"Women can play an active role in countering terrorism and militancy... By educating women, we can prevent their sons from becoming militants and by educating children we can enable them to choose a better future for themselves." Noorzia Afridi, friend and co-worker of murdered women's rights advocate, Farida Afridi.
On 4th July 2012, 25-year-old Farida Afridi - co-founder of SAWERA, a women-led NGO in Peshawar, Pakistan, was brutally murdered while on her way to work, following threats related to her work in the field of women's rights.
Throughout the world, there are many women and men working to promote human rights and to support the marginalised and disadvantaged, in regions where such work is especially hazardous and dangerous.
Farida Afridi is one of is one of many courageous women human rights defenders and NGO workers who have been targeted as a result of their work.
Moreover, the specific targeting of women human rights defenders and those working on women's rights and gender issues has escalated alarmingly in recent months.
Women human rights defenders (WHRD)* are often especially vulnerable and can be in extreme danger due to gender-related targeting, as highlighted in the January 2012 report produced by the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition: Global Report on the Situation of Women Human Rights Defenders.
The United Nations Fact Sheet No. 29: 'Human Rights Defenders: Protecting the Right to Defend Human Rights', notes the following, with regard to women in particular:
"Women human rights defenders sometimes confront risks that are gender specific and require particular attention...
"The State is the primary perpetrator of violations against human rights defenders. Women human rights defenders, however, have often found that their rights are violated by members of their own communities, who may resent and oppose their human rights activities, which some community leaders may see as challenging their perceptions of the traditional role of women. In such cases, State authorities have often failed to provide adequate protection for women defenders and their work against the social forces that threaten them...
"Women who choose to be human rights defenders must often confront the anger of families and communities that consider them to be jeopardizing both honour and culture. The pressures to stop human rights work can be very strong....
"The complexities that influence a particular human rights issue can sometimes impose unique pressures on women human rights defenders. In many cultures, the requirement for women to defer to men in public can be an obstacle to their publicly questioning action by men in violation of human rights."
In view of the above, the undersigned call on governments and the United Nations to do everything possible to ensure that the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women and are effectively enforced, without delay.
In particular, we draw attention to the following articles, from the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders:
Each State has a prime responsibility and duty to protect, promote and implement all human rights and fundamental freedoms. (Article 2.1)
Each State shall adopt such legislative, administrative and other steps as may be necessary to ensure that the rights and freedoms referred to in the present Declaration are effectively guaranteed. (Article 2.2)
To this end, everyone whose rights or freedoms are allegedly violated has the right, either in person or through legally authorized representation, to complain to and have that complaint promptly reviewed in a public hearing before an independent, impartial and competent judicial or other authority established by law. (Article 9.2)
The State shall conduct a prompt and impartial investigation or ensure that an inquiry takes place whenever there is reasonable ground to believe that a violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms has occurred in any territory under its jurisdiction. (Article 9.5)
Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. (Article 12.1)
And to the following, from article 4 of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women:
States should condemn violence against women and should not invoke any custom, tradition or religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination. States should pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating violence against women and, to this end, should:
Exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and, in accordance with national legislation, punish acts of violence against women, whether those acts are perpetrated by the State or by private persons; (c)
Develop penal, civil, labour and administrative sanctions in domestic legislation to punish and redress the wrongs caused to women who are subjected to violence; women who are subjected to violence should be provided with access to the mechanisms of justice and, as provided for by national legislation, to just and effective remedies for the harm that they have suffered; States should also inform women of their rights in seeking redress through such mechanisms; (d)
Develop, in a comprehensive way, preventive approaches and all those measures of a legal, political, administrative and cultural nature that promote the protection of women against any form of violence, and ensure that the re-victimization of women does not occur because of laws insensitive to gender considerations, enforcement practices or other interventions; (f)
Include in government budgets adequate resources for their activities related to the elimination of violence against women; (h)
Adopt all appropriate measures, especially in the field of education, to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women and to eliminate prejudices, customary practices and all other practices based on the idea of the inferiority or superiority of either of the sexes and on stereotyped roles for men and women; (j)
Adopt measures directed towards the elimination of violence against women who are especially vulnerable to violence; (l)
Recognize the important role of the women's movement and non-governmental organizations world wide in raising awareness and alleviating the problem of violence against women; (o)
Facilitate and enhance the work of the women's movement and non-governmental organizations and cooperate with them at local, national and regional levels; (p)
Encourage intergovernmental regional organizations of which they are members to include the elimination of violence against women in their programmes, as appropriate. (q)
Action is needed imminently, for the safety of the women human rights defenders themselves, and to protect the rights of the individuals and communities they serve.
* Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRD) refers to 'women who defend human rights as well as women and men who work on women’s rights and gender issues.'
Statement written and issued by The Safeworld International Foundation, global women's rights advocacy and media organisation, working in collaboration with grassroots groups throughout the world.
Society for Rights and Development (SRD), Peshawar/FATA