Gender Sensitivity Needed to Protect Women Human Rights Defenders

Collage of five women human rights defenders
Women human rights defenders Diane Bakuraira, Maysaa Osama, Bernadette Ntumba, Maximilienne Ngo Mbe, and Mélanie Sonhaye Kombate. Photos: Civil Rights Defenders.

Gender sensitivity is an essential ingredient in the protection and promotion of women human rights defenders.

This week, we commemorate the International Women’s Day 2020 and celebrate the remarkable work carried out by women human rights defenders worldwide. However, the fearless work of women human rights defenders is often accompanied by intimidation, violence, imprisonment, and threats.

The complexity of women human rights defenders’ challenges are deeply rooted in gender perceptions, discriminatory stereotypes, and unequal power relationships, which are entangled with traditions and social norms – a systemic and structural spider-web of discrimination against women.

In the 2019 report on the situation of women human rights defenders by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, it is stated that “women defenders are often perceived as challenging traditional notions of family and gender roles in society, a perception that can generate hostility from State actors, and from the public, the media, and other non-State actors.”

In addition, the threats against women human rights defenders can also appear from own their families, relatives, and community, which further jeopardises their security.

What needs to be done?

National, regional, and international protection mechanisms available to women human rights defenders are limited and inadequate, often lacking the relevant apparatuses and awareness. In order to combat the systemic and structural discrimination, it is essential to ensure gender sensitivity and thorough gender analysis to protect women human rights defenders, and develop and incorporate a gender-based approach.

It is challenging, yet crucial, to understand the multifaceted perils faced by women human rights defenders in order to safeguard their rights. Their challenges are diverse, and depend on the specific context in which the individual women human rights defender is working in. Having this understanding of women human rights defenders’ situation and needs is vital to develop and advance tools and mechanisms to guarantee their human rights – and human rights for all.

International Women’s Day 2020

To celebrate the essential work carried out by women human rights defenders, Civil Rights Defenders and our partner organisation DefendDefenders highlight individual women human rights defenders who, despite threats and challenges, continues their fight for human rights in Africa.

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