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Minority and indigenous women deliberately targeted for sexual and other violence, says MRG on International Women’s Day

7 March 2012

Women from minority and indigenous communities are targeted for sexual violence, torture and killings specifically because of their ethnic, religious or indigenous identity, says Minority Rights Group International (MRG) on International Women’s Day.

‘Discrimination against minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide is time and again experienced by women as physical violence,’ says Carl Söderbergh, MRG’s Director of Policy and Communications. ‘In war and in peacetime, minority and indigenous women are singled out for sexual violence because they are less protected and less able to complain.’

In its most recent State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples, MRG documented cases from across the world showing how women from minority and indigenous communities often face disproportionately higher levels of violence and are targeted for attack in situations of conflict and in times of peace.

The impact of conflict on women is wide-ranging. Women are often the most likely to stay back and protect their families, increasing their vulnerability. Many also find themselves heading their households and struggling to find an income. They risk being coerced into sex work or having to offer sexual favours to be able to support their families. If displaced, women are at risk of being exploited by border guards and traffickers.

Beyond these risks facing women in conflict, women from minority communities are specifically targeted for attack by both state forces and armed opposition groups. Minority women can face sexual and gender-based violence as a means of punishing their communities.

Minority and indigenous women are in particularly vulnerable positions because they often come from poor socio-economic backgrounds and live in remote areas. They have little access to justice and in many cases face discrimination from the police and the judicial system because of their minority status and because of their gender.

Like other women, minority and indigenous women also face violence from within their own communities or their own families. Poverty and social and economic marginalisation are some of the factors that contribute to the incidence of domestic violence within minority and indigenous communities.

While risking multiple abuses, in many countries the struggle to stamp out sexual violence against minorities is being led by minority women activists themselves, sometimes at serious risk to their own safety.

‘International Women’s Day has helped to highlight the scourge of violence against women around the world. But development agencies, governments and human rights activists need to realise that not all women face the same obstacles, and that violence against women often has a particular ethnic or religious dimension,’ Söderbergh says.

Minority and indigenous women tell their stories for International Women’s Day 2012

To mark International Women’s Day 2012, MRG has compiled a series of moving testimonies from women activists from China, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Kenya and Israel, relating how women from minority and indigenous communities have suffered systematic sexual and other violence specifically because of their ethnic, religious, tribal or indigenous identity.

Sri Lanka

‘The end of the brutal 30 years old war brought with it hope of reconciliation, peace, development and equality for all. However in the last three years the Sri Lankan State’s lack of commitment to these basic principles have left minority Tamil and Muslim women in the North and East in a vulnerable position. The lack of livelihood, safety accountability and justice have left women in a state where we are yet to reap the benefits of a nation not in armed conflict.

‘In the last three years the security of women has deteriorated in several aspects. Women have found themselves in a position of having to take care of the economic and social wellbeing of their family single-handedly while ensuring her and her families safety and security.’

Statement by the North East Women’s Network as part of the International Women’s Day Campaign.


‘Due to their denial of the right to work in their own region, Uyghur women are often trafficked as a matter of state policy to other parts of Chinese provinces to work. There they work in cheap labour conditions and are not allowed to leave the factory compounds which are guarded by security guards. They are also denied free contact with their families, with guards monitoring their phone conversations.

‘Uyghur women who manage to escape and return to their homes are arrested and imprisoned by Chinese authorities. Parents who refuse to give up their daughters to be forcibly transferred are arrested and imprisoned; some are even considered as separatists for resisting Chinese policy.

‘Married Uyghur women face strict family planning policies with pregnancy only allowed at certain periods or they risk facing forced abortion. Uyghur women and children both face forced labour, with families being made to pay in the event of sickness. Attractive Uyghur women are condemned to trafficking where they end up in Chinese brothels. Reporters who have attempted to bring light to the plight of Uyghur women have been detained and imprisoned.’

Rebiya Kadeer, President of the World Uyghur Congress


‘As an Ogiek girl child, accessing education was the last thing on my and everyone’s mind but, unsurprisingly, marriage was a welcome practice that everyone would gladly accept in exchange for a handful of honey.

‘Importantly, even amongst us, there are detrimental cultural practices that have prevented us from discovering our full potential. For instance, circumcision is still the order of the day, which every girl must pass through to be accepted and valued in the community.

‘My kinsmen still see women as inferior to men and as such can’t fully explore the role women can play to supplement men to cause the much needed changes, faster.’

Maureen Bii, Ogiek activist


Kurdish women in Turkey, many of whom have been internally displaced, face issues of poverty, discrimination in employment and sexual violence. Turkey does not officially recognize the Kurds as a minority group, and their language and culture continues to be denied. While the Turkish government implemented affirmative action measures in 2009, aimed at addressing the Kurdish issue, women activists argue that these have not proved successful.’

Ela Esra Gunad, Association for Social Change


Bedouin Arab women face high rates of poverty. They face disproportionately low levels of education and employment compared to other Israeli women. They are discriminated by the state and from within the community due to strict cultural traditions and customs.’

Hanan Al Sanah, Sidreh