On March 8th we celebrated women human rights defenders (WHRDs) working at the front line of their communities seeking to combat sexual violence in Kenya.
We launched Manu Valcarce's short film The Stand Against Sexual Violence to share the story of Kenyan WHRDs who are developing innovative strategies to support women in the community impacted by sexual violence
Gender Based Violence in Kenya
Sexual and gender based violence is endemic all over the world. In Kenya the crisis is particularly acute due to low conviction rates for perpetrators and barriers to access to justice. In the urban settlements of Nairobi women human rights defenders are organising themselves to reach out to the most vulnerable women in the community. With the support of PBI, they are developing documentation and capacity building strategies to tackle the problem at its roots and to train other women in the community. Through a network of trained toolkit organisers, women in different settlements across Nairobi are given access to the tools and support they need in order to document, expose violations and protect other women in the community. Our pionering Toolkit for WHRDs provides a set of resources for those women working to combat sexual violence and protection in their communities.
"We had to sit down, speak together, and we found that we have a common story. We have to fight sexual and gender based violence."
How are we supporting WHRDs
At a policy level we are working with the UK government and other policy makers to ensure they are aware of how best to support and protect WHRDs. Through our field experience we have learnt how a holistic strategy centred on the needs and experiences of women supporting their communities should be at the heart of any protection and advocacy strategy. We are calling for a comprehensive approach to ensure WHRDs are able to operate in an environment that allows them to defend and promote human rights.
A lack of public recognition of the legitimacy of WHRDs, and ongoing impunity for perpetrators, enables attacks and reprisals to continue without consequence. Our policy briefings also highlight the exclusion of WHRDs from the Peace and Security agenda. It also emphasizes how women are the only ones able to generate sustainable change within their communities because they are best placed to understand, analyse and deliver solutions that meet their needs on the ground.
"Women play a critical role in addressing the causes and consequences
of conflict by organising and advocating for the rights of the most vulnerable.
They have shaped international human rights frameworks, brokered
ceasefires, coordinated humanitarian relief and led reconciliation efforts."
Juliet Wanjera coordinates the women's group of the social justice movement in Nairobi. WHRDs maintain peace by advocating for marginalised people, challenging the root causes of inequality and pushing for reform through locally-led solutions.
Celebrating WHRDs on International Women's Day 2021
Women play an undervalued role in the defence of civil liberties, protection of communities and promotion of human rights. They have often been the architects of international human rights frameworks and have driven transformational change across their societies. By their nature, women human rights defenders challenge the traditional gender roles of patriarchal societies. Consequently, women human rights defenders often suffer from serious public defamation campaigns that aim to damage their reputation, accusing them, among others, of neglecting their family or of being in search of sexual partners. Women human rights defenders are often targets of attacks, threats and harassment, on top of gender specific forms, including through the use of rape as a weapon of war, social stigmatization and verbal abuse and intimidation. It is essential that states commit to ensuring a safe environment for human rights defenders, implementing prevention and protection programs for human rights defenders, with a gender focus. We reiterate the need to promptly investigate all cases of threats and attacks against women defenders and to condemn those responsible.
We are constantly overwhelmed by their resilience and determination in the face of sexual violence.
These women human rights defenders have tirelessly developed new ways to raise awareness for the challenges they face. Whether through campaigning, local organising, or legal representation, they are constantly striving for a better world.
Dina faces harassment and intimidation on a daily basis for her work promoting freedom of expression. Continued discrediting of WHRDs and their work serves both as a deterrent and barrier to their participation and leadership in public life.