenditures, increased responsibilities for women, and children are often needed to work or are married off, and frequently orphaned.

In order to meet the Millennium Development Goal for eradicating HIV/AIDS by 2015, the need for creative solutions is quite pressing. Targeting impoverished populations with a rights-based approach, as well as engaging the help of the individuals, especially women, who are infected will be necessary in the strategy.


VGIF Parallel Event at CSW

VGIF Parallel Event at CSW

VGIF hosted a parallel event at CSW56 this past Wednesday. Click the link above and see what happened through social media!