March 8, 2017

As we celebrate the liberation and achievement of women worldwide on International Women’s Day, the Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur reminds us of the gender disparities women human rights defenders continue to face at the frontlines.

During the Thirty-fourth session of the UN Human Rights Council, Special Rapporteur Michel Forst presented a summary on the situation of human rights defenders and on the details of his first mandate. Established in 2000 by the Human Rights Commission to support the implementation of the 1998 Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, the main goals of the mandate are to analyze and report on the situation of human rights defenders around the world, as well as to further protect them. In reporting on the projects undertaken in the last years, the Special Rapporteur focuses on the human rights defenders most at risk, as well as presents actions necessary in continuing his work upon the renewal of his mandate. In emphasizing the importance of documenting the plight of defenders around the world, he reports that incidents against them ‘are not isolated acts but concerted attacks against those who try to embody the ideal of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in a world free from fear and want.’ Thus he points to the necessity of recognizing and protecting those most at risk, drawing attention to specific challenges faced by specific groups of defenders.

Forst highlights ‘defenders of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons’ as particularly at-risk, noting that women remain at the top of this list. During each of his country visits, the Special Rapporteur set up consultations with women defenders in consideration of the continued violence and discrimination they face. In addition to highlighting at risk defenders, the Special Rapporteur identifies a number of initiatives and actions essential in further recognizing and protecting them. Among these is a call for the enhanced cooperation with resident coordinators and United Nations agencies and programmes in order to increase visibility of the work being done in this area. In addition to this, Forst is urging heightened public recognition through campaigns and specific communication and information initiatives. He maintains that human rights defenders are the ‘lifeblood that our democracies need in order to flourish and survive over time.’

Accordingly, in light of International Women’s Day, which celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women, Human Rights Matter places continued focus on the support and protection of women human rights defenders who face insecurity, backlash and violence at the frontlines. While there has been progress made in regards to gender parity in many parts of the world, women human rights defenders remain exposed to gender-specific threats and gender-specific violence often due to traditional and societal notions of gender roles. To many, these women are a threat to religion, culture, and prescribed conventions through the work that they do. In this way, we must recognize and call awareness to the increasing number of women defenders killed and act in solidarity to protect them. Thus today, as leaders across the world pledge to take action as ‘champions of gender parity’, let us not forget the brave work that women, specifically, are doing within the human rights field as well as the challenges they are faced with. Let us stand with them and act tangibly in support of them, not only for International Women’s Day, but for every day!

Defenders’ Day Conference (Civil Right Defenders), Women human rights defender’s discussion with special rapporteur on human rights defenders Michel Forst, April 2016, HRM photo.

Image may contain: 13 people

NEWS / Mexican WHRDs meet with the Rapporteur Mr. Michel Forst, January 18, 2017éxico.jpg

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