The need for women human rights defenders is more vital than ever
Today is International Women’s day (8th March), where we celebrate women, including lesbians, bisexual, trans and queer women, girls, and feminine identifying people.
In 2019, the need for women who speak out for human rights are so necessary. Whilst we have seen huge strides for women and girls’ rights, the current political climate, extremism, religious fundamentalism and toxic masculinity means that women, girls, transwomen and feminine identifying people, as well as men and boys, face massive backlash, including violence, when they assert their rights and when women, girls, transwomen and feminine identifying people do not confirm to heternormativity and patriarchal norms.
Over the past week The Commonwealth Equality Network (TCEN) has held one of the biggest convenings of LGBT+ activist across the Commonwealth. The network is full of inspirational and powerful women who are changing the world for women and LGBT+ rights.
Michel Frost, UN Special Rapporteur, said while presenting his annual report to the Human Rights Council: “In many countries, women who dare to speak out for human rights are stigmatised and called bad mothers, terrorists or witches, silenced and marginalised from decision-making and can even be killed. It is particularly worrying that the hostility they face comes not only from State authorities, but also the media, social movements, their own communities and even their family.”
Human rights defenders who are women are often faced with public shaming, attacks on their honour and their reputation, or publishing their personal details on the internet, sexual violence and attacks against their children and loved ones.
Many women who defend human rights face additional adversity to the counterparts who are men. Women often faces threats and obstacles that are formed by gender stereotypes and social perceptions of women.
Michel Frost goes on to stress in his report: “There are no shortcuts to reversing this deplorable situation. We must dismantle harmful gender stereotypes and radically reimagine social constructs of gender to prevent the domination and marginalisation of women”
The Equality & Justice Alliance (EJA) plays an important role in bridging the gap between LGBT+ and women’s movement civil society organisations in Commonwealth countries to advocate for legal and policy changes and assert and demand for the realisation of rights for all women and LGBT+ people. Root causes of gender and SOGIESC based discrimination, negative power and toxic masculinity make the women and LGBT+ movements natural allies.
In a recent forum hosted by the EJA in February 2019 in Cape Town, Neomai Maravuakula gave a presentation which overviewed the Family Health and Safety Study conducted in 2009. The study was on violence against women in the Pacific. The study found 64% percent of every partnered woman have experience physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner, whilst 70% percent of them didn’t tell anyone. Better laws lead to better lives. Changes in laws is the first step to creating changes in social norms, stigma and discrimination based on gender SOGIESC. And, we must go beyond that: governments must not only create better laws, implementation, adequate budgets and sensitisation of service delivery staff is fundamental to ensuring laws create better lives.
The EJA forum is a space for advisors, young people and activists to come together to share ideas and their experiences. Currently 14 countries are participating in the forum which shows a commitment to wanting to bring legal reform, that is much needed, to eliminate discrimination against women, girls, and LGBT+ people.