Women’s Rights Are Human Rights - Women Human Rights Defenders
Women activists, trade unionists, lawyers, academics, and all other such women human rights defenders bring to the struggle their own experiences as an oppressed group in defending their own rights and the rights of others who also face discrimination and oppression on the basis of sexuality, race, class, nationality, and so forth.
Women already face a hard task combating this oppression in a patriarchal world which wishes to resign them to the domestic or private sphere. Not only do women get those same threats from corporations or from the state as their male human rights defenders counterparts, they face a backlash from their own communities who seek to invalidate women leaders or punish women for challenging social norms and many such women face violence as a result from within their own homes, communities, and families.
Even though women traditionally have to fight that much harder to get their voices heard, from their own activist groups or movements to the international stage, this is an era where women human rights defenders are making a real impact. As stated by Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders report to the United Nations General Assembly:
“Women defenders have been and remain a vibrant part of the human rights movement. In several countries, women defenders are the leading force in the human rights community.”
From the rural women of the Philippines who are utilising the provisions of International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) as well as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to defend the economic livelihoods of poor farmers who are facing governmental land seizures, to the activists such as those in Uganda who are fighting the practice of “corrective rape” of those women whose sexualities do not fit gender norms – women human rights defenders are fighting back.
Groups such as the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition and the Association for Women’s Rights in Development highlight and join together in solidarity the struggle of women around the world, bringing greater visibility and understanding of women’s rights initiatives into a global movement.
To highlight the campaigns of women human rights defenders is essential for the numerous women who fight for human rights and those men and women who fight for women’s rights who live with the very real threats of harassment, arbitrary imprisonment, rape, or death for their work.
Indeed, violence against women human rights defenders is increasing, particularly given the rise of militarization as well as religious and cultural extremism. As the more “protected”, front line defenders within the human rights movement are often men, the failure of women’s work to be highlighted means a darkness where gender-based crimes and isolation can silence women who seek to challenge the status quo. This is why networks which unite and demand action for women human right’s defenders under threat are so incredibly important.
In 2012, the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, in conjunction with the European Association of Democratic Lawyers and Amnesty International, as supported by donations from various trade unions and law firms, held a Defending Human Rights Defenders Conference in London. The delegates from the Philippines and Palestine discussed the “double oppression” of women alongside social and institutional discrimination of women in various countries. As the DHRD 2012 report explains, women who “speak out” face ostracism, as exemplified by our delegates from the Philippines who described how women’s rights activists in their country “have been portrayed as “witches” or torturers and anti-men”.
One of the four workshops at the DHRD conference was on “marginalised and contested rights”. However, unfortunately only 25 attendees took part in this workshop. Clearly, this exemplifies the “spotlighting” of men within the human rights movements as well as those fighting for more mainstream political rights, rather than women or those who fight for economic, social, cultural, or sexual rights.
As we stand in solidarity our comrades, those women human rights defenders worldwide, we will continue to organise direct action and shine a light on those women who themselves are fighting on numerous fronts to make the world less dark.