by Binalakshmi "Bina" NepramFebruary 22, 2022
“We, the daughters of Mother Earth, the Indigenous women…have come together to collectively decide what we can do to bring about a world which we would like our children and our children's children to live in.”
~ Beijing Declaration of Indigenous Women, September 7, 1995
Earlier this month, the Global Alliance of Indigenous Peoples, Gender Justice and Peace hosted an online Global Convening of Indigenous Peoples on the Health Impact of Conflict, Militarization, Arms and Narco-Trafficking. This comes one year after the Global Alliance co-hosted the First Indigenous Women Convening on Peace, Conflict and Resolution.
Compared to just a few years ago, Indigenous women’s search for women-led peace and security is now a brave new reality which will help deepen democracy in our communities and globally. After decades of almost exclusively grassroots, local organizing, Indigenous women-led struggles are gaining major international recognition for their causes. Thanks to what has become a true international movement, Indigenous women from Chile, Nicaragua, Kenya, Argentina, USA, Canada, Guatemala and many other countries are now regularly represented in international decision-making processes.
This post will focus on how the Indigenous women’s movement emerged at the global level, while continuing to wage local nonviolent struggles for Indigenous rights in parallel. In my follow-up post, I will analyze the global movement’s strategy, victories thus far, and future directions. Today’s Indigenous women leaders provide all of us with a glimmer of hope that our world just might be on track for better rule of law, a world without wars, and a gender just, equitable society.
Indigenous women have always been at the forefront of the larger struggle of Indigenous peoples’ rights at the local, national and international levels. History is replete with instances of Indigenous women working for peace, justice and rights on the ground in their communities.
Indigenous women first came to Geneva in 1982, to the United Nations (UN) for the very first year of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations. The Indigenous women who participated were mostly well-known movement founders, leaders and community organizers. This was followed by another landmark UN meeting on women held in September 1995, known as the Beijing Conference, an event that provided the backdrop for the historic work of Indigenous women organizing together. The 1995 conference resulted in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, with commitments to women in 12 critical areas of concern. The platform also contained a number of commitments for Indigenous women relating to poverty, health, violence against women, armed conflict, the economy, power and decision-making, human rights, the media and the environment. These early processes bore witness to the growing unity among Indigenous women worldwide—a crucial ingredient for the impact that would follow.
The conceptualization of the International Indigenous Women’s movement happened at the Beijing World Conference of Women (1995) where Indigenous women from around the world gathered to share experiences, grievances, demands and proposals. The need for global coordination became visible and this led to the formation of a global network of Indigenous women. The groundwork, however, had already been laid in the previous decades. In the words of Professor Elsa Stamatopoulou, Director of Columbia University’s Indigenous Studies program, to me in a 2020 phone interview: “The 1990s was a [major shift] for women’s rights, as seen in the 1993 Vienna “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” call. However, the indigenous women’s movement started emerging in the 1970s and they were strong when they went to Beijing.”
A landmark moment happened in Lima, Peru in the winter of December 1999. At the Lima meeting, the theme was “Indigenous Women on the Edge of the New Millennium: An International Working Group.” The meeting in Peru convened strong Indigenous women from Kenya, Algeria, Norway, the Philippines, Canada, USA, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Peru, At the Peru meeting, an International Indigenous Women’s Steering Committee—the first of its kind, and an institutional force to be reckoned with—was formed.
In my next post, I will highlight some of the specific civil resistance dynamics that characterize this global movement, which has continued to gain momentum through the present day.
Binalakshmi “Bina” Nepram is an award-winning scholar and civil rights activist who is Founder-Director of Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network/CAFI. Bina was born in Manipur Nation currently located in India’s northeast region next to Myanmar. She is the founder of two other organizations working on peace and justice and has authored five books.Read More