PBI, women human rights defenders, and the UN high-level meeting on the Beijing Declaration

Published by Brent Patterson on

On Wednesday September 23, the United Nations will convene a high-level meeting in New York City to mark the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women that took place in Beijing, China in September 1995.

What is the Beijing Platform?

The Fourth World Conference on Women: Action for Equality, Development and Peace produced the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

The 38-point Beijing Declaration committed to ensuring, “the full implementation of the human rights of women and of the girl child as an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

It also identified twelve critical areas of concern: “poverty, education and training, health, violence, armed conflict, economy, power and decision-making, institutional mechanisms, human rights, media, environment, and the girl child.”

Violence against Women Environmental Human Rights Defenders

The situation continues to be critical for women.

On January 29 of this year, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released a major new study titled: Gender-based violence and environment linkages: The violence of inequality. It found that “climate breakdown and the global crisis of environmental degradation are increasing violence against women and girls.”

Chapter 6 of the IUCN report, titled Gender-based violence in defending land, territories and the environment – The situation of women environmental human rights defenders, can be found on pages 162 to 180.

That chapter highlights, “Statistics provided by the Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative (IM-Defensoras) found that a total of 609 aggressions against WEHRDs were recorded between 2015 and 2016 in Mexico and Central America alone. In this same region, between 2012 and 2016, at least 42 WEHRDs were killed.”

It also explains, “Violence against WEHRDs in the public and private sector is interlinked with and rooted in social, economic and political power relations, including gender discrimination, an unequal division of labour, and pre-existing levels of violence.”

“WEHRDs thus endure gender-differentiated violence, whether as users and managers of natural resources, as victims of abuse by state or non-state actors, or as journalists, lawyers, educators, indigenous leaders or everyday citizens concerned over the degradation of the environment and natural resources.”

Canada and WHRDs

The Voices at Risk: Canada’s Guidelines on Supporting Human Rights Defenders developed by Global Affairs Canada for Canadian missions (embassies, consulates, high commissions) has an annex on Women Human Rights Defenders (pages 25-27).

Those guidelines note, “Missions should address the situation of women HRDs in their reporting, noting in particular the occurrence of any threats or attacks against them and their ability to undertake their work in safety, as well as practices that are potentially harmful and areas where they can be supported to mitigate risks.”

While these are important guidelines, concerns have been raised by Canadian civil society about the voluntary, non-compulsory nature of them. 

PBI and Women Human Rights Defenders

In February 2015, Joke Oranje, a Board member with Peace Brigades International-Netherlands, wrote, “As defenders of human rights, women face all the resistance and risks that are part of it, even more so, since their position is vulnerable because they cannot be sure that people will respect their own rights as women.”

She continues, “In terms of protecting human rights defenders, a few Dutch organizations joined the initiative of Peace Brigades International in the Netherlands to organize a conference in 2014 with female human rights defenders from Guatemala, Colombia, Sudan, Mexico, Egypt, Afghanistan and Palestine on protection issues.”

Oranje highlights, “From the perspectives of Peace Brigades and our partners, it is recommended that more work should be done to protect women activists against intimidation, slander, abduction, rape and murder and to promote their full participation in peace negotiations and environmental, indigenous and women’s rights movements.”

PBI Toolkits

Oranje also notes, “[After the conference in the Netherlands in 2014], some 20 other NGOs joined efforts to develop a toolkit on the protection of women human rights defenders [in 2015].” The following year, in 2016, PBI-Kenya also developed and published a Toolkit for WHRDs in Nairobi’s Urban Settlements.

PBI accompaniment of WHRDs

The most recent Peace Brigades International Annual Review notes 53 per cent (705) of the human rights defenders we accompany in Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya and Mexico are women. Additionally, 68 per cent (298) of the volunteers who worked in our field projects, country groups and our international office are women.

The annual review also highlights, “To commemorate the International Women Human Rights Defenders Day (WHRDs Day), PBI launched the Remarkable Women campaign to highlight the tireless work of WHRDs around the world and invite the international community to #standwithher.”

Upcoming dates

The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women will hold a 25-year review and appraisal of the Beijing Platform’s implementation in March, the high-level meeting on the Platform will take place on September 23, and the annual International Women Human Rights Defenders Day is on November 29.

Categories: News Updates


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