Posts Tagged ‘human rights of women’

South Africa needs its women human rights defenders

August 23, 2019

Call to action: Former judge Yvonne Mokgoro says society must prioritise women’s rights. (Muntu Vilakazi/City Press/Gallo Images)
Call to action: Former judge Yvonne Mokgoro says society must prioritise women’s rights. (Muntu Vilakazi/City Press/Gallo Images)

Inspired by a lecture on 14 August by former judge Yvonne Mokgoro about the dire social and economic condition of women in South Africa at a women’s month event hosted by the International Commission of Jurists and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, On 23 August 2019, three women human rights defenders in South Africa (Mateenah Hunter, a human-rights lawyer, and Shaazia Ebrahim and Tim Fish Hodgson who work for the Africa team of the International Commission of Jurists in Johannesburg) published a piece on the plight of women in South africa:

Mokgoro, South Africa’s first black female judge and a retired justice of the Constitutional Court, emphasised in her keynote address that poor, black women particularly continued to disproportionately bear the brunt of the most severe forms of poverty and inequality in South Africa. Poor black women face difficulties accessing a number of constitutionally recognised rights, including education, healthcare, land and housing. This, despite far-reaching constitutional protections of women’s rights and socioeconomic rights in South Africa’s Constitution…

Mokgoro’s moving and passionate address created an open environment in which women human-rights defenders and public-interest lawyers voiced their experiences of gendered socioeconomic rights violations in South Africa.
Mokgoro articulated the deep frustration of South African women with the government and broader society’s failure to act to curb and prevent the social, cultural and economic violence suffered by the women of South Africa. “Women constitute most of society. Why can’t we make women’s rights at the forefront? We must structure the rules to meet the needs of women,” Mokgoro said. She was moved to tears as she spoke.

Tumelo Matlwa and Amelia Rawháni-Mosalakae, lawyers at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, spoke to the all-too-common difficulties faced by women in South Africa who are married in community of property and who — because of an under-protective legal system and the disinterest of banks in their welfare — unwillingly take on their husbands’ debts. Poverty, they concluded, “is a form of economic violence that has a disproportionate effect on women”.

Fatima Shabodien, feminist activist and strategy director at the Raith Foundation, spoke directly to the sexual harassment crisis in the nongovernmental organisation (NGO) sector in South Africa, which has received extensive media coverage, and about the responses of a number of organisations to allegations of sexual harassment. …She urged human rights defenders, public interest lawyers, boards of NGOs and donors to demand that allegations of sexual harassment are dealt with expeditiously and effectively and that there are real and lasting consequences for perpetrators.

This was brought into sharp relief by Nonhle Mbuthuma, a community land rights activist and member of the Amadiba Crisis Committee. It is primarily women, Mbuthuma indicated, who are risking their lives and wellbeing by signing affidavits to go to court to fight against the use of their land for mining in the name of economic development. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/11/25/the-human-rights-defenders-in-ais-2018-write-for-rights-campaign/]

Mokgoro’s intervention was aimed at encouraging lawyers, judges and government officials to reverse this practice that often renders women invisible, thus limiting the transformative potential of the Constitution in their lives. Mokgoro called for an “engendering” of socioeconomic rights towards the social and economic liberation of women from the feminisation of poverty, citing Professor Sandra Fredman.

As young human-rights defenders, we are inspired by Mokgoro’s life, love, learning and labour through which she continues to contribute to the creation of a nonsexist society in which the oppressive effects of patriarchy are eliminated. We take this opportunity, in “Women’s Month”, to remember all those women, who, like Mokgoro, have struggled against the odds to bring us to this point.

  • The many women who risked their lives fighting apartheid and colonialism, including the thousands of women who marched to the Union Buildings in 1956, demanding that the apartheid government withdraw pass laws.
  • The women who fought to secure a seat at the table during our constitutional negotiations despite their initial marginalisation and ensured that women’s rights are now afforded significant constitutional protection;
  • The women who continue to campaign tirelessly for women’s reproductive rights and against gender-based violence.
  • The women public interest lawyers who bring women’s socioeconomic rights cases to our courts.
  • The women in grassroots social movements around the country who continue to claim their constitutional rights and insist that they are written into the story of our constitutional rights jurisprudence.
  • The women in homes around the country giving their love and labour on a daily basis to ensure that care work that is so crucial to our families and communities is undertaken.
  • The women in townships, urban centres and rural areas around the country who work as domestic workers, community health workers, informal traders and farm workers and many other precarious jobs; who sacrifice spending time with their own families to provide them with the basic necessities of life in the absence of sufficient support from the state.
  • The women of Marikana, who are still fighting for simple justice for their murdered husbands and partners and their decimated families, seven years after the Marikana massacre.

………

As Toni Morrison said: “If there’s a [story] that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Mokgoro has reminded us that the story of the constitutional realisation of women’s socioeconomic rights has yet to be fully written. And she has inspired us to continue — alongside the many women activists currently doing so —to write it.

https://mg.co.za/article/2019-08-23-00-sas-women-are-fighting-for-social-justice-remarkable-women

Hell and Hope: a documentary film about three women who escaped ISIS and made a new life in Germany

August 13, 2019

‘Hell & Hope’. This documentary is filmed in Germany in 2018, where 1,100 Yazidi survivors of ISIS brutalities found refuge. There, they have managed to rebuild shattered lives even as mothers and sisters are missing – presumed enslaved or killed – fathers and brothers dead. Before it was too late for Salwa in Iraq’s Sinjar, before the militants came, she says it was Yazidi men who prevented them from running.The men refused to run despite their wives asking them to. ‘We men don’t run away, we stay and fight’. But the women didn’t know how to drive, so they couldn’t run either. I doubt if in all of Sinjar, even four women know how to drive – if they knew how to drive, they would have escaped and survived. The men could’ve stayed and fought if that was what they wanted. They should have fought and not let us face what we faced.” said Salwa, Yazidi Survivor Knowing how to drive seems like a small thing, in the grand scale of what was happening in Iraq and Syria. And yet it is that small independence they were denied that might have made all the difference.

The camera follows three women – Lamiya, Salwa and Bazi – as they go about their lives in Germany; to classes, to work. Lamiya was one of two Yazidi women survivors who won the EU’s prestigious human rights award – the Sakharov Prize – for their work in advocating for their besieged community. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/11/01/sakharov-prize-2016-went-ultimately-to-two-yazidi-women/]

……

Despite the gripping horror of each story, there is not much different in the perspectives offered than what we’ve heard over the years now in countless pieces of reporting – the kidnappings, the slavery, the killings. What’s new is the fine detail that comes out when you have multiple women tell broadly the same story; the banality of evil.

Two of the three women who spoke expressed disgust, contempt and were especially distressed by the encouragement given to Daesh terrorists by their wives. It was felt as a deeper betrayal, even though Salwa explains why they did it: “What we saw was that the women encouraged their husbands. This is why I always say that women should see the world and get an education. They controlled women’s minds. What was Daesh telling their wives? They would say that women don’t go to heaven, that a woman is incomplete. Only men go to heaven, so in this life, women must please their husbands, and when they go to heaven, they can ask for their wives to join them. After a Daesh militant kills Yazidis, because they are infidels, he will go to heaven and if he is satisfied with his wife, he will ask for her to come.”

..how did they make it out of that hell? The German government reached out. “The girls did not apply for asylum. The government of the German state of Baden Württemberg came up with a special quota program to give girls, children and other victims a direct residence permit for 3 years.” Amish Srivastava, Director, Hell & Hope…

Watching the documentary is an exhausting experience, but the viewer is forewarned. One of the first lines that appear on the screen is “Girls risked their lives to escape Islamic State captivity. Few succeeded.”

https://www.thequint.com/entertainment/movie-reviews/hell-and-hope-isis-yazidi-women-escaped

Gladys Mmari is African Human Rights Defender of the Month (July)

August 8, 2019

On 7 August 2019 DefendDefenders’ blog annouinced that Gladys Mmari, Tanzania, was chosen as Human Rights Defender of the Month July 2019:

Gladys Mmari is a driven Tanzanian human rights defender (HRD), and the founder of MAFGE (Male Advocacy For Gender Equality) – a non-governmental organisation (NGO) focused on women empowerment through educating both women and men. “So much of the work that I do is cultural conversation. We have grown up talking about these issues among women, but now, I have to work with men as well – making it more challenging,” Mmari stresses. She fosters the idea that male voices should be heard, and educated, in women’s rights, and that it is important to establish an equitable understanding between the genders, while breaking down gender stereotypes. “We need to stop romanticising the idea of women empowerment, and co-empower one another to achieve the goals of an equal world,” Mmari affirms.

After obtaining a law degree, she worked as a human rights researcher in Tanzania, with a focus on the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and indigenous rights. Then, she worked for AfricAid, an NGO specialised in cultivating leadership in young women and girls. She recalls a young boy who, following one of her sessions, asked her why he could not participate in the dialogues. He also wanted to boost women and girls’ rights. “It was a turning point for me,” Mmari says. “The time has come to work together and empower each other to revisit the many socio-cultural constraints that have stopped us from equality.” Her organisation MAFGE was hereby born.

She pinpoints numerous challenges faced in her work. “It is challenging to mobilise men to join, to ensure impact to women empowerment.” Furthermore, “most organisations that deal with women empowerment want to fund women organisations. And they do not want to see men in women organisations.”

She also points out the political situation in Tanzania as a great hurdle. Political rallies in the state deviate and misconceive the importance of HRDs, putting them at risk. As she expresses a sincere concern for Tanzanian HRDs, she mentions that the government is currently registering all NGOs under a single entity. “Here there is potential importance of this initiative, as this could be used for something productive such as acting as a more centralised human rights platform allowing more structured approaches, information passage, and funding opportunities. It is a step forward, unless it is a political interest”.

Gladys will continue to fight for women’s rights. “Women are born into unequal societies, and their achievements are unacknowledged and their potential left untapped [..] I can imagine my children and grandchildren living in a world with equal rights, and that they’ll get the opportunities and securities that I missed as a woman. That’s what keeps me going.”

Through MAFGE, she is also running a crowdfunding campaign, to strengthen gender equality in Tanzania.

Human Rights Defender of the Month (July 2019): Gladys Mmari

#MeToo movement leaders win Sydney Peace Prize 2019

May 6, 2019

Activist Tarana Burke speaks during the during the TIME 100 Summit, April 23, 2019,
Activist Tarana Burke founded the #MeToo movement in 2006. Source: AAP

SBS reports that the founder of the global #MeToo movement, Tarana Burke, and one of the leading faces of the Australian movement, Tracey Spicer, have been jointly awarded the Sydney Peace Prize for their work in the #MeToo movement. [For more on this and other awards: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/sydney-peace-prize]. The two human rights defenders have received the award for their work in revealing and protesting against sexual harassment, particularly the widespread 2017 investigations into sexual harassment in the media industry.

Tracey Spicer addresses the UsToo lunch at the Westin Hotel in Perth, 2018.

Tracey Spicer has been one of the spearheads of Australia’s movement against sexual harassment. AAP

Ms Burke said that receiving the peace prize highlights the prevalence of sexual violence and strengthens belief that the issue can be eradicated.  “The #MeToo movement will continue this work until we shift the culture to one that believes that every person, no matter their identity or circumstance, has the right to consent and safety,” Ms Burke said.

Ms Spicer greatly contributed to revealing sexual harassment in the Australian media industry, through work investigating multiple allegations of sexual harassment and bullying by Australian TV personality Don Burke.  Ms Spicer expressed her “tremendous honour” in accepting the Sydney Peace Prize alongside Ms Burke. “I dedicate this prize to everyone who is a survivor of sexual violence: your voices are being heard.” Ms Spicer also created Now Australia in 2018 to support survivors who have been sexually harassed, and to support the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment being led by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/16/civicus-publishes-report-on-women-human-rights-defenders-and-the-struggle-against-silencing/

Many NGO participants denied visa to attend Commission on the Status of Women in New York

March 21, 2019

Kena Betancur / Getty Images

reports on 20 March 2019 that many women who were slated to participate in the UN Commission on the Status of Women have been denied visas, especially lawyers, activists, and women who deliver reproductive health care services from African and Middle Eastern countries that fell under Donald Trump’s travel ban.

The US is obliged under a 70-year-old treaty to not restrict people or NGOs from attending the UN headquarters. BuzzFeed News is yet to receive a response from the US Mission to the UN regarding the total number of visas that have been denied this year. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/18/irans-election-to-a-un-gender-equality-body-should-not-obscure-the-real-work/]

The International Service for Human Rights said it was aware of at least 41 women who have been denied visas to attend the conference this year — but this figure is said to be only “the tip of the iceberg” and likely to increase.

Women who wanted to attend CSW this year from countries like Iran, Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Syria were asked to provide supporting documents like marriage certificates, proof of property ownership, letters stating employment status, proof of finances, and even proof of birth certificates or proof showing that they have children, according to the petition.

Lyndal Rowlands, advocacy officer with the UN-accredited organization CIVICUS, told BuzzFeed News that among all the people that were denied visas, women from countries that fell under the Trump administration’s travel ban were disproportionately affected. “Last year and this year we have also heard of women from Pakistan and Nepal who were denied visas,” she said. …Most of the women applying for visas, Rowlands said, had not traveled to the US before — a deliberate decision by organizers who wanted a diverse range of women present at the United Nations, not just pundits and experts who travel all the time but women who work at the grassroots.

It’s essential that women who are at the front lines working on women’s rights are present when their rights and the rights of the women they serve are being discussed,” she said. “Governments and UN officials that attend the conference can make better policies when they are informed by the experiences of women who face some of the biggest uphill battles when it comes to fighting for gender equality — for example, delegates who were unable to attend include lawyers and advocates who represent women who have been imprisoned for their activism, [and] women who deliver reproductive health care services.”

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/nishitajha/un-women-conference-visas-denied

Iran’s election to a UN ‘Gender Equality’ body should not obscure the real work

March 18, 2019

UN Commission on the Status of Women opening session, March 2019. Photo: Li Muzi/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved.

Anne Marie Goetz in Open Democracy of 13 March 2019 goes in more depth on what the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York can do and points our that  “Never before has social protection – pensions, health insurance, social security, child benefit, parental leave – been addressed by the CSW. Achieving progress on these issues is threatened by both religious and market fundamentalisms – though a number of states including Lebanon, Namibia, and Uruguay are resisting this backlash.“…

The US, Bahrain and Malaysia have reiterated during this week’s CSW discussions that the family – not the state – is the main source of social protection for many women. This is what I’d call a ‘family fallback’ approach which, combined with cuts to public services, requires women to expand their mothering roles to pick up the slack. Some countries, including Russia and Saudi Arabia, defend this maternal focus as a national cultural preference. The US is now among those supporting this view, arguing that any proposals on women’s rights should only be applied ‘as nationally appropriate’. This allows the notion of ‘national sovereignty’ to trump global standards on gender equality.

But the US position is so extreme that Shannon Kowalski, advocacy and policy director at the International Women’s Health Coalition, told me it’s expected that “major fractures will emerge” even with its conservative friends. Few developing countries can stomach the Trump government’s drift towards abstinence as the foundation of family planning.

Moreover, the US’s refusal to participate in the 2018 Global Compact for Immigration discussions has alienated countries such as the Philippines, Mexico and Indonesia, which have proposed, for instance, that social security benefits earned by immigrant women should be portable and redeemable when they return home.

A diverse counter-movement against the current global ‘illiberal drift’ is also visible at this year’s CSW. The ‘Buenos Aires Group’, consisting of many South American states (notably Argentina, Chile and Uruguay), has emerged as a defender of LGBTIQ rights and a skeptic about privatisation of public services. This year Tunisia and Lebanon, in the Arab states group, and South Africa, Namibia, Liberia and Cape Verde in the ‘Africa Group’ of countries, are championing progressive positions on women’s rights as well. This support from the Global South vitally shows that the gender equality agenda is not just the concern of the usual suspects in the North – Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and the EU.

https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/5050/religious-and-market-fundamentalisms-threaten-gender-equality-un-summit/

CIVICUS publishes report on Women Human Rights Defenders and the struggle against silencing

March 16, 2019

WHRDs PolicyBrief

Defence of Humanity: Women Human Rights Defenders and the struggle against silencing”

In recent years, combined with existing threats, the rise of right-wing and nationalist populism across the world has led to an increasing number of governments implementing repressive measures against the space for civil society (civic space), particularly affecting women human rights defenders (WHRDs). The increasingly restricted space for WHRDs presents an urgent threat, not only to women-led organisations, but to all efforts campaigning for women’s rights, gender equality and the rights of all people. In spite of these restrictions, WHRDs have campaigned boldly in the face of mounting opposition: movements such as #MeToo #MenAreTrash, #FreeSaudiWomen, #NiUnaMenos, #NotYourAsianSideKick and #AbortoLegalYa show how countless women are working to advance systemic change for equality and justice. More WHRDs across the world are working collectively to challenge structural injustices and promote the realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Their power has been in the collective, despite constant attempts at silencing them. Furthermore, there have been WHRDs recognized for their invaluable contributions to opening civic space and protecting human rights in India, Poland, and Ireland. In the United States, WHRDs have won awards for the environmental activism, and in Iraq for their work in calling for greater accountability for sexual violence during war time.

This policy brief responds to this context and highlights how the participation of WHRDs in defending and strengthening the protection of human rights is critical for transforming traditional gender roles, embedded social norms and patriarchal power structures. WHRDs are leading actions to advance sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR), socioeconomic justice, labour rights and environmental rights. Moreover, WHRDs work to ensure that women are included in political and economic decision-making processes, making clear the disproportionate effects that socioeconomic inequalities have on women and gender non-conforming people.

Download the Report

My blog contains many posts about woman human rights defenders and especially about awards given to them. see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog and use “woman human rights defenders” as search term.

Women Human Rights Defenders in Iraq have to live dangerously

January 7, 2019

Activist Hana Adwar speaks as she follows online news of the the assassination of Tara Fares in Baghdad. (AP)
Activist Hana Adwar (AP)

Human rights activism is a risky business in the Middle East in general but it is more so in Iraq where female activists have been targeted, wrote Oumayma Omar on 6 January 2019, based in Baghdad for the Arab Weekly. A series of killings in 2018 sparked fears of a coordinated campaign to silence successful and outspoken women in Iraq. In August and September 2018, four prominent women were assassinated, including activist Soad al-Ali in Basra and Tara Fares in Baghdad. They had campaigned for women’s freedoms and rights in a conservative, tribal society.

The new political situation in Iraq has been detrimental on all Iraqis, especially women,” said Yanar Mohammed, president of the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) from self-exile in Canada.. “After the US-led invasion (2003), a new political system was created leading to a most sectarian, tribal and religious society where women’s lives don’t have much weight.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/10/01/iraqi-human-rights-defender-yanar-mohammed-laureate-of-2016-rafto-prize/]

Discriminatory practices against women have become a fait accompli and the norm in Iraqi families in rural areas as well as big cities, including Baghdad, after the rise to power of Islamist parties. “They introduced extremist religious ideas based on hatred for women and viewing them as sexual and reproductive tools,” added the human rights defender…Despite intimidations and accusations of promoting secularism and encouraging women to go against their families, OWFI, which provides shelters for women who survive domestic violence, has been expanding since it was established in 2003.

Activist Hana Addour, president of Al-Amal organisation, said entrenched tribal values are still largely applied although Iraq has endorsed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which stipulates freedoms of expression, movement, opinion and the right to choose a partner without force or intimidation……She refuted as “baseless” accusations that activists were provoking women against social traditions. “We did not import our ideas and we do not contest customs or religious texts,” Addour said. “We only seek to implement the constitution by rejecting forced and early marriages and many other matters that we cannot accept under any pretext.”

Women at the frontline for human rights in 2018

December 18, 2018

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Women Human Rights Defenders in Georgia honored with national award

December 4, 2018

On the 30 November, the Kato Mikeladze Awards were held in Georgia to celebrate women’s rights activists in Georgia.

It is not just in Kenya that national human rights award play a role [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/03/human-rights-defenders-in-kenya-honored-with-national-awards/]. In Georgia the Kato Mikeladze Awards recognize women human rights defenders. The Kato Mikeladze award celebrates a young generation of human rights defenders who work to advance gender equality. Nominees included 14 young civic leaders, journalists, researchers and entrepreneurs who advocate for sexual and reproductive rights, gender equality in education, the elimination of gender-based violence and the rights of migrants and minority groups.

Ida Bakhturidze, civic activist and one of the founders of the platform Women from Georgia, received the award in recognition of her achievements in supporting women’s rights and gender equality.

We salute our award winners and nominees for their courage in standing up for equal rights,” stated Louisa Vinton, head of the UN system in Georgia. Stressing the importance for young champions for women’s rights, Nana Pantsulaia, Executive Director of the Women’s Fund in Georgia stated “Georgian women are becoming more vocal across all spheres of life. They make their voice heard in politics, economic activities, education and human rights protection.” Nonetheless, there is still a large deficit of female representation in parliament and many areas of public life in Georgia.

http://georgiatoday.ge/news/13533/Kato-Mikeladze-Awards-Recognizes-Women’s-Rights-Activists-