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Indigenous women need more rights: UN forum

Extract from Australian Broadcasting Corporation - ABC Online, on 11 May 2004


An Australian Aboriginal woman has told a United Nations forum on Indigenous people that violence against Indigenous women remains unacceptably high.

Some 1,000 representatives, from Canada to China began an 11 day conference on Monday on rights of Indigenous women as well as other issues, such as gathering proper statistics.

The forum also heard Indigenous women die earlier, have more children and are more frequently attacked by the men, both in and out of their community.

Australian Government delegate Shirley McPherson urged the forum to reject traditional practices that denigrate women, such as young girls promised as brides to older men.

"There is no room to fudge basic human right issues in deference to outdated traditional cultural practices," Ms McPherson said.

The UN children's fund, UNICEF, says Indigenous women and girls have higher rates of malnutrition than their male counterparts, die more frequently in childbirth and have a high rate of illiteracy, though it admitted statistics were spotty.

Nepal representative Stella Tamang, head of the International Indigenous Women's Caucus, said native women often were subjected to discrimination and violence because of gender, race, class and culture.

She also said an alarming number were sold into prostitution, none of it part of their tradition.

"For us the sun is the mother," she said. "My mother used to explain ... how the sun does its duty without any discrimination, it warms the rich as well as the poor."

The forum is only in its third year, with Indigenous people having failed to get global recognition since an abortive approach to the League of Nations in 1923.

In 2000, the UN Economic and Social Council, one of the world body's six main organs, agreed to create a Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, despite objections from the United States and Canada, which have native Indian populations.

The grouping is now in a stronger position to influence UN programs and agencies.

Opening the session, UN secretary-general Kofi Annan said the creation of the forum "challenges us to ensure that the rights of one of humanity's most marginalised groups are not only heard and debated, but protected and upheld".


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