Paraguay: Union leads effort to defend the rights of indigenous teachers

The International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples reminds us that in many parts of the world, indigenous people routinely face exclusion, discrimination and economic hardship and violence. In Paraguay, after centuries of invasion of their lands, European colonization and the violation of their human rights by subsequent governments, the indigenous population has been decimated and marginalized.

For the close to 2 000 indigenous teachers in Paraguay, the situation is not much different. Their cultural knowledge is not recognized, they don’t always have access to the same titles and seniority benefits as other teachers, and their multilingualism and experience is not valued.

Human rights and professional rights

In response, the union of education workers OTEP-AUTENTICA NS of Paraguay, is working to organise with indigenous teachers to fight for their human, labour, cultural and professional rights.

The union has modified it’s charter to include the Secretariat of Original Peoples, though which they will organise and elaborate proposal to ensure the recognition of the rights and demands of the indigenous teachers.

One of the demands of the union, released in an official statement, is for the government of Paraguay “to guarantee public education as a universal right and recognise the right of the indigenous peoples to develop their own schools which are connected to the world without assaulting their elemental right to community, culture and a life with dignity”.

The “commitment of our union as an organization is to be a tool of liberation, and make free, quality, democratic and public education a reality for all”, the statement adds.

Education with respect

Education International fully supports these initiatives and believes that education must be available for all without discrimination.

Indigenous Peoples’ right to education, means access to quality education enabling them to make decent and proper choices, offering indigenous children and youth an education that helps them develop to their potential and to respect their culture.

Education is also fundamental to the full enjoyment of other human rights which are crucial to indigenous communities: the right to work, the rights of indigenous women and youth, the right to health, the right to water, the right to collective rights, the right to free, prior and informed consent, the right to self-determination, their land, territories and resources, the right to development.

For EI, the implementation of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) is an opportunity to advance Indigenous Peoples’ rights. It requires an awareness that a human rights-based approach to development is needed: Indigenous Peoples’ collective rights - to their lands, territories and resources -  have not been recognised, and there’s a lack of emphasis on free, prior and informed consent, as stated in the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the outcomes of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention No. 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Education International believes that teachers and support personnel, Indigenous or not, should maintain respect for Indigenous knowledge and heritage within educational institutions, and connec with Indigenous students and non-Indigenous students. It believes that it is impossible to separate indigenous languages from the identity and ways of life of Indigenous Peoples and the indigenous knowledge.

EI invites all member organisations to promote and endorse the Coolangatta statement on the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights in Education, adopted at the 1999 World Indigenous People’s Conference on Education, in Hilo, Hawaii, USA. It “represents the collective voice of indigenous peoples from around the world” and “states the fundamental principles vital to the achievement of the reform and transformation of indigenous peoples”.

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