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Most states in Asia are at classified at medium risk based on the COVID-19 Risk Indexof the UN Office of the Commissioner on Human Rights. Classified as high risk countries are Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh based on several factors like hazard and exposure, inequality, aid dependency, socio-economic vulnerability, health conditions, food security and gender-based violence among others. This report is particular on indigenous women where the Asia Indigenous Women’s Network  and Tebtebba  have  partners providing information based on their experiences and observations  from working closely with indigenous women and their communities on the ground. Inputs come from Nepal, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines.

Indigenous peoples make up 75% of Asia’s population but are not reflected in most statistics including in the COVID – 19 monitoring by states. State reports to the public only contain age, sex, place of residence and history of travel of COVID 19 patients.

Indigenous peoples in Asia are generally unrecognized except in some countries where there are varying degrees of recognition i.e. Philippines, Cambodia, Indonesia, Taiwan and Japan among others. Nonetheless, recognition by law is far different from effective and actual practice on the ground. In this context, indigenous women have preexisting and persistent vulnerabilities due to their history of discrimination as indigenous peoples, as women and as part of the poor sector of the society. This has put them in a generally marginalized situation even before the pandemic.

This lack of recognition reflects on the level of documentation of indigenous peoples in some countries in the region. In Thailand, while the national ID system is in place, there are still a large number of indigenous peoples, most women and children, who are not documented due to problems of access and inefficient reach out. Without a national identity card, they cannot access basic state services, including relief services in this pandemic. In the Philippines, some indigenous women and young mothers, were not accounted for in a local relief initiative because they are not in the census list. Similarly, undocumented indigenous migrants would opt not to avail of much needed support and services to avoid complications with their status.

Pandemic and relevant information

Most IP communities have expressed the lack of timely and appropriate information about COVID 19. Most states have adopted the WHO guidelines. Sufficient information, however, did not reach IP communities due to lack of communications infrastructure and the gap in language. Indigenous women, who are generally lacking skills in the national language would depend on secondary information. Partners have cited the significant role that indigenous youth played in relaying information using social media and telecommunications. In some countries like Nepal, indigenous and community radio stations were also key players.  Recognizing indigenous women as frontliners in domestic and community affairs with their roles as nurturers and carers, EcoHimal-Nepal positioned an information space near a community well to provide information on COVID-19 and  protection measures to each and every woman  who comes to draw water. Women and girls, in the said community, are primarily responsible for fetching water daily aside from other tasks like laundry.


Indigenous families are usually extended. Women are expected to be in charge of domestic concerns i.e. food and health care which extends to parents/parents-in-laws, younger siblings and disabled members of the family, if there are and even if they are in different households. While women take these on without qualms, the disruption of daily lifeways and the ensuing anxiety creates more pressure on women as they try to perform their multiple tasks.  Added to this is the remedial strategies to cope with the interruption of schools. Modular and online platforms have been resorted to which poses a big challenge to the capacities and confidence of mothers to assist children in their academics, not to mention, the capacity to avail, access and operate online platforms.

Raila, from the Bhumia tribe is struggling  hard to manage her family with elder in-laws and a child. Her husband has not been able  to return from Kerala  where he is a  wage laborer  in a construction firm. She has been dependent on the rice subsidy and  Rs 1,000.00 cash support from the  government for the last 3 months; Nabina, from Koraput district, has already incurred debt amounting to Rs.1,500.00 to sustain the family needs during the lockdowns. She is  hoping  for her husband to return soon so she could pay back her loan.

Raila and Nabina are just 2 of the countless elderly women, pregnant women, women who have children with disabilities who have  to respond to and act on their  multiple role, by themselves, while   family members are stranded elsewhere. (Pragati Koraput, Odisha; May 2020)

Health services are generally lacking in indigenous territories and this is one factor of  panic and anxiety among indigenous women. In most states, COVID-19-related services are usually found in town centers which is already a barrier for access by indigenous women who do not have capacities and resources.  In some areas the state, itself, do not have the capacity for COVID-19 to the benefit of private hospitals which means more costly services for the poor and marginalized.


In indigenous communities with access to their lands and resources, food availability, at least in the short term, is not much of a concern as the access to health services, in case anybody from the community gets infected. While supply and distribution of other goods may have been affected by health measures, indigenous communities are able to go to their farms and water sources, albeit limited and without violating social distancing prescriptions. The longer term effect is more worrying to women. With the agricultural cycle disrupted, food and seed stocks may not last long with the prolonged restrictions. The pandemic struck in during planting and harvest season which means that either they were not able to plant, were not able to harvest or lost income from their harvest. In some indigenous communities engaged in commercial production like the vegetable belt of norther Luzon, there is obviously loss of income due to the closure of markets and  non-availability of public transportation. In an agricultural town in Benguet, Philippines, truckloads of tomatoes and other vegetables were left to rot simply because of the travel restrictions. On the other hand, a drought stricken community have already used up their seed stocks for consumption during the lockdown.

Availability and access to food, however, has been more challenging to indigenous communities and families who are dependent on the market, like those in urban and semi-urban areas where traditional agriculture as an alternative form of livelihood may be impossible. While they may be more accessible to relief services, it is also very much competitive based on citizenship and vulnerability status aside from access to relevant information on this services. Despite price regulation for basic commodities, retail prices have increased as function of restricted mobility. Coupled with the decline of prices of local products due to oversupply, indigenous women and their families are pushed to avail of loans. Reports from Indonesia cite indigenous families economically dislocated started selling off their lands to corporate entities.

Food crisis and hunger is most pronounced in communities who have lost their traditional lands and forests like those displaced development projects like roads and dams in Nepal; mines, dams and industrial estates in the Philippines and policies like the recent amendments to India’s Forest Reserve Act.

Discrimination and Racism

Racism has been exposed and heightened in this pandemic.  Of the 22 documented incidences of racist attacks against indigenous peoples in North East India documented by the Rights and Risks Analysis Group between 7 February 220 to 23 March 2020, fourteen (14) involved  indigenous women and youth.  This speaks of the more vulnerable position of indigenous women based on gender. North East Indian have often been referred to by the mainstream population as ‘chinkees’. There were also reports of multiple discrimination from workplace to residence aside from the hazardous work conditions and unsympathetic administration by

Indigenous Naga women, working in hospitals in Kolkata, cited. “ .. they were even not allowed to use lifts or not allowed to come out to buy essential groceries for food;… many felt that they are compromising the patients’ and their own safety as they have “inadequate/ inappropriate PPE, masks, gloves, below-standard safety protocols, etc.; there were also reports of unpaid salaries after hospitals  closed. Such hostile situation has pushed 300 Naga women nurse to go home. (INSIDENE, 20 May 2020).


The pandemic has been weaponized to quell dissent. This is evident in the Philippines, Bangladesh and Myanmar. In the Philippines, Covid 19 preventive measures have been undermined to intensify attacks on state critics i.e. media, progressive organizations, leaders of indigenous peoples’ organizations and communities, including indigenous women and youth as has been cited by the UNCHR itself in its latest report. Online and social media platforms have also been intensely used to spread lies and misinformation to discredit dissenters, attack their persons, throw threats including their families. 

Development Aggression

Intrusions into indigenous territories and resources as extractive industries, monocrop agro-industrial plantations, among others continued even during the lockdown although at a limited scale. Some indigenous women and youth manning the community barricade have sustained wounds and injuries after police, escorting a mining company’s fuel tanker, dismantled the barricade. The barricade was meant to bar the mining company from reentering the community since its license expired in 2019. It also served as the community checkpoint as per health measures against Covid 19. In Southern Philippines, the overall security and wellbeing of more than 432 Teduray and Lambiangan indigenous peoples in Southern Philippines remains uncertain and exacerbated by the restrictive COVID-19 measures. In March 25, after unidentified armed groups reportedly raided their community, ransacked homes and threatened to burn their houses if they do not leave, these families sought refuge in government facilities near town center. In March 28, the same armed groups were sighted near the evacuation area prompting the IDPs to relocate out of fear. Some have reportedly moved to a municipal gym and a school ground in nearby towns. Others have gone to relatives.



Recovery from the pandemic requires a holistic approach that is inclusive and gender fair, culturally appropriate, based on respect for rights and the sustains the integrity of nature for the future.

Inclusivebecause children, youth elderly and persons with disabilities are generally marginalized;

Gender fair because patriarchy is a persistent barrier to the effective recognition of women and non-binary persons;

Culturally appropriate because global and national strategies are usually not sensitive to indigenous peoples and the gender differences within,

Rights based because the inequalities unveiled by Covid 19  is the continuing gap in all development initiatives disproportionately impacting indigenous women and their communities and

Sustainable  because we owe our children their future.

States, donor agencies and  stakeholders should:


  1. Ensure effective recognition of the roles and contribution of indigenous women in sustainable food systems and health care.  This includes their knowledge and practice on natural resource management, traditional livelihoods and medicinals.  Indigenous women like traditional birth attendants should not be criminalized but given incentives for further enhancement. They can be very effective health care service providers should they be, instead, accommodated to understand  mainstream health practice without prejudice to indigenous perspectives. Being part of the community, they are also the in the best place to monitor community health.
  2. Recognition of women’s ownership and access to land and resources is an enabling factor in advancing and sustaining indigenous women’s roles and livelihoods in the light of recovering from the pandemic and the sustainable development targets.
A) Acknowledge, recognize and reward these contributions as green jobs;
B) Recognize indigenous peoples collective rights to own and manage land and the resources in their territories and respect their right to use and control these for their self-determined development;
C) Towards this end, institutionalize the effective implementation of free, prior and informed consent.
3. Invest on 
A) Strengthening health infrastructure and services in indigenous communities that are accessible, adequate and appropriate. This includes the recognition and strengthening of indigenous medicinal and healing knowledge and practice and enhancing partnerships at the community level for  health protection and disease prevention.   
 B)  Food security and livelihoods -  Recognize, support, and contribute to the development of traditional livelihoods; explore other sustainable nature-based   income sources to discourage migration for labor while reducing population pressure in  the urban and industrialized centers.  Enhance related local capacities and skills,  technology, infrastructure and services, including access to markets.
D) States should set up effective multistakeholder and multilevel mechanisms with  sufficient resources in relation to recovering from the pandemic that includes indigenous women and community representatives. Communications infrastructure should be enhanced and developed in isolated and rural areas to ensure timely  and adequate information including immediate access to emergency services. 
E) Enhanced educational system and infrastructures ensuring that schools, with standard and quality infrastructure/facilities, equipments, curricula and teachers are available at the community and local levels. Support indigenous-peoples led education and respect schools as zones of peace. 
F) Disaggregation of data based on ethnicity;
G) Providing enabling mechanisms for indigenous peoples, especially women, children and persons with disabilities to access full documentation as citizens.
4. State mechanisms to respond to pandemics should fully and effectively respect indigenous systems of community isolation and lockdowns refraining from using state priviledge or allowing non-community members/entities to enter communities without their consent;
5. State should ensure that human rights and the collective rights of indigenous peoples are respected and protected in pandemic response and mitigation measures. 



[1]Report consolidated by the AIWN with reports from AIWN members in the Philippines, Indonesia, Nepal, India  

   and Thailand; IPAF-AP,  UPAKAT  and Elatia partners.

Pursuant to resolution 42/20 of the Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples will dedicate part of his report to the General Assembly to assess and report on the impacts of the COVID 19 on the rights of indigenous peoples. The report will study existing initiatives undertaken by States, indigenous peoples and others to ensure that the rights and specific needs of indigenous peoples are considered and addressed in the fight against the pandemic. It will also identify protection gaps which require Member States and their partners’ attention.

The Special Rapporteur is calling for inputs from Member States, indigenous peoples representatives bodies and organisations, civil society actors, health workers and agencies, national human rights institutions and other stakeholders, to contribute to the preparation of his report, which will be presented to the General Assembly in October 2020.

 The Special Rapporteur is concerned that COVID-19 is both highlighting and exacerbating current and ongoing human rights situations faced by many indigenous peoples. This report will enable the Special Rapporteur to collect, present and to bring these critical concerns to the attention of the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council for their consideration and action. Indigenous peoples are over-represented among the poor and suffer higher rates of malnutrition, combined with impacts of environmental contamination and in many cases, lack of access to adequate health care services as a consequence, many have reduced immune systems, respiratory conditions and other health conditions, rendering then particularly vulnerable to the spread of disease.

Curfews, lockdowns, quarantine and other imposed isolation measures imposed as a response to the pandemic may cause additional hardships for access to basic economic, cultural and social rights. Increased State security measures imposed during emergency situations as this may also directly impact indigenous communities.

The impact of COVID-19 on indigenous peoples should be researched and documented to guide States’ responses and to ensure these exceptional times do not exacerbate or justify impunity for violations of indigenous peoples’ rights. Bearing in mind the importance of human cultural diversity and innovation in surviving crises such as pandemics, the national and international COVID-19 responses may also find answers in traditional indigenous knowledge and practices.

The Special Rapporteur will seek to present examples of good practices, of indigenous participation and consultation in implementing solutions and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report will assist States better understand the specific impacts of the crisis, and prepare targeted responses with the participation, vision and approaches of indigenous peoples.

The Special Rapporteur will take stock of emerging guidance on the topic, including the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Peoples’ Guidance Note, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) Note on considerations to be given with regards to indigenous peoples during the COVID-19 pandemic, the FAO statement on indigenous peoples’ health and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples statement, and also draw from positions taken at the regional level, such as the press statement by the African Commission’s Working Group on Indigenous and the Inter American Commission’s statement and resolution 1/2020 on Pandemic and Human Rights in the Americas.

Potential issues to be addressed in the report:

  • Incidence, mortality rates and increased risk of infection in indigenous communities
  • Disparities and obstacles to adequate healthcare, water, sanitation and information, and lack of culturally appropriate and accessible services.
  • Participation of indigenous peoples in the elaboration of State and provincial response to the pandemic as well as implementation of programs and policies developed by Indigenous programs and institutions
  • Impacts of lockdown, quarantines and other responses on access to food, livelihoods, education and justice
  • Availability of information in indigenous languages
  • Impact of the pandemic and related responses on indigenous women, elders, children and persons with disabilities.
  • Discrimination and disproportionate impacts of State restriction, confinement measures and other pandemic-related policies on indigenous peoples
  • Impact of national emergency measures on land security, land tenure and increased vulnerability to land grabbing and imposed development impacting indigenous peoples lands and waters during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Indigenous communities living in voluntary isolation
  • Role of indigenous peoples’ healing models and traditional knowledge systems in developing effective responses

Please indicate if any other area should be addressed in the report.

Questionnaire for responses by States, indigenous peoples and other actors:

  • How does the State collect and analyse information on the impact of COVID-19 on indigenous peoples and individuals? Is disaggregated data on indigenous peoples, including health impacts, available?
  • Please provide information and specific examples showing the increased risks and/or disproportionate health impact of the pandemic on indigenous peoples. What measures have been taken to provide health care and other forms or urgent assistance for remote communities?
  • How are indigenous peoples supported in their own initiatives to fight the pandemic, protect health and provide assistance in their own communities? What lessons can be learnt from indigenous traditional practices and community-based programs in lock down and emergency?
  • How are indigenous peoples given the possibility to shape the national COVID-19 response to ensure it does not have discriminatory effect on their communities? Is their input sought and respected in the programs that could affect them?
  • How is information about COVID-19 and prevention measures disseminated in indigenous communities? Is such information available in indigenous languages?
  • Please provide examples of good practices and targeted measures to redress the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic on indigenous peoples’ health. If these are being carried out by State, provincial and local governments, please explain how these measures were designed in consultation and implementing free prior and informed consent with the indigenous peoples concerned in order to ensure that such measures are adapted to the cultural and other specific needs of these indigenous communities.
  • Please provide information on the economic, social and cultural impact of lockdowns, quarantines, travel and other restriction of freedom of movement on indigenous communities. Please provide information on measures taken to ensure indigenous communities do not experience discriminatory impacts on their access to livelihoods, food and education. How are indigenous peoples taken into account in the development of assistance and relief programmes? Where are the gaps if any?
  • Please provide information on how indigenous women, older persons, children, persons with disabilities and LGBTI persons are or may be facing additional human rights challenges during the pandemic. Please provide information on targeted measures taken to prevent intersecting forms of discrimination, and ensure indigenous women, children, older persons, persons with disabilities and LGBTI persons’ access, protection and services with due regards to their specific needs within indigenous communities.
  • Please provide information on how States of emergency may contribute to threats or aggravate ongoing human rights violations against indigenous peoples, including with regards to the freedom of assembly and the protection of their traditional lands and resources. What measures have been taken to protect the lands, territories and resources of indigenous peoples against invasions and land-grabbing by external actors during the pandemic?


The responses to the above questionnaire can be submitted in English, French or Spanish. Please send your inputs by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by 15 June 2020. Please limit your responses to a maximum of 3,000 words. Reports, academic studies and other types of background materials can be attached as annexes to the submission. Please submit your responses in an accessible format, such as MS Word or PDF accessible.

Unless requested otherwise, the submissions may be referenced in the report and briefings of the Special Rapporteur and related information products.


For the first time in living memory, the industrialized world understands what it is to be entirely susceptible to disease, as vulnerable as indigenous peoples once were to diseases brought by outsiders who colonized our lands. As vulnerable as many indigenous peoples still are to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Indigenous peoples—and other local communities and Afro-descendants—do not have the same health services or government support as those in cities, even in developed countries like Canada. The virus has ripped through Navajo communities in New Mexico and Arizona largely because of a lack of clean water. Indigenous peoples also have higher rates of chronic health conditions that make us more susceptible.

Five centuries ago, isolation was our solution. It is still our solution today. Worldwide, indigenous and local communities are shutting off roads and blocking waterways to protect our peoples. My community has declared “ubaya,” or lockdown. If COVID-19 reaches our communities, it could wipe us off the map—and it already has reached the Yanomami and Kokama Peoples of the Amazon.

Yet since the outbreak began, I have heard reports from around the world that governments are failing to respond to indigenous leaders requesting health resources—and refusing to support us in isolating ourselves.

In Brazil, the government has put the fate of uncontacted tribes in the hands of a Christian pastor with a mission to evangelize, threatening the tribes’ survival. In French Guiana, illegal miners from Brazil are pouring over the border to invade indigenous lands. In Kenya, the Maasai face potential food shortages, and lack health services, clean water, and soap and masks to protect themselves.

Many indigenous and local communities lack secure land rights, making it harder for us to close our territories to the threat. And everywhere, the pandemic is being used as an excuse to limit civil liberties and rights.

As I near the end of my tenure as UN Special Rapporteur on indigenous peoples’ rights, I am holding my breath, knowing that so many lives—indigenous and not—are in danger. Governments have not prioritized protecting us from the health threats that so often arrive from beyond our borders. And the outcome often looks like genocide—or it is.

I implore governments to protect us because it is the right thing to do. But it is also increasingly clear that much is at stake for all humanity in helping indigenous peoples and local communities.

There is growing evidence that deforestation and biodiversity loss lead to the emergence of new diseases. And the world’s top scientists have already recognized that Indigenous Peoples and local communities are the best guardians of the world’s tropical forests and biodiversity. As stewards of our forests, we play a critical role in preventing the emergence of diseases like Avian Bird Flu, Ebola, Zika, and COVID-19.

In early January, as the world awoke to the danger posed by COVID-19, the World Economic Forum released a report that acknowledged the value of indigenous peoples’ traditional practices, which have inspired thousands of pharmaceutical products. Many of these modern medicines come from tropical rainforests. Yet these same rainforests are targeted for “economic development,” like large-scale palm-oil and soybean plantations and massive hydropower projects, that decimate our lands and our livelihoods.

I am writing these words in the hopes that those who should be our natural allies will listen: academics who know that new pandemics will emerge as forests come down; entrepreneurs who hope to use our traditional knowledge to create new medicines; conservationists who have a passion for nature but so often carve protected areas from our ancestral territories; and leaders charged with protecting biodiversity and slowing climate change.

I hope these words will inspire these allies to extend a hand to our peoples and our leaders. Involve us in your responses to the pandemic. Respect our fundamental rights to govern and protect our territories.

And I hope these words will inspire all to respect our isolation. It is our best hope of preventing COVID-19 from ravaging our communities as smallpox and other diseases once did. Should you fail to help us survive and fail to protect our rights, the cost to all of us will be unimaginable.

Source: Thomas Reuters Foundation News, April 20, 2020,


April 6---The global reach of the COVID-19 virus affects us all, but some groups will suffer disproportionately and in different ways. Indigenous peoples are such a group. 

Many indigenous peoples live in remote regions difficult to access and often inaccessible. Even prior to this crisis, they experienced higher rates of health risks, poorer health and greater unmet needs in respect of health care than their non-indigenous counterparts. Indigenous peoples were already disadvantaged in terms of access to quality health care and were more vulnerable to numerous health problems, in particular pandemics. The social determinants of health, such as safe drinking water and a sufficient, balanced diet, and sanitation were not fulfilled before this crisis. Moreover, the expropriation of indigenous lands and natural resources and the increase in conflicts on their territories were already placing indigenous peoples in a particularly precarious situation. [1]

The spread of COVID -19 has and will continue to exacerbate an already critical situation for many indigenous peoples: a situation where inequalities and discrimination already abound. The rise in national recessions and the real possibility of a world depression are set to aggravate the situation further, bringing fear that many indigenous peoples will die, not only from the virus itself but also from conflicts and violence, linked to the scarcity of resources, especially drinking water and food.

Yet there is still time to limit this health crisis and its disastrous effects. Urgent action has demonstrated that appropriate measures taken early on in the crisis can drastically reduce and control the transmission of this disease. 

We call on all States to fulfil their human rights obligations, guided by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to protect the health and lives of indigenous peoples. In following WHO advice, we urge you to ensure that indigenous peoples become your partners in this endeavour, and that you provide culturally acceptable healthcare, as well as food or other humanitarian relief, when necessary, and without discrimination. States should acknowledge and accommodate the cultural, spiritual, and religious rights and responsibilities of indigenous peoples when considering measures to respond to the virus. As with the adoption of any measures that may affect indigenous peoples, their free, prior and informed consent, grounded in the right to self-determination, should be sought.

Many indigenous peoples are invisible in our societies but they should not be forgotten, they may even warrant special attention. Indigenous peoples in refugee or internally displaced camps, detention centres or institutions, migrants in administrative settings, have a higher risk of contracting the disease. For older indigenous persons this virus may be fatal, and indigenous migrants and individuals in urban areas, are often already living in precarious environments. Probably the most vulnerable of indigenous peoples are those living in voluntary isolation or initial contact given their particular vulnerability to disease. It is imperative that sanitary cordons preventing outsiders from entering their territories are strictly controlled to avoid any contact. In order to limit the spread of Covid-19, several communities of indigenous peoples have taken the initiative to put in place containment measures and controls at the entrance to their territories. We welcome these initiatives and call on States to respect and support them.

All indigenous peoples will require timely and accurate information on all aspects of the pandemic, in their indigenous languages, and in culturally sensitive formats. The requirement to remain in quarantine will also require measures taken by the State, in partnership with indigenous peoples, to control entry by non-indigenous peoples or non-essential health care workers onto indigenous land. Such measures should also mitigate against encroachment upon indigenous land by opportunists, or invaders such as illegal loggers and miners. We also urge States to make a firm commitment to avoid: removal of indigenous peoples from their lands; diminishing indigenous lands; and using indigenous lands for military activity, especially for the duration of this pandemic. In short, territorial protection will be a vital component of States’ efforts to protect indigenous peoples from the spread of the disease and contribute to their recovery after this crisis.

We advise all States and UN agencies to take on board our advice herein, guided by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as guidance provided by the OHCHR (, and FAO (


The Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP) is a subsidiary body of the Human Rights Council mandated to provide the Council with expertise and advice on the rights of indigenous peoples as set out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and assist Member States, upon request, in achieving the ends of the Declaration through the promotion, protection and fulfilment of the rights of indigenous peoples.
For further information see the following


[1] See the Expert Mechanism’s Report on Right to health and indigenous peoples with a focus on children and youth, A/HRC/33/57, the Special Rapporteur’s Report on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2018, A/HRC/39/17, and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, general comment No. 14.

Learn more:



April 2020 --- Indigenous peoples live in both urban and rural locals and account today for over 476 million individuals spread across 90 countries in the world, accounting for 6.2% of the global population. Nonetheless, our communities are nearly 3 times as likely to be living in extreme poverty, and thus more prone to infectious diseases. Many indigenous communities are already suffering from malnutrition and immune-suppressive conditions, which can increase susceptibility to infectious diseases.

The extent of the devastating nature and potential of COVID-19 is uncertain. Member States must protect the most vulnerable in our global society. I urge you to take immediate steps to ensure that indigenous peoples are informed, protected and prioritized during the COVID-19 global health pandemic. In this respect, information in indigenous languages is important to ensure it is accessible and followed. Of special concern are the vulnerable chronically ill, those in medical fragility, as well as the indigenous elders. The indigenous elders are a priority for our communities as our keepers of history and traditions and cultures. We also ask Member States to ensure that indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation and initial contact exercise their right to self-determination and their decision to be isolated be respected. Further States must prevent outsiders from entering into their territories. Any plan or protective measures to address indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation and initial contact should be multidisciplinary and follow agreed protocols and international recommendations such as the recommendations of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights.

These are uncertain times, and the PFII members are exploring different options to advance their mandate of advising on indigenous issues. The Permanent Forum is committed and will work for the future to ensure that Indigenous peoples are engaged and included in public health-related interventions. We urge Member States and the international community to include the specific needs and priorities of indigenous peoples in addressing the global outbreak of COVID 19.

Indigenous peoples can contribute to seeking solutions. Their good practices of traditional healing and knowledge, such as sealing off communities to prevent the spread of diseases and of voluntary isolation, are being followed throughout the world today. ***

Thursday, 26th March 2020 - The International Indigenous Women’s Forum together with the regional networks Enlace Continental de Mujeres Indígenas de las Américas (ECMIA), Alianza de Mujeres Indígenas de Centroamérica y México (AMICAM), Asian Indigenous Women’s Network (AIWN), African Indigenous Women’s Organization (AIWO) stands in solidarity with Indigenous women as we continue facing the global pandemic caused by the COVID-19.

This pandemic is increasing intersectional disadvantages already impacting on indigenous women in addition to the impoverishment, limited access to health services and clean water, forced displacement from our territories, degradation of natural resources due to extractive industries, energy projects, and the consequences of climate change that affect Indigenous Peoples in general. 

Therefore, Indigenous Women’s networks urge the Member States and the authorities:

    To recognize the leadership of the indigenous authorities and their own forms of organization as Indigenous Peoples.

    To use indigenous languages within the communities due to the very crucial needs for effective information and preventive actions against COVID 19.

    To guarantee the access and management of clean water and sanitation in the indigenous communities.

    To ensure rapid availability of disaggregated data of Indigenous Peoples, including on differing rates of infection, economic impacts, differential care burden, deaths, and incidence of gender-based violence in communities.

    To ensure equal access of health care, materials and support to indigenous communities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences. This should be responsive to the culture and situations of Indigenous Peoples including the recognition and support to indigenous health care providers.

    To support Indigenous communities who are making the decision in self imposing lockdowns or limitations to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus in their communities. Indigenous Peoples already face challenges such as limited medical facilities, health issues and overcrowding housing. 

    To promote programs, subsidies, policies and strategies that will sustain the economy of indigenous communities, women entrepreneurship, youth, peoples with disabilities, migrants who will be affected due to the social and economic consequences of this pandemic. Most Indigenous Peoples sustain themselves and their families through daily informal economy.

    To rethink the economic and social paradigm based on capitalism, the accumulation and privatization of services and natural resources; going back to the collective vision.

Finally, we call to maintain unity, solidarity and reciprocity. This crisis shows us as collective beings, the basic principle of Indigenous Peoples, where we are all interconnected. Therefore, prevention, collective care and spirituality are important for the balance of humanity and Mother earth.

In Solidarity,


Manila (March 8)— “These are dangerous times for indigenous women,” says Kakay Tolentino, the National Coordinator of BAI Indigenous Women’s Network.

According to the Alta-Dumagat leader, the US-China-Duterte regime’s continued adherence to neoliberal policies coupled by relentless militarization and widescale violations of our human rights and our right to self-determination pose danger to indigenous communities and indigenous women.

Tolentino, along with indigenous women and indigenous people’s rights advocates, joins the thousands of women protesting on the occasion of the Women’s Global Strike on the International Working Women’s Day 2020. Bannering the call, "BAI Strikes for Land, Rights, and Climate Justice", the indigenous women’s organization highlighted the plunder of ancestral lands and territories as a result of the Duterte government’s build, build, build program.

Among the core projects of the build, build, build is the Kaliwa-Kanan-Laiban dams.The Kaliwa dam is currently being funded by onerous loan agreements with China and is on its way to be constructed. “Duterte’s minions have railroaded this project to deceive the public in addressing the water crisis in Metro Manila at the expense of indigenous peoples,” Tolentino said. Despite the reverberating opposition from the communities  especially the Dumagat-Remontado in the provinces of Quezon and Rizal, and violations of the process of the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), Duterte persistently threatened to use his “extraordinary powers” to coerce the people in accepting the dam project.

She cited that the government currently pursues other dam, mining, and land conversion projects that would displace hundreds of thousands of indigenous peoples. For instance, of the 447 approved mining applications, 230 covered ancestral territories and encroach at least 542,245 hectares of ancestral lands. In lieu of the New Clark City, the Ayta in Tarlac and Pampanga are forcibly being driven out of their lands, despite the absence of FPIC.

For Tolentino, such aggressive plunder of ancestral lands and territories not only displaces indigenous peoples but also destroys the environment. “It will aggravate the climate crisis as these ‘projects’ destroy our natural ecosystems being harnessed by indigenous peoples.”

The indigenous woman leader also reiterated that government resorted to fascism to instill fear and force communities to adhere to these destructive projects. “Brazen attacks against community opposition have been launched by the military and police to silence us,” she said, noting the worsening red-tagging, harassment, filing of trumped up charges, arrest and detention and worse, extrajudicial killings among the ranks of on indigenous peoples in the country.

Tolentino mentioned the killings of women Lumad leaders Beverly Geronimo and Bai Leah Tumbalang, both opposed to mining projects in their communities as clear pictures of state-sponsored terrorism carried out with impunity. “Now that the revisions to the Anti-Terrorism Law are being railroaded in the Philippine Congress, more indigenous women who staunchly defend ancestral lands and advocate the right to self-determination might be subjects for further attack.”

Yet, in these dark times, Tolentino stated, “the courage exemplified by our ancestors, our mothers, and our sisters are our beacon of hope.” The stories of Ina Petra Macli-ing and Ina Endena Cogasi in the Cordilleras and Bai Bibyaon Ligkayan Bigkay of Pantaron range proved the power of indigenous women’s collective strength in holding the government and the corporations accountable for plunder. 

“That is the reason why we continue to struggle and march with women from other sectors. To carry on and to defend the future of our children and communities,” she concluded. #

For reference:

Kakay Tolentino, National Coordinator, BAI Indigenous Women’s Network

2020 is the year for women

Date: Sunday, March 8, 2020

2020 is a massive year for gender equality. And the benefits of gender equality are not just for women and girls, but for everyone whose lives will be changed by a fairer world that leaves no one behind. It’s the year for what we call “Generation Equality”. With the leadership of civil society, we’re mobilizing to realize women’s rights, and to mark 25 years of implementing the Beijing Platform for Action.

We’re enabling women to influence the decisions about their future. Generation Equality tackles issues of women across generations, from early to late years, with young women and girls at the centre.

We don’t have an equal world at the moment and women are angry and concerned about the future. They are radically impatient for change. It's an impatience that runs deep, and it has been brewing for years.

We do have some positive changes to celebrate. For example, there has been a 38 per cent drop in the ratio of maternal deaths since 2000. 131 countries have made legal reforms to support gender equality and address discrimination. Twenty-five years ago, discrimination of women was legislated in many countries. Today, more than three-quarters of countries have laws against domestic violence in place. And more girls are in school than ever before, with more women in tertiary education than men globally.

But even though there has been progress, no country has achieved gender equality. Our best hasn't been good enough. Challenges remain for all countries, although many of them are not insurmountable.

Meantime, girls are making no secret of their disappointment with the stewardship of our planet, the unabated violence directed against them and the slow pace of change in fulcrum issues like education. For example, despite improved school enrolment, 1 in 10 young women today are still unable to read and write. This has to change in order for girls to fully own their power, take their place in the world, and play their vital role in technology and innovation.

Another priority target for our impatience is the lack of women at the tables of power. Three-quarters of all parliamentarians in the world are men. A proven solution is to introduce legally binding quotas for women’s representation. Nearly 80 countries have already successfully done so and a few States have gender-balanced cabinets and explicitly feminist policies. This is a desirable trend that we need to see more of in both public and private sectors, where overall the proportion of women in managerial positions remains around 27 per cent, even as more women graduate from universities.

The same goes for women at the peace table, where the vast majority of the negotiators and signatories are men. We know women’s involvement brings more lasting peace agreements, but women continue to be marginalized. Women’s groups and human rights defenders face persecution yet are ready to do more. For this they desperately need increased security, funding and resources.

My greatest impatience is with unmoving economic inequality. Women and girls use triple the time and energy of boys and men to look after the household. That costs them equal opportunities in education, in the job market and in earning power. It’s a driver of repeating poverty. Young women raising families are 25 per cent more likely than men to live in extreme poverty, affecting millions of young children, with impacts that last into later life for both mother and child. The solution includes good policies that promote more equality in childcare responsibilities and that provide state support to families, and those who work in the informal economy.

So, though we are radically impatient, we are not giving up and we are hopeful. We have growing support from allies and partners who are ready to tackle barriers against gender equality. We see the driving will for change across generations and countries. We are locating issues that unite us and that offer opportunities to disrupt the status quo. Lessons learnt in the last 25 years have shown us what is needed to accelerate action for equality. Generation Equality is one of our answers and together, we are that generation.


Produced by Lindsay Bigda, Senior Communications and Advocacy Officer, Rights and Resources Initiative and Silene Ramirez, Gender Justice Manager, Rights and Resources Initiative

Stories from the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) Coalition and beyond illustrate how indigenous and community women and girls — among the worst affected by climate change and inequality — are also uniquely positioned to provide solutions to the climate crisis.

The idea of “nature-based solutions” to the climate crisis is gaining ground. At the heart of successful nature-based solutions is recognizing the rights of the Indigenous Peoples and local communities who manage many of the world’s forestlands and biodiversity hotspots. This includes respecting communities’ traditions, ending the criminalization of land rights defenders, and justice for the indigenous and community women who play a critical role in managing the resources we all rely on.  

Gender justice within community-held territories is a climate solution 

Up to 2.5 billion people worldwide — more than half of whom are women — manage their territories collectively. Women and girls play a critical role in the sustainable management of community lands and forests, while meeting the livelihood needs of their families and larger communities. In the context of rapidly changing economic and political structures, this role is only growing.  

Yet few women hold legally recognized rights to the lands and forests they protect, and are often cut out of decision-making spaces at all levels. This hinders communities’ self-determination and their capacity to adapt to a rapidly changing global environment.  

 “Some people think we hear ‘climate change’ and don’t know what it means, but we are seeing these changes—in the weather, in heavy rains and the sea,” explained Candida Jackson, a community leader from Honduras. “Ancestrally, we are the ones to educate our younger generations about how to use and conserve forests, lands, soil, water, air. We understand the changes and we know how to reforest.” 

Failure to recognize women’s land rights threatens communities and the environment 

Indigenous peoples and local communities manage over half the world’s land, yet only have secure legal ownership over 10% of global land. There is ample evidence of the link between recognizing community land rights and positive climate outcomes and such benefits can only be achieved when the rights of all community members are fully recognized, especially those of women and girls.  

A global study of 30 countries representing three-quarters of the developing world’s forests found that none provide adequate recognition of women’s rights to community forests. Women’s governance rights — voting and leadership — were the least protected. Without secure rights, women are often excluded from negotiations with private and government actors that could affect their territories for generations, as well as climate and development processes like REDD+. Until their rights are recognized, we risk losing the vital contributions of forest communities.  

Indigenous and community women are transforming leadership — from the inside out 

Indigenous and community women are exercising leadership grounded in their communities’ collective defense of their rights and lands, and in the process are gaining a voice in international fora.  

 “Indigenous women must be present in these processes,” said Cris Pankararu, a young indigenous leader from Brazil. “But we are not in front of nor behind the men. Our role is to be beside them — to build partnerships and to help grow the movement.” 

This change often starts in communities themselves. Indigenous and community women have established their own organizations, such as ONAMIAP (the National Organization of Andean and Amazonian Women in Peru) and FECOFUN (the Federation of Community Forest Users in Nepal), to shift community norms toward respect for women’s rights.

They have also built regional movements and networks — such as REFACOF (the African Women’s Network for Community Management of Forests) and the Coordinating Body of Women Territorial Leaders of Mesoamerica — to make visible their critical contributions and strengthen their capacity to engage with decision-makers. Their combined successes include establishing quotas for women’s participation in decision-making bodies, modifying community norms, creating training programs for women, and winning seats in local elections.    

“We can help ourselves by creating our own organizational policies,” explained Rukka Sombolinggi, the first female general secretary of the world’s largest indigenous network, AMAN in Indonesia. “When we want to ask others to change, we have to first change our own structures. It’s the only way we have legitimacy.”  

The world is taking notice, but much more is needed 

Speaking at Climate Week in New York, Sonia Guajajara, the national coordinator of Brazil’s Association of Indigenous Peoples (APIB), reflected on the long journey toward more meaningful participation in the international climate movement: “For a long time, women could be present in these spaces, but we could not say anything. Now, we are here as leaders defending our rights and our causes directly. Being in this international space, participating at the UN — this is a victory.” 

Yet too often, Indigenous Peoples and local communities are still treated as potential beneficiaries of climate and development programs — not as partners, leaders, or drivers of the changes our world needs. We must leverage indigenous and community women’s knowledge and invest directly in their conservation, governance, and leadership. We, as a global community, are missing a huge opportunity by not doing so. 


November 25--The United Nations is committed to ending all forms of violence against women and girls.

These abuses are among the world’s most horrific, persistent and widespread human rights violations, affecting one in every three women in the world.

That means someone around you. A family member, a co-worker, a friend. Or even you yourself.

Sexual violence against women and girls is rooted in centuries of male domination.

Let us not forget that the gender inequalities that fuel rape culture are essentially a question of power imbalances. 

Stigma, misconceptions, underreporting and poor enforcement of the laws only perpetuate impunity.

And rape is still being used as a horrendous weapon of war.

All of that must change… now.

I call on governments, the private sector, civil society and people everywhere to take a firm stand against sexual violence and misogyny.

We must show greater solidarity with survivors, advocates and women’s rights defenders.

And we must promote women’s rights and equal opportunities.

Together, we can – and must -- end rape and sexual assault of all kinds.

-- António Guterres