International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous women’s voice and empowerment more important than ever to ensure a better future of work for all

Ten years since the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted, the international community renews its commitment to promote the empowerment and voice of indigenous women.

Statement | 08 August 2017
This year we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration, along with the ILO’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No. 169), has been a reference point for affirming and advancing the rights of indigenous women and men. Together these instruments have guided public policy making from the local to international levels, and have empowered indigenous communities to pursue their own development priorities.

However, the situation is still far from acceptable. Indigenous peoples constitute a disproportionate 15 per cent of the world’s poor whereas they are an estimated 5 per cent of the world’s population.  Indigenous women are commonly the poorest of the poor, discriminated against because they are indigenous and because they are women.

The marginalization and social exclusion faced by indigenous peoples must be addressed as part of the collective effort to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Indigenous peoples’ concerns and their knowledge are also at the heart of a just transition to environmental sustainability.

An ILO report, released during the 16th session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York in April 2017, points to the important role that decent work can play in empowering indigenous women and men. As workers, entrepreneurs, and custodians of traditional knowledge, indigenous women play a vital role in the economic, social, cultural and environmental life of their communities and societies.

In June this year at the ILO’s World of Work Summit on “A better future for women at work”, Myrna Cunningham, President of the Fund for Development of Indigenous Peoples in Latin America and the Caribbean, forcefully stated that equality was not merely a question of cultural change. Political will and effective legislation are required to tackle the structural factors that underpin discrimination. I could not agree more. Without such commitment and action, there will be no meaningful change.  Her presence, too, was a strong reminder that organization and voice are key if indigenous peoples – women and men – are to be actors in and partners for achieving sustainable development.

Today, we renew our commitment to promoting the empowerment and voice of indigenous women. Let us work together for policies that embrace the rights and the development goals of indigenous peoples. Our combined efforts – governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations, indigenous peoples and their organizations, UN partners and others – can go a long way in ensuring that indigenous peoples are not left behind.