Gender Equality

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​Introduction to i2i Women’s Empowerment


Indigenous women have made it clear that they want to participate in the economy and in leadership positions. It is mutually beneficial for the public and private sector to listen and understand the experience of indigenous women, increase their capacity as leaders, and empower them to achieve economically in emerging markets.

“Indigenous women want to be considered as part of the solution because we […] have the knowledge, which is very useful and effective for initiatives for sustainable development.”  Tarcila Rivera Zea

i2i integrates the value of Indigenous women into strategies, projects and policy by understanding the unique strengths and relationships of indigenous persons. I2i recognises the significance of culture in women’s empowerment. It is important to us that dominant ‘colonial’ paradigms of empowerment are not used, and instead, a comprehensive understanding of the unique gender constructions within indigenous communities are engaged with, to best empower indigenous girls and women.
Cashelle Dunn at IDB Indigenous
Cashelle Dunn at IDB Indigenous

Cashelle Dunn at IDB Indigenous Business Conference in Panama, with indigenous women from Panama, a Mapuche Machi from Chile, a Native American academic, and two staff from IDB.

Cashelle Dunn at IDB Indigenous
Cashelle Dunn at IDB Indigenous

Cashelle Dunn at IDB Indigenous Business Conference in Panama, with indigenous women from Panama, a Mapuche Machi from Chile, a Native American academic, and two staff from IDB.



I2i utilises indigenous professionals who hold, live and demonstrate their culture. This includes holding an understanding of gender and the relationship between men and women in their belief structure.  Whilst these epistemologies vary between indigenous groups, the underlying cultural understanding means engagement and transference of knowledge, concepts and capabilities (in whatever sector) is more rapid and comprehensive than were a ‘colonialist’ perspective employed.

‘Culture at the Core’ of Women’s Empowerment


It is vital that culture is at the core of any promotion of women’s empowerment. The conventional methods and understandings of gender equality often fail to be sensitive to local-level ideologies and cultural beliefs. Indigenous women and men have their own intellectual theories and ways of constructing gender. Attempts to insert authority and reject the constructs of native peoples is problematic. Instead, it is vital that all efforts made toward women’s empowerment include exploring the cultural construct of gender, gender roles, and what empowerment means to the indigenous women in question.

Indigenous Woman
Indigenous Woman

Indigenous Woman
Indigenous Woman


We need to "include native women and men as subjects and intellectuals with their own theories, epistemologies, and ways of constructing gender."  Ana Marciella Bacigalupo

There are numerous factors that must be considered when exploring empowerment, including personal beliefs and actions, how this relates to others and the broader situation of women in the societal context.  Cultural context also impacts how women see themselves and their place in society. This means that “empowerment” as a whole will not look the same for women with different cultural norms.


For example, an indigenous Quechua woman from Peru who lives her culture and beliefs is unlikely to view the concept of “Women’s Empowerment” in the same way as a British woman born in London and raised Catholic. Their cultural context and view of women in society is different. Whilst an indigenous Aboriginal Australian woman who lives her culture and beliefs will not understand the concept of “women’s empowerment” in exactly the same way, she is more likely to engage in rapid knowledge transfer and comprehend the cultural context on a deeper level than a non-indigenous person.

Current Global Situation

“Indigenous women provide tremendous contributions to sustainable development and the well-being of their families, communities and national economies. Yet, indigenous women are often prevented from realizing their full capabilities, as they struggle to overcome poverty, discrimination and multiple challenges to basic human rights.”


There are approximately 180 million Indigenous women worldwide, in over 90 countries.


Having indigenous women in business increases the employment of indigenous people.


In Canada, approximately 51% of indigenous-owned SME’s belong partly or wholly to women. In the indigenous-female-owned businesses, 88% of employees were indigenous.


Young indigenous women want to be entrepreneurs.


In Australia, female indigenous business operators have a younger age profile than their non-indigenous counterparts, with 56% aged under 45 years, compared with 43% of non-Indigenous women business owners.


Increasing indigenous women and girls education contributes to higher economic growth.


a single year of secondary education correlates with as much as a 25% increase in wages later in life.


Programs in Australia, New Zealand and Canada that have included culture in education have led to sustained improvements in education of indigenous students


In Kenya, the indigenous Massai are increasing girls’ education by addressing myths and misinformation in a culturally sensitive way.


Indigenous women are more likely to have safe pregnancy and delivery if they can access trained, indigenous healthcare professionals.


"Having Indigenous midwives sends the message that this is a culturally safe environment and ultimately women will be more likely to access that service,"


Access to contraception provides women greater choice around the number and spacing of children.


Access and use of contraceptives have been linked to women’s higher decision-making power and superior socio-economic status of a household.


Example: After the introduction in 2006 of Malabar Midwives, an Aboriginal health care service in Australia, the number of Aboriginal women giving birth at the Royal Hospital for Women in Randwick tripled.