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Excerpted From: Rachel Sieder, Anthropological Contributions to International Legal Approaches to Violence Against Indigenous Women, 115 AJIL Unbound 272 (2021) (28 Footnotes) (Full Document)


RachelSiederSince the early 1990s, the law and development paradigm of “violence against women” (VAW) has framed gender-based violence against girls and women, especially intimate partner violence, as a grave violation of women's fundamental human rights and a major public health problem demanding concerted state action. Although women of all ages, social classes, races, religions, and ethnicities suffer gender-based violence, international law recognizes that VAW affecting indigenous women is compounded by historical and ongoing racial discrimination. This essay signals the contributions of indigenous women and allied anthropologists in Latin America who draw on decolonial, intersectional, and locally-grounded feminist perspectives to consider the challenges of addressing gender-based VAW. Working in collaboration with different women's collectives and organizational processes, anthropologists have conceptualized and documented the specific, myriad forms of violence affecting indigenous women. In their efforts to understand the origins, nature, and effects of violence, and to envisage possible remedies, they privilege indigenous women's voices, standpoints, and demands for collective self-determination. In this way they have contributed to international legal debates on VAW by highlighting the shortcomings and limitations of universal constructs of women and gender violence.

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Anthropological research in Latin America highlights the critiques that indigenous (and afro-descendant and campesino) women pose to international paradigms and state policies to address VAW. It points to the need for a diversity of contextually grounded approaches to gender-based VAW that occurs both within and against their communities, combining elements of international law, state law, and indigenous legal systems. Underlining the importance of maintaining a critical stance toward top-down definitions of “justice” and one-size-fits-all universalist legal approaches, anthropological research signals the need for culturally grounded, context-specific forms of justice that also challenge colonial and racist readings of indigenous law as discriminatory against women. Anthropologists have analyzed how indigenous women defenders across Latin America strategically use state, international, and indigenous law to address different manifestations of gender-based violence, at the same time as revealing the underlying racist, colonial logics and practices of state law and international law. As this essay has argued, anthropological research contributes to critical legal debates about the limitations of punitive, state-centered institutional responses to VAW, and broadens discussions about appropriate forms of reparation and prevention.

Senior Research Professor, Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, Mexico City, Mexico, and Associate Research Professor, Chr. Michelsen Institute, Bergen, Norway.

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