International Women’s Day 2021: “I urge all women to fight together for equality and justice”

Aung Ja from the Kachin Development Networking Group, Burma.

In recent months, we have seen how mass protests against powerful oppressors have taken place in several countries. In Russia, hundreds of thousands marched in over 100 localities calling for an end to corruption and oppression. In Burma, millions of peaceful protesters have taken to the streets, demanding an end to the military dictatorship. Today, on International Women’s Day, we highlight two of the many brave women human rights defenders taking part in these efforts to challenge oppression and bring about change.

Women have historically had an essential role in peacebuilding efforts globally. While representation in these efforts remains highly unequal, comprehensive research shows that women play a crucial part in achieving sustainable, long-term peace and democracy. However, many who stand on the frontlines become subjects to violence, intimidation, imprisonment, and threats.

Ahead of this International Women’s Day, we spoke with two of our partners, Burmese activist Aung Ja and Russian lawyer and human rights defender Ekaterina Vanslova, who recently took part in the ongoing peaceful protests in their countries.

Spotlight on Burma: “Choose to challenge dictatorship”

Since 1 February, millions of people have taken to the streets across Burma to protest the military coup. The military has repeatedly opened fire on peaceful demonstrations, killing at least 50 people and injuring hundreds. More than 1 500 pro-democracy protesters have been arrested, charged, or sentenced since the coup began, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

One of the protesters is Aung Ja from Myikyina in the Kachin State in northern Burma. She works for the Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG). On International Women’s Day, she and her colleagues continue campaigning for change.

“Today, on International Women’s Day, the team chooses to challenge dictatorship. It is being held in Myitkyina and other towns and villages across the country. We are doing t-shirt campaigns, leaflet campaigns, and protests across the country,” said Aung Ja.

Like many others, Aung Ja risks her own security when she joins the nationwide protests to fight for what she believes in. The military has proven that it is willing to use deadly violence to disperse the unarmed masses, but this does not stop Aung Ja and her colleagues.

“To overthrow the dictatorship and restore democracy, I urge all women to fight together for equality and justice.”

– Aung Ja

Spotlight on Russia: “I was arbitrarily detained myself”

On 23 January 2021, mass protests erupted in Russia. Sparked by the arrest and subsequent trial of opposition politician Alexey Navalny, more than half a million people took to the streets. Many were faced with detention and police violence simply because they exercised their rights to peaceful assembly and expression.

Under the slogan, ‘Putin, Leave!’, protesters have expressed their discontent and frustration with the rampant and widespread corruption and the growing restrictions on their human rights and fundamental freedoms. One of the protesters was Ekaterina Vanslova from the Russian Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CAT).

“In January, I participated as an observer in peaceful protest actions, which took place in Russia. While monitoring human rights violations, I was arbitrarily detained myself. I was delivered to the police station, where I had been deprived of drinking water for 4 hours,“ said Ekaterina Vanslova.

Ekaterina Vanslova from the Russian Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CAT).

The paperwork on Ekaterina’s detention was followed by multiple procedural violations. As a result, she was placed in a detention centre where she spent the night locked up together with other women.

“Some of these women told me that they were systematically subjected to pressure by the authorities due to their political activity.”

– Ekaterina Vanslova

In the end, Ekaterina and the other women were all convicted of violating the regulations of holding public events. This, however, does not stop Ekaterina from continuing her human rights work and attending protests.

“An active participation of women in this sector is very important”

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

“Women are, certainly, especially vulnerable and face the highest risks. However, the protest activity and the human rights defence connected to that constitute an important public sector, which may not ignore women’s issues, especially during the changing political situation in the country. Active participation of women in this sector is very important,” said Ekaterina Vanslova.

Women human rights defenders worldwide are daily fighting for democracy and justice and to eradicate inequality. In 2021, this has been notable in the mass protests in Russia, Burma and elsewhere, where women are at the forefront of the fight against dictatorship and corruption. Today on International Women´s Day and all other days, it is essential that change-makers like Aung Ja and Ekaterina Vanslova continues to be recognised for their invaluable part in building peace and democracy.

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