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Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Director-General José Graziano da Silva is urging countries to unite behind a campaign to promote indigenous women’s rights and encourage their participation in policy discussions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of Zero Hunger.

“We call on countries to stand up and guarantee a place at the table for indigenous women in policy-making processes. Without them, we cannot achieve the Zero Hunger goal and we will not achieve Sustainable Development,” Graziano da Silva said in a video message ahead of International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on August 9.

There are some 400 million indigenous peoples in the world; about half of them are women. Indigenous peoples play an important role in ending hunger.

“Indigenous peoples are the custodians of the world’s biodiversity. They are the defenders of lands and territories which they care for, for future generations,” Graziano da Silva said. “However, too often indigenous peoples have not seen respected their collective rights to their ancestral lands, territories and resources.”

Indigenous women raise livestock, farm, fish and hunt to gather food for their communities. They are also considered guardians of seeds and medicinal plants.

Despite their contributions, indigenous women are not part of policy and decision-making processes affecting their lives. Often, social protection policies fail to include their views and needs. And, despite their wealth of expertise, their work, knowledge and needs are not represented in statistics.

All in all, this renders them invisible.

In January, FAO launched the Global Campaign for the empowerment of Indigenous Women for Zero Hunger with the International Indigenous Women’s Forum and the News Agency of Indigenous and Afro-descendent Women.

One highlight of the campaign has been the Violet Chair initiative – a call to authorities, policy makers, organisations, the international community, academia and civil society to guarantee the full and effective participation of indigenous women in policy discussions and decision-making processes that affect them and their communities.

To make them visible, a violet chair is placed at a meeting to highlight that an indigenous woman is participating, or, all too often, when the chair is empty, that she is not.

“Placing a violet chair at a meeting is a simple but effective reminder that indigenous women must have a seat at those negotiation tables where policies affecting indigenous communities are being discussed,” said Marcela Villarreal, Director of FAO’s Partnerships and South-South Cooperation Division.

Violet has become a symbolic colour for women’s struggle to be heard. People can use paintings, indigenous textiles or handicrafts to create a violet chair and support the campaign.

“I always stress the importance of taking indigenous women into account. We are not people who need assistance or who are perpetually vulnerable. We are agents of change. We have potential, but this potential needs to be catalyzed,” said Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine, Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

 

Since adopting in 2010 the Policy on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, FAO has been upscaling its work with indigenous peoples.

This includes incorporating the Free, Prior and Informed Consent in FAO’s projects and work. The Consent provides guidance to field practitioners on engaging with indigenous peoples.

FAO also supports the promotion and conservation of indigenous food systems and empowerment of indigenous women and youth, including through the Leadership Schools of Indigenous Women in Asia and Latin America. Since May 2015, more than 100 indigenous women have been trained to become advocators for human rights, food security and nutrition in Bolivia, Peru, India, Philippines, Panama, El Salvador and Paraguay.

The United Nations’ International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is observed annually on 9 August to commemorate the day of the first meeting, in 1982, of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations. This year’s theme focuses on indigenous peoples’ migration and movements.

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