On the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, We Make an Urgent Call to Combat Religious Discrimination and Racism in the Americas

On the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, We Make an Urgent Call to Combat Religious Discrimination and Racism in the Americas

Washington DC, March 21, 2024.– As we commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21, the Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) urgently calls on States to adopt measures to combat growing manifestations of religious discrimination and racism in the Americas, which significantly affect racialized population groups, such as Afro-descendants and Indigenous peoples.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, these groups face persistent challenges in expressing their sacred, ancestral, and cultural traditions without facing restrictions, stigma, repudiation, or violence. These reprisals include the persecution of members, as well as violence against places of worship and religious symbols associated with these traditions. Religious discrimination and racism can also manifest itself through stereotypes and prejudices that denigrate the beliefs and practices of these people, thus perpetuating their exclusion and marginalization.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) states that, in the case of the Afro-descendant population, their cultural identity encompasses the preservation of ancestral knowledge and the conservation of their historical legacy, so that traditions and beliefs such as the religions Lumbalú, Candomblé, Abakuá, Umbanda, Hoodoo, among others, which have their roots in Africa, are an intangible part of the heritage of the African diaspora and are part of the social process of resistance developed by enslaved people in the Americas.

In the case of Indigenous peoples, in terms of the right to freedom of religion or belief, the United Nations refers to a more diverse and complex spectrum of cultures and beliefs, since in line with their right to self-determination, Indigenous peoples are free to define and determine their own spiritual identity, according to the report “Indigenous Peoples and the Right to Freedom of Religion or Belief”, presented in October 2022 by the then-Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ahmed Shaheed.

“Many conceptualize spirituality as a ‘way of life’: the shaping of distinctive emotions, habits, practices or virtues, the modeling of distinct beliefs and ways of thinking, and a particular way of living and communicating. Spirituality is therefore related to the transcendent and is intrinsic to the everyday experiences and practices of Indigenous peoples. Beyond its uniqueness, Indigenous spirituality and culture are often based on community, identity, and relationships with traditional lands,” the report details.

A Growing Problem Rooted in Racial Discrimination

The fact that Afro-descendant and Indigenous populations are the most affected by religious discrimination and racism is intrinsically related to the racial discrimination and systemic racism that persists in the Americas. 

In the recent webinar “The Legacy of African Religious Practices and the Social Biases and Prejudices They Face”—organized by the Secretariat for Access to Rights and Equity of the Organization of American States (OAS) in the framework of the VII Week of People of African Descent in the Americas—representatives of civil society associated the rejection, persecution, and even criminalization of these practices to historical processes loaded with ignorance, stigmatization, and prejudice as they are not considered “civilized”.

The IACHR reports repeated denunciations of persecution and attacks against the life and integrity of leaders and practitioners of religions of African origin in different states of the region, as well as complaints of the destruction of temples and sacred spaces of Afro-descendant communities. In Brazil, Race and Equality is aware of cases of religious intolerance against religions of African origin that have triggered legal conflicts, with the disturbing result that practitioners have lost custody of their children.

In Bahia, the Secretary of State for the Promotion of Racial Equality registered 19 cases of religious racism between January and July 21, 2021, representing 65% of the total cases reported in 2020. Similarly, in Rio de Janeiro, the Commission to Combat Religious Intolerance (CCIR) received reports of 19 cases against religions of African origin, including two involving children, as of May of the same year.

On the other hand, in Mexico, a report by the organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reveals that Indigenous women in this country suffer more religious discrimination than their male relatives. Women who refuse to join the majority Roman Catholic faith face harassment and exclusion from the justice system, government benefit programs and services, and prenatal health care.

The report notes that although the Mexican Constitution guarantees freedom of religion or belief and other human rights to all its citizens, in practice, violations are common in certain regions: in particular, for Indigenous communities governed by the Law of Uses and Customs.

Standards in the Framework of International Law

Within the Inter-American System, the right to freedom of religion and belief is enshrined in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (Article III) and the American Convention on Human Rights (Article 12). Within the Universal Human Rights System, it is stipulated in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and has been further developed in the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, in 1981.

One of the most noteworthy Inter-American instruments on the subject is the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination, and Related Forms of Intolerance (CIRDI), which states that States must prevent, prohibit, and punish any restriction or limitation on the use of people’s language, traditions, customs, and culture in public or private activities.

The “Study on Freedom of Religion and Belief: Inter-American Standards,” by the IACHR, unveils a broad framework for the protection of this right, where it also highlights instruments and jurisprudence applicable to Indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples. It also points out the vulnerability of some groups, such as LGBTI persons, children and adolescents, human rights defenders, and persons deprived of liberty, and therefore provides an additional set of aspects of the right to freedom of religion and belief in relation to them.

A Call to Action

Race and Equality has integrated the fight against religious discrimination and racism into its lines of work. Since 2021, in Brazil, we have been developing a project aimed at promoting religious tolerance and the reduction of violence and discrimination against practitioners of Afro-descendant religions, through the strengthening of Afro-Brazilian organizations so that they can document cases of violence based on religious beliefs, prepare them for strategic international litigation, and foster a culture of respect for religious freedom, in addition to training entities so that they can provide legal support to victims of this scourge. Meanwhile, in Cuba, we are supporting the preparation of the report “Obstacles Faced by Leaders and Members of Afro-Cuban Religions in Cuba.”

Based on human rights principles, and considering that discrimination and religious racism are growing problems in the region, Race and Equality calls on the States of the Americas to adopt measures to address and contain it, one of the most vital being the ratification and implementation of the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Intolerance. In terms of monitoring, it is important to have statistics and qualitative information on the religious and cultural practices of people of African descent and Indigenous peoples. It is also important to promote information free of prejudices and stigmas regarding these practices and, of course, to sanction any action that hinders them and implies a violation of the human rights of their followers.

8M: Anti-racist force in the struggle for the rights of all women

Washington D.C., 8 March 2024.– Since its beginnings, the movement for the rights of women has been nutured by different perspectives, amplifying it’s vision and mission in different spheres of society. One of these is the anti-racist perspective the, despite encountering a series of obstacles to its full incorporation, it has been the basis for important contributions to the struggle.

This March 8, International Women’s Day, we at the Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) want to highlight the anti-racist perspective, taking into account that sexism and racism are forms of oppression that are intertwined and uniquely affect women of different ethnic and racial backgrounds, and in the case of the Americas, Afro-descendant and indigenous women in particular.

We spoke with women leaders and activists from different parts of Latin America to hear from them about the importance of the anti-racist perspective in the struggle for women’s rights, their contributions to the feminist movement, and the challenges that persist at different levels to fully incorporate this vision into the work of defending and promoting women’s rights.

Racism as a detonator of multiple violence

“The anti-racist perspective in the struggle for women’s rights is necessary if we conceive of racism as a violence that permeates the system, state and social structures, the family, our bodies, and that causes violence to increase; that is, racism recognized as structural violence also replicates and reproduces multiple forms of violence,” reflects Patricia Torres Sandoval, an indigenous P’urhépecha woman and member of the general coordination of the National Coordinating Committee of Indigenous Women (CONAMI) of Mexico.

The anti-racist perspective within feminisms is essential because it understands that the category of women is much broader or more complex than just identifying ourselves as women, it encompasses everything that would be the visibilization of the situation and experiences of Afro-descendant women, indigenous women, trans women, brings the intersectional analysis that is to think of the multiple forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, class, migratory processes, etc.,” said Gilma Vieira da Silva, regional coordinator of the Afro-descendant Youth Network of Latin America and the Caribbean (REDJUAFRO).

Vieira da Silva adds that intersectionality cannot be thought of without an ethnic-racial context, and recalls that the concept was formulated by a woman of African descent: the American lawyer and academic Kimberly Crenshaw, who devoted much of her work to understanding structural gender inequality.

Gender-based violence is not individual

Torres Sandoval points out that indigenous women have contributed to the recognition of collective violence. She explains that the phrase “My body, my territory”-which has been appropriated as a slogan by the feminist movement-emerges from indigenous women as a way of saying that violating their bodies also violates the land and the territory. “As indigenous peoples and women we recognize ourselves as an integral part of the territory and of Mother Earth, contrary to the Western perspective where we are owners of the land,” she says.

For Gahela Cari, a trans indigenous feminist from the National Federation of Peasant, Artisan, Indigenous, Native and Salaried Women of Peru, feminism is essential for processes of change; however, she points out that it is not enough if it is not anti-racist. In her words, anti-racist feminism “takes a stand in the midst of a society with so many inequalities” and shows that, in addition to gender, other systems of oppression make it impossible to live with dignity.

“We have to open processes of listening, dialogue, collective construction. Even when we do not fully understand what the other person brings to the table,” she says about a necessary task in the feminist struggle to work from an anti-racist approach. In this sense, she highlights the importance of closing the way to authoritarian processes in the country, such as what is happening with the current political regime in Peru.

Educating in an anti-racist perspective, a dual task

In this sense, Fernanda Gomes, a social worker and member of Articulação Brasileira de Lésbica (ABL), from Brazil, questions the fact that they must constantly educate about the anti-racist perspective to people and groups that do not have this vision or even exclude it.

“It’s a big challenge because we waste time thinking about public policy, writing a manifesto, to educate these people. We have to constantly be saying ‘oh so-and-so, I’m not your teacher, Google it, ask a white friend of yours.’ The black women’s, lesbian and feminist movement is also an education movement. We’re educating white people all the time and it’s exhausting,” she asserts.

Contributions and challenges

Brisa Bucardo, a journalist from the Miskito people of Nicaragua, highlights the role that women’s movements have played in the context of the country’s Caribbean Coast, as they have not only provided fundamental support to women victims of violence, but have also led citizen complaints and strengthened women’s capacities both individually and collectively. In addition, they have dismantled ingrained concepts of violence historically justified under the label of “culture”.

In terms of contributions to the struggle for women’s rights, Dunia Medina Moreno, a woman of African descent and member of the Women’s Network of Cuba, highlights the role played by women of African descent in the promotion and defense of human rights, which has resulted in a more comprehensive protection of the rights of all people in their diversity of identities.

“We must create a feminism where all women fit, an intersectional feminism where all women fit and where we can cover all the dimensions of discrimination we experience,” said Leticia Dandre Pie, a human rights activist in the Dominican Republic and member of the Movement of Dominican-Haitian Women (MUDHA).

Despite the progress made in introducing an anti-racist perspective in the struggle for women’s rights, challenges persist for real integration that translates not only into more inclusive activism, but also into the formulation of more comprehensive public policies. “We know that militancy today has to be recognized as a job, our time that we put into the struggle has to be recognized, but many times Afro-descendant women receive very few resources, trans women, women with disabilities, indigenous women are also included,” says Gilma Vieira da Silva, from REDJUAFRO.

“There are many challenges to consider the anti-racist perspective in the State, in academia and in society in general. There is a general imaginary that still places Eurocentrism as the idea of the best, of aspiring to be this hegemonic white stereotype aimed at certain parameters of aesthetic beauty, but it not only exists in the general imaginary but also permeates institutions,” says Patricia Torres Sandoval, of CONAMI Mexico.

From “white feminism” to intersectionality

One of the great criticisms of early feminism, or what we can call “white feminism,” is that it universalized the experience of white women[1]. That is to say, that in the beginning the struggle of feminism was reduced only to the needs of women who, in one way or another, were in a situation of privilege.

The anti-racist perspective in feminism is crucial because it challenges that Eurocentric and androcentric vision that has permeated many academic fields and social movements through white feminism[2]. The racialized women who came to contest these standards have provided critical analyses from their situated experiences, questioning power structures and advocating for a fuller understanding of the intersections of race, gender, and class in the struggle against oppression.

In particular, they have challenged the homogenization of the category “woman” in feminist movements, pointing out that women’s experiences vary significantly according to their race, ethnicity, class and sexual orientation[3]. This intersectional approach has enriched understanding of the interconnections between different systems of oppression.

Did you know…?

There are instruments for the protection and promotion of rights with an anti-racist approach or with a gender-race perspective. Some of them are:

  1. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR): this is the international document that establishes the fundamental rights of all people without any discrimination based on race or gender, among others.
  2. International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW): this is the international instrument that specifically addresses gender discrimination and takes into account the dimensions of race and other factors. It recognizes the intersectionality of discrimination faced by women.
  3. International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD): this UN treaty prohibits racial discrimination in all its forms and promotes racial equality. Although it does not focus exclusively on the gender perspective, it recognizes the intersectionality of discrimination.
  4. Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action: this convention, which was adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, highlights intersectionality and recognizes the importance of addressing discrimination based on gender and race.
  5. Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women (Convention of Belém do Pará): this is the inter-American regional treaty that focuses on gender-based violence and recognizes the intersectionality of the forms of discrimination faced by women, including racism.
  6. ILO Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries: this is the convention that addresses the rights of indigenous peoples and recognizes the importance of addressing discrimination based on race.
  7. American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: it recognizes the right of indigenous women to the recognition, protection and enjoyment of all human rights without discrimination, establishing the duty of States to eradicate all forms of violence against indigenous women.

In order to achieve the effective integration of a racial perspective in policies and resolutions concerning women’s rights, States and human rights bodies should:

  • Formulate gender equality policies that explicitly include the intersectional perspective in the formulation of gender equality policies.
  • Promote diversity at all levels of leadership to reflect different experiences.
  • Implement educational programs that highlight the importance of understanding the complexities of intersectionality. In particular, promote awareness of the importance of intersectionality at all levels of government, as well as in judicial decision-making bodies, so that this perspective is replicated in their decisions.
  • Support and promote organizations working on the intersection of gender and race.
  • Regularly evaluate the effectiveness of policies, making sure to address multiple layers of discrimination.



[1]Parra, Fabiana (2021). Feminism will be anti-racist or it will not be. Joselito Bembé. Revista Político Cultural, nro. 2, p. 42, available in: https://www.memoria.fahce.unlp.edu.ar/art_revistas/pr.12875/pr.12875.pdf

[2] Curiel, Ochy (2007). Postcolonial critique from the political practices of anti-racist feminism. Nómadas, ISSN 0121-7550, ISSN-e 2539-4762, No. 26, p. 93, available in: https://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/articulo?codigo=3997720

[3] Boddenberg, Sophia (2018). Indigenous and Afro-descendant women, intersectionality and decolonial feminism in Latin America.Búsquedas Políticas Magazine, University of Alberto Hurtado, available at: https://politicaygobierno.uahurtado.cl/wp-content/uploads/sites/8/2018/06/sophia_boddenberg_mujeres_indigenas.pdf

Race and Equality Recognizes the Role of the Indigenous Youth of Latin America and the Caribbean As Agents of Change for Self-determination

Washington D.C., 9 August 2023.- In Latin America and the Caribbean there is a context of generalized violence in which significant challenges persist for the recognition and full achievement of self-determination and other connected rights. In the face of this, indigenous youth, aware of their role as agents of change, push for enforcement processes and advocacy for the defense of human rights, the promotion of justice, and accountability. 

On this International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, the Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) joins the call by the United Nations under the motto “Indigenous youth, agents of change for self-determination,” that recognizes the strengths but also the challenges that indigenous youth of the region face in the preservation of their land, territories, sacred places, and the revitalization of their traditions and manifestations of identity.


It is estimated that in Latin America and the Caribbean there are approximately 58 million people belonging to 800 indigenous peoples, representing 9.8% of the regional population. In various states across the region there are important gaps in the fulfillment of normative frameworks and favorable policies for the rights of these peoples, as well as international and inter-American standards on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples. 

The situation of violence that indigenous peoples face is rooted in the presence and invasion of their lands by non-indigenous third parties, whether that is people involved in logging, mining, live-stock, or narco-trafficking activities; and situations of armed conflict, that in their aftermath have great risks and threaten the physical and cultural survival of said peoples. At the same time, criminalization, stigmatization, and threats against indigenous peoples, including assassinations, continue.

Indigenous Youth, Agents of Change for the Present and Future

For several decades, the Latin American indigenous movement has recognized the development of its own youth movement, which is articulated regionally and constructs specific actions for the fulfillment of their demands, among which is the recognition of their diversities. 

Indigenous youth have a characteristic opening for intersectional dialogue in their communities, that can be credited to the vitality of their identities and commitment made with the legacy of their ancestors and the strengthening of advocacy strategies before human rights protection organs, such as the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. However, they also face challenges such as ageism, unemployment, gender-based discrimination, threats, among others.

For Thaís Diakarapó, leader of the Brazilian Dessana people and Coordinator of the Department of Indigenous Adolescents and Youth of the Makira E’ta Network, the primordial challenge for indigenous youth is “to redefine that the youth are not only the future, but also that we are agents of transformation for the present, of now, and we have the capacity to lead and to be at the forefront of our struggles with the desire to realize our demands.

Diakarapó recognizes that the work of the youth  “is developing every day and forming leaders within the networks of action;” however their current demands, discussions, and debates are being made only from indigenous youth to indigenous youth, and it is of great importance that these dialogues are also intergenerational, with authorities and other more powerful agents in the implementation of transformational policies.

On the other hand, from the Muxhe community, in the Istmo de Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, Mexico, the trans activist Dayanna Gallegos Castillejos, considers acts of ethnic discrimination, particularly when it comes to indigenous gender identities, as the biggest challenges that indigenous youth face.

Indigenous youth must be visible… We need to be part of the global agenda for strengthening the struggle for our indigenous identities,” she added. 

From Race and Equality, we reaffirm our commitment to the protection and promotion of indigenous peoples’ rights. We recognize the fundamental role of indigenous youth that raise their voices looking for justice for their peoples and create intergenerational connections to keep their cultures and traditions alive, without external interference.

We call upon states to implement laws and policies that guarantee the right to self-determination, autonomy, and free prior and informed consent; and that combat structural problems, historic inequalities, and discrimination and racism, that pose risks to the social wellbeing of indigenous peoples.

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