Indigenous women and girls in Mexico, Canada, and the United States face alarmingly higher levels of violence than other segments of society, and often lack access to justice and psychosocial support in their communities. In early October, government and civil society representatives from all three countries convened in Mexico City for the third annual meeting of the Trilateral Working Group on Violence against Indigenous Women and Girls. The meeting highlighted areas of progress and continuing challenges to provide increased protection and access to justice for indigenous women and girls.
Across North America, women in indigenous communities face disproportionate levels of gender-based violence. In Canada, indigenous women make up approximately four percent of the total female population, but were victims of 25 percent of all female homicides in 2015. In the United States, the National Institute of Justice estimated in 2016 that 84 percent of Alaska Native and American Indian women had experienced some form of violence in their lifetimes, compared to one in three women nationally. In addition, the data suggest that sexual violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women involves higher levels of physical violence; 50 percent reported that they suffered physical injuries in addition to rape, compared to 30 percent of U.S. women overall. In Mexico, impunity for crimes against indigenous people, including femicide, remains a pervasive problem. A September report from the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples noted that femicide crimes in indigenous areas in Mexico are on the rise and frequently go unpunished.
The working group convened its third meeting in October to share prevention and response efforts, and directly hear from indigenous female advocates from all three countries. This year’s meeting in Mexico City continued to address the important issues of access to justice and economic empowerment, and raised new themes, including empowering indigenous youth and girls, as critical mechanisms to combat gender-based violence. Canadian Deputy Minister of Status of Women spoke about Canada’s commitment to addressing the “systemic factors that feed this violence.” Over the course of the discussion, the group agreed that these factors include lack of access to capital, entrepreneurship support networks, and mentorship for indigenous women. Indigenous representatives shared ongoing challenges such as difficulty accessing property, and best practices for bringing goods to markets, among other opportunities. Women from all three countries argued that all governments must do more to protect indigenous women from workplace sexual harassment and discrimination.
Since the inception of the working group in 2016, the Office of Global Women’s Issues has led the Department of State’s participation in the convening in collaboration with the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence against Women. The U.S.-hosted its inaugural meeting focused on exchanging knowledge about comprehensive programs to prevent and respond to violence; enhancing cooperation to address violent crimes against indigenous women, particularly human trafficking; and improving the response of justice, health, education, and child welfare systems to end violence against indigenous women and girls.
As we commemorate this year’s 16 Days of Activism to End Gender-Based Violence, the working group serves as an important example of ways in which governments and civil society can join forces to end all forms of gender-based violence. The United States looks forward to hosting the working group next year.
About the authors: Nicole Collins and Stephanie Ogorzalek work in the Secretary's Office of Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.