Women human right defenders experience prejudice, exclusion and violence

There’s been a lot of talk lately about women in journalism facing risks their male colleagues don’t. (Even us female bloggers face more threats and intimidating comments than our male counterparts.) And, similar to female journalists, women human rights defenders face risks and attacks that are specific to their gender. I went to Guatemala on a human rights delegation and witnessed this first hand. Most of the women working in domestic violence (for instance Norma Cruz, recipient of the Women of Courage award), violence against women, and women’s issues/rights had received death threats or were attacked (either their person or their office was attacked). Here’s a recent report announced on AWID that provides more details:

AWID

The report affirms 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.”

Report’s Findings

The risks and violations reported in the period 2004-2009 include (a) threats, death threats and killings; (b) arrest, detention, and criminalization; (c) stigmatization; and (d) sexual violence and rape. Some of the striking findings include:

  • “An alarming number of women human rights defenders and their relatives have paid the highest price for their work.” There were 39 communications to the Rapporteur regarding killings and 35 communications regarding attempted killings.
  • Defenders in the Americas are most likely to face threats, death threats, killings and attempted killings; more than half the communications relating to death threats concerned defenders working in the Americas, highlighting Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil, Honduras, and Peru. “Among the groups which appear to be most at risk are women defenders working to fight impunity for alleged human rights violations”. Special mention was made of risks to women trade unionists, women indigenous rights activists, and women environmental and land rights activists.
  • Violations against defenders working on LGBT issues were also noted.These ranged from judicial issues (arrests, judicial harassment, administrative detentions, etc.) to restrictions in freedoms of assembly, but also killings,rape and sexual violence, physical attacks, and stigmatization. Concern for LGBT defenders were specifically highlighted in Africa (Sudan and Uganda).

The report “reveals a worrying trend of criminalization of the activities carried out by women human rights defenders and those working on women’s rights or gender issues throughout the world.” This includes arrests and criminalization of the defenders’ work, as well as criminal investigations and irregularities relating to due process and fair trial procedures. “By contrast to Central and South America where threats and death threats are most commonly reported, arrests and criminalization were most commonly reported in Asia and the Pacific.” China and the Islamic Republic of Iran are mentioned in relation to concern for arrests and prison sentences. Europe and Central Asia are also mentioned regarding arrests, detentions and criminalization.

Reporting – and many other jobs or activities – while female

There’s an article in the New York Times today about “Reporting While Female” by Sabrina Tavernise. Indeed, women human rights defenders face the same risks as reporters:

But women reporters face another set of challenges. We are often harassed in ways that male colleagues are not. This is a hazard of the job that most of us have experienced and few of us talk about.

Last week, CBS News said that its reporter Lara Logan was assaulted by a crowd of men in Cairo. CBS News did not detail the circumstances, but the network’s statement — that she had suffered a “brutal and sustained sexual assault” — said enough.

And, not only do reporters and women human rights defenders face these challenges but also Peace Corps Volunteers and many other women working, volunteering or travelling abroad. I’ve travelled quite a bit and have been harassed by men – groped, cat-called, and looked at like a lion looks at their prey. But I’d also caution that these actions happen in the US too – men asking women to show their breasts or butts, men  touching women inappropriatedly, or – as many of us female bloggers face – crude and threatening sexist remarks on our posts.

But – getting back on topic – the NY Times ran another piece similar to the above referenced artice:

Why we need women in war zones 

Look at the articles about women who set themselves on fire in Afghanistan to protest their arranged marriages, or about girls being maimed by fundamentalists, about child marriage in India, about rape in Congo and Haiti. Female journalists often tell those stories in the most compelling ways, because abused women are sometimes more comfortable talking to them. And those stories are at least as important as accounts of battles.

There is an added benefit. Ms. Logan is a minor celebrity, one of the highest-profile women to acknowledge being sexually assaulted. Although she has reported from the front lines, the lesson she is now giving young women is probably her most profound: It’s not your fault. And there’s no shame in telling it like it is.