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The role of indigenous women highlighted for the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

Today is recognized globally as the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. The day is set aside each year to raise awareness and protect the rights, history, achievements, and contributions of the world’s indigenous population. In light of the day, the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs issued a press release stating that the government acknowledges and celebrates our Garifuna, Mopan, Q’eqchi’ and Yucatec people, and honours our indigenous women’s rich traditional knowledge of the natural world, health, traditional technologies, distinct rites and rituals, and other cultural expressions. This year’s theme is “The Role of Indigenous Women in the Preservation and Transmission of Traditional Knowledge”, a concept that Ifasina (Eh-fa-shi-na)  Efunyemi, Assistant Secretary of the National Garifuna Council, says is of utmost importance.

Ifasina Efunyemi, Assistant Secretary, NGC: “It’s a natural thing when it comes to cultural reproduction. In most societies, this is what happens because it is women that must carry children from conception to birth and then it is also women that play the primary role in nurturing and raising children. So children are automatically exposed to the culture of their mothers. They are exposed to the language she speaks. They’re exposed to what she believes in, her values. Everything about her they are exposed to through her. From the time they are growing through her body and then when they come into this world, they continue to be exposed so if a woman does not have knowledge of her traditions, if she is not living her culture, she cannot pass on her culture and her traditions to her child. But if that woman knows and lives her traditions then naturally, it is her traditions, those very traditions of her community, her society, how she identifies, that is what the child will learn. That is what will be passed on to the child. So this is acknowledging a very fundamental crucial role that women have always played from the beginning of time when it comes to cultural reproduction, not just physical and biological reproduction but cultural reproduction. Without women, their knowledge and their role which is very fundamental and important, cultures could not continue to prevail. So this is acknowledging how important a role women play and this is not a subjugated secondary role. This is a primary role. This is a fundamental role. It’s a key role. Without it there is no continuity. There is no sustainability. There is no future.”

In the press release GOB notes that “in recognizing our indigenous women as custodians of traditional knowledge, we are cognizant that much needs to be done to protect their rights.” Efunyemi agreed with the statement and says that the NGC will be holding the government accountable to ensure that more is indeed done to protect the rights of women as a whole. 

Ifasina Efunyemi, Assistant Secretary, NGC: “When we talk about the fact that indigenous women, when you put both Garinagu and Maya together, when you look at the labour force survey and you see, I mean the stats are overwhelming. The highest rate of unemployment in this country is of indigenous women, Garinagu and Maya together. Highest rate of unemployment. Okay? And then you think of the ripple effects of that. If you are not gainfully employed what does that mean? We’re already the primary caregivers. There are so many single parent households and this is not unique to any one ethnic group in Belize but we know that it is prevalent within Garifuna households and communities. We know that it is also prevalent in Creole households and communities and we know that it is rising in Maya communities even. So if women are not gainfully employed, even self employed, what does that mean for their ability, their capacity to care for their children? To care for their household? To provide the basic necessities of their households? I mean the problems that are connected with that are far reaching. So the Government now needs to be held accountable in ensuring because it’s their obligation. That’s their job. They’re really supposed to be ensuring that all the people in Belize, adults, elders, children, youths, women, men, boys, girls, everybody, their obligation as the Government is to ensure that all our rights are protected and women, unfortunately, are on the receiving end, primarily women and girls are on the receiving end of so many violations of our rights. We are not safe. We’re not being protected. We’re subjected to violence, gender based violence, harassment. We’re being deprived. We are discriminated against. Children, imagine girls being abducted left, right and centre and being raped. So the Government has to be doing more so I hope that that press release is not just a talk shop. We’re going to be holding them accountable.”