SBS World News Australia, October 31, 2013
The World Conference of Indigenous Women has seen more than 200 women demand that indigenous women receive greater prominence at every level of decision-making.
They are also calling on governments to provide adequate funding to meet the specific needs of indigenous women.
Peru is home to one of Latin America’s most ancient indigenous cultures.
The country’s capital, Lima, has played host to the World Conference of Indigenous Women, bringing around 230 indigenous women together from across the world.
They discussed many of the problems that are widespread in indigenous communities, sharing ideas and solutions.
The conference is one of the key events helping to develop a political declaration to be presented at the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in September 2014.
Among those attending is Rose Pihei from the Autonomous Bougainville Government in Papua New Guinea.
“The reason why we have this Indigenous women’s conference is so we can listen how women have been dealing with issues in their own countries. There are a lot of similarities in the issues. That’s why it’s good for us to come together to a conference, so we can map out how we can come up with better strategies to deal with some of the issues affecting the women.”
Mrs Pihei says one of her priorities is to reduce the widespread gender-based violence in Bougainville, which continues despite the island’s bloody civil war having formally ended in 2001.
She says gender-based violence in her home country is getting worse, with more and more younger men perpetrating violence against women in rural areas where it never existed before.
“The women have been hit by conflict and post-conflict in Bougainville, a lot of women are depressed and they feel there’s no hope any more in life. One of my challenges is to build their capacity so they realise they still have hope and realise that they have the potential to become leaders in their own families as mothers. One of my challenges is to get more women involved in regional politics.”
Medical aid agency Medicines Sans Frontiers estimates 70 per cent of women in Papua New Guinea will be raped or physically assualted in their lifetime.
Meanwhile, ChildFund Australia released a report in August which revealed 80 per cent of men had reported using sexual or physical violence against a partner in Bougainville.
“We have an issue with a ‘lost generation’: these are children who never went to school, who never set foot in a classroom, they’ve never seen a blackboard or a job. The lost generation would now be aged 30 to 45 years. This is a challenge to us and we still haven’t worked out how we can deal with this generation because a lot of violence is being done by the children who never went to school. They think that it’s normal to fight and they think it’s normal to be threatening people.”
Those attending the conference in Lima are discussing how nations can meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, such as reducing maternal mortality, which is higher in Papua New Guinea than any other Pacific country.
Dee Thiele and Sandra Creamer represented Australia at the conference in Peru.
Ms Thiele, who has worked in Aboriginal health for nearly 23 years, says many Australians don’t realise that Indigenous Australians face issues similar to those experienced by native people in other regions of the world.
“We all have similar issues, I know we live in a very wealthy country. It’s the country where everybody should have a fair go. On every market of disadvantage we fare the lowest – you factor in the social determinants of health, housing, education and so forth. So when you look at that on an international level, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have some of the poorest health outcomes on planet.”
She says Australia still has a long way to go before meeting the Millennium Development Goal targets by 2015.
“With child infant mortality in Australia our infant mortality rates there are two to three times higher than the general population. Our life expectancy gap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders was 17 to 20 years only a couple of year ago but the ABS changed their methodology in how they analyse the data sets that they have and overnight we went from 17 to 20 years down to 10 to 11. I believe that’s an issue in itself.”
Sandra Creamer, from the Global Indigenous Women’s Caucus, is attending the World Conference of Indigenous Women as an observer.
She says the event is vital to helping address a range of issues affecting women throughout the world.
“Any conference that indigenous women go to is important simply because we have to make sure we get that recognition for who we are – we are traditional knowledge-holders in the world. I think when they unite together it gives them more strength and it empowers them.”
Ms Thiele agrees, saying the conference is an important step in offering Indigenous women who work and live in communities experiencing these issues to share ideas.
“I think we’ve got a really good opportunity here to maybe really get our voices out there to our Prime Minister Tony Abbott. At the end of the day the solutions to our issues have to be heard from the grassroots up, not the top down, which has been happening a lot.”