International: End gender-based violence and intimidation against female human rights defenders

International: End gender-based violence and intimidation against female human rights defenders - Civic Space

As the world marks International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa calls on states in the region to stand by their obligations to offer better protections.

International Women Human Rights Defenders Day is commemorated every year on 29 November to, among other things, celebrate women who defend the human rights of women and girls. It is also a day to hold states accountable for protecting the rights of Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs).  

This year countries around the world are called on to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls. 

WHRD’s actions, by their very nature, challenge patriarchal power structures, harmful social norms and stereotyped gender roles, often resulting in them being judged more harshly than men if they do not conform to societal standards. In addition to the challenges faced by human rights defenders in an ever shrinking civic space, the current patriarchal society subjects women human rights defenders who do work similar or even the same as their male counterparts to an added layer of threats of a gendered nature. 

“While there had been some progress on the rights of marginalised groups, the long-standing disparities were exacerbated by the pandemic in 2020 and 2021. Women working at the forefront of human rights, who provide vital information to the public on human rights violations, are now more vulnerable to abuse than ever before. The governments in Eastern Africa must fulfill their obligations to protect their citizens, including WHRDs, from all forms of discrimination and abuse,”  said Mugambi Kiai, Regional director of Article 19 Eastern Africa. 

WHRDs stay resilient amidst growing challenges 

Since the beginning of 2020, when governments in the Eastern African region introduced measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a surge in the number of  sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) cases directly attributable to the enforcement of those measures. Emerging data indicates that almost 1 in 2 women reported that they or a woman they know experienced a form of violence since the COVID-19 pandemic started. However, fewer than 40% of the women who experience violence seek any help or report the abuse to formal institutions. Despite these challenges, Women Human Rights Defenders continued defending human rights in their respective domains and often stepped in to assist, while showing abundant resilience and resolve.

While states have obligations to protect its citizens from all forms of discrimination and violence, most in the Eastern Africa region have not been able to live up to their mandate, particularly in regard to the protection of WHRDs. 

ARTICLE19 calls on the governments in Eastern Africa to recognise the value and important contribution of WHRDs, ensure their access to effective remedies in the case of violations, and put in place prompt and impartial investigations of alleged violations. The governments should also create an enabling environment for WHRDs to operate through policy and legislative action, in line with international standards.