WHRD l UN Women commits to supporting and protecting women human rights defenders

The United Nations agency committed to gender equality and women's empowerment honours the work of women human rights defenders. 'Those who defend our rights in turn need our defense' stated Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women. 

A statement by UN Women recognised the work of women human rights defenders in giving “a voice to our aspirations for justice and equality”. They noted the challenging contexts in which women human rights defenders do their work, in particular:

  • The rise of political and social conservatism as well as discrimination, including sexism and racism, that are rolling back women’s human rights;

  • Criminalisation of advocacy related to women’s rights to make decisions about their reproductive health;

  • Ostracisation by their communities on both online and offline public spaces;

  • Being subject to sexual violence and harassment for exercising their right to participate in public debate.

They noted that these violations often go unreported, undocumented and uninvestigated.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka further noted that, moving towards the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, women human rights defenders and their movements are all the more important for ensuring irreversible progress towards gender equality. 

ISHR welcomed the statement as an imporant step forwards in strengthening coordinated responses by the UN system to the siutation of women human rights defenders. ‘The statement complements UN Women’s ongoing work in developing an internal guidance regarding the support to and protection of WHRDs’ said Pooja Patel, Programme Director at ISHR. ‘We are really encouraged by the proactive measures taken by UN Women and look forward to our continued collaboration’ she added.

The Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (of which ISHR is a member) made a submission to UN Women earlier in the year to help inform their internal guidance.

Among its many recommendations, the Coalition called on UN Women to:

  • Ensure engagement and inputs of women human rights defenders both in the development and implementation of the guidance;

  • Ensure that the guidance takes a rights-based approach and is in line with existing human rights standards;

  • Address the holistic security needs and concerns of WHRDs;

  • Advocate for an enabling and safe environment for WHRDs to do their work, while also calling for accountability of cases of violence and intimidation against WHRDs;

  • Create a focal point within UN Women to oversee the implementation of the guidance.

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