Protecting rural women human rights defenders
As originally published by International Service for Human Rights By Mayra Gomez, Co-Executive Director of the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Rural women across the world remain amongst the most marginalised in terms of exclusion from political and economic power. They often face numerous violations of their human rights as a result of intersectional discrimination, poverty and lack of access to essential services. Yet, many rural women are also at the front lines of human rights advocacy, fighting for a better life for themselves, their families and communities. The obstacles that they face are often formidable, and the issues they raise often put them at risk of violence and abuse.
Last month, on 4 March 2016, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women issued its new General Recommendation No. 34 on the Rights of Rural Women. In it, the Committee highlights that 'Rural women human rights defenders are often at risk of violence when working, for example, to protect victims, transform local customs or secure natural resource rights.'
Rural women’s activism when it comes to land rights is an especially illustrative example. Land grabbing, unfair land distribution, development projects, environmental degradation, extractive industries, and climate change have all placed increased stress on many rural communities. In many cases, increasing contestation around land has resulted in mass displacement, which has particularly detrimental impacts for rural women. Rural women have been at the forefront of many of the efforts to resist unfair demands to concede their lands, and many have met with extreme and sometime even fatal violence.
Most recently, we have seen the tragic killing in Honduras of environmental and indigenous rights advocate Berta Cáceres, who on the same day that the General Recommendation was released was found shot dead inside the home where she lived in La Esperanza. But hers is the latest in what globally has been an upsurge in violence against land rights activists, many of whom are rural women. In fact, in their report 'Deadly Environment', Global Witness had previously warned that such violence was surging. The cases we see around the world have a striking similarity: on 19 October 2012, indigenous anti-mining activist Juvy Capion and her two young sons were shot dead by soldiers of the 27th Infantry Battalion in the Philippines. In Thailand, on 19 November 2012, activists Montha Chukaew and Pranee Boonrat were shot and killed for their work campaigning for the right to agricultural land. In Brazil, in August 2015, community leader Maria das Dores Salvador Priante, was kidnapped, tortured and murdered as a result of her land rights advocacy. The list goes on.
General Recommendation No. 34 not only highlights the problem, it also provides that States parties are obligated to '[i]mplement measures to prevent and address threats and attacks against rural women human rights defenders, with particular attention to those engaged on issues related to land and natural resources; women’s health, including sexual and reproductive rights; elimination of discriminatory customs and practices; and gender-based violence.' This new standard can be used by rural women human rights defenders and others to hold governments accountable for failing to protect them from violence, harassment and abuse. It also highlights that such efforts must be in line with two of the Committee’s previous General Recommendations: No. 19 on violence against women and No. 33 on access to justice.
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women is a body of independent experts mandated to provide guidance and assess compliance with the International Convention ion the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women. A General Recommendation adopted by the Committee is recognised as an authoritative statement on the content, scope, application and implementation of rights under the Convention.
Mayra Gomez is Co-Executive Director of the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.