What you need to know:
- Globally, women’s human rights defenders face a slightly higher likelihood of being threatened than their male counterparts at 14 per cent against 13 per cent.
- Report says threats are often under-reported by defenders because they are very common and many defenders have come to accept them as normal.
Human rights defenders protected their communities and one another last year, despite violent threats to their well-being, security and families.
This is according to a report published by Frontline Defenders. Globally, women’s human rights defenders (WHRDs) face a slightly higher likelihood of being threatened than their male counterparts at 14 per cent against 13 per cent. Threats also account for Sub-Saharan Africa's commonest violation of all defenders' rights at 23 per cent.
A WHRD champions the rights of women individually or alongside others in a group.
"Threats are often under-reported by defenders because they are very common and many defenders have come to accept them as normal.
“Other times, the defenders cannot identify those making the threats or they do not think it is something they can report to the police or to international organisations," says the report.
Three WHRDs—Ms Yasmin Mohammed, Ms Nafula Wafula and Ms Salome Nduta—noted that they had experienced threats both physically and online relation to the work they do.
They spoke at a virtual event organised by the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness of safety and wellness of human rights defenders.
According to Ms Mohammed, the founder of Superb, a charity organisation based in Kibera, Nairobi, WHRDs suffer double violation of rights.
"One time, I was campaigning against rising femicide in the country and someone messaged me, saying I would be next," she recalled.
She also noted how in the past there was an attempted break-in at their organisation, an incident that left her wondering what would have happened if there were survivors inside the office at the time.
Ms Nduta, the Africa regional facilitator at the Coalition for Human Rights in Development, acknowledged that WHRDs are usually assaulted by police, goons and even their fellow human rights defenders.
"When I used to go to the streets, I would be arrested and beaten," she said. "Such threats can cause women to retreat from the job because once your children are followed and threatened, you begin to question where to draw the line."
Ms Wafula, the regional trainer at Change.org, emphasised the need for proper response systems for WHRDs to assist them in getting the psychosocial support they need.
"Women defenders must be kind to themselves because the job is exhausting," she said. "They must also be aware that as long as they hold strong opinions online they will be trolled."
The top four most targeted sectors of human rights defence were, as recorded in the report, environmental, land, megaprojects, indigenous peoples’ rights at 14.5 per cent; freedom of expression at 9.4 per cent; human rights at 9.3 per cent; and women's rights at 8.3 per cent.
In 2021, a vocal environmental defender, Joannah Stutchbury, was shot dead outside her home following multiple death threats. At the time of her murder, she was allegedly standing up to Kiambu forest encroachment.
Elizabeth Ibrahim Ekuru, a WHRD, was found murdered in her home in Isiolo County after an alleged land dispute with her neighbour.
Two women environmental activists were also attacked in Mombasa last year. They were said to be seeking justice for victims of environmental pollution.
The report recommends the establishment of reliable policies and the development of an effective and consistent strategy to support imprisoned rights defenders, which is problematic, especially in a pandemic context when prolonged pre-trials and detentions and can constitute a death sentence in light of the rapid spread of Covid-19 in prisons due to overcrowding and unsanitary detention conditions.
It also recommends targeted sanctions against government officials responsible for gross human rights violations as is the case under the EU's Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime, which was adopted in 2020 and saw the EU impose sanctions on persons and entities from China, Libya, South Sudan, Eritrea and Russia.
The report further stresses the need to consult and engage defenders directly during the development and implementation of legislation that assesses and addresses risks facing human rights defenders.