General Recommendation on Indigenous Women

Movement for a CEDAW General Recommendation on Indigenous Women

The Women’s Human Rights Institute (WHRI) is part of an alliance of organizations that together embarked on a process to campaign for the CEDAW Committee to adopt a General Recommendation on Indigenous Women. Initially known as the Indigenous Women’s Alliance for CEDAW, this coalition grew out of the synergy between the existing work of the collaborating organizations and the collective knowledge-building undertaken together to explore the ways in which CEDAW and women’s human rights tools and standards could be mobilized to better support the struggles of indigenous women.

The WHRI supports and directly engages in advocacy strategies that organically emerge from our partnerships in cases where technical support is solicited, and where we see the potential for an important contribution to women’s human rights praxis. In recognition of the profound need to squarely center indigenous women’s rights within the framework of the CEDAW Convention, and in line with our mission to amplify women’s movements in the expansion of existing human rights standards, we supported this movement in various capacities as an ally, and continue to prioritize this work in all areas of our programming.

The WHRI is working on documenting the history of this particular movement, to highlight the organic and grassroots nature of the call and movement for the CEDAW General Recommendation on Indigenous Women and so that the indigenous women’s organizations who raised this issue and lobbied for the CEDAW Committee to take it on will be remembered, consulted, and honoured for their efforts.  It is also an important case study from which other advocates and movements can learn, and is shared through our ongoing training and mentoring to build support and to inspire other women’s human rights defenders.

A short summary follows, but to read the more detailed history-in-progress of this movement, please see the link below.  We also recognize that many other organizations have played active roles in lobbying for the full recognition of indigenous women’s rights within the UN system, and look to expand this history document further beyond our particular efforts to that end.

History – General Recommendation on Indigenous Women


The Indigenous Women’s Alliance for CEDAW (hereafter: Alliance), born from a workshop convened in Guatemala in 2013 but with antecedents in our individual and collective work, joined together to build awareness of the need for a General Recommendation on Indigenous Women, and to lobby for the CEDAW Committee to undertake development and adoption of one in meaningful collaboration with indigenous women.

A range of advocacy, training and knowledge-building activities focused on CEDAW and indigenous women’s rights were undertaken individually and collectively by Alliance organizations between 2009 and 2014, in particular, along with consultations, and in 2015 a delegation of indigenous women from Guatemala representing the Alliance travelled to Geneva to present the call, along with the results of an online petition and support letters calling for CEDAW to adopt a General Recommendation on Indigenous Women. Significant gains have been made to date, and the campaign now resides in the hands of indigenous women’s movements, along with the support of allies, around the world.

Having attained our initial objectives, with a response of great interest and commitment from both individual CEDAW Committee members and other organizations, the Alliance formally disbanded in 2018, with new networks emerging and each organization carrying the work forward in their own capacity.  In the context of Guatemala, where the Alliance emerged, a new collective called Colectiva Ix’Pop was formed to carry forward the objectives of the Alliance, with whom the WHRI continues to partner.

Organizations that convened the Indigenous Women’s Alliance for CEDAW:

Why a CEDAW General Recommendation on Indigenous Women?

While many organizations and movements worldwide have engaged with UN human rights bodies and mechanisms to hold States accountable for the intersectional discrimination indigenous women face, and the CEDAW Committee increasingly addresses the specificity of indigenous women in their jurisprudence, there is no mention of indigenous women in the text of the Convention nor is there any authoritative interpretation of the rights of indigenous women that has been produced by the Committee.

One of the methods available to the CEDAW Committee to more fully define and articulate the rights enshrined in the Convention is the issuance of General Recommendations, authoritative interpretations of the Convention that are developed in consultation and adopted by the Committee.  Through the process of learning about CEDAW and coming to see its strategic importance, our partners articulated their concern about this absence.  Through a process of collective knowledge-building, the idea to focus a campaign to this end emerged.


Getting Involved

There has been no primary steering committee or organization/s that are centrally managing this initiative; this particular call and impetus came from the alliance of organizations in Guatemala and their allies, while other organizations have been working to center indigenous women’s experiences and advocacy at the UN for many years and are also undertaking efforts to support the call for a General Recommendation (GR) to CEDAW on Indigenous Women.   It is important to note that the CEDAW Convention is the purview of all women, everywhere, and thus it is crucial for the CEDAW Committee to hear support for the General Recommendation from many organizations and networks, and for Indigenous women from around the world to offer up their perspectives and viewpoints.

UPDATE:  In November 2020, the CEDAW Committee adopted General Recommendation 38, opening the way to select the topic of the next General Recommendation to be developed.  At the November CEDAW session, it was proposed, and accepted, that the next GR will be focussed on the rights of Indigenous Women and Girls.  The official process is just beginning, and there is as yet no official public-facing announcement, but we are one step closer.

Once the Committee decides on a plan of work, they will make details available and start a process of calling for inputs from civil society and other pertinent actors.  It’s an important time to prepare to engage with the official process!

What can you do now?

  • Learn more about the CEDAW Convention and become familiar with the existing General Recommendations to date in order to integrate a CEDAW framework into your existing work, and to help you best craft your recommendations to the Committee.
  • Set up a local, national or regional consultation amongst indigenous women’s networks and organizations to build collective ideas and knowledge on what you would like to see explicitly included in the General Recommendation.
  • At some point in the months ahead, the Committee will open a call to input from civil society actors and stakeholders. Start now, so that when the time comes, you will be able to submit comprehensive ideas that have gone through a process involving many voices and perspectives.
  • We would love to hear what you are doing and share that information through our website. Feel free to be in touch at