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Twa women speak out about double discrimination in Great Lakes Region

7 November 2003

A new report published by Minority Rights Group International (MRG), highlights the double discrimination faced by Twa women in the Great Lake Region of Africa, both as indigenous peoples, and as women. Twa communities have faced widespread discrimination, marginalization and violation of their rights in the region. Twa women additionally face gender discrimination, from both broader society and from within their own Twa communities. Building on extensive interviews with Twa women themselves, MRG’s report highlights their dual struggle for change and the recognition of their rights by those both outside, and within their communities.

MRG’s report focuses on the experiences of Twa women in the broader context of discrimination against the Twa, and highlights the specific needs of women. As indigenous people, Twa women suffer from disproportionate levels of social, economic and political marginalization. As women, they suffer unequal opportunities with respect to land, social services and representation. Women may face sexual discrimination and violence either within their own communities or perpetrated by other ethnic groups. Alcohol consumption and abuse among men has increased as communities have been stripped of their traditional hunter-gatherer livelihoods and men are no longer able to carry out their traditional roles.

Land rights amongst Twa communities are of crucial importance according to MRG’s report, underpinning as they do the traditional livelihoods of the Twa. Increasingly displaced from the forest, growing numbers of Twa communities are turning to agriculture in order to provide some of their food needs and as a buffer against extreme poverty. Lack of land particularly affects women as they are mainly responsible for providing food for the family. However, as one Twa woman stated: ‘What we lack is land. If we had it we would be cultivating our own land. Even if it is a small area it’s better than working on someone else’s land.’ Their traditional forest lifestyles have increasingly conflicted with conservation agencies that have restricted their access to their traditional forest homes and livelihoods.

Economic security of the Twa is extremely precarious, and wages for agricultural and other labour are very low for both men and women. Some landless Twa women and girls, forced to live in or near major towns, have become sex workers in order to supplement their income, with the added risk of HIV/AIDS infection that this entails. Others are engaged in labouring, extraction of natural resource and the production of craft products. Education levels amongst Twa women remain extremely poor and access to credit, information, employment, health services, training and positions of responsibility and leadership, remain cause for concern. During conflicts, which have been common in the region, Twa women may be particularly vulnerable to sexual violence.

Minority Rights Group International calls on the governments of Rwanda, Burundi, DRC and Uganda to recognize the Twa as indigenous inhabitants and provide full protection of their individual and collective rights in accordance with states parties’ obligations under international law. The governments should ratify and implement all relevant international standards including CEDAW, CERD, ICCPR and ILO Conventions 169 and 111. Twa landlessness must be addressed and policies put in place to meet urgent requirements for food, housing and education, involving the meaningful participation of the communities themselves. Governments, Twa organizations and women’s rights organizations should address the exclusion and discrimination experienced by Twa women, and their specific needs, mainstreaming gender issues within programmes to promote the rights of the Twa.

Notes for editors

Twa Women, Twa Rights in the Great Lakes Region of Africa‘ by Dorothy Jackson. ISBN 1 904584 11 X. 40pp. Published by Minority Rights Group International, Nov 2003.

For more information, contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].