Diversity, Universality and Democracy: A Perspective of an Indigenous Woman. (South-South Movements)

By Tauli-Corpuz, Victoria | Women in Action, December 2001 | Go to article overview

Diversity, Universality and Democracy: A Perspective of an Indigenous Woman. (South-South Movements)


Tauli-Corpuz, Victoria, Women in Action


The "Global Conference on Feminist Leadership" held in South Africa in September 1997 had a speaker on the panel on Democracy who said: "Diversity or difference is often used to rename inequality and division, and it is also very much at the core of the extreme right and racist agenda ..." Diversity was described in this same conference as "... a much used concept with opportunities and pitfalls." Basically, what both were saying was that diversity is a contested territory and it can be good or bad, depending on who uses it and how it is used.

For us, indigenous women, diversity is a concept and practice crucial in our struggle for self-determination, for the defense of our ancestral territories, and for control over our indigenous knowledge and natural resources. This is not to say that we are oblivious to the dangers and pitfalls of integrating diversity in our struggle. In the history of our oppression and exploitation as peoples, however, it was homogenisation, more than diversity, that was used to violate our rights as indigenous peoples.

It is to our credit, our ancestors' and the present generation's that we managed to salvage and even further nurture what ancestral territories and resources, aspects of our indigenous cultures, economic systems, political structures, and even ways of thinking remained after the destruction wrought by the colonisers and post-colonial governments on our environment and our communities. However, the assault on us continues and, in this era of globalisation, has become even more vicious. This globalisation makes use of old and new instruments and methods to further conquer territories to control and appropriate. These territories include not only land, air, and water, but also the minds, knowledge, and even genes of human beings, and of other living creatures.

At present, most of the remaining lands in the world that still have significant natural resources--minerals, forests, biodiversity, freshwater, and potential energy sources such as powerful rivers, hot springs, etc.--are in indigenous peoples' territories. Indigenous peoples maintain an estimated 5,000 different cultures that represent 70 to 80 percent of the cultural diversity in this world. Even our biological diversity as human beings is perversely acknowledged as so-called Human Genome Diversity Project, a project collecting our genetic materials and preserving these as "isolates of historic interest" in the laboratories. The proponents of this programme claim that this is one way of preserving the diversity left in the human race.

The globalisation project of the rich northern countries and their transnational corporations, which is facilitated by institutions like the World Trade Organization, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, already has tremendous impact on us.

Indigenous Women's Movements

Women have always been part of the struggle of many indigenous peoples for self-determination and defense of ancestral territories. According to the indigenous women involved in the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico, the movement would not have materialised without their active participation and support.

The issues around which indigenous women mobilised themselves are diverse, ranging from the defense of the ancestral lands from "development aggression" (dams, mines, plantations, tourism projects, etc.) to forced sterilisation; from the dumping of toxic or radioactive wastes and deforestation to violence against women and alcoholism; from patenting indigenous plants to patenting the genes of indigenous peoples. These resistance campaigns have been carried out on various levels, local to international, either by the indigenous peoples themselves or jointly with other movements, organisations or networks.

Whenever we meet with our counterparts from the other parts of the world, we arrive at similar conclusions and recommendations on how to move on. …

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