Women who step up to defend human rights are facing worsening obstacles amid a global trend of fundamentalism and populism, a group of United Nations experts has warned.
Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Dubravka Simonovic, speaks to the press in Buenos Aires, November 21, 2016. Photo UNIC /Buenos Aires.
“In the face of rising populism and fundamentalisms and deplorable setbacks on the women’s human rights agenda, we need more than ever to unite our forces to preserve the democratic space in which women human rights defenders represent an essential counter-power and a colossal force of action,” the experts said in a joint statement issued ahead of International Women Human Rights Defenders Day on 29 November.*
In the statement, the experts said women working for rights and equality faced unique and growing challenges driven by deep-rooted discrimination, with some being killed for their courageous stand and others facing violence, harassment, social stigma and sometimes imprisonment.
The UN experts are Alda Facio, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice; Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; and Dubravka Šimonoviæ Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences.
“Every day, more women identify themselves as human rights defenders and undertake individually and collectively actions in pursuit of justice, equality, peace, and human rights for all,” they said, paying tribute to the hundreds of thousands of women working for equality and women’s rights around the world.
“However, this participation has been limited by the discrimination which confronts women throughout the world. The very concept of feminism is too often misunderstood, denigrated and discredited, even by some in the human rights community,” they added.
The experts highlighted a host of specific challenges faced by women rights defenders – including misogynistic attitudes, threats of sexual assault, travel bans, lack of protection and access to justice, imprisonment, killings, laws which violate their rights, gender-based defamation questioning their “femininity” or sexuality, and gender stereotyping which questions their engagement in public life instead of sticking to their caretaker role in the family.
Women who denounce violence against women, particularly in rural or semi-urban areas, are also at high risk, along with those living in conflict areas and those facing social stigma because of their ethnicity, disability, age or sexual preference.
“This discrimination inhibits and discourages women who are agents of change but, out of fear of reprisals, do not even dare to identify themselves as human rights defenders.,” the experts said.
They urged all States to ratify and fully implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the milestone 2013 UN General Assembly resolution on protecting women human rights defenders,” which requires Member States to take concrete measures to end gender discrimination. (*Source: UN).
UN Women’s ‘Orange the World’ Kicks off 16 Days of Activism to Fight Gender-Based Violence
he extent to which violence is embedded in society means that uprooting it is everyone’s job, senior United Nations official on 21 November 2016 said, lamenting that violence against women and girls continue to be a low priority on the international development agenda and urging more action – and more funding – to end the pandemic of such violence now, once and for all.**
“The statistics almost defy belief. What is even harder to understand is why: why men prey on women and girls; why societies shame the victims, why governments fail to punish deadly crimes, why the world denies itself the fruits of women’s full participation,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a UN Women-hosted Orange the World event at UN Headquarters in New York to raise money to end violence against women and girls, and kick off 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women during a special event entitled “Orange the World: Raise Money to end Violence against Women,” commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25 November). UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
The event began with remarks from Ban, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Karel van Oosterom of the Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the UN, and UN Trust Fund programme participant Aiturgan Djoldoshbekova.
It also included a musical performance from The Color Purple, Tony Award winner for Best Musical Revival, and a panel discussion on sustainable financing to end violence against women and girls.
“The extent to which violence is embedded in society means that uprooting it is also a job for all of society. That includes men and women, the media and the religious community. We can work together to address the inequality and prejudice that enable and enflame violence against women and girls,” Mlambo-Ngcuka told an audience that wore orange in support of ending violence against women.
Ban, observing the Day for the last time as Secretary-General, thanked the audience for being a part of a decade of global activism to end violence against women and girls.
“You have defended the vulnerable and fought impunity,” he said. “The United Nations and I, personally, have stood with you.”
“This is truly a matter of life and death,” he added. “In some countries, as many as 70 per cent of women report having experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner. In some countries, intimate partner violence accounts for between 40 and 70 per cent of female murder victims.”
Mlambo-Ngcuka thanked the Secretary-General for his advocacy and leadership, emphasizing that violence against women was not always discussed in the public domain. She called for improvements to laws and implementation, and said that while there are costs to such changes, “the price of no change is much higher, and unacceptable.”
She highlighted examples of recent improvements from Timor-Leste and Uganda and encouraged society to work together to address inequality and prejudice by scaling up prevention and services as well as working with allies throughout different sectors and civil society.
“Together, we can begin to bend the curve down and bring the scourge of violence against women and girls to an end,” the Executive Director said.
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Ban reminisced about his conversations with girls and women at the HEAL Africa hospital in Goma and meeting with “one of the world’s great advocates,” Malala Yusafzai.
“Some of the most impactful and inspiring moments of my entire term as Secretary-General occurred in the context of our struggle for women’s empowerment,” he declared. (**Source: UN).
2016 Human Wrongs Watch