We want to be actors in our own futures with full rights

Tarcila Rivera Zea was 44 years old when she took part in the World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. Today, this indigenous Peruvian activist is President of the Centre for Indigenous Cultures of Peru (CHIRAPAQ) and a member of the UN Women Global Civil Society Advisory Group.


I was also present in Nairobi in 1985. There weren't many of us indigenous women then, no more than 15. At Beijing, in 1995, there were more – almost 100 – which was an achievement! Above all, for us indigenous women of Latin America, the poorest of the poor, it was an opportunity to communicate with indigenous women from other parts of the world, as well as from our region, despite language barriers.

Tarcila Rivera Zea
Photo courtesy of Tarcila Rivera Zea

After almost 20 years [since the Beijing Conference], we’ve been able to agree on the topic  of violence. We’re united, indigenous women from all parts of the world, and also with the women's movement. We’re certainly not alone! So this is a great step forward, and the foundation for the future.

Today, we indigenous women have our own identity, our own voice. And I believe that we’ve broken the silence. We’ve tried to break the silence in the most private arena: the home, the family, the community. And we’ve worked considerably over the years, at national and international level, so that now we’re not ashamed to call ourselves indigenous women.

The Millennium Development Goals, and the Beijing and Cairo Action Plans, have served to show us what international policies mean in terms of implementing national policies. We find ourselves in a new phase, with better tools and information to achieve better results. For 2015, it is our aspiration to be heard and to have national and international policies and programmes with specific [our] names and appropriate budgets. Globally, indigenous peoples number around 400 million. So this policy, with its own name and identity, will include some 200 million indigenous women around the world.

Priorities post-2015

Based on the progress in international and national policies, we indigenous women want to be recognized, respected and included in actions affecting our lives. We want to participate fully. We don't want decisions about the future of our lands, territories, natural resources, the right to food, health and education, to be taken without reference to us.

In the case of the right to development, for example, we want our specific knowledge and capacities to be considered. They should be seen as potential, not as barriers. Our knowledge about the different medicinal and edible plants should be taken into account in health and food policies. Similarly, in order to prevent maternal mortality, our traditional medicines must be considered. Intercultural health and education policies should be part of national systems, facilitating women's access from childhood to those services that are the responsibility of the State.

We want agendas that seem disconnected, [i.e. Beijing, the MDGs and post-2015], to be harmonized and made complementary. If actions are planned for the future, this must be done on the basis of human rights. From that viewpoint, a range of possibilities opens up, beginning with eradicating all forms of violence from our lives and in our territories. This is where being indigenous and a woman means a wealth of knowledge, values and capacities that contribute to society, for example in reducing and adapting to climate change and against hunger in the world.

What this means is that we want to be actors in our own futures with full rights.

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