The need for Protection Networks for Women Human Rights Defenders

29.05.2015

Este artículo también se encuentra en español aquí.

By Marusia López Cruz and Cristina Hardaga Fernández, JASS – Just Associates - Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders

Este artículo también se encuentra en español aquí.

By Marusia López Cruz and Cristina Hardaga Fernández, JASS – Just Associates - Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders

The Resolution on the Protection of Women Human Rights Defenders,[1] the first of its kind and adopted on 18 December 2013 by the United Nations General Assembly, calls upon States (and society as a whole) to recognize the contribution of women human rights defenders (WHRDs) in building peace, justice and equality. It also states that many women engaged in promoting and defending human rights face threats and harassment as a result of those activities. These are determined by a context of systematic violence and structural discrimination against women, which is expressed - among other things - in a lack of access to justice, through persistent impunity for violations against WHRDs and the lack of recognition – in different places and situations – of the legitimate role and contribution of women in the protection of human rights.[2]

In Mesoamerica, the obstacles WHRDs face are volatile and vary depending upon the situation. Nevertheless exclusion, discrimination and gender inequality are constant. High levels of violence against women, unproportioned domestic and care workloads, plus a cultural environment that ‘punishes’ those who challenge gender standards and stereotypes, are just some of the factors that generate adverse conditions for WHRDs,  inhibiting women’s political and social participation, as well as creating additional risks.

In this framework, it is common that women defending human rights are questioned by their families and poorly appreciated or respected by their governments, authorities, communities, and even by their own organizations. As a consequence, when they face an unsafe situation, they usually don’t have a solid network for their support and protection. As a response to this condition, the Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative (IMD)[3] has centered its work since 2010 on building and promoting protective networks for WHRDs. IMD understands that a woman human rights defender is any woman who, individually or in association with others, seeks to transform any situation of inequality, injustice and violence, actively exercising her right to participation and freedom of expression.      

For us, building and promoting WHRDs networks is important for their potential to create safe spaces for women to discuss and analyse situations of violence (both because of their work and gender), to generate the conditions to express fears, guilt, needs and uncertainties without fear of being identified or questioned, as well as to recognise and strengthen their empowerment. Because of the focus on the situation and needs of women human rights defenders, these networks can be adapted to build specific protection and support measures for women defenders to cope with risk and prevent it. Network protection schemes generally allow faster reactions to emergencies and optimise existing resources; furthermore, they offer women defenders at risk a wide range of experience, capacities and protection strategies developed by the various members of the network. Finally, through these networks defenders can amplify their colleagues complaints of reported aggressions and generate information on the situation to guide policies for the State’s protection from a gender perspective.

IMD is now made up of national networks focused on the protection of women human rights defenders in Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Together, they are linked to more than 690 women working for human rights in many different areas and themes. These networks pull together the experiences, knowledge and resources of a wide range of organisations and women, regardless of their self-definition, workplace or hierarchy within their organizations and movements. These networks also denounce and document attacks faced by WHRDs, regardless of the origin or the actors involved in such violence; they support specific cases of women defenders at risk in coordination with a wide range of organisations specialised in protection issues both nationally and internationally; and they develop protection skills from a gender perspective.

Support networks do not replace the obligation upon governmental authorities to ensure a safe environment for people to exercise their right to defend human rights. However, they can contribute to State action: following up and ensuring legislative and administrative provisions to facilitate, rather than criminalise, the work of women human rights defenders; developing measures to modify social and cultural patterns that underlie violence against women; promoting the establishment of institutional mechanisms and protective measures to integrate a gender perspective, and ensuring due diligence to bring to justice and prevent violations and abuses against defenders’ rights, among other things.[4] They also allow WHRDs to amplify their voices and provide greater visibility and recognition to their work, whilst networks contribute in a logic of active citizen participation, to put on the public agenda needs, risks and situations faced by women defenders and create a space for solidarity, support and guidance to protect their life and integrity.

Networks save and strengthen the collective power of women who work for a better world.

[1] UN Resolution 68/181 ´Promotion of the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms: Protecting Women Human Rights Defenders´.

[2] UN Resolution 68/181 ´Promotion of the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms: Protecting Women Human Rights Defenders´. Pages 2 and 3.

[3] IM-Defensoras was founded by a political alliance between JASS Mesoamerica, Consorcio para el Diálogo Parlamentario y la Equidad, Oaxaca (México), Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala, (UDEFEGUA), La Colectiva Feminista para el Desarrollo Local (El Salvador), AWID-Association for Women’s Rights in Development,  and the Central American Women’s Fund(FCAM). For further information, please contact imdefensoras@gmail.com. Our most recent publications include (in Spanish): IM-Defensoras Report for the IACHR, Diagnosis on the Situation of the Protection of WHRDs 2014 and Viole nce Against Women 2012. http://es.scribd.com/doc/214940590/Informe-de-la-IM-Defensoras-ante-CIDH-27-03-2014 Diagnóstico 2012http://es.scribd.com/doc/166580906/DIAGNOSTICO-2012-VIOLENCIA-CONTRA-DEFENSORAS-DE-DERECHOS-HUMANOS-EN-MESOAMERICA-IM-DEFENSORAShttp://es.scribd.com/doc/223570458/TRAVESIAS-PARA-PENSAR-Y-ACTUAR-EXPERIENCIAS-DE-AUTOCUIDADO-DE-DEFENSORAS-DE-DERECHOS-HUMANOS-EN-MESOAMERICA

[4] UN Resolution 68/181 ´Promotion of the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms: Protecting Women Human Rights Defenders´. Pages 3, 4, 6.

Category:

Region
  • Latin America and Caribbean
Topic
  • Human rights defenders
  • NGOs
  • Reprisals and intimidation
  • Women's rights and WHRD