In February, I blogged about a report on the global situation of human rights defenders. UN Special Rapporteur Margaret Sekaggyas stunning conclusion was that women defenders are more at risk of suffering certain forms of violence and other violations, prejudice, exclusion, and repudiation than their male counterparts. This is often due to the fact that women defenders are perceived as challenging accepted socio-cultural norms, traditions, perceptions and stereotypes about femininity, sexual orientation, and the role and status of women in society.
I just put down a similar report by CIVICUS, the World Alliance for Citizen Participation, focusing specifically on the challenges faced by women human rights defenders in Africa. Based on face-to-face interviews, focus groups and questionnaires, the report concludes that women human rights defenders face more challenges than their male counterparts in Africa. The report lauds the fact that many African governments have signed key international treaties and protocols, but finds inconsistent implementation, lack of understanding of the laws and at times blatant disregard for the laws.
Like their global counterparts, women human rights defenders in Africa face patriarchal systems; sexual harassment; gender based violence including rape; and, defamation. Critically important is the finding of a shrinking space for civil society in Africa. The report documents laws being considered to make it harder for NGOs to play their role as advocates and watchdogs, and seek to restrict NGO activity. In interviews, these types of possible restrictions were highlighted in Egypt, Uganda, Ethiopia, Zambia and South Africa.
The report calls on governments to take a variety of actions, including the establishment of human rights and womens commissions with adequate resources; consultation with womens NGOs as laws are being developed; specific legislation protecting women human rights defenders. The report also calls on NGOs to take actions including better coordination; the use all international, regional and local forums; and the engagement of men.
All in all, this report helps build the case that there needs to be concerted and constant action to protect women in these critically important roles, and highlights that we are all watching what happens to our colleagues across the globe.