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Indigenous women die in pregnancy and childbirth more often than other women.
by UN Women, Unicef, UNFPA
Indigenous women die in pregnancy and childbirth more often than other women. Failure to act will render the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) unattainable. It is time to make the marginalised visible.
The lack of data on the health of indigenous women and adolescent girls is masking huge disparities between populations, preventing effective action to address it.
Improving the health of indigenous women and adolescent girls is achievable. It requires States to implement commitments to disaggregate data by ethnicity and age, tackle discrimination, and make health centres physically, financially, and culturally accessible.
Access to health care, including sexual and reproductive health is a basic right. States have an obligation to ensure that indigenous women and adolescent girls enjoy equal access to health services.
“Indigenous women’s fundamental right to health must be guaranteed so that they can realise their full potential. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development presents a unique opportunity to reduce health inequalities for indigenous women and mothers.” - Doctor Mariam Wallet, Chairperson of the United Nations, Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
The evidence from the available data is clear and alarming. Across the globe, indigenous women and adolescent girls experience significantly worse maternal health outcomes than majority populations. While data is limited, analysis of the available survey data from 16 low and middle-income countries across three key indicators demonstrates that indigenous women and adolescent girls are significantly less likely to benefit from services and have worse maternal health outcomes.
For example, the birth rate for Amerindian adolescent girls is twice that of the general Guyanese population, Maasai women in Kenya are twice as likely to have had no antenatal care, and San women in Namibia are ten times more likely to give birth without skilled attendance.
Other national surveys tell the same story. India’s National Family Health Survey 2015-16 found that 46% of indigenous women and adolescent girls had had at least four antenatal care visits, compared to 61% of Hindu women and adolescent girls.
Guatemala’s National Survey of Mother and Child Health 2014-15 found that only 50.3% of indigenous women and adolescent girls had skilled birth attendance, compared to 82.1% of non-indigenous women.
The situation regarding maternal mortality is equally disturbing. A study of ten populations carried out by the Lancet-Lowitja Institute Global Collaboration found that whilst the extent of the disparities varied considerably, indigenous populations consistently had higher maternal mortality rates.
In both Panama and Russia indigenous women are approximately six times more likely to die in childbirth than the non-indigenous population.
The discrimination experienced by indigenous women and adolescent girls extends to industrialised countries. In Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women were less likely to attend an antenatal visit during the first trimester, had an adolescent birth rate nearly five times as high as the general population and, according to the Lancet-Lowitja study, were more than twice as likely to die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth.
It is important to appreciate these variations and their causes as a means of implementing appropriate health interventions, to tackle inequality, and to prevent maternal deaths among indigenous women and adolescent girls.
Whilst there has been some progress in addressing indigenous peoples’ marginalization, much greater efforts are needed to tackle disparities between them and majority populations across all sectors.
“Failure to collect health data disaggregated by ethnicity, self-identified indigenous status or cultural identity can conceal deep inequities", noted UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health.
* Access the comple fact sheet via the link below.

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Indigenous World 2018
by International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs
10 achievements worth celebrating in The Indigenous World
Some encouraging developments in The Indigenous World 2018 show that the indigenous movement has placed itself at the core of a paradigm shift, pushing for a more inclusive and sustainable development. Indigenous peoples, in partnership with civil society and other human rights defenders, have strengthened their resilience on all fronts, increased their capacity to advocate for their demands and to lead a global wake-up call to respect and abide by indigenous traditional knowledge and worldviews.
In Bolivia, 36 indigenous territories have started the procedure to become autonomous governments in a country where 21% of the land is collectively owned by indigenous peoples. These game-changing autonomous processes are also strong in Peru, where the Autonomous Territorial Government of the Wampis Nation (GTANW), established in 2015, is working on guidelines and roadmaps aimed at re-establishing their own institutional structures and attaining better conditions for a dialogue with the Peruvian State. Other indigenous communities such as the Shawi, Kandozi and Shapra in the Peruvian Amazon have also expressed their desire to establish an autonomous government to represent them as a people.
New consultation mechanism in Costa Rica
Significant progress has been made in Costa Rica in establishing an indigenous consultation mechanism, which will be discussed in 2018. The mechanism is described as promising because it takes into consideration the fact that each indigenous people takes its own decisions differently and that different issues require different consultation procedures.
Stronger participation of indigenous women in politics
In an unprecedented move, Mexico witnessed the first candidacy of an indigenous woman for the presidency in 2017. Her nomination still requires the support of 1% of the electoral roll to run, in the face of discrediting campaigns and personal attacks. Against all odds, in Kenya,indigenous women performed impressively in the general elections, with five indigenous women elected. This signals a shift towards more inclusive competitive political contests in the country.
Australia: water rights and more media exposure
In the Pacific region, through the support of non-indigenous allies and Reconciliation Action Plans, Australian media has increased its coverage from an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspective. In 2017, indigenous peoples’ water rights were at the centre of the debate. As more Australian land is handed back to its traditional owners through Native Title, water management policy is gaining a place at the policy-making table.
Inuit in Canada win historic court victory
The Inuit in Canada won a historic Supreme Court victory in June 2017 when a unanimous decision overturned Petroleum Geo-Services Inc.’s plans to collect more than 16,000 km of seismic data in their search for oil. Inuit are also awaiting new national indigenous language legislation, which Prime Minister Trudeau has announced will be developed in partnership with indigenous peoples.
Good practices to look at in Taiwan
Following a national apology to indigenous peoples, Taiwan moved forward in setting up the “Indigenous Historic Justice and Transitional Justice Committee” composed of representatives from the 16 indigenous groups and three from the Pingpu groups. Besides strengthening transitional justice, Taiwan’s Parliament addressed the impact of extractive industries by amending the Mining Act. The law amendment proposed would require more stringent impact assessments, stricter monitoring and a suspension of the operating license if serious violations are found. What is more, the Council of Indigenous Peoples (CIP) announced guidelines on the delineation of traditional indigenous territories, with the participation and consultation of 800 indigenous peoples.
Indigenous journalists at the United Nations
At the United Nations, 2017 was an exciting year for the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, which welcomed 12 new experts and held the first-ever Indigenous Media Zone. This space proved to be a driver in improving information flows on indigenous peoples’ issues and a vital meeting point for different opinion makers, editors and journalists covering indigenous peoples’ issues.
“Nothing about us without us”
The increasing emergence of platforms for dialogue in which high-profile indigenous leaders play an active role in decision-making was remarkable in 2017, especially in the area of climate action. Among the 31 decisions taken at COP23 was one of key significance for indigenous peoples: the decision on the operationalisation of the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples’ Knowledge-Sharing Platform (LCIP). This platform was lauded by many as a step forward in enhancing indigenous peoples’ engagement in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) processes.
Environmental human rights protection gains momentum
The outbreak of violence against indigenous human rights defenders documented in this book is, however, also met with policy changes aimed at improving the safety of environmental defenders. As this edition goes to press, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is launching a new policy for the protection of environmental defenders. In Latin America, where most land rights defenders are killed, States are moving towards a regional agreement specifically targeted at protecting environmental defenders. This shows that environmental demands, including indigenous peoples’ claims, are finding their way into the development of systemic responses. Formally recognising the right to a healthy environment would contribute to protecting those who are increasingly putting their lives at risk to defend natural ecosystems.
Five alarming land grabbing cases
Extractive industries remain a concrete threat to indigenous communities and this year''s The Indigenous World 2018 describes many cases of land grabbing from indigenous peoples. In this article we take a closer look at some of the examples.
In many countries forced evictions and land grabbing in the name of conservation, development and investments continues its encroachment with impunity. This was thoroughly documented by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) in its report on extractive industries and their impact on indigenous peoples published in 2017 and the Extractive Industries Report by Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2016.
Infrastructure project across indigenous land
In Kenya, the US$25.5 billion Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) Project bridging Kenya’s coast to Cameroon cuts across indigenous peoples’ territories. This large-scale infrastructure project will potentially affect small farmers, hunter-gatherers, fishing and pastoralist communities, who have consistently raised concerns regarding implementation of the project, which is taking place without due regard for tenure or resource rights.
National parks triggering forced evictions
Land grabbing and land conflicts in Tanzania continued to be related to the expansion of national parks. In 2017, protests continued against the invasion of rangelands in West Kilimanjaro by the Tanzania National Parks Authority, which in 2016 left maasai without their entire territory of 5,500 acres, upon which they and their livestock depend heavily for their survival. The forced evictions in Loliondo (northern Tanzania) were also a clear example of land grabbing in 2017. These attempted evictions, carried out in the name of “wildlife conservation”, gained international attention when the Ngorongoro District Commissioner issued an order to evict legally-registered village lands in the vicinity of Serengeti National Park. Maasai houses were burnt to the ground and most of their property destroyed, leaving families without any shelter, food or water.
Agricultural investment without consultations
In Ethiopia, the government continues to lease vast fertile farmlands to foreign and domestic companies, directly affecting indigenous peoples along the Ethiopian lowlands-Gambela, Benis-Hangul-Gumuz and the Lower Omo Valley. With the aim of increasing agricultural investment,indigenous land is unfairly labelled by the government as “underutilised” and indigenous peoples are thereby being dispossessed of their lands and their food security seriously undermined. These lands comprise an estimated 11 million hectares and are the source of livelihood for about 15 million indigenous peoples – pastoralists, small-scale farmers and hunter-gatherers – whose customary land rights are being constantly violated.
The danger of mining
In 2017, Mexico ranked as the fourth most dangerous country for activists to defend land rights. This fact is directly linked to the 29,000 mining, hydroelectric and wind power concessions currently active in the country, over 35% of its national territory. Half of the operations on this area run on indigenous territory.
Hydropower affecting indigenous communities
In Cambodia, the largest hydropower source was carried through to near-completion in 2017 with total opposition from indigenous communities. In December 2017, the government redoubled its lack of respect of their rights by announcing that more than 30,000 hectares around the dam would also be converted into economic land concessions. Large-scale investment continues to expand in Laos, especially due to a dam-building spree, including 72 new large dams, 12 of which are under construction and nearly 25 in the advanced stages of planning. These hydropower development plans give rise to the forced removal of indigenous peoples, with 100 families reported as victims in 2017.
* All the above cases are described more thoroughly in this years edition of The Indigenous World 2018:

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