Women human rights defenders (WHRDs) continue to be at the forefront of efforts to prevent and confront gender-based violence in all its forms.
Many WHRDs in the MENA region began their resistance from within their homes, standing up to harmful practices that promote violence and disempower women and girls. Often, these women were transformed by their struggles against violence and injustice, and joined civic movements, which has resulted in greater awareness among women across the region.
But as the demand for equality has grown louder, the backlash against WHRDs has also intensified. From interrogations to travel bans, detentions and long prison sentences, security systems and states are utilizing all their powers to silence WHRDs and ensure legal and social inequality. This is especially so in repressive and authoritarian contexts.
Instead of responding to the demands of women and citizens for equality and democratic change, state security systems use threats and intimidation, including of a sexual nature, to humiliate, punish, shame and silence WHRDs and deter them from activism.
In recent months, several WHRDs have bravely come forward to expose the treatment they have experienced during arrests and detentions. Femena’s research indicates that WHRDs are experiencing various forms of sexual harassment and violence during interrogation, arrest, detention, and imprisonment. Verbal sexual violence, threats of rape, threats to expose private and intimate relations of WHRDs, defamation campaigns carried out in State-affiliated media, and sexual assaults are the various forms of sexual violence reported by WHRDs. Interrogators, police, security agents and prison officials, have been responsible for sexual harassment and assaults against WHRDs.
On International Women’s Day, Femena honors the incredible work of courageous women human rights defenders who continue to push for change and equality under difficult circumstances, in spite of backlash and persecution.
WHRDs are our guiding light for a better future.