Dear all,

I have been asked to undertake a gender assessment in two Indigenous villages deep into the interior of Suriname, close to the border of Brazil. I am worried that, with usual gender analysis (stereotypes, work, access and control, formal decision-making) I might miss certain aspects of female strength/status. Does anyone have tips / literature / expertise on how to capture the gender challenges of a traditional community that is literally and figuratively speaking on the border of a dominant (capitalist) western society?

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I did my field research living for six months in an Amerindian community in Guyana (English) a long time ago (1997). I don't know Suriname specifically so not sure if my input would be helpful. There were certainly cases of GBV linked to high rates of alcohol consumption. The women were recruited by the Amerindian Research Unit to gather and document traditional knowledge that was only available orally. You could see about contacting Janette Forte who used to be with the Amerindian Research Unit 

Thanks so much Ellen!

I will certainly try to reach out to the Amerindian Research Unit to see if I could link up.

Hi Maggie,

To assist you, I am recommending a former colleague of mine, when I was in Jamaica. She was formerly with UN Women. Her name is Taitu Heron. I do not have the email, but she has her FB profile and you can send a message.

You may check with her if she can be of any assistance. She has experience in the Carribean. Thanks.



Dear Upul, thanks! As a matter of fact, I have known Taitu for ages :). I will certainly contact her and dig deeper.

Dear Maggie, 

I work with Indigenous immigrants in the US Mexico Border Area. We have done an extensive analysis of a different NGO's aggregated report on violence against asylum seekers awaiting entry into the US from Central America and Mexico.    Out of 8,000 + reports of violence against immigrants (rape, robbery, assault, kidnapping, torture , Extortion, etc, [a total of 20 types of violence] only 31 were identified against LGBTQ persons. Against Indigenous only 3 were reported.  Our own statistics demonstrated that 1 in five families that entered the US SW border were Indigenous. The vast under counts are due to NGOs not being trained nor offering the secured means to identify as LGBTQ, Indigenous, or both.  I have a training to Identify Indigenous peoples and they languages.  This is an example of the challenge of how trained and experienced persons who work with these populations need preparation and multiple approaches. I was different project, I was able to include a non cis- gender identification option, "Two Spirit" which refers to pre-colonial practices among some tribal nations before colonization. AS with all populations, the morality of church authorities and teachings tend to dominate operational approaches to this need. From a human rights perspective the lack of advocacy and informed training is a continual threat to the lives of LGBTQ + and Indigenous peoples. I can be reached at, if further discussion is helpful. 

Blake Gentry (Cherokee) Indigenous Languages Office,

Alitas Immigrant Shelter Tucson, Arizona, USA

Dear Blake. thank you so much for your extensive reply. The influence of the Church is indeed a major factor. Missionaries from the Baptist Church have converted many Trio and Wayana communities close to the border of Brazil, which gives me (as an anthropologist) a sense of searching for things long gone...For example, in a session I taught a song to women and I asked if they had a song for me as well. They sure did and took great pleasure in teaching it to me.  Only after translation I found out it was about how good God now I feel more like an archeologist, carefully inspecting different layers of culture prescribing gender roles. Really interesting, I must say. Would love to be in touch once I have more material. Thanks again!

Hi, Maggie

I suggest reading ethnographic work on the particular tribe in Suriname to understand embedded structures of power and its circulation, before going into the community. The depth of ethnographic studies produce more insightful understanding of societies and that wld be more helpful than policy reports, which have a limited and selective focus.

Wish you the best!

Thanks Benu! I have indeed collected quite some good ethnographic material prior to my field work. And truuuueeeeee on the policy reports!

Maggie, you start with SALT conversation, it creates a space for people to open up and discover their own strengths and each others strengths.

Thanks to Ellen,Upul, Blake and Benu (in chronological order) for taking out time to respond. Cristina sent Maggie a response over email.

Thanks for the reminder Rituu!

Dear Maggie,

What helps me a lot in gender assessments, is to look for the cultural mechanisms around

- access to & control over (1) resources, (2) opportunities and (3) decision-making. 

This is in a nutshell what you like to know. Indigenous culture can surprise you in the way the voices of men, women and children are heard and weighed in decision-making. And the different roles of women, men, girls and boys can define the access they have to certain resources, opportunities and decision-making. Sometimes the voicing of women is not visible in the public space, but is fully considered in the men participating in the community decision-making. My experience is, that many indigenous cultures have been much more equal than the Western culture (especially one like the Brazilian culture). So the influence of the Western culture has often actually been more negative for women and girls and has been shifting the roles of women and men and therefore created imbalance within the indigenous culture.

Good luck!

Hady Klaassen

 Wonder ful exchange.

In my work with indigenous communities, here are some strategies that ave worked for  us

  •  identify the younger literate men and women to join in a interns/ fellows
  • work with Community Based Organizations and their community leaders who can help sharpen your research questions to begin with and then point you to different people - with different views

The value in a research is when we are able to build on the existing knowledge of the indigenous peoples and we need to invest time and deep listening and be open with them to the extent that they can challenge us for the assumptions that we as "outsiders' may come with. It is at the cusp that new knowledge gets generated.


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