Saturday, October 15, 2016


Women human rights defenders 

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, also known as the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, recognizes the important role of human rights defenders, including that of women defenders, and outlines the rights of all human rights defenders and the obligations of States.

The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders has drawn attention to the specific challenges facing women human rights defenders and those working on women’s rights or on gender issues (A/HRC/16/44). Women human rights defenders are subject to the same types of risks as other human rights defenders, but as women they are also targeted for or exposed to gender-specific threats and genderspecific violence.31 The reasons for this are multifaceted and complex, and depend on the specific context in which the individual woman is working. Often, the work of women human rights defenders is seen as challenging traditional notions of family and gender roles in society, which can lead to hostility by the general population and the authorities. They are therefore stigmatized and ostracized by community leaders, faith-based groups, families and communities that consider them to be threatening religion, honour or culture through their work.

In addition, the work itself or what they are striving to achieve (for instance, the realization of women’s rights or any gender-related rights) also makes them targets for attack. Their families also become targets for threats  and violence, aiming to discourage women human rights defenders from pursuing their work. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders has acknowledged that women defenders are more at risk of being subjected to certain forms of violence and other violations, prejudice, exclusion and repudiation than their male counterparts. It is therefore important to strengthen protection mechanisms and other—local and international—responses to their specific concerns.

 The Special Rapporteur has recommended that States should ensure that protection programmes for human rights defenders integrate a gender perspective and address the specific needs of women human rights defenders. This must include prompt investigation of intimidation, threats, violence and other abuses against women human rights defenders whether committed by State or non-State actors. In practice, however, women human rights defenders are often without effective protection mechanisms.

Although the State has the primary responsibility to protect defenders when they are threatened or attacked, the international community as well as the United Nations presences on the ground also have a responsibility to support and protect them, bearing in mind the basic principles of confidentiality, do no harm and the informed consent of the person.

The right to a nationality 

Women’s ability to participate in public and political life is integrally related to their ability to claim citizenship and nationality-related rights. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women calls on States to “grant women equal rights with men to acquire, change or retain their nationality” and to “ensure in particular that neither marriage to an alien nor change of nationality by the husband during marriage shall automatically change the nationality of the wife, render her stateless or force upon her the nationality of the husband” (art. 9). It also requires State parties to “grant women equal rights with men with respect to the nationality of their children”. The Committee has explained that nationality is critical to full participation in society and that not having one has a serious impact on the enjoyment of other rights such as the right to vote, stand for public office, access public benefits and choose a residence. Article 15 requires State parties to “accord to women equality with men before the law” as well as identical legal capacity in civil matters. The Committee has further explained that any restriction in this field seriously limits the woman’s ability to provide for herself and her dependants. The Committee has also noted with concern the high number of reservations to articles 9, 15 and 16, and called on States to withdraw them and to enact and enforce legislation in accordance with these articles.

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