Posts Tagged ‘women human rights defenders’

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

New documentary series highlights the struggle of women human rights in Vietnam

August 7, 2019

A new series of video interviews highlights the perspectives and struggles of human rights women in Vietnam.

The 88 Project, an organisation supporting freedom of expression in Vietnam, released the first video of an ongoing interview series with female activists in Vietnam. In the first interview with Pham Doan Trang, a dissident journalist and political activist, she discusses the challenges women face as bloggers and human rights activists: “In general, Vietnamese women are not respected. Not only in democracy activism but in all fields. In democracy activism, female activists are disadvantaged because they get attacked no less than male activists. They get beaten and assaulted. The work they do is no less than their male counterparts. But what they often get from other people is pity. I think it is not respect.” See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/11/18/overview-of-recent-campaigning-for-human-rights-defenders-in-vietnam/

Other women including social activist and blogger Tran Thi Nga, who is currently serving a nine-year prison sentence, have also been seriously injured following physical attacks, often conducted by hired men. Tran Thi Nga’s attack was documented and posted on Youtube with recordings of her being wheeled into a hospital accompanied by her two young children. According to family reports, Tran Thi Nga has been subjected to both physical and psychological harassment after her arrest, receiving death threats and beatings from a cellmate.

According to the 88 Project database, there are currently more than 200 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam with over 30 identifying as female. Bloggers and journalists are frequently arrested and charged for “activities attempting to overthrow the state” or “conducting propaganda against the state”. According to Amnesty International, the Vietnamese government has been conducting a growing crackdown on freedom of expression and peaceful activism over the past few years.

Nguyen Dang Minh Man, a photojournalist and the woman who has served the longest time in prison so far, is expected to be released at the beginning of August.

Angelina Jolie extolls women human rights defenders in new essay

August 6, 2019

On 5 August 2019, Annie Martin wrote that “Angelina Jolie sends love to ‘wicked women‘ (women breaking rules and pushing boundaries) in new essay”

Angelina Jolie reflected on women’s rights and societal expectations in the September issue of Elle. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
The 44-year-old actress reflected on women’s rights and societal expectations in an essay for the September issue of Elle published Monday. Jolie began by asking the question, “What is it about the power of a woman free in mind and body that has been perceived as so dangerous throughout history.” She recounted how accusations of witchcraft have ben used “to control and silence women” in many societies throughout the centuries….”Since time immemorial, women who rebel against what is considered normal by society — even unintentionally — have been labeled as unnatural, weird, wicked, and dangerous. What is surprising is the extent to which this kind of myth and prejudice has persisted throughout the centuries and still colors the world we live in”Jolie discussed how modern women across the globe are considered “wicked” for such behaviors as dancing or singing in public, running for political office, or fighting for human rights. These women are sometimes met with violence, imprisonment or social ostracism. “Female human rights defenders across the world are incarcerated for their political views or for defending themselves or others, with courage I can hardly imagine. For all our modern advances, the independence and creative energy of women is still frequently seen as a dangerous force to be controlled, often in the name of religion, tradition, or culture,” Jolie wrote.

“Looked at in this light, ‘wicked women’ are just women who are tired of injustice and abuse,” she said. “Women who refuse to follow rules and codes they don’t believe are best for themselves or their families. Women who won’t give up on their voice and rights, even at the risk of death or imprisonment or rejection by their families and communities.” “If that is wickedness, then the world needs more wicked women,” the star declared.

For more on Angelina Jolie and her human rights work, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/angelina-jolie/

https://www.upi.com/Entertainment_News/2019/08/05/Angelina-Jolie-sends-love-to-wicked-women-in-new-essay/1591565015424/

Guide to Human Rights Defenders issues at the 41st Human Rights Council starting on 24 June

June 14, 2019

Thanks to the – as always very complete and timely – “Alert to the Human Rights Council’s 41st session” (from 24 June to 12 July 2019) issued by the International Service for Human Rights. I am able to give a short guide to the main items that relate to human rights defenders. To Read the full Alert to the session online click here and stay up-to-date with @ISHRglobal and #HRC41 on Twitter.

Thematic areas of interest:

Sexual orientation and gender identity: The interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) will be held on Monday 24 June at 11:00. The Council will consider the new thematic report of the mandate holder as well as the report of the country visits he made to Georgia and Mozambique. The Council will also consider the renewal of the mandate.

Business and human rights: The Council will hold an interactive dialogue with and consider several reports of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises on 26 June. The Working Group will present a report on the gender dimensions of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the reports of country visits to Thailand and Kenya. The Working Group’s report on the gender dimensions of the Guiding Principles integrates clear recognition that women human rights defenders play a vital role in challenging business-related human rights abuses as well as in promoting and protecting human rights in relation to business activity, including the right to an effective remedy. As a result of this work, women human rights defenders often face gender-specific risks including sexual violence, misogynist public shaming and online harassment. Among its recommendations, the Working Group calls on business enterprises to ensure the meaningful participation of women’s organisations, women human rights defenders and gender experts in all stages of human rights due diligence.

Women human rights defenders and women’s rights: The annual full day discussion on the human rights of women will take place on 27 and  28 June. The discussions will focus this year on violence against women in the world of work, the rights of older women and their economic empowerment. A panel focused on women’s rights and climate change will also be organised, focusing on climate action, best practices and lessons learned. States should place due consideration on the role of women human rights defenders and social movements in this regard, in line with the Human Rights Council resolution focused on environmental human rights defenders adopted in March 2019…
The Council will also hold an interactive dialogue with the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice which focuses on women deprived of liberty (including women human rights defenders in detention, facing travel bans, among other situations), and will consider their reports including a report on the country visits to Honduras and Poland. The Council will hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences on 27 June and will consider her report including the report of her visits to Canada and Nepal.

Reprisals:  In spite of a number of measures, reprisals not only continue, but grow. Item 5 of the Human Rights Council’s agenda provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about reprisals, including specific cases, and for relevant governments to provide updates on cases to the Council on any investigation or action taken toward accountability. During the organisational meeting held on 7 June, the President of the Council stressed the importance of ensuring the safety of those participating in the Council’s work, and the obligation of States to prevent intimidation or reprisals. In line with previous calls, ISHR expects the President of the Human Rights Council to publicly identify and denounce specific instances of reprisals by issuing formal statements, conducting press-briefings, corresponding directly with the State concerned, publicly releasing such correspondence, and insisting on undertakings from the State concerned to investigate, hold the perpetrators accountable and report back to the Council on action taken. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/13/ishr-on-reprisals-un-and-states-must-do-more-to-address-reprisals/]

Other key thematic reports: The Council will hold dedicated debates and consider reports of several mandates relating to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, and the role of human rights defenders in that work area, in some instances involving the renewal of the mandate:

  • The Special Rapporteur on independence of judges and lawyers and on the right to health (including country visits report to Canada and Kyrgyzstan) on 24 June
  • The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association (mandate renewal, reports include country visits to Tunisia and Armenia) on 25 June
  • The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and right to education on 26 June
  • The Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression (including thematic report on surveillance companies and country visit report to Ecuador) on 25 June
  • The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights (including country visits reports to the UK and Laos) on 28 June

In addition, the Council will hold dedicated debates on rights of specific groups including with:

  • The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants (and country visit report to Niger) on 24 June
  • The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons on 28 June (mandate renewal)
  • The Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons (and country visit to Nigeria) on 27 June
  • The Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members on 24 June

Country-specific developments:

China: For more than a year, the international community has had access to credible reports and first-hand testimony of the harassment, surveillance, and mass detention of more than one million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang. Despite the consistent work of the UN human rights mechanisms to review China, ask questions, and make recommendations, there has been no serious or effective response. The Council should take urgent action to seek access, monitoring and reporting of the situation to inform future actions. ..ISHR urges States to act collectively to advance a resolution calling for China to allow access to the region to independent human rights experts and to end country-wide the arbitrary detention of individuals based on their religious beliefs or political opinions.

Sudan: In response to the gross and systematic human rights violations occurring in Sudan, ISHR andother NGOs have urged Council Member States to urgently hold a Special Session on the human rights situation in Sudan. The Council should urgently establish an international fact-finding mission to document violations, identify perpetrators and push for accountability, in line with calls made by a group of Special Procedures including the Independent Expert on Sudan. Since 3 June, Rapid Security Forces, riot police and national security officers violently dispersed peaceful protesters in Khartoum as well as in different cities across Sudan. The MENA Women Human Rights Defenders’ Coalition reported that at least 113 people have died including women human rights defenders. Civil society documented cases of rape, attacks on hospitals, with hundreds injured and missing.  The Transitional Military Council is enforcing a ban on communication causing an internet black out. The High Commissioner has deplored the killings and proposed ‘the rapid deployment of a UN human rights monitoring team’ to Sudan.

Saudi Arabia: The June session provides an important opportunity for the Council to follow up on the joint statement delivered on behalf of 36 States [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/08/saudi-arabia-for-first-time-openly-criticized-in-un-human-rights-council/] .. Seven women’s rights activists have been provisionally released, but they are still facing trial, and other women human rights defenders are still in detention, with the human rights situation on the ground deteriorating markedly on other fronts, including through increased use of the death penalty and the authorities’ continuing crackdown on freedom of expression.  [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/28/3-saudi-women-human-rights-defenders-released-but-for-how-long-and-what-about-the-others/]
The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions will present her findings of the investigation into the killing of Khashoggi. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/26/other-members-of-the-uns-khashoggi-investigation-team-named/%5D…..ISHR calls on States to advance a Human Rights Council resolution establishing a monitoring mechanism over the human rights violations in the country and calling explicitly for the immediate and unconditional release of all human rights defenders including the detained women human rights defenders and to drop all charges against them, including those provisionally released. ISHR considers the March joint statement as a first step towards more sustained and dedicated review by the Council in its efforts to hold its members accountable.

The Philippines: The Philippines is one of the most dangerous countries for human rights defenders. Several NGOs callied on the Council to advance accountability for human rights violations by adopting a resolution establishing an independent international investigation into extrajudicial killings and this call was strongly endorsed by a group of independent UN experts who condemned a ‘sharp deterioration in the situation of human rights across the country, including sustained attacks on people and institutions defending human rights.’ [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/07/philippines-labour-rights-defender-dennis-sequena-shot-dead-while-meeting-with-workers/]

Egypt: Despite the Egyptian government’s assurances to the African Commission civil society faced restrictions, reprisals and intimidation for engaging or seeking to engage with the Commission. These restrictions and reprisals happened in a context where the Government of Egypt crushes dissent, discourages public participation in public affairs and punishes people who dare to claim basic human rights. Individuals and communities who engaged with the Special Rapporteur on the right to housing during her visit in September 2018 faced systematic reprisals. All other scheduled visits by the Special Procedures have been postponed as a result. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/07/egypt-denounced-for-reprisals-against-human-rights-defenders-who-talked-to-visiting-un-delegation/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/12/reprisal-against-egyptian-human-rights-defender-mohamed-soltan/]. ISHR calls on States to condemn the acts of intimidation and reprisals for civil society engaging with the African Commission and with the Special Procedures, and recall Egypt’s obligations to prevent acts of intimidation and reprisals, investigate the allegations and provide victims with effective remedy.

Burundi: The Commission of Inquiry on Burundi will present its oral briefing on 2 July. The closing of the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is regrettable and worrying. In addition, ISHR remains seriously concerned over the breaches to due process observed in all of human rights defender Germain Rukuki’s legal proceedings since his arrest without warrant on 13 July 2017. [See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/29/ngo-statement-condemns-new-irregularities-in-the-case-of-germain-rukuki-burundi/]. For more information on the situation of human rights defenders in Burundi, check ISHR Briefing Paper for the UPR here.

Other country situations: The High Commissioner will present her oral update to the Council on 24 June. The Council will hear reports on and is expected to consider resolutions addressing a range of country situations, in some instances involving the renewal of the relevant expert mandates. These include:

  • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus (mandate renewal) on 1 July
  • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea (mandate renewal) on 2 July
  • Interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi and the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar on 2 July
  • Enhanced interactive dialogue with the government of Sudan and OHCHR on 9 July
  • Enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo and interactive dialogue with the team of experts on the situation in the Kasai region on 9 July
  • Interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation in Ukraine on 10 July
  • Interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Central African Republic on 10 July
  • Enhanced interactive dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner on Venezuela on 10 July
  • Interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar on 10 July
  • First oral update and enhanced interactive dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner on Nicaragua on 11 July
  • Oral update by the High Commissioner on cooperation with Georgia on 11 July

Adoption of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports: During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on New Zealand, Afghanistan, Chile, Viet Nam, Uruguay, Yemen, Vanuatu, North Macedonia, Comoros, Slovakia, Eritrea, Cyprus, Dominican Republic and Cambodia.

Resolutions to be presented to the Council’s 41st session: At the organisational meeting resolutions were announced (States sponsoring the resolution in brackets); it is possible that more resolutions could be presented at this session. These include:

  • The human rights situation in Belarus (European Union)
  • Human rights of internally displaced persons (Austria, Honduras, Uganda)
  • Human rights and climate change (Bangladesh, Philippines, Viet Nam)
  • Human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Uruguay).
  • Elimination of discrimination against women and girls (Colombia, Mexico)
  • Rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association (Czech Republic, Indonesia, Lithuania, Maldives, Mexico)
  • New and emerging and digital technologies and human rights (Republic of Korea, Austria, Brazil, Denmark, Morocco, Singapore)
  • Accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women(Canada)
  • The human rights situation in Syria (France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Netherlands, Qatar, Turkey, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)

There wil be again many side events at the Council, on which I will report separately.

Read here the three year programme of work of the Council with supplementary information.
Read here ISHR’s recommendations on the the key issues that are or should be on the agenda of the UN Human Rights Council in 2019.

FORUM-ASIA: human rights defenders face severe risks in Asia

June 4, 2019

The latest report by the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) found that human rights defenders in Asia are at high risks. “In Asia, we are witnessing more and more human rights defenders being subjected to increasingly severe forms of violations, particularly killing, simply for defending human rights,” said Sejin Kim, Programme Manager of FORUM-ASIA.

The report titled “Defending In Numbers: Resistance in the Face of Repression exposes 688 cases of human rights violations affecting 4,854 people across 18 different countries in Asia, and analyses current and emerging trends of violations against human rights defenders, including journalists, civil society organisations, advocates and their family members, throughout 2017-2018.

Besides that, the report also reveals that “violations have become more extreme, and the safe space in which human rights defenders can work have increasingly shrunk”. State and non-state actors openly threatened these defenders, something which played a key role in creating a dangerous climate for them. In fact, according to the report, there were 164 cases where physical violence was used against human rights defenders, and 61 of these cases resulted in death. The majority of these cases occurred in the Philippines (48 per cent) and India (25 per cent). Concerningly, most of the perpetrators of these killings remain unknown, a reality which perpetuates impunity in the region…. In the period under review, a staggering 327 cases of judicial harassment were recorded across 17 countries which include the (arbitrary) arrest and detention of human rights defenders; the misuse of the law and the passage of repressive laws aimed at criminalising human rights defenders; and the denial of a fair trial.

..

Although threats and harassment endanger all defenders, but certain groups are particularly targeted like prodemocracy defenders, who are vocal critics of state repression; and land and environmental rights defenders, who are targeted by state and non-state actors competing to access natural resources and/or implement mega-development projects. Women human rights defenders, who challenge gender norms and power structures, also ranked high among the most affected groups. Gender-based violence, including online attacks and harassment, were common tactics used against women human rights defenders.

Human rights defenders face severe risks including killing in Asia, says FORUM-ASIA

Five Laureates of the Right Livelihood Foundation speak about woman human rights defenders

May 22, 2019

On 6 March 2019, two days before international women’s day, the Right Livelihood Award Foundation brought together 5 women Laureates from around the world to discuss ‘local realities and shared global challenges’ facing Women Human Rights Defenders. The side event, organised in parallel to the Human Rights Council’s fortieth session, was co-sponsored by CIVICUS, Human Rights House Foundation, International Network for Human Rights, and supported by the International Platform against impunity and the International Dalit Solidarity Network.

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Fabiana Leibl, Sima Samar, Mozn Hassan, Helen Mack Chang, Ruth Manorama, and Charlotte Dos Santos Pruth. Photo by: Amy Au

Here are a few takeaways from the discussion:

Fabiana Leibl, Head of Protection and Advocacy at the Right Livelihood Award Foundation, opened the meeting by describing the worsening trend for women human rights defenders who are prevented from working, not only because they are advocating for human rights, but also because they are women. As the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders noted in his recent report, this trend is often fuelled by deeply rooted ideas about ‘who women are, and who they should be’. Nahla Haidar, a member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, remarked that women are frequently ‘targeted with charges of counter-terrorism’, which allows their oppressors to act with impunity.

Sima Samar, Chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and a leading women human rights defender in Afghanistan, emphasised that achieving parity in educating people of all genders was a key starting point. As we approach the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, she explained, “we need female human rights defenders in order to really change the environment on the ground, and to make the environment conducive for the women to exercise their basic human rights.” She called for an end to the misuse and misappropriation of culture, tradition, and religion as justifications for male dominance. Access to paid work, reproductive services, and justice mechanisms was also identified as crucial in the struggle for gender equality. Samar received the Right Livelihood Award in 2012 “for her longstanding and courageous dedication to human rights, especially the rights of women, in one of the most complex and dangerous regions in the world.” See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/08/31/major-piece-by-departing-high-commissioner-in-the-economist/ 

Mozn Hassan, founder of Nazra for Feminist studies, is one of the defendants in the well-known NGO Foreign Funding case targeting civil society organisations in Egypt. Her career’s focus on sexual and reproductive rights adds additional restrictions to her work. In July 2018, she was charged with, among other things, establishing an entity in violation of the law and receiving foreign funding with the intention of harming national security. The charges – which are clearly politically motivated – could lead to life imprisonment. Hassan could not attend the event due to a travel ban imposed by the Egyptian government since 2016. However, via video message, she conveyed the serious dangers for human rights defenders, ranging from asset freezing to arrests, arbitrary detention and forced disappearances. On top of this, women must confront gender-specific threats from state and non-state actors. As Mozn noted, “women are facing various gender-based violence in their custodies from harassment to threats of rape.” Mozn Hassan received the Right Livelihood Award together with Nazra in 2016 “for asserting the equality and rights of women in circumstances where they are subject to ongoing violence, abuse and discrimination.” See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/02/right-livelihood-has-to-go-to-egypt-to-hand-mozn-hassan-her-2016-award/

Helen Mack Chang, who has persistently sought justice and an end to impunity in Guatemala as head of the Myrna Mack Foundation, emphasised that women often suffer multiple dimensions of discrimination. Indigenous women, for instance, “suffer double discrimination (…) when defending their land or territory against the claims of international corporations.” She noted that recent years have seen a resurgence of conservatism and of global threats to the rule of law and democracy. Corruption and impunity, she stressed, go to the heart of this challenge, in Guatemala and elsewhere. Helen Mack Chang received the Right Livelihood Award in 1992 “for her personal courage and persistence in seeking justice and an end to the impunity of political murderers.

Ruth Manorama is India’s most effective organiser of, and advocate for, Dalit women, belonging to the “scheduled castes” sometimes also called “untouchables.” She is, among other things, President of the National Alliance of Women (NAWO) and National Convenor to the National Federation of Dalit Women. Ruth called for counter-narratives to combat the negative view of human rights defenders in the media. In India, for instance, activists are routinely called “enemies of the State,” “militants,” “anti-nationals,” “traitors,” and “terrorists.” She stated: “I am a patriot. I am an Indian citizen. I must enjoy my constitutional rights. (…) Protecting human rights defenders is a state obligation.” Dalit women are particularly vulnerable to systematic sexual abuse at work, forced sexual slavery such as the Devadasi system, and forced labour. Manorama received the Right Livelihood Award in 2006 “for her commitment over decades to achieving equality for Dalit women, building effective and committed women’s organisations and working for their rights at national and international levels.” See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/11/07/forum-asia-25th-anniversary-event-in-geneva-on-16-november-2016/

Charlotte Dos Santos Pruth is an Advocacy and Policy Advisor at Kvinna till Kvinna, a Swedish organisation working to strengthen and promote women’s organisations in several regions of the world. She presented the findings of their recent report, “Suffocating the movement – shrinking space for women’s rights”, which identifies the main effects of shrinking civic space for women. “A strong feminist movement is the single most important factor to advance women’s rights and gender equality”, she stated, adding that women often have limited access to formal decision-making processes. “This makes defending civil society space particularly crucial”, Dos Santos Pruth continued by saying. She suggested that addressing the lack of funding for women’s organisations would be an important first step.

The speakers brought together experiences from very different cultural contexts. Nevertheless, there were important parallels in their descriptions of defending human rights on the ground. The panellists all showed that the crackdown on women human rights defenders must be viewed within the context of other global trends including growing material inequality, counter-terrorism, corporate impunity, environmental degradation, and corruption. As Sima Samar pointed out, in this worrying global landscape, international solidarity must remain an important principle. In her words: “We don’t only need women in positions of power, we need feminist women; women who don’t support male domination in order to keep their own space and position”.

rewatch the event:

 

#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/

Angelina Jolie addressed UN forcefully on crucial role of women

May 4, 2019

Angelina Jolie Addresses Women's Rights at the UN

UNTV via AP Video

And just in case you missed it, on Friday 29 March 2019, Angelina Jolie warned at the UN that the world “will remain stuck in a cycle of violence and conflicts” as long as nations continue to put almost every other issue ahead of women’s equality, rights and participation. In her speech to the annual meeting of foreign and defense ministers, the Oscar-winning actress focused primarily on women, but she also talked about the importance of multilateralism and the growing refugee crisis. She showed again that she is an excellent speaker [see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/27/angelina-jolie-gives-2017-sergio-vieira-de-mello-lecture-on-15-march-2017/].

Jolie, who is a special envoy for the UNHCR, added in a keynote address to a ministerial meeting on U.N. peacekeeping that “denying half a population representation in peace negotiations or in government is not the route to long-term stability.” There are many examples around the world of successful and inspiring women, she said, “but women and girls are still the majority of the victims of war,” over half the world’s refugees, and “the vast majority” of victims of rape and sexual violence. If the world accepted the principle that those affected by a problem should be charged with determining a solution, Jolie said, “then the majority of the world’s peace negotiators, foreign ministers and diplomats would be women.” But she quickly said: “We all know the reality.” The reality, Jolie added, is that unequal power relations, “abuse of power, gender bias, violence and lack of justice” have kept many women in a subordinate and vulnerable position internationally.

She pointed to missile strikes on schools and hospitals, families bombed in their homes, chemical weapons dropped on neighborhoods, besieged areas unable to get aid, and mass rapes.

We seem incapable of upholding minimum standards of humanity in many parts of the world,” Jolie said. “That this comes at a time when humankind is richer and more technologically advanced than ever before is all the more painful.”

She recalled that there were fewer than 20 million displaced people when she started working with the UNHCR. “Today there are over 65 million people displaced, and the numbers are rising,” Jolie said. ” Peacekeepers who commit violations must be investigated and prosecuted, she said, and there must be no impunity for crimes committed against women and girls during conflict. Above all, Jolie said, the world needs to understand “that women are themselves protectors: As mothers. As peacekeepers. As human rights defenders.” “As long as we continue to put almost every other issue ahead of women’s rights and participation we will remain stuck in a cycle of violence and conflict. We will have learned nothing. And our institutions will count for less than they should,” Jolie said.

Role of women in peace and security being rolled back (WSP@20)

April 30, 2019

On 22 March 2019 (a global gender, peace and security consultant and a former executive director of the New York–based NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security) posted this piece “The WPS agenda is almost 20, but it’s not time to celebrate yet”:

Next year, the United Nations women, peace and security (WSP) agenda turns 20, and with that will come high-level commemorations to mark this important anniversary. However, 2020 can’t be viewed only through a celebratory lens, as fundamental challenges continue to plague the agenda. Women’s civil-society organisations working on peacebuilding, conflict prevention and gender equality remain drastically underfunded, even though investment in gender equality is a proven conflict-prevention strategy. Women human rights defenders are increasingly targeted, while the international community remains largely silent. Of most concern, women also continue to be locked out from formal peace processes……

The recognition [in 2015/16] that all crises and conflicts have gendered elements is a positive development that can be attributed to the collective push in 2015 for context-specific implementation of the WPS agenda. Then came 2017 and the US-led cuts to peacekeeping budgets. The NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security was among the organisations to raise the alarm that gender posts were being disproportionally cut and downgraded. That came less than 18 months after the Security Council adopted resolution 2242, its eighth WPS resolution, which among other things called for the systematic deployment of senior gender advisers to provide strategic gender advice throughout all phases of missions and processes.

In 2017, language in the mission mandate for Afghanistan relating to women’s rights and participation and girls’ education was removed under the guise of streamlining the mandate. Fortunately, those provisions were reinserted in the 2018 version of the mandate following significant advocacy from WPS civil-society organisations and key council members. The removal of gender roles and WPS references in mandates showed how fragile gains are and how easily gender provisions will be cut for cost saving or political expediency.

A study commissioned by UN Women found that women’s participation increases the likelihood of a peace agreement lasting 15 years by 35%. That finding is systematically referenced by WPS-friendly governments as evidence of the agenda’s importance. Despite all the positive statements, women continue to be absent from peace negotiations. Peace agreements also remain devoid of gender provisions.

We only have to look at the past four months to get a grim picture of how exclusive talks continue to be. Libyan women were largely missing from high-level peace talks held in Italy in late November 2018. Yemeni women were sidelined from the January 2019 talks in Stockholm, and Afghan women were excluded from the closed US–Taliban talks in Doha. Over the past few years, Afghan women have repeatedly warned of the dire consequences that closed-door talks with the Taliban could have for women’s rights.

Last year, the UN secretary-general reported that 2017 was the first time in two years that most of the signed peace agreements that the UN had helped to broker lacked any gender references. Expressing his concern at this downward trend, he called for a redoubling of efforts to promote gender-inclusive processes and agreements. The question remains: how has this backsliding been permitted, given that so many national governments now align themselves with the WPS agenda, have implemented national action plans and support the proliferation of regional women mediators’ networks. It seems that WPS continues to be sidelined in favour of other political priorities.

The WPS agenda was established as a result of a groundswell of advocacy from women activists around the world demanding equal access to peace and security decision-making. Nineteen years later, the fight to ensure women’s participation has yet to be won, but women peacebuilders haven’t given up. In 2020, the resilience and determination of conflict-affected women should be celebrated.

Essential elements of the WPS agenda are being roadblocked due to a lack of political action. It’s time for states that call themselves friends of the agenda to draw a line in the sand and cease supporting talks that exclude women.

Women human rights defenders and journalists in Iraq receive training in Safety and Digital Security

April 29, 2019

To strengthen the resilience of Iraqi women journalists and women human rights defenders against online and offline gender-based attacks, Internews conducts workshops and other activities that focus on digital and physical security:

Iraq is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists according to Reporters without Borders, ranking 160 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index. Women journalists and activists in Iraq have a particularly difficult time due to online threats and attacks that adversely affect their ability to express themselves freely and advocate effectively. Women have witnessed an escalation in online abuse over the past few years, not just in numbers, but also in methods and sophistication. The risk of harassment and gender-based attacks online is not limited to the digital space as research has shown that online abuse and stalking often escalate into real world physical violence if left unaddressed.

In an interview with The New Arab, Hala ‘Asif, a 24-year-old journalist working as a correspondent for the channel NRT in Baghdad, noted that, “Foreign journalists often investigate political affairs in Iraq, which sometimes is impossible for us to cover as it would be too dangerous and would prevent us from working safely in our country. I would like to go to other provinces in Iraq and carry out investigations about relevant issues, but as a young woman it would cost too much to take care of my safety.”

To address the issue of women’s safety in Iraq, Internews, with funding from the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL), is using a multi-pronged approach – building local networks, coordinating advocacy, and conducting targeted journalism trainings on gender-sensitive issues. Internews’ program, Women Voices (Aswat Al-Maraa), aims to challenge societal attitudes that stigmatize survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) by supporting journalists and women human rights defenders to shed light on sensitive issues through coordinated reporting and advocacy. The program works with female Iraqi journalists and media outlets to create a nationwide coalition of women journalists and human rights defenders to strengthen their resilience against gender-based attacks and build the capacity of journalists to report on sensitive human rights and SGBV.

Within the Women’s Voices project, Internews has conducted so far two training-of-trainers (TOT) workshops that focus on the digital and physical security of the project participants. Through a peer-to-peer program, TOT trainees have trained eighty women from Erbil, Najaf, and Halabja how to protect themselves from threats online and in their everyday lives.

….Another participant, from the Erbil workshop, said, “Females often have to face extreme scrutiny of their presence online, and are threatened with death in some instances for photos posted online without family consent or that are considered inappropriate; these kinds of workshops are incredibly important for every female in this country.”

To support the voices and participation of women in some of the world’s most challenging places, Internews’ MENA team ensures the implementation of digital as well as a physical security trainings in all of its projects across the region. ​

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/05/09/defenddefenders-launched-new-security-manual-for-human-rights-defenders-in-africa/

https://reliefweb.int/report/iraq/uplifting-voices-women-supporting-their-physical-safety-and-digital-security