Launching Statement of #SheDefends Campaign

The WHRD coalition in MENA launches the #SheDefends campaign at a time when darkness is falling in the region. We are experiencing an upsurge of violence against women, specifically, against those who are working in the public space, suffering from simmering and bloodiest conflicts, an unprecedented emergence of non-state religious organizations,  in addition to  the closure of the public space, the imposition of restrictions on public freedoms and civil society organizations,  the rejection of human rights discourse by the majority of the state institutions.

 Subsequently, our campaign aims at highlighting the activities of WHRDs in the region, the issues they are working on, the violations they are facing.  Also, it aims at introducing them, calling upon relevant national, regional and international actors and interested people to support and protect WHRDs in the region, manifesting more solidarity with them.

WHRDs in MENA are working on highly varied and important cases related to Human Rights.

In Egypt, WHRDs are faced with the challenge of changing civil status laws, defending women’s right to political participation of women. They are, strongly, active in facing sexual violence in public space, rejecting torture in prisons, working on providing services to survivors of sexual violence and torture victims. Also, they work on documenting and sharing their experiences around the world. All of this is happening against the complete closing of the public space, the targeting of the Egyptian organizations, the imposition of travel bans on defenders of human rights and taking measures aimed at isolating them from their regional communities, and far from the world public opinion.

As the war on Yemen continues, WHRDs in the Gulf are striving to combat the armed sectarianism, the underage marriage and sexual harassment. Due to the said positions, they are faced with death threats and sexual violence by the society, from one side, and by the armed militias, from the other side. Also, many of WHRDs face travel bans or they were listed on travel bans. In Saudi Arabia, WHRDs suffer defamation campaigns due to their demands for abolishing the male guardianship system, which allows men to control many aspects of women’s lives, in terms of the right to travel or to work, as many of them had to leave the country to live in exile. Meanwhile, WHRDs in Bahrain are working on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, as well as against arbitrary detentions and travel bans which are affecting Bahraini defenders of human rights.

Meanwhile, WHRDs, in the Middle East, are working on promoting women’s right to political participation, equitable representation, nationality’s transmit, legal identity documents, form trade unions, land, and to other issues related to the preservation of human dignity. WHRDs in the Middle East are facing scathing criticism from the patriarchal community they are living in and from state’s institutions that defames them or neglect their demands, just because they are women.

The diversity of issues that the women of the region are defending reflect a discernible intent by those women to be actively involved in the public space, developing human rights discourse in local communities and within the state’s institutions. However, they, rarely, get the solidarity and support they need from the community or the state’s institutions, rather, they are being targeted for breaking gender stereotypes or have been overlooked just because they are women. Actually, they are, at best, directed to be engaged in issues that are considered more appropriate for them as women, while, in the worst cases, they are requested to abandon their activities.

Under the escalating violence and the regions’ developments, WHRDs are marginalized and ignored. These conditions leave them vulnerable to harassment, marginalization and targeting.  In addition to that, their experiences are not documented and they are not, usually, praised or supported for their role, as WHRDS are not priority for the State’s institutions due to the latter’s preoccupation with fighting terrorism and because the majority of our countries view defenders of human rights with caution and suspicion, including another factor related to the dominance of patriarchal values that makes it more difficult for women to be engaged in the public sphere.

For all these reasons, #SheDefends campaign is launched to promote the work of WHRDs, ensuring solidarity among WHRDs, highlighting their insistence on defending human rights, in a region where humanity is absent and violence is dominant. So, join us in the campaign!

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