Creating a safe space for Women’s human rights

I have been looking at the spaces that I work in as a female human rights defender and it is interesting to note the dynamics that define these spaces and the treatment that we receive by virtue of being women.

It is undeniable that women human rights defenders are actively involved at the frontline of human rights activism on a par with their male counterparts. However, their experiences and those of the men are different due to a number of reasons.

Security issues are of concern when one does such work and all kinds of abuses are hurled at you because you have decided to defy the local cultural norms of being “the subservient woman”. The space is undeniably male dominated and the levels of testosterone are so intimidating that as a woman human rights activist, one has to be very strong and keep focused on the work lest one becomes derailed by the sad happenings in the very space that purports to represent human rights.

I will look at three things (defining women’s roles in society, trivialization of women human rights defenders work and their status as equal partners) that are important to female human rights activists so that as fellow activists, we can pool our ideas and resources to make a difference.

Outspoken & resilient

There is a certain definition that a “real and proper” woman is supposed to fall under. When women rights defenders begin to become outspoken, resilient and vibrant, they defy such a definition and are insulted from all corners of the human rights sector.

It is important to note that women’s rights are human rights. Wherever one works as a human rights defender, one protects the rights of other human beings – whether they are male or female. Male human rights defenders should realize that in as much as they may be comfortable in the patriarchal dominated spaces, it is equally important to ensure that the rights of their female counterparts are protected.

Such rights include the right to freedom of speech, association, assembly and integrity. It also is about ensuring that women’s gender and sex roles are taken into consideration in all the work that activism entails and such roles are defined according to the different work that human rights defenders do.

Equal partners

Women need to be realized as equal partners in human rights activism. It is important that where issues of security are concerned, women’s fears are taken seriously and some safety nets of all sorts are created. This may range from support groups, medical assistance, psychosocial support, post exposure prophylaxis, to mention only a few.

It is the duty of the men and women involved in human rights activism to ensure that the women they serve and work with have their rights protected and that in the course of their work, their rights are not violated. On a micro-level, it is crucial that the space that we work as human rights defenders caters to a large extent for the creation of such safety nets.

This may include, but is not limited to, having a women’s rights defender’s desk, sensitizing fellow activists on the gender dynamics involved and developing effective referral systems that will be ready to address any women human rights violations at different levels.

Top priority

Having said all this, it is important that you and I reflect on the kind of work that we do and ensure that women’s human rights defenders’ issues are not trivialized – but given the top priority they deserve.

Here, we are not looking at just the macro-levels of activism but it comes down to the micro-levels that include the very rural woman who we so often engage. Even though she may be passionate about transformation, she may need our help in terms of addressing her security in both public and private.

Thinking of this will enable you and me to ensure the safest space possible for women human rights defenders. The next time you are about with your work, make this reflection an integral part of your work and you could be a champion for women’s human rights. The time to show solidarity is now! – By Grace Chirenje-Nachipo, an activist.

Post published in: Politics

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