The Government of Bangladesh should engage indigenous peoples including indigenous women across the country in implementing and reviewing the progress of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Unlike the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the visibility of indigenous peoples in implementation of SDGs should be ensured to make its agenda “Leave No One Behind” meaningful. The speakers made this urges to the Government in a discussion meeting titled “Sustainable Development Agenda and Indigenous Women’s Rights in Bangladesh”, jointly organised by Bangladesh Indigenous Women’s Women Network (BIWN), Kapaeeng Foundation (KF) and Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum (BIPF) held at the Daily Star Center in Dhaka on 6 August 2017.

Presided over by Member-Secretary of BIWN Ms. Chanchana Chakma, Mr. Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma, President of BIWN and Chairman of Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council was present as the Chief Guest in the discussion meeting. Dr. Devapriya Bhattacharya, Convener, Citizen’s Platform for SDG, Bangladesh; Ms. Khushi Kabir, Coordinator of Nijera Kori; Rani Yan Yan, Rani of Chakma Circle and Barrister Sara Hossain, Honorary Executive Director of Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST); Mr. Sanjeeb Drong, General Secretary of BIPF and Mr. Pallab Chakma, Executive Director of KF also addressed the discussion meeting. Falguni Tripura, Coordinator of BIWN presented the Keynote Paper of the discussion meeting.

Mr. Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma said, indigenous women are neglected in the society and fall victim of abuse and torture, often more than the majority Bengali women because of their ethnic identity. This happens due to the negligence of the Government. Not only indigenous women, but Bengali women too are unsafe in the country. The root cause behind this is the prevalence of discrimination in every stage of the society.  In order to have this situation changed, the governance in the country has to be reformed, putting a pro-people, democratic government in place. In this regard values in the society need to be reformed first, which will come as a result of an unified movement.

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CPD Fellow Dr. Debapriya Bhattacharya mentioned that political promises of the Government in the international forums should be visible in realizing human rights and equality for all in the country. He also stated that SDGs cannot be achievedg by leaving farthest of the farthest behind. The per capita income of the indigenous peoples is very low. In addition, lack of health facilities, violence against indigenous women, communal aggression and national negligence are some of the main reasons of the vulnerability of indigenous women. He further said that indigenous women are mainly left behind the society due to structural negligence. Bangladesh government should change its attitude towards indigenous peoples including women in all respect. Disaggregated data should be produced and national census on indigenous peoples should be carried out to get a clearer picture of the issues of indigenous peoples.

Khushi Kabir said, Bangladesh government does not recognize indigenous peoples as indigenous peoples and due to this reason, the situation of human rights of indigenous women is being aggravated day by day. Indigenous women have to raise their voices and stand together against violence and persecution being faced by them. She also urged the government to not to carry out development activities by leaving behind indigenous peoples. Justice and impartial investigation has always been denied in indigenous in indigenous inhabited regions such as the case of Longadu communal and arson attack in Rangamati, she added.

Barrister Sara Hossain opined that the government as well as civil society and NGOs have responsibilities in relation to achieving the SDGs. Although many initiatives have been undertaken by the government so far to stop violence against indigenous women, but it seems that the violence against women are increasing day by day. She stated that, development of indigenous women has not been articulated in the 7th Five Year Plan of Bangladesh government a. Though there is Women and Children Repression Prevention Act in place, it is not being enforced properly.

Rani Yan Yan said, indigenous women are one of the most disadvantaged sections in Bangladesh. Indigenous women are vulnerable because of their indigenous identity as well as sex. Though the main target of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to ‘Leave No One Behind’, Bangladesh Government has been neglecting indigenous peoples by not engaging indigenous peoples including indigenous women in the process of implementation of the SDGs. The complete absence engaging indigenous women in the process of developing Voluntary National Review (VNR) report is a vivid reflection of that. Bangladesh government should come forward to minimize violence against indigenous women and increase participation and decision-making role of indigenous women. Government should also ensure data disaggregation based on sex and ethnicity.

In the keynote paper, Falguni Tripura said that there is no data disaggregation on indigenous peoples, which is essential for formulation of plan of actions and monitoring the of progress of indigenous peoples. The 2030 Agenda calls for States to increase availability of high-quality, timely and reliable data disaggregated based on income, gender, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographic location and other characteristics. But Bangladesh Government has not taken any initiative in this regard. Even while preparing the Voluntary National Review report for the High Level Political Forum held in July 2017 in New York, the government did not consult with the indigenous peoples.

Falguni added that Bangladesh is committed to leading by example in the case of SDGs, as it did in the case of the MDGs. Bangladesh looks at Agenda-2030 with much interest and wants to sustain the momentum of the MDGs, build on their successes, and transform Bangladesh, for the better. Indigenous peoples share this dream of other Bangladeshis. Unlike in the case of the MDGs, indigenous peoples in Bangladesh look forward to being a full part of the SDG journey, so that all Bangladeshis can truly transform Bangladesh and bring peace and prosperity for all. Indigenous peoples wish to ensure that they are not left behind.

Kapeeng Foundation Roundatable discussionShe also mentioned that despite the 2030 Agenda is grounded on the principles of human rights, human dignity, non-discrimination, equality and participation that are essential for indigenous peoples’ access to all of their rights, the government has been expressing a discriminatory attitude towards indigenous peoples by excluding them in all aspects of implementation of the SDGs. The top-down approach of development, for example, is still being followed in the CHT, despite the establishment of the CHT Regional Council and three Hill District Councils to decide on their own development needs by themselves. As a result, the trend of self-determined development, as per the CHT Accord, is yet to be ensured in the CHT. This top-down approach is severely jeopardising the characteristic of tribal-inhabited region of CHT, which is recognised and guaranteed by the CHT Accord. So, development initiatives being carried out in the CHT could be meaningless if the people concerned do not have rights to self-governance and decision, and if these developments lead to adverse impacts upon the culture and livelihood of Jumma people.

Ms. Falguni Tripura put forward 10 recommendations, which include, to ensure indigenous women’s participation in the 7th Five Year Plan of the government; to organize awareness building programs relating SDGs 2030 for indigenous and women organizations; to take proper initiative to stop violence against indigenous women and children; to take special measures to reduce maternal and child mortality of indigenous peoples; to implement the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord 1997 fully and declare a time-bound road map for implementing the CHT Accord; to ensure reserved seats for indigenous women in the parliament and at all levels of local government bodies.