Poster says: Human Rights are Not A Crime
The Regional Coalition for WHRDs in Middle East and North Africa held its third regional consultation meeting from the 9th to the 13th of August, attended by more than 15 WHRDs from several countries in the regional along with more than four international partners, with the aim of updating strategies for activities done by the Coalition, especially those related to the rapid change of local contexts. The meeting also shed light on the challenges of international advocacy, which impacted local work in a very negative way. In addition, the meeting focused on the need to identify means and methods of local advocacy, especially in North Africa along with the importance of feminist and regional solidarity as a form of advocacy.
The meeting started with an official definition of the WHRD term in relation to the UN resolution in 2013, which aims to protect and acknowledge women human rights defenders and their efforts. Absence of authentic Arabic translation to the term, along with it not being used often, resulted in a lack of understanding of what it means to be a WHRD, which adds more challenges to local work.
Participants presented their current local contexts in which all attendees noticed a similar common strategy among the authorities in the Middle East and North Africa, in terms of using anti-terrorism laws and discourse to legitimize human rights violations, along with brutalizing WHRDs using various patriarchal and sexist tactics, i.e: stigmatizing WHRDs, online bullying and harassments, threatening family members and close friends, etc.
WHRDs also discussed the strategies they have been using to protect themselves, and their need to have a more effective way of protection that doesn’t hinder their work. Such a strategy requires regional solidarity and international advocacy. Participants related to Mesoamerican’s WHRDs experience in “I-M DEFENSORAS’, and reflected on it later on.
Many observations during the meeting led to the discussion about the need to provide safety and protection to WHRDs while enabling them to continue their work.
International advocacy and its challenges have also been addressed, along with national protection mechanism that need to be adopted in order to facilitate access to international mechanisms effectively with a semi-defeatist perspective of international mechanism due to lack of info and access to such methods and tactics.
The regional meeting presented regional solidarity as a needed new direction in the work of WHRDs in order to counter rapid shutdowns of public spaces, silencing WHRDs, and regimes co-opting similar strategies to counter and attack civil society. There is an urgent need for regional solidarity because the plight of WHRDs is no longer restricted to a local context, but a regional one instead. Several authorities are using cross-border patterns which implies the importance of understanding struggles form a regional perspective because it empowers and protects WHRDs to keep on working in their countries.
In a discussion with international partners, attendees talked about the absence of feminist support needed for WHRDs as most INGOs don’t highlight their work or simplify their experiences or ignore them completely all whilst giving spaces and platforms to already well-known and protected activists, which also adds another challenge to the work of organizations and collectives that are subject to several forms of violence without support.
There is a need to adopt regional solidarity as a new strategy in the work of WHRDs in light of cross-border oppression in the region, endless attempts of authorities to silence women and restrict their work by using patriarchal tactics, along with the mainstream anti-terrorism discourse used as a permission to violate basic human rights and brutalize WHRDs. Since these acts of violence occurs on a daily basis, regional solidarity must be a daily act, and because such acts target women specifically, regional solidarity is ought to be feminist.