“We realize there is still a long road to go down to achieve respect and dignity for indigenous women. We need to build an inclusive network that can persist over time,” says Tarcila Rivera Zea, Coordinator of the Network of Indigenous Women of South America.
Throughout the world, first peoples or indigenous peoples find their languages, cultures, values, environments and in some cases their lives under constant threat. In every corner of the world, indigenous people are among the poorest, most socially excluded and discriminated against groups. In many respects the world's natives, who account for nearly 350 million out of a global population of seven billion, remain an occupied people.
Before occupation, indigenous women held a respected role in society with regards to property ownership, decision-making as it related to the community and were in control of their bodies.
Civilisation coupled with climate change has changed this reality as women are no longer able to rely upon the elder who was the keeper of herbs to assist in health care issues. Nowadays, women are forced to seek western means of health services but due to their status of living in poor, rural and under-developed areas many perish during childbirth.
In the Congo, where indigenous people represent nearly two percent out of a population of almost four million, women are discouraged from accessing proper health facilities during childbirth due to the negative stereotypes surrounding native people. According to a recent survey, the Congolese Association for Health in Cuvette-Ouest found that of the five hundred and twenty women of child-bearing age, only eight delivered at a health centre.
Besides ill-treatment from health care workers who may view these women as being from a distant culture, high fees, lack of education and language barriers all contribute to leaving this vulnerable population to fend for themselves.
Traditionally, we were taught to honour our elders and to respect tradition. That's all lost now. Indigenous peoples are the keepers of the original law, which is the belief that we as souls are placed on Mother Earth to act as caretakers. All life including the plants, animals, sea and other human beings are our kin and should be treated as part of ourselves.
Given this reality, colonial governments have a responsibility to implement free health services, cultural sensitive training for health care workers and education in schools about tradition and reverence to those that are our global elders.
The following is a short video documenting indigenous women who have been forced from their lands.