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ANDEAN COUNTRIES
Indigenous women: invisible citizens
Ramiro Escobar*
7/2/2009
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Gender equality is pending issue for indigenous organizations.

"Mother Earth gives us life, and women give life too, so to defend life is defend the Earth," said Leonilda Zurita, leader of Bolivia´s Bartolina Sisa Federation of Campesina and Indigenous Women. Speaking at the first regional summit of indigenous women in the Peruvian highland city of Puno, Zurita and other prominent indigenous women leaders spoke out about the state and priorities of native women in Latin America.

The summit was part of the fourth Continental Summit of Indigenous Peoples Abya Yala, or "living Earth" in the Kuna language of Panama, during which indigenous women discussed their importance and new proposals that linked the Earth, communal lands and equality.

For Blanca Chancoso, former leader of the powerful CONAIE indigenous group of Ecuador, and a member of the Kichwa people, "we want our voices heard by the institutions that are responsible for what happens in our countries."

Zurita added: "Without women there is no change, there is no democracy because it´s with their participation that the people will have what they need."

Ivonne Yáñez, of Ecuadorian environmental group Acción Ecológica said that women´s role as mothers defines their ability to pass down traditions.

"These seems to be a part of our tasks," said Feliciana Amado, a campesina from the Peruvian highland department of Ancash and leader of the National Confederation of Communities Affected by Mining, or Conacami.

Territory and identity
The act of passing down traditions, a legacy, occurs most notable in indigenous communities through land, which is part of a legacy to be preserved.

The question arose, however, whether women´s view has an influence on the regional indigenous movement.

Millaray Painemal, a Mapuche and leader of the National Association of Rural and Indigenous Women of Chile, says that recognizing this is not enough, noting that indigenous women continued to be an ignored sector.

For example, in the Andean Coordinating Group of Indigenous Organizations, most of the leadership is male.

"Things haven´t advanced in a notable way as far as having women leaders in the organizations," said Painemal, even though gender equality is a key part of these groups´ agenda.

"We hope that our fellow indigenous and campesino members of the Continental Summit take back the women´s proposals," said Lourdes Huanca, of the National Federation of Women Campesinas, Artisans, Indigenous, Natives and Wage-Earners of Peru.

Following the bloody clashes between police and indigenous protesters in Peru´s northeastern jungle June 5, there was an unexpected surge of female leadership in the country´s most prominent Amazonian indigenous group. Alberto Pizango, the leader of umbrella organization, the Inter-Ethnic Assocation for Development of the Peruvian Amazon, or Aidesep, was granted political asylum in Nicaragua, and the leadership Dasyi Zapata, of the Yine people, took over. Yet it was these dramatic events that caused this.

Machismo and domestic violence
A major obstacle to gender equality in native communities is domestic violence. More than one leader in the meeting said that this problem, along with machismo, was present in indigenous communities.

Another issue is poor services that diminish indigenous communities chances at equality. In Ecuador, 36 percent of indigenous mothers do not have pre-natal care, compared with just 12 percent of non-indigenous women, according to the World Bank.

"Power belongs to everyone," Chancoso said, echoing calls from other activists that power should be distributed equally between both genders in indigenous movements.

Participants founded the Continental Coordinating Group of Indigenous Women at the summit, taking a step toward greater participation, autonomy and new viewpoints. Issues such as food sovereignty, cohabitation with nature and the right to cultural diversity were at the forefront of the discussion.

"We women are going to be in all issues that will be discussed," said Huanca.
—Latinamerica Press.


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Indigenous women continued to be an ignored sector. (Photo: William Chico)
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