Access to justice

Founded in 2000, the Indigenous Women Legal Awareness Group (INWOLAG) addresses discrimination and violence against Indigenous women in Nepal. The group – made up of Indigenous women legal experts and professionals – provides legal support to Indigenous women and their communities, and advocates for their rights. 

Although Nepal has ratified the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention and adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), Indigenous peoples continue to face significant discrimination and exclusion. Ritu Thapa, INWOLAG’s Treasurer, recalls her own experience: ‘I am Magar. We’re the largest Indigenous community in Nepal. In 1960, the one-nation-one-language policy forced Indigenous Peoples to adopt Nepali, hindering their participation in taking exams for government positions. It is a huge hurdle for our ability to access decision-making roles.’  

Supporting Indigenous women survivors of domestic, sexual, and digital violence is another priority. ‘Indigenous women don’t have access to justice,’ Thapa explains. ‘Very few women go to court. Survivors of domestic and sexual violence face taboos and stigma. They don’t want to disclose what has happened to them, and they suffer by themselves.’

INWOLAG is trying to change this by raising Indigenous women’s awareness about their rights and supporting them when they pursue judicial cases. The group has also contributed to civil society ‘shadow reports’, which supplement the Nepali government’s official report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). 

Facing the same issues  

INWOLAG collaborates with other Indigenous women’s groups in Nepal to improve the political representation of Indigenous women in Nepal. Since 2016, INWOLAG has supported a Magar Indigenous community in its struggle against a government-backed hydropower project supported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the European Investment Bank (EIB), and the Japan International Cooperation Agency. The so-called Tanahu project will flood the Indigenous community’s native lands – lands that are crucial to their social, cultural, and spiritual well-being and survival. 

Among other things, INWOLAG has supported the Magar community in an official complaint to the ADB and EIB, and in bringing the case to the attention of Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission and Indigenous Nationalities Commission. The National Human Rights Commission recently visited and met with community members, local stakeholders, and government officials, including the land valuation committee and land commission. ‘Hopefully the visit will have some positive impact for the community. It’s been a long struggle,’ explains Thapa. 

INWOLAG has also brought the case to the attention of the international community. During an interactive panel at the 2023 UN Water Conference in New York, INWOLAG Chairperson Indira Kumari Shreesh told participants about the effects of the project on a community that has for centuries maintained a symbiotic relationship with nature. Linking up with other Indigenous women’s groups has given INWOLAG strength. ‘When we interact with other Indigenous women activists,’ notes Thapa, ‘we see that even though we’re living in different places, all Indigenous women have the same issues. 

Indigenous women aren’t given equal participation in making plans, policies, and decisionmaking roles. While they’re still fighting for their equal rights, Indigenous women are disproportionally affected by environmental degradation and development projects. Kumari Shreesh insists that: ‘When Indigenous women are united and advocate for their issues and rights within a larger movement, we become a powerful force. Indigenous women alliances allow us to leverage our strengths to secure transformative change at local, national, and global levels.