Indigenous women continue to seek human rights
May 18, 2005
Last month, a judge in Tennessee decided not to enforce his order that a Mexican woman learn English or risk losing parental rights to her daughter. The woman, from Oaxaca, is one of a growing number of indigenous Mexicans living in the United States.
Imagine how vulnerable that woman must have felt.
Feeling vulnerable is not uncommon for indigenous women.
Later this month, the 49th Session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women will convene. There, indigenous women will meet to discuss the issues they face.
One of those issues is violence.
In North America alone, the problem cannot be denied. Last year, Amnesty International issued a report that describes the murders of Canadian aboriginal women over the past three decades that have gone largely ignored by authorities. The report, entitled "Stolen Sisters," says "indigenous women between the ages of 25 and 44, with status under the Indian Act, were five times more likely than all other women of the same age to die as the result of violence." The report urges that "it is time for action" to stop violence against native women.
In Mexico, Amnesty International reports that that the military has been accused of using rape against indigenous women with impunity. This sexual violence, the group says, is tantamount to torture.
Economic policies also wreak havoc on the lives of indigenous women. The importation of U.S.-grown corn into southern Mexico under NAFTA has undermined the market for corn, causing thousands of indigenous people to leave their homes.
Native American women in the United States face desperate conditions, as well. They earn only 58 cents for every $1 that non-Hispanic white men in the United States earn, according to the Institute for Women's Policy Research. In addition, native women receive less education and have worse health than others in this country.
"Indigenous women's issues are fundamental human rights issues," declared the International Indian Treaty Council last summer.
At the United Nations, indigenous women will be taking up this cause and demanding action.
They have suffered long enough as women and as indigenous people.
Now they are demanding the rights and recognition that all human beings deserve.
Yolanda Chávez Leyva is a historian specializing in Mexican-American and border history. She lives in Texas. She can be reached at email@example.com.