How to protect the human rights of indigenous girls and women in Latin America and the Caribbean?


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Seven questions and answers to understand CEDAW's General Recommendation No. 39 

Indigenous women's organizations recognize the progress made regarding respect and guarantees for the fulfillment of the human rights of indigenous women. However, they also call for greater protection, which is still insufficient today. 

General Recommendation No. 39 will guide the States Parties to CEDAW in implementing concrete measures to eliminate historical discrimination and the violation of the rights of indigenous women, considering their individual and collective rights. 

Let's begin with the first: 

1. What is CEDAW?

The CEDAW is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. It was unanimously adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979 and entered into force in 1981. It is the most comprehensive and progressive binding international instrument on the human rights of all women and girls. 

2. What is the role of States Parties in promoting compliance with the CEDAW? 

The CEDAW is a legally binding instrument. In this sense, States that ratify the Convention are legally bound to: 

  • Eliminate all forms of discrimination against women in all spheres of life. 
  • Guarantee the full development and advancement of women so they can exercise and enjoy their human rights and fundamental freedoms the same way as men. 
  • Enable the CEDAW Committee to review its efforts to implement the treaty by regularly reporting to the body. 
  • Submit periodic reports to the Committee on how the rights established by the Convention are being implemented. 
  • The CEDAW has been ratified and incorporated into the normative framework of all Latin American and Caribbean countries. However, this does not translate into the achievement of substantive equality between men and women in the region. 

3. What are the General Recommendations? 

The CEDAW gives the Committee the power to clarify and interpret the content of the Convention on issues that affect women and girls and to which it considers that the Member States should pay greater attention through the adoption of the General Recommendations. 

As of December 2021, the Committee has adopted 38 General Recommendations. See the complete list here

4. What is the CEDAW Committee? 

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is the independent expert body that monitors the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The CEDAW Committee comprises 23 women's rights experts from around the world. 

5. What is the purpose of CEDAW General Recommendation 39 on the rights of indigenous women and girls? 

This draft General Recommendation aims to guide Member States on relevant legislation, policy, and other measures to ensure the fulfillment of their obligations concerning the rights of indigenous women and girls under the principles set out in the CEDAW. 

6. What rights are protected by General Recommendation 39 of the CEDAW on the rights of indigenous women and girls? 

The General Recommendation should guarantee the rights of indigenous women and girls to self-determination and the integrity of their lands, territories, and natural resources, their culture, their worldview, and their environment. It must also ensure their rights to effective participation, consultation, and consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them. 

The Recommendation contemplates the right to access food and water security and their survival and cultural integrity.


Learn more about CEDAW General Recommendation No. 39, which is a guide for States on legislative, budgetary and programmatic measures to guarantee the full exercise of indigenous women's rights, considering their intersectionalities and recognizing their contributions.
Go to publication.

States should adopt comprehensive measures to prevent, prohibit and punish all forms of gender-based violence against indigenous women and girls and recognize environmental, spiritual, political, and cultural violence. 

Member States must address the consequences of historical injustices arising from policies of forced assimilation and provide support and reparations to affected communities as part of justice, reconciliation, and the process of building societies free of discrimination and violence against indigenous women and girls. 

7. What can be expected after adopting the CEDAW General Recommendation 39 on the rights of indigenous women and girls? 

Once adopted, General Recommendation no.39, as part of the Convention, will become mandatory for Member States. This means that they will have to report in their periodic reports on the concrete measures implemented in response to the provisions of the General Recommendation regarding the rights of Indigenous women and girls. In addition, indigenous women's organizations will have a tool for lobbying the States and demanding public policies and budgets that meet their needs and demands.