New report on Women Human Rights Defenders is launched
Friday, 16 March 2012 15:06


WHRDIC global report coverA new report on the situation of women human rights defenders was launched on 5 March 2012 at a side event to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.


The Global Report on the Situation of Women Human Rights Defenders has been produced by the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRD IC).


The key speakers of the side event were Ms Sunila Abeysekera, the Executive Director of INFORM and ISHR board member; Ms Fikile Vilakazi, the Programs Director of Coalition of African Lesbians; and Ms Christina Ellazar Palabay from Tanggol Bayi, an association of women human rights defenders in the Philippines. Ms Eleanor Openshaw from ISHR was the moderator for the panel discussion.


The report analyses the challenges faced by women human rights defenders in different contexts. Through the prism of over 40 case studies, the connections between the context in which a woman human rights defenders works and the nature of the violations she experiences are explored.


 The Coalition began the project of writing the report having identified a lack of systematic coverage of the gender specific nature of violence against women human rights defenders. It started from an understanding that that the experience of women human rights defenders is frequently silenced, ignored or misrepresented.  The Coalition’s hope is that the report will become an advocacy tool for women defenders, to highlight the need for consistent documentation to surface the experiences of women defenders and build effective responses to the violations they face.

At the side event, each of the panelists stressed the importance of recognising and understanding the wider context in which violations against women human rights defenders take place, as has been done in the Global Report. Ms Abeysekera affirmed that if the context is not taken into account, effective solutions for combatting such abuses are unlikely to be found.  Fikile Vilakazi, Programs Director of Coalition of African Lesbians, speaks at the side event. Next to her is Ms Sunila Abeysekera.


The main areas of contextual analysis in the report are fundamentalisms; militarization and situations of conflict; globalization; crises of democracy or governance; and heteronormativity. According to Ms Abeysekera, all abuses of women rights defenders should be understood in relation to the overarching ideologies - patriarchy and heteronormativity, which inform all these contexts.


The panelists’ presentations also highlighted the challenge of documenting violations in a gender-sensitive manner. Ms Palabay asserted that there are often few indications in human rights documentation of the gender specific nature of a violation.  This echoed one of the Global Report’s key calls to mainstream human rights organisations that they enhance their capacity to identify and articulate issues from a gender perspective.


Panelists highlighted violations at the hands of non-state actors, including private security organisations and multinational corporations, and the absence of effective mechanisms to hold them to account. Discussion also focused on the fact that a country's economic prosperity does not mean it respects women’s human rights, as is often assumed. A final point that was addressed was the need to make existing human rights mechanisms work for women human rights defenders, rather than creating new ones.


When the floor was opened for discussion, the panelists were asked to give advice to women human rights defenders regarding bad documentation. The panelists underlined the importance for documentation to be sensitive and respectful, taking people into consideration, rather than just presenting them as a number.


 A further question was raised about how to document violations when victims are too scared to register their abuse. Ms Palabay advised finding creative ways of documenting such information whilst respecting a victim's anonymity. One example given was to film them talking about their experience in the shadows so that they could not be identified.


Attendees speak with the panelists following the side event.Other recommendations made by the panelists included the need for women human rights defenders to write their stories and make them public; and the need for further discussion on gender sensitive methods of documentation.  Ms Vilakazi noted that future reports should include a discussion of the wellbeing of women human rights defenders, which is essential to a process of documentation and to sustaining human rights movements.



Last Updated on Friday, 16 March 2012 15:26
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