Today, on International Women’s Day, I’m celebrating all women human rights defenders (WHRDs). By becoming prominent figures in their communities, women face additional risks associated with their gender, as they are seen to challenge gender norms and patriarchal systems. For these reasons, my mandate continues to prioritise the cases of WHRDs at risk.
Women defenders are on the front lines of great crises. Since Russia invaded Ukraine less than two weeks ago, I have heard directly from Ukrainian women who have reorientated their work, and are now risking their lives to carry out critical humanitarian work in the warzone.
WHRDs also risk their lives fighting the climate crisis. Joannah Stutchbury was an environmental defender who in 2019 successfully worked to prevent the dredging of the Kiambu forest in Kenya. She continued her activism, opposing proposed developments in the wetlands of the national park despite receiving many credible threats to her life. On 15 July 2021, she was shot four times in the driveway of her home.
Trans women human rights defenders face additional risks because of their gender identity. After being threatened and attacked last year, women defenders Nayyab Ali and Heera Malik struggled to have the police register the incidents or take any actions to investigate them and provide them with adequate protection.
Others have had more success combatting the risks they face. A group of WHRDs from Poland, successfully fought charges of “offending religious feelings” that were filed against them after they posted images of the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo around the city of Plock, in protest against the homophobic rhetoric by local public figures.
Today I salute the resilience of all women human rights defenders simultaneously challenging entrenched gender norms and engaging in peaceful struggle for the rights of others.