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Supporting Women Human Rights Defenders - Submission to UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor

Friday May 19

In a recent meeting focused on women human rights defenders (WHRDs), we came together to discuss the daunting challenges faced by WHRDs operating in conflict, post-conflict, or crisis-affected settings. We published our findings in a joint report addressed to UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Mary Lawlor.

With a particular focus on Afghanistan, Argentina, Colombia, and Kenya, the conversation shed light on the immense risks and obstacles WHRDs face whilst striving for justice and human rights in their communities.

The Risky Path of Advocacy and Accountability

Engaging in the vital work of a WHRD inherently carries risks. Efforts to demand accountability and justice for perpetrators of violence or state omissions can lead to imprisonment, disciplinary actions, political consequences, loss of public confidence, and even power shifts. This realization underscores the resilience demonstrated by WHRDs in their pursuit of justice and remains a constant presence.

The Gendered Nature of Challenges in Crisis-Affected Areas

Regardless of country or context, the challenges faced by WHRDs remain remarkably similar. Gender plays a pivotal role in exacerbating and shaping the risks faced by defenders. They encounter various obstacles, including hostilities from governments and communities, impunity, harmful narratives, defamation employing harmful gender stereotypes, targeting of family members, disappearances, hostilities, killings, threats, intimidation, gender-based violence, physical harassment, psychological abuse, lack of legal representation, limited access to remedies, and insufficient recognition and documentation of their struggles.

Unsafe Physical and Virtual Environments

WHRDs operate within socio-economic, religious, political, and patriarchal disparities that create unsafe physical and virtual environments. The lack of regulations around social media platforms and applications amplifies their risks. Media attacks and online abuse often go unrecognised and unpunished The absence of proper investigations and sanctions perpetuates a cycle of silence, hindering WHRDs' work and further marginalizing their voices.

Collaborative Efforts for Change

  • Governments must unite and collaborate with authorities to reduce impunity rates. It is crucial to establish proper investigation processes that hold perpetrators accountable and facilitate access to justice.

  • Bridging the trust and communication gap between WHRDs and governments is essential for the prevention and protection of these individuals in a complex geo-political landscape. Civil society also plays a pivotal role in raising awareness about the work of WHRDs, highlighting their contributions to conflict resolution and actively participating in the development and implementation of strategies to benefit communities.

By recognizing and addressing the risks, we hope that governments and civil society can work together to change this. Empowering WHRDs is not only a matter of justice, but also a catalyst for positive change in conflict-affected communities worldwide.

The report was co-authored by Catalina Dominguez-Fernandez, Natasha Latiff, of SAHR, together with Enjeela from Afghanistan, Jimena Gibertoni and Yamila Carballido from Argentina, Isabella Mwangi and Hagin Watwati from Kenya.

SAHR leads and facilitates joint advocacy with other women and diverse leaders in policy, to shape international standards and norms on SGBV and access to justice.

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