Women's Empowerment and Leadership Development for Democratisation

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International: Defending Women, Defending Rights

International Campaign on Women Human Rights Defenders.
Mahboobeh Abbasgholizadeh, a woman activist in Iran and editor of Farzaneh (the first womens studies journal in Iran) is in prison upon the order of Tehrans General Prosecutor.

For more than two weeks now, Mahboobeh has been held without any formal charges, and she has been denied access to legal counsel or any visitors. Her only apparent offense is her activism and strong linkages with international womens rights movement. Fereshteh Ghazi, another woman journalist writing on womens issues for a daily newspaper in Iran, was also arrested.

Irene Fernandez, a Malaysian woman activist who has been fighting for women workers rights, has been prosecuted and convicted by the Malaysian government in a case, which has been dragged on for eight years. She is being prosecuted for releasing comprehensive documentation of the abuses against migrant workers in detention in Malaysia. She is currently appealing her case before the court.

Claudia Duque, a journalist and human rights defender in Colombia has received several death threats because of her work. On November 17, Claudia received an anonymous phone call during which a man threatened her stating "though it hurts us, we have no other option but to kill your daughter, even if you go around in an armoured car, your daughter will suffer, we are going to burn her alive, we are going to scatter her fingers all over the place."

Ms. Hina Jilani, the UN Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders, in her report to the UN Commission on Human Rights in 2003 pointed out: that women constitute almost half of the human rights defenders who are subjected to torture, murder and violence as a consequence of their work in defense of human rights, not only of women but of all communities that suffer discrimination and exploitation.

At the consultative workshop on Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) held in Dakar, Senegal, 18-19 September 2004, African women and members of human rights organisations expressed their concern regarding the use by the State and ever increasing non-state actors of repressive methods aimed specifically at WHRDs. They called attention to the conditions of WHRDs in situations of armed conflict who are particularly exposed to physical, moral and sexual violence that are used by certain aggressors as weapons of war.

So this November 25, womens rights activists across the world are launching a campaign for WHRDs, to honour all those women who have been a part of the historical struggle for the promotion and protection of human rights. The campaign is also to draw attention to the fact that women are killed or abused every day because they dare to speak out against violence and violations of their human rights.

Today we observe a growing tendency to restrict human rights, citing national security and, most recently, the war against terrorism, religion, culture and ethnicity. The most blatant of human rights violations are taking place in countries and societies where such a situation would have been unthinkable a few years ago. Clearly, the defense of human rights has now become a life-threatening exercise.

Reports submitted to Ms. Hina Jilani and also made public by human rights groups working at every level clearly show the rapid increase in violence and repression against human rights defenders as a global phenomenon. Many governments confront popular movements against the social disintegration, displacement and impoverishment that accompany the processes of globalisation. Intra-state and intra-community conflicts grow and become increasingly violent, authoritarian and extremist in nature. In these circumstances, we observe tendencies to silence dissent of all forms, emerging from both state and non-state sectors, in which women are most specifically affected.

On the one hand, women are relegated by all forces of conservatism and fundamentalism to their traditional roles of being biological and social reproducers. Women who refuse to be trapped by these obsolete and misogynist stereotypes are punished for their transgressions. On the other hand, as women face growing impoverishment and displacement as a consequence of globalisation, they are compelled to seek forms of employment which are often exploitative and make them vulnerable to abuse and violence. Women who organise for their rights as workers, farmers, citizens demanding equal treatment, justice and dignity, face the armed might of the state, of transnational corporations, and of diverse militant groups espousing violence in the pursuit of their goals of control and domination.

Women face risks and vulnerabilities as human rights defenders; as women, in the form of sexual assaults, sexual violence and their consequences; as women advocating for gender-specific issues such as reproductive and sexual rights. They take tremendous risks to challenge the status quo and to speak out on behalf of themselves and of others. They are forced to live in a state of constant fear and terror, to be alienated from their families and communities because of their beliefs and to be subjected to humiliation and abuse as a consequence of their courage. They are raped, murdered, mutilated, stoned to death. In spite of their knowledge about the consequences, women activists have the courage to become human rights defenders. The international community and the human rights movement needs to recognise the courage and commitment of women human rights defenders and speak out on their behalf in the true spirit of justice and rights.

The campaign for WHRDs will give attention to the current intensification of repression and abuses against human rights defenders, particularly women. The campaign will give specific attention to the protection and security of womens human rights defenders globally and to work on measures to ensure accountability for acts of violence done to women. Records have shown that women were attacked not only because they are women but because of the causes that they represent. In the face of serious atrocities committed by State and non-State actors, giving visibility and international recognition to WHRDs is one fundamental form of protection for them.

So for the recognition and protection of WHRDs, we make the following demands:

To States:

End all forms of repression against human rights defenders, particularly women defenders, and give due recognition to all aspects of their work;

Fully commit to democratic processes, that create space for womens equal access to positions of responsibility, training and other resources;

Create and secure enabling conditions, including enactment of laws and development of appropriate legal and other redress mechanisms in accordance with human rights standards, and repeal anti-terrorism measures so women can exercise the right to defend human rights and address the wider economic, social and political contexts that inhibit the work of WHRDs.

Ensure the implementation of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998.

To peoples and social movements and national, regional and international NGOs:

Engage in the documentation of violations of human rights of women defenders, perpetrated by states and non-state actors and develop information networks to highlight specific threats faced by them;

Ensure recognition and visibility of womens significant contributions to human rights work;

Engender social movements by sensitising them to the gender dimensions of human rights work, especially on issues such as reproductive and sexuality rights and responding to the specific threats and vulnerabilities faced by WHRDs;

Initiate the development of a set of guidelines for holding non-State actors accountable for human rights violations, particularly on those committed against WHRDs;

Build and consolidate alliances among social movements on WHRDs to include in their agenda the concerns of women.

International Coordinating Committee on Women Human Rights Defenders Campaign

25 November 2005

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