Boosting indigenous peoples' political participation crucial for development, says UNDP

11 May 2012

image Fabiola del Jurado of the National Coordination of Indigenous Women (right hand side) takes part of discussions around indigenous women’s political participation in Mexico. Photo: UNDP Mexico

New York – Around 100 officials from Mexico and other Latin American countries, indigenous peoples’ representatives and non-governmental organizations gathered today in New York during the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples (7-18 May) to discuss how to increase indigenous peoples’ political participation—especially women.

“It is crucial to ensure inclusive participation and active decision-making through citizen empowerment and advancement of effective human rights of all people—and urgently—of indigenous peoples. This is essential to overcome historical inequalities and discrimination,” said Heraldo Muñoz, Director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the UN Development Programme (UNDP), which organized the event with the Government of Mexico.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, there are approximately 400 different indigenous peoples’ groups—almost 50 million people making up 11 percent of the region’s population.

Indigenous peoples, women and the population of African descent are the most inequality-affected groups in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to UNDP’s 2010 Regional Human Development Report on Inequality. Indicators of extreme poverty (people living on US$1 per day) are twice as high among the region’s indigenous peoples.

“We will not be able to overcome poverty and inequality or achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in our region if we don’t improve everyone’s lives—especially the most excluded population, through integrated social policies, financed through more progressive fiscal structures,” Muñoz added.

In Mexico, for example, over the last 20 years considerable progress has been made to increase representation of indigenous peoples’, a population of 15.7 million — 13 percent of the country´s total.

Yet, even though indigenous peoples are the majority of inhabitants in more than 30 percent of Mexico´s municipalities, they represent only eight out of 500 members of the lower house of parliament. This means around one percent of seats in parliament.

“We want to understand why indigenous women, in particular, have not yet been able to break the glass ceiling and move beyond the local level in politics,” said Fabiola del Jurado who heads Mexico’s General National Coordination of Indigenous Women. “We have capacity and we want to take part of all the electoral process.”

While Mexico still has a larger number of indigenous representation in parliament compared to other countries in the region, the number is still substantially lower than in Bolivia, with 43 percent of indigenous representatives in the lower house, and Guatemala, with 9.4 percent, according to a UNDP-Organization of American States report on Democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean.

For many years UNDP has supported Mexico´s electoral bodies in a number of significant electoral reforms and encouraged cooperation initiatives within the region to promote political and electoral participation of indigenous peoples.

Regionally, supported by the Spanish Cooperation Agency, UNDP and UN Women have been working to promote political and electoral participation of indigenous peoples, particularly women and youth since 2011. The process encourages indigenous organizations and leaders—especially women—to work closely together, helping promote and strengthen indigenous organizations’ networks in the region.