Media and technology help boost indigenous peoples’ political participation

09 Aug 2012

imageA participant during the opening of the eleventh session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in May 2012. (Photo: UN/Devra Berkowitz)

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) is using information technology to create networks for indigenous peoples in Latin America aiming to boost their political participation. Focusing especially on the young population and women, the regional initiative is also providing training for hundreds of indigenous peoples to boost their communications skills, targeting especially young leaders—including journalists and electoral commission officers.

Following training sessions that have taken place in Ecuador and Bolivia in the last 10 months, indigenous men and women from dozens of Latin American countries have improved their knowledge of new technologies and are now better able to monitor indigenous peoples’ participation in the electoral process. They are also using the initiative’s online platform to exchange information and share best practices.

“Indigenous peoples—especially women and young people—are underrepresented in the media, which also creates challenges for their political participation,” said Ferrán Cabrero who heads UNDP’s regional programme for indigenous peoples.  “Ensuring indigenous peoples’ political representation and information sharing in their own languages during the electoral process are crucial steps for political inclusion. It’s a right that needs to be ensured.”

In Chile, UNDP recently trained 30 indigenous women from the Mapuche, Rapa Nui, Aymara and Likanantay peoples on how to improve communication skills and make better use of information technology to boost their representation in media. The training session followed a UNDP-University of Chile study which corroborated that indigenous peoples—especially women—are stereotyped and underrepresented in Chilean newspapers, magazines and television shows.

Moreover, UNDP is launching this year an online course for Latin America and the Caribbean on communication and politics targeting young leaders—including indigenous peoples. The course will also help the young leaders deal more strategically with the press, with special emphasis on political communication, or how information spreads and influences politics. It will be offered through UNDP’s Virtual School, which has been providing training to thousands of government and civil society representatives in 24 countries since its launch in 2006. In addition, an electronic platform to be launched later this year will specifically target young indigenous leaders to help spark and sustain a regional agenda and debate on indigenous peoples’ rights.

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. Overall, their political representation is low—with the exception of Bolivia which has 43 percent of indigenous representatives in the lower house of parliament. In Mexico, for example, where indigenous peoples make up the majority of inhabitants in more than 30 percent of municipalities, they represent only eight out of 500 members of the lower house of parliament—around one percent of parliamentary seats.

World Indigenous Peoples

These initiatives highlight the theme of this year’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, 9 August, which shines a spotlight on indigenous media—television, radio, film, and social media—and its role in helping to preserve indigenous peoples’ cultures, challenge stereotypes, and influence the social and political agenda.

“From community radio and television to feature films and documentaries, from video art and newspapers to the internet and social media, indigenous peoples are using these powerful tools to challenge mainstream narratives, bring human rights violations to international attention and forge global solidarity,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message for the day.

There are an estimated 370 million indigenous people in some 70 countries around the world. They make up almost 6 percent of the world's population, but 15 percent of the poor and one-third of the 900 million people living in extreme poverty in rural areas.

The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples was created by the United Nations in 1994 to further strengthen international cooperation in solving the problems faced by indigenous peoples in areas such as human rights, environment, development, education and health.