Long focused on the economic, health, and human rights of indigenous women, Sonia Henríquez is a leader of Olowagli, a women’s organization of the Guna Yala region, which is along the Caribbean coast of Panama. Since 1996, Henríquez has also served as the president of the National Coordinator of Indigenous Women of Panama (CONAMUIP), representing the Guna people. The organization formed in 1993, when the women from three ethnic groups—Guna, Emberá, and Ngobe—came together to form an organization of indigenous women. The objectives of the organization are to strengthen the participation and leadership of indigenous women within the regional, national and international sphere, as a manager and player involved in the social, economic, cultural, and political development of society; to strengthen the historical and cultural identity, by recovering the wisdom and spirituality of indigenous women; to raise the economic level of indigenous women and their families; and to improve all aspects of the living conditions of indigenous women.
Henríquez has also served as Executive Coordinator for the Continental Network of Indigenous Women of America, a network of indigenous women’s organizations from North, Central, and South America that provides a space for indigenous women to exchange experiences and to develop continental strategies and collaborative international action. As coordinator for the Continental Commission of Commercialization and Intellectual Property, she addresses issues of native women’s art production and its commercialization and cooptation, a crucial issue given that a major part of the economy of the Guna Yala region is focused on the production and sale of molas. These colorful, appliquéd textiles have been part of the traditional dress of the women since cotton cloth was introduced after the Spanish colonization. Henríquez participated in a successful lobbying effort to protect the Guna people against the misappropriation of indigenous craftsmanship, after imitations of molas were being mass-produced and sold. These lobbying efforts resulted in a national law, Law No. 20, the Special System for the Collective Intellectual Property Rights of Indigenous Peoples for the Protection and Defense of their Cultural Identity and their Traditional Knowledge, on June 26, 2000. Following the passage of this law, the group organized the First National Crafts Workshop in in 2005 to provide craftspeople and designers with information on intellectual property law and the regulations concerning registration of use, which protects various indigenous craft models.
As an activist for women’s and indigenous rights, Henríquez has also conducted national and regional seminars on gender and development, domestic violence, reproductive and sexual health, leadership, and strengthening community organizations. She has also participated in international workshops and conferences including the Continental Indigenous Women's Workshop (1996), the Indigenous Women's Caucus on the Issues of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (2001), and the Central American Congress on STD/HIV and AIDS.
Henríquez has been recognized with many awards and scholarships, including a full scholarship to attend an intensive course on Human Rights at the University of Geneva in 2006 and a World Organization of Intellectual Property Medal of Merit from the for her defense in the Protection of Traditional Knowledge of Indigenous Peoples.
In 2009, twenty years after the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF in conjunction with CONAMUIP published Ina and Her Tagua Bracelet, a storybook about a Panamanian girl and her experiences moving to the city. At the public event to celebrate its publication, she introduced the book and the interactive CD that accompanied it. Distributed for free to schools and libraries, the book addresses discrimination, identity, friendship, and the notion that we may be different but we have the same rights. Distributed, so that children could learn about the culture and traditions of indigenous peoples.
At the publication in 2010 of Sociolinguistic Atlas of Indigenous Peoples in Latin America, a linguistic and sociocultural analysis for Latin America also published by UNICEF with CONAMUIP (along with the Ministry of Social Development and the support of the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation), Henríquez noted the importance of the volume for the indigenous peoples and those seeking to support them, "It is a tool to learn about the situation of indigenous peoples in Latin America and Panama."
Earlier this year, she participated in a Dialogue on the Rights of Indigenous Women in the Inter-American System in Guatemala City put on by the Organization of American States (OAS). Along with leaders from Mexico and Costa Rica, Henríquez spoke about experiences of indigenous women in relation to the protection mechanisms offered by the inter-American human rights system.
Organized by the UCLA Center for the Study of Women and cosponsored by the UCLA Latin American Institute, the UCLA Dean of the Social Sciences, UCLA Institute for American Cultures, the UCLA Center for Oral History, and the Charles E. Young Research Library, Henríquez’s lecture will take place on November 20, 2014, from 4 to 6 pm in the YRL Conference Room on the UCLA campus. It is part of the series "Women's Activism and International Indigenous Rights" curated by Maylei Blackwell, Associate Professor, Department of Chicano/a Studies at UCLA. Updated information can be found on CSW’s website: http://www.csw.ucla.edu/events/womens-activism-and-international-indigenous-rights-sonia-henriquez