In Somalia Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) are exposed to gender-based violence due to the nature of
their work, in line with patriarchal norms that perpetuate gendered misconceptions regarding the place of women in society. They experience violence within their own movements and organizations or at the hands of family or the communities which they are a part of. Attacks against WHRDs often take gender-specific forms, including sexist and misogynistic verbal abuse, assault, harassment and sexual abuse. Generally, WHRDs are subjected to threats, intimidation, judicial harassment, arbitrary detention and prosecution, online attacks, sexual violence, physical violence and attacks directed at their loved ones.
Further, there are high numbers of reported extrajudicial killings of WHRDs. Many of these killings are preceded by direct or indirect threats, which are often intended to intimidate, silence and stop them from carrying out their work. Nationally disaggregated statistics on the number of human rights defenders killed each year are limited, with these statistics only being reported globally and regionally.
For instance, in the period from 1 January 2019 to 30 June 2020 alone, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders sent Communications to 10 Member States on the killing of 100 human rights defenders, including 17 women human rights defenders. Moreover, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) observed that from 2015 to 2019, human rights defenders including WHRDs have been killed in at least 64 countries.
There is a need to provide human rights defenders with a conducive environment to enable them to carry out their activities without fear of acts of violence, threat, intimidation, reprisal, discrimination, oppression and harassment from State and non-State actors. States have an obligation to protect WHRDs from violation. The United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders establishes that States “shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”
Despite the obligation on States to undertake legislative, administrative, budgetary and other measures
to protect WHRDs, states have failed to uphold their mandate to protect WHRDs leading to the high
rates of violence among WHRDs. Nonetheless, other regional and continental political and economic communities have adopted protection mechanisms for HRDs as a whole, by developing specific legislation and creating bodies with the mandate to protect WHRDs which can similarly be adopted in Africa in order to enforce the promotion and protection of the rights of WHRDs.
These are considered best practices given that they provide avenues for legitimizing the work of HRDs and moreover, provide protection mechanisms for them to ensure they are not subjected to threats, intimidation, violence among other unjustified violations. There is a further need to assess the existence of these best practices, interrogate their effectiveness and see how they can be adopted by the target countries, being the countries that are yet to ratify the Maputo Protocol in Africa which are: Botswana, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Madagascar, Morocco, Niger, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan, to enhance the promotion and protection of the rights of WHRDs.
About the Model Guide and Guidelines for WHRDs Validation Meeting
Equality Now in partnership with UN Women reviewed and assessed the existing protocols and systems that aim to promote and protect the rights of WHRDs, and subsequently used this assessment to develop a model guide and guidelines that can be adopted by the target countries.
The Model Guide and guidelines on WHRDs thus provides information and guidance on the best systems and protocols on protection of WHRDs and how they can be adopted by AU Member States. In particular the Model Guide, and the assessment that it is based on, emphasises the responsibility of the State to ensure WHRDs are protected from VAW including extrajudicial killings and prosecutions.
The Model Guide was developed as from March 2022 – July 2022, following an internal study that was conducted on the status of Women Human Rights Defenders in Africa. Following the findings of the internal study, the consultants consulted various stakeholders including members of National Human Rights Institutions, Civil Society Organizations, representatives from United Nations as well as the African Union in order to gain a better understanding of the challenges faced by WHRDs, gaps in the current protection measures and protocols that can be adopted for their protection by AU Member States.
On this backdrop, Equality Now seeks to bring together various stakeholders involved in protection and promotion of the rights of WHRDs, in order to validate the draft Model Guide and Guidelines. We would
advocate for the Model Guide and Guidelines to be used to guide AU Member States on how to develop
protection measures for WHRDs. The Guidelines can further be used by CSOs as well as NHRIs to advocate for protocols to protect and promote the rights of WHRDs in their respective countries.
Objectives of the Validation Meeting
The main objectives of the validation meeting shall be:
● To share the findings of the status on Women Human Rights Defenders in Africa.
● To share and discuss the contents of the Model Guide and Guidelines on WHRDs.
● To provide stakeholders with the opportunity to evaluate and question the content and structure
of the Model guide and Guidelines on WHRDs;
● To improve the quality of the Model Guide through a participatory approach and constructive
and objective feedback on the content; and
● To receive stakeholders’ feedback and submissions for consideration in the final Model Guide
and Guidelines for WHRDs.
The validation workshop will be conducted virtually via Zoom. It will use interactive and participatory
discussions throughout the workshop. The workshop will also apply the use of PowerPoint presentations,
question & answer sessions, plenary, and group discussions. The workshop will be steered by Equality
Now, the consultants who supported the development of the Guide, the African Union Commission as
well as UN Women.
The target audience for the validation meeting will be:
● African Union Commission Representatives;
● African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights Representatives;
● National Human Rights Institutions Representatives;
● UN Women Representative;
● CSSRG Representatives; and
● Civil Society Organizations Representatives
HANAHR Advocacy Desk