Indigenous women’s rights and activism

Debora Barros Fince, Tarcila Rivera, Mama Neema, Pratima Gurung, Oralia Ruano Lima  Credit, L-R:  UN Women/Nathan Beriro, UN Women/Ryan Brown, UN Women/Deepika Nath, UN Women/Ryan Brown, UN Women/Rosendo Quintos
Debora Barros Fince. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown | Tarcila Rivera. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown | Mama Neema. Photo: UN Women/Deepika Nath | Pratima Gurung. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown. | Oralia Ruano Lima. Photo: UN Women/Rosendo Quintos

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The annual session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, taking place at the UN Headquarters in New York, from 24 April to 5 May, will celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Adopted by the UN General Assembly on 13 September, 2007, the Declaration is the most comprehensive international agreement on indigenous peoples’ rights. The Forum will discuss ways to fully implement the Declaration to ensure the rights, dignity and wellbeing of the estimated 370 million indigenous peoples [1] around the world. As the co-chair the UN Inter Agency Support Group on Indigenous Issues this year, UN Women will participate in a number of events. 

Notwithstanding the progress made in laws, constitutions, education policies and health over the last ten years, indigenous peoples around the world are still among the most vulnerable and marginalized. They are disproportionately impacted by poverty—as many as 33 per cent of all people living in extreme rural poverty are from indigenous communities[2].

Indigenous peoples’ cultures and livelihoods are inextricably linked with their traditional lands. They often have sophisticated traditional ecological knowledge and adaptive responses to climate variability. For example, they have developed environmental practices that lower carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, many of them are losing their lands and livelihoods due to land grabbing, extractive industries and climate change; and their cultures are under threat. Estimates show that one indigenous language is dying every week [3].

Although the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples drew special attention to the needs and rights of indigenous women and called for action to protect them from violence, indigenous women continue to face disproportionate levels of discrimination and violence. More than one in three indigenous women are raped during their lifetime [4] and they also show higher-than-average rates of maternal mortality, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS [5].

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s commitment to leave no one behind provides strong impetus to empower indigenous women and girls, and advance the rights of all indigenous people.

On the occasion of the 16th session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, UN Women spotlights the voices and activism of indigenous women from around the world, as they tackle the challenges of climate change, poverty, gender-based violence, armed conflicts and more.

Top picks

Mama Nalepo in her shop in the local market of Mamura village in Arusha, Tanzania. Photo: UN Women/Deepika Nath

Stepping out of the Boma: Maasai women of Tanzania take charge of their own lives and livelihood
In Tanzania, UN Women and partner workshops have empowered hundreds of Maasai women to acquire land, find additional employment and diversify their economic activities to supplement their families’ income.

Pratima Gurung. Photo:  UN Women/Ryan Brown

From where I stand: “We must be at the table making decisions”
For Pratima Gurung from Nepal, empowering indigenous women with disabilities starts with making them count as active participants and decision-makers, not just observers of decisions. She points to the need to strengthen their voices in disability fora, as well as indigenous peoples’ fora.

Oralia Ruano Lima. Photo: UN Women/Rosendo Quintos

From where I stand: “When I’m stung, I am reminded of how strong I already am”
Oralia Ruano Lima was among the first women in her indigenous community to join an all-female entrepreneurship project as a beekeeper. Today the women beekeepers of Urlanta, Guatemala, are bringing in sustainable jobs and income to their rural communities, and changing mindsets and attitudes towards women.

Colombian women play central role in peace process
Debora Barros Fince is a Waayu indigenous lawyer and human rights defender from Bahia Portete, Colombia. Her community was massacred by Colombian paramilitaries in 2004, leading the Wayuu to abandon their ancestral homeland. Debora survived the massacre and went on to create an organization called Mujeres Tejiendo la Paz (Women Weaving Peace), which works with victims of sexual and domestic violence.

Tarcila Rivera. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

In the words of Tarcila Rivera Zea: “My parents, illiterate as they were, pushed to learn more”
Tarcila Rivera Zea is a Quechuan activist from Ayacucho, Peru, and Founder of the organization Chirapaq, and leader in the movement of indigenous women of the Americas. Ms. Rivera Zea was recently elected to the UN’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Webcast and photos

Tune in for a live webcast of the opening session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues on Monday, 24 April, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. EST.

Join the conversation

Follow @UN_Women on Twitter and unwomen on Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook for live and behind-the-scenes coverage of the #UNPFII16.

A social media package with graphics and suggested messages can be found here.


[1] Indigenous Peoples. Available from

[2] United Nations Development Programme (2014). Sustaining human progress: reducing vulnerabilities and building resistance, Human Development Report 2014, p. 3.

[3] Indigenous Children’s Education and Indigenous Languages, Expert paper prepared for the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, 4th Sess., Prov. Agenda Item 3, U.N. Doc. E/C.19/2005/7

[4] United Nations (2015). Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli Corpuz p. 13. 6 August. A/HRC/30/41

[5] United Nations (2015). Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli Corpuz p. 9. 6 August. A/HRC/30/41