The vital role played by Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) is widely recognized. UN Resolution 68/181 calls upon states to protect them, respect and support their activities, and condemn and prevent violations against them. Women activists interviewed in Unfinished Revolution offer insights on how this support and protection can best be tailored to the challenging terrain of their region.
They highlight four key areas of support that are vital to WHRDs in the Middle East and North Africa:
Women activists are in danger in their home countries and in exile. A wide network of support, including international NGOs, is needed to coordinate a comprehensive and holistic approach to protecting their welfare. This includes providing safe houses and financial support and pushing for the release of political prisoners. Where possible, women must be able to stay in their communities to avoid the interruption of their efforts.
Globally, women’s rights groups have inadequate funding, undermining their efforts and forcing them to shift their priorities. Chronic underfunding also decreases their access to justice and protection. In the MENA region, WHRDs often work underground, at great personal risk: they need rapid, flexible, and accessible long-term funding to pay for organizational development, networking, coalition building, security, and psychological counselling for those traumatized by their experiences. In and out of the spotlight, in their home countries or in exile, these women also need access to emergency funding.
Inclusion in peace talks
Twenty years after the adoption of UN Resolution 1325, women remain on the margins of peace negotiations in Syria and Yemen, despite suffering the direct consequences of the displacement and violence of ongoing conflicts, and despite their important role in rebuilding their societies.
Women ask that international commitments to increase their participation in peace processes be upheld in the region.
International recognition and support
WHRDs ask that international allies keep their work and plight visible and hold regimes and non-state actors accountable for violations against them. They urge supporters in the international community to name them, and help raise their profiles, (through awards, for example, for their work and their courage). They ask world governments to be diligent in tracking and condemning violations against WHRDs.
“[International solidarity is] the only strategy that has been successful and had a positive impact. The pressure needs to continue … There are cases that are long-forgotten—women who have been in prison for 8 or 10 years, who have been tortured [and] denied medical interventions. For WHRDs, our only platform to influence the Saudi government is through international channels.”
Omaima Al Najjar
Saudi blogger and activist. Nurse and physician.
“We need our work to be seen and recognized … [For feminists] the international community doesn’t mean the UN, or other countries, or other international bodies. The international community means the alliance of feminist women’s organizations from around the world. Women’s organizations always have our backs in time of need.”
Director of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq
“Women peace builders, humanitarian workers, and human rights defenders need direct support. We need … direct core funding so that we can sustain our organizations. And it needs to be long-term funding, not just for a few months.”
Director of the Peace Track Initiative, Human Rights Research and Educational Centre, University of Ottawa
“Women defenders who are not visible and not recognized are at even greater risk. Recognition and visibility, internationally, can help keep people safe … use specific names. Speak out for women who are facing travel bans, imprisonment, and harassment. Do what you can to keep their names in the public so that they are not forgotten. Give awards. Make visits and undertake fact-finding missions.”
Executive Director of the Nazra for Feminist Studies in Egypt