Women human rights defenders’ role as builders of sustainable peace must be valued and protected

The contribution of women human rights defenders to peacebuilding and security in conflict, post-conflict, and crisis-affected settings is nothing short of transformative. Whether individually or collectively, women create the conditions conducive to peace, conflict resolution, and the realization of justice and accountability. Evidence has shown that women’s meaningful participation in peacebuilding can increase the probability of a lasting peace agreement by 20%.

However, the work of women peacebuilders is often undertaken against a backdrop of bias, discrimination, and in hostile settings with deeply embedded patriarchal values. African human rights defender Esther Omam Njomo emphasizes the overwhelming challenges women face when they promote and protect human rights. Undertaking a “male-dominated job given its constant exposure to threats,” women human rights defenders “constantly struggle with their male counterparts to gain recognition and legitimacy,” she noted.

Her insightful remarks were included in the recently published report of the UN Special Rapporteur, Mary Lawlor, on the situation of human rights defenders. The report, entitled ‘Pathways to peace: women human rights defenders in conflict, post-conflict and crisis-affected settings,’ is a clear assertion of not only the pivotal role of women human rights defenders in building sustainable peace, but also of the challenges and risks they face as a result of their work.

Highlighting individual cases of women human rights defenders making remarkable contributions to peace and security in their countries, the report documents instances where women have created positive transformations by providing crucial services, monitoring human rights violations, promoting the rights and agency of women and girls, and fostering mediation and peacebuilding.

Around the globe, women human rights defenders are active on the ground, helping to keep communities safe, responding to needs amidst the pressures of conflict, and tirelessly pursuing justice and peace. Their varied and remarkable work documented in the report is a testament to the impact of women’s inclusion in decision-making and peacebuilding efforts. 

To enhance this participation, steps must be taken to protect women against gendered violence, intimidation, attacks, and restrictions they are often subjected to because of their role as human rights defenders. The report’s recommendations to the UN, its Member States, and civil society organizations offer a clear roadmap of the measures that can be adopted to help create a safe space for women to act as leaders in building sustainable peace in their countries – from legal and advocacy procedure to financial and capacity-building support.

In her statement to the 78th session of the UN General Assembly on the presentation of the report, Ms. Lawlor underscored the importance of women’s role in peacebuilding and decision-making processes – articulating one of the core elements of the EJS Center’s mission to advance women’s participation in public leadership. Protecting women human rights defenders, she stressed, “isn’t just the right thing to do… You need these women to be able to work safely in order to achieve a just, inclusive, and sustainable peace.” In other words, protecting these women is protecting all members of society against inequalities and the repercussions of conflict and multipronged crises.

Read the full report here.

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