This International Women’s Day, PBI is honouring the incredible and vital work done by Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) in Honduras, Mexico and Kenya, despite their continuing struggle against oppression and human rights abuses.
International Women’s Day provides an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women that are at the heart of the fight for positive social change and equality for all women around the world. This year not only marks 100 years since an important victory for women human rights defenders in the UK, which saw some women in the UK win the right to vote, it also marks the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which recognises that our freedoms depend on those who struggle for their protection.
Yet just like the Suffragettes a century ago, women defending human rights often do so at a high cost. While facing many of the same risks as their male counterparts, such as arbitrary arrests, false criminal charges and torture, they also face additional risks by virtue of their gender, including threats of violence against their children and family, and threats of sexual violence.
Honduras – As the human rights situation worsens, women continue their struggle
“My human rights work is a commitment to my brother and children. I need to pass on a different Honduras to them. They give me strength to keep going.” – Dina Meza, Honduran journalist
Honduras has been plagued by corruption, impunity and state-sanctioned violence since the coup d’état in 2009. The human rights situation declined further after elections in November 2017, which sparked widespread allegations of fraud and public protests. The brutal crackdown by the government, and military, in response to the protests, resulted in the death of over forty Honduran civilians, while over 2,000 people, many of which were peaceful protesting, remain in detention (read more).
Dina faces extreme risks because of her work as an independent journalist exposing government corruption and state-led oppression of human rights. As well as having her phone tapped, she receives regular anonymous threatening phone calls, is followed by cars without number plates, and has armed men coming to her house to intimidate her and her family. Dina has had to move house several times since starting this work. The continued intimidation led Dina to spend 5 months in exile in 2013. At great personal risk and cost to herself and her family, Dina continues to speak out to defend human rights.
Kenya – How women are overcoming barriers to bring justice to Nairobi's informal settlements
“A couple of my female relatives were raped when I was younger, but then I could not help them because I did not know anything, I had not engaged with human rights yet. I remained silent, but these days, I cannot be silent anymore. And that’s one positive change; women are now more empowered than before.” – Kate Wangui, Kenyan activist
Kate Wangui is a Kenyan activist working to bring about justice and social change in Kibera, Nairobi’s largest informal settlement.
On how she got involved in human rights work: “In 2012, I was invited to a meeting of the Kibera Women for Peace and Fairness organisation, where they talked a lot about peace and forgiveness. That pulled me out of the feeling that I was alone. They have engaged me on different occasions and in trainings, which has made me strong.”
On the challenges and successes she has faced: “Right now, we do not always have the capacity to follow up on cases. The police may intimidate you, or the victim’s family is paid off by the perpetrator… Other times, we are successful: we had a case where we organised a demonstration from Kibera to the Nairobi Women’s Hospital to force the doctor and police to testify in a rape case. In the end, they did and the perpetrator was sentenced to ten years imprisonment”
On her vision for the future: “Things are slowly changing. We have women vying for seats in the election, we have some women in leadership roles. Before, women’s voices were not heard here… Together, we will hopefully create a community where human rights defenders can speak out, we will create a community where people get justice. Because at the end of the day, that is what we are working for: justice.”
Mexico–Facing persecution in the struggle against environmental injustice
“We don’t have any time to rest, because there is violence every day” – Rosalinda Dionico, land and environmental defender, Mexico
Rosalinda Dionicio is fighting to protect land and environmental rights against international mining companies and corporate interests whose projects are resulting in widespread environmental pollution and displacement of indigenous communities from their land.
Rosalinda has been organising community networks to resist megaprojects and environmental threats since 2009. As a result, Rosalinda and her colleagues have been the target of state-sanctioned violence and persecution. In 2012, Rosalinda miraculously survived an armed attack in which two of her colleagues were killed. She was however, shot in the leg, leaving her permanently disabled.