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UN: Cultural Uniqueness to Combat Indigenous Poverty

The “diversity of poverty” should be recognized in efforts to meet the needs of indigenous people, whose distinctiveness should be also used as an asset to catalyse their economic development, Jean-Philippe Audinet, Director of the Policy Division at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), told the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues today as delegates continued their in-depth dialogue with United Nations agencies.

To make that point, IFAD’s Indigenous Peoples Assistance Facility had provided $10,000-$30,000 for small projects designed and implemented by indigenous peoples at the grass-roots level, he said.  Over two years, it had funded 73 micro-projects in 47 countries.  It was supported by the World Bank, along with the Governments of Norway, Canada, Finland and Italy.  The Board comprised four indigenous leaders -– including the Forum’s Chair.  It was an innovative way for IFAD to learn about needs and solutions, and to scout out innovation.

The IFAD also deeply valued collaboration.  “For us, partnership is fundamental”, he asserted.  Over the past six years, 20 per cent of lending to Governments had directly benefited indigenous peoples and their territories.  There were 91 ongoing projects in 27 countries, some of which focused on securing access to traditional lands, promoting indigenous women in their communities, and valuing traditional knowledge systems.  The IFAD also had provided the Forum and its inter-agency support group with $500,000 to further their work.

As for how to move forward, he said more work was needed to secure indigenous peoples’ access to traditional lands and territories.  It was also vital to systematically document indigenous peoples’ best practices in dealing with climate change and to support local environmental conservation efforts.  Indigenous peoples’ challenges must be at the centre — and not at the periphery -– of the development agenda.

Picking up that thread, Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said he was proud that much of his Department’s cutting-edge research and policy analysis focused on indigenous issues — whether in the area of gender equality and the advancement of women, sustainable forest management or public administration.  Such work played out in along broad functional lines.  The Department of Economic and Social Affairs had long helped indigenous peoples participate in multi-stakeholder dialogues, including Agenda 21 — adopted at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development — which recognized them as a major group.

In addition, he said the Department had worked to include indigenous peoples in policy development and decision-making, as seen in the adoption, by the Commission on the Status of Women, of a resolution calling for measures to address indigenous women’s concerns.  It also had made efforts to include indigenous peoples in statistics and disaggregated data, and to integrate their needs into technical cooperation and capacity development activities.

For its part, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) had intensified efforts to mainstream a culturally sensitive approach to its programmes at global, regional and national levels, in line with the Forum’s recommendations.  UNFPA Deputy Executive Director Purnima Mane said the agency was learning to better deliver “inter-cultural” reproductive health information, education and services that respected indigenous peoples’ world views and cultures.  Important results had been seen in the development of inter-cultural health models that involved traditional midwives and local healers acting as “cultural brokers” between indigenous world views on health and Western medical practices.

In her closing remarks, Ms. Mane said that today’s dialogue was a turning point in UNFPA’s collaboration with the Forum.  National indicators often hid huge disparities among indigenous groups.  To remedy that and tackle other challenges, she vowed to help create a more meaningful, culturally pertinent role for indigenous peoples in development processes.  “Nothing about you, without you”, she concluded.

Also speaking today were observers for Nicaragua, Denmark, Mexico and Norway.

Forum members from the Philippines, Australia, Morocco, Bolivia, Uganda, Iran and the Congo also spoke.

Additional panel presentations were made by Antonella Cordone, Coordinator for Indigenous and Tribal Issues, Policy Division, IFAD; Tarcila Rivera Zea, Centro de Culturas Indígenas del Perú (CHIRAPAQ); Florina Lopez, Fundación para la Promoción del Conocimiento Indígena (FPCI), Panama; Werner Haug, Director, Technical Division, UNFPA; and Aminata Toure, Officer-in-Charge, Culture, Gender and Human Rights Branch, UNFPA.

Also contributing to the dialogue was Christine Brautigam, Chief of the Women’s Rights Section, United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women.  And, from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs:  Srdjan Mrkic, Chief, Social and Housing Statistics Section, Statistics Division; David O’Connor, Division for Sustainable Development; Tonya Vaturi, Division of Sustainable Development; as well as Peter Csoka, Senior Forest Policy Officer, United Nations Forum on Forum on Forests; Roberto Villarreal, Chief, Socio-Economic Governance and Management Branch, Division for Public Administration and Management; Jean-Pierre Gonnot, Acting Director, Division for Social Policy and Development; Jorge Parra, UNFPA representative from Ecuador; Alfonso Sandoval, UNFPA representative from Mexico; Bruce Campbell, UNFPA Representative from Viet Nam; and Azza Karam, Senior Cultural Advisr, UNFPA.

Representatives of the following organizations also spoke:  Indigenous Peoples Organization of Australia, Confederation des Associations Amazighes du sud Marocain (Tamunt Niffus), Caucus Amazigh, National Native Title Council, Confederación of Pueblos Indígenas de Bolivia, Asian Caucus, Confederación Sindical de Comunidades Interculturals de Bolivia, and Habitat Pro Association.

The Forum will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 27 May, to continue its session.

-The United Nations

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