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Gender Sensitivity: An Essential Ingredient in the Protection and Promotion of Women Human Rights Defenders

This week, we commemorate the International Women’s Day 2020 and celebrate the remarkable work carried out by women human rights defenders (WHRDs) worldwide. However, the fearless work of WHRDs is often accompanied by intimidation, violence, imprisonment, and threats.

The complexity of WHRDs’ challenges are deeply rooted in gender perceptions, discriminatory stereotypes, and unequal power relationships, which are entangled with traditions and social norms – a systemic and structural spider-web of discrimination against women.

In the 2019 report on the situation of WHRDs by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, it is stated that “women defenders are often perceived as challenging traditional notions of family and gender roles in society, a perception that can generate hostility from State actors, and from the public, the media, and other non-State actors.” In addition, the threats against WHRDs can also appear from own their families, relatives, and community, which further jeopardises their security.

What needs to be done?

National, regional, and international protection mechanisms available to WHRDs are limited and inadequate, often lacking the relevant apparatuses and awareness. In order to combat the systemic and structural discrimination, it is essential to ensure gender sensitivity and thorough gender analysis to protect WHRDs, and develop and incorporate a gender-based approach.

It is challenging, yet crucial, to understand the multifaceted perils faced by WHRDs in order to safeguard their rights. Their challenges are diverse, and depend on the specific context in which the individual WHRD is working in. Having this understanding of WHRDs’ situation and needs is vital to develop and advance tools and mechanisms to guarantee their human rights – and human rights for all.

See more information about our campaign in relation to the International Women’s Day, 8 March 2020, and the outspoken and driven women human rights defenders in Africa: