“What is more honorable for us to do than resist the unjust systems for women?”
By VERNIE YOCOGAN-DIANO
CWEARC executive director
Twenty years ago, during the 4th World Conference of Women in Beijing, China, Baket (elder)Leticia Bulaat joined the indigenous women delegation from the Philippines. She was speaker to a number of panels, which allowed her to share on her experience in defending and sustaining land, life and resources.
Leticia is a veteran leader of Innabuyog, an alliance of indigenous women’s organizations in the Cordillera, Philippines. She was also one among the staunch young mothers, then 18 years old, who actively took part in stopping a World Bank dam project in her province, Kalinga,
in northern Philippines, twenty years before the Beijing women’s conference.
Prior to the CSO (Civil Society Organizations) Forum and the inter-government review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action on 14 to 21 November 2014 in Bangkok, Leticia refreshed the Cordillera Women’s Education Action Research Center (CWEARC) on the content of the International Women’s Declaration she helped craft in 7 September 1995 and her assessment after 20 years.
Baket Leticia pointed out that the Indigenous Women’s Declaration strongly urged government’s recognition and respect of self-determination of indigenous peoples. Central to the right of self-determination is the respect of indigenous peoples’ territories where indigenous women are able to decide on the utilization and development of the resources in an integrated and sustainable way according to the cosmovision of indigenous women and their
Leticia recalled that the Declaration also proposed the full disclosure of development projects and investments made in indigenous territories and that indigenous territories ravaged by mining corporations, or which have become dumping sites of toxic, radioactive and hazardous wastes, should be rehabilitated by the corporations or the governments , which allowed this devastation.
She also refreshed on a clear proposal for governments and international community to implement health policies, which guarantee accessible, appropriate, affordable, and quality services for indigenous peoples and which respect and promote the reproductive health of indigenous women.
The Declaration also had a strong statement for governments to address human rights violations and violence against indigenous women, a stop to genocidal and ethnocidal practices, demanded investigation of reported cases of sexual slavery and the rape of indigenous women by the military happening in areas of armed conflict, such as those within Karen territories in Burma, Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh, Philippines, etc. The perpetrators should be persecuted and the survivors be provided justice and rehabilitation and services.
Assessing the progress 20 years later, Baket Leticia said the issues indigenous women raised in Beijing are still legitimate issues of indigenous women, and, in fact have even worsened. She underscored that violence faced by indigenous women is still rooted on state violence with government’s lack of political will to carry out its commitments to Beijing Platform for Action and other binding international human rights instruments it had signed.
Leticia demonstrated that on one hand, the Philippine government signs a human rights document and enacts a positive law like the Antiviolence against Women and Magna Carta of Women.
On the other hand, government uses force to lash women who assert their rights, economic crisis is addressed with another crisis and gender is only used to deodorize the government’s stench and culpability. She cited, “Recently, we lost Engr. Delle Salvador.”
Since 2010, there were seven indigenous women leaders and seven children of the 50 indigenous peoples who were victims of political killings nationwide. Our legitimate struggles are suppressed by militarization and state security forces are used to secure government approved mining and energy projects”.
She went on to say, “In the case of Kalinga and in most neglected villages in the Cordillera, poverty is reinforced instead of addressed.
Hardly do we enjoy social and economic services as these are mired in corrupt practices or are only quick to come when companies are negotiating for the free prior and informed consent of our communities”. In conclusion, Baket Leticia lamented that government is working for our death so that corporations will live.
The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action called for strong commitments on the part of governments and other institutions to fully realize women’s human rights and gender equality. It is considered to be one of the major milestones in the global women’s movement.
In the opening of the CSO Forum, CWEARC’s executive director Vernie Yocogan-Diano acknowledged that indigenous women have used this platform in raising awareness and in movement building.
“We feel that strength because we persisted in building indigenous women’s movements that we genuinely own and that serves the needs and empowerment of women and communities. Laws and national plans of action are in place because women have fought for these.
The failure is in the political will of governments to account for their commitments to realize women’s human rights and gender equality. The failure is in government’s insistence on a neoliberal development paradigm that is based on greed, accumulation, monopoly and profits for the obscenely rich and powerful countries and ruling systems have retrogressed the gains of women’s struggles”.
Finally, she urged women’s organizations to be bolder, stand with courage and cement our solidarity for development justice, a development framework that is embedded in a commitment to human rights and that requires governments to end the gross inequalities of wealth, power, resources and opportunities that exist between countries, between rich and poor and between men and women.
“What is more honorable for us to do than resist the unjust systems for women?” Yocogan-Diano concluded.
Leticia’s assessment was confirmed in the CSO Forum particularly in the indigenous women’s workshop. The workshop participated by 37 indigenous participants around Asia Pacific reiterated that “land is life” for indigenous women and that “we are not the problem, we had always been part of the solution”.
The following were recommendations to the CSO statement on the Beijing plus 20 review: 1) for governments to demonstrate their accountability in respecting and recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples’ self-determination to enable indigenous women’s full and effective access to land, territories and resources and other rights articulated in the Indigenous Women’s Declaration in the 1995 Beijing Conference.
Equally, government should stop the use of militarization to resolve conflicts and to secure investments and market interests over indigenous women’s safety, economic sovereignty and integrity;
2) That governments should enable meaningful and effective participation of indigenous women on issues and processes that impacts us.
We insist, “nothing about us without us” and ensure a genuine practice of the free, prior and informed consent; and 3) that governments and development agencies provide resources and funding for initiatives and meaningful development work of indigenous women’s organizations that promote self determined sustainable development in realizing
The indigenous women’s workshop also made concrete recommendations for governments on the following critical area of concern: women and poverty; power and decision-making; economy, violence against women and on the environment.
The recommendations are consistent in fulfilling indigenous women’s self-determined and sustainable development that ensures harmony ofpeople and nature, restores Earth’s planetary boundaries and guarantees resources for the future.
CWEARC collaborated with the Bangladesh Indigenous Women Network, Kapaeeng Foundation, Bangladesh and the National Coalition Against Racial Discrimination, Nepal in organizing the indigenous women’s workshop during the CSO Forum for the Beijing plus 20 review, with support from the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development.