Feminist and women’s rights activists all over the world are facing constant oppression, harassment, intimidation, threats, violence and assassination in their countries, frequently with impunity. In the Euro-Med region, particularly in areas of conflict, women’s rights activists are targets of misogynistic attacks and gender-based violence. They suffer double oppression, violations and abuses of their fundamental rights to life, security, freedom and human dignity. Many of them experienced rape and other forms of violence, several were detained and sentenced to lengthy prison terms after unfair trials and many more were assassinated and brutally killed.
In Syria, women’s rights activists are subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention, torture, trumped up charges, degrading treatment, enforced disappearance and sometimes extrajudicial killings and assassination. Though they are still fighting against religious extremism and risking their lives to achieve equal rights for women and equal participation of women in formal decision making and peace negotiations. Moreover, they lead protests and campaigns for the liberation of detained prisoners and enforced disappearance.
In Syria, Razan Zaitouneh, lawyer, activist and head of the Violations Documentation Center (VDC), and Samira Khalil, former political detainee and women’s rights activist, were kidnapped, along with their male colleagues Wael Hamada and Nazem Hamadi. On December 9, 2013, a group of armed men stormed into the office of the VDC in Douma and abducted them. The four human rights defenders have not been heard of since.
According to a report released by the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) entitled: “The Syrian Woman… A Society’s Shattered Half”, which documents the most notable violations against Syrian women by the parties to the conflict in Syria since 2011, 13344 women and 11,402 girls were killed at the hands of the parties to the conflict in Syria. The report notes that no less than 6,736 women are still under arbitrary arrest or forcibly-disappeared inside the official and non-official Syrian regime detention centers as of November 2017. Out of those, 41 women have died due to torture between March 2011 and November 2017.
In Iraq, women’s rights activists are facing harassment, threats, brutal violence and kidnapping from the Iraqi government and they are also exposed to great risks such as execution by terrorist organizations. Despite all this, they are working tirelessly to improve women’s civil and political rights, eliminate discrimination and violence against women, provide protection to women and girls who are vulnerable to violence and challenge the certain fixed and stereotypical roles of women.
In Egypt, women’s rights activists face ongoing pressure and attacks from the authorities which aim to silence their voices and restrict their legitimate activities. Egyptian activists face arbitrary charges, arrests and harassment from authorities in the form of travel bans, asset freezes and closures of prominent human rights organizations. Among those facing litigation is Mozn Hassan, the director of Nazra for Feminist Studies who has been under a travel ban since 2016 and her assets along with Nazra’s assets were frozen by the Egyptian court on January 2017 under NGO Foreign Funding Case. As a result, Nazra for Feminist Studies closed its office on 16 March 2018.
Repression and violence against women’s rights activists are systemically escalating. Activists all over the world are subjected to various forms of abuse and violence and this continues to happen without any protection or prevention. Recently, Marielle Franco, a Brazilian women’s rights activist and Rio de Janeiro city Councillor, was assassinated on 14 March 2018 after leaving women’s empowerment event that she had organized when a car pulled up and shot her nine shots. The news of her death quickly spread across social media channels. According to Brazilian website Piaui, in the 42 hours following her death, there were 3.6 million tweets about her from users in 54 countries. Furthermore, several vigils and protests were organized in Brazil and other countries in her honor. The assassination of Franco is another example of the danger and threats that women’s rights activists face while advocating to improve women’s rights and gender equality.
Euromed Feminist Initiative IFE-EFI demands justice and accountability for those responsible for the mistreatment and assassination of all women’s rights activists who risk their lives in their attempt to advance women’s rights and gender equality in their communities and countries. We urge governments to carry out transparent and credible investigations into the assassinations and violations committed to women’s rights activists and to provide protection and prevent their recurrence.
IFE-EFI urges states to ensure that women’s rights activists can play their vital role and voice their concerns and demands freely without risks or restriction by providing an enabling environment that facilitates their movement and work, prevents and prosecutes attacks and other forms of abuse and harassment perpetrated against them. Furthermore, states and government must develop legal mechanisms to put an end to the impunity of perpetrators.
Finally, IFE-EFI salutes and honors the women’s rights defenders and activists who continue to risk their lives as they work fearlessly to advance women’s rights in their countries.