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Statement on March 8, International Women’s Day by Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition

Saturday 14 March 2009, by siawi

The Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition comprised of 18 international, regional and national women’s rights and human rights organisations, marks the occasion of March 8, International Women’s Day, by celebrating the courage of women human rights defenders around the world who challenge structures of discrimination and oppression that create environments conducive to human rights abuse. In the context of the current economic recession, women human rights defenders’ access to defence and protection is affected by shrinking resources and makes the nature and range of the attacks against them ever more severe.

Women human rights defenders, as defined by the Coalition, encompass both women active in human rights defence who are targeted for who they are as well as all those active in the defence of women’s rights who are targeted for what they do. Simply, the term pertains to human rights activists who are women, as well as other activists including those who defend the rights of women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people; and uphold the universality of rights.

In a survey conducted by the Coalition in 2008, women human rights defenders identified the most common violations they experienced as: intimidation and harassment; surveillance and blacklisting; attacks and intimidation, including of family members; defamation, slander, vilification; killing and attempted killing. They suffer these abuses as forms of prejudice, exclusion and repudiation resulting from specific targeting by both state and non-state actors on various grounds, particularly where their promotion of human rights concerns is deemed controversial. Attacks based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or gender identity, or combinations of these factors are very common.

It is in this light that we note with great concern the statements of some countries which attempt to undermine existing commitments to accepted international human rights standards, in particular, non-discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation, that threaten the human rights of women human rights defenders including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

We also stress the importance of the work done by women human rights defenders to document, monitor and provide protection for those under attack for their religion or belief as well as for exercising their right to freedom of expression. We hold these two rights to be inter-dependent and mutually reinforcing and note that attempts to limit them on grounds of ‘defamation of religion’ will undermine existing standards, and hinder the work of defenders by legitimising targeted attacks on them.

We urge the UN system and member states to strengthen the UN’s work for the fulfilment of women’s human rights, particularly through strengthening the gender equality architecture at the UN.

We welcome the commitment made by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders to include the specific concerns of women human rights defenders in the priorities of her mandate. We support her efforts to sustain and broaden institutions for the protection of human rights defenders and affirm the need for continuing collaboration between the human rights defenders’ mandate and all other human rights mechanisms, including the Universal Periodic Review, to strengthen the protection of defenders.

We further call on States to uphold their obligations under the human rights treaties and to continue funding of programmes for the advancement of women’s human rights especially during the current financial crisis.

For more information, contact:

Mary Jane N. Real

Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition
- c/o Center for Women’s Global Leadership
- Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
- 160 Ryders Lane
- New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8555 USA
- Tel. + 1 732 932 8782 ext. 602
- Mobile Phone No.: 1 848 667 0908
- email: whrd apwld.org
- skpe: maryjanereal1