On Wednesday 29th November, International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women, Peace and Security (APPG-WPS) hosted an event with Amnesty International and GAPS titled “Supporting Women Human Rights Defenders”. The event, chaired by Baroness Hodgson, co-chair of the APPG -WPS, focused on the current realities for women in conflict-affected settings and how the UK government can better support the important work of women human rights defenders.
Ms Moana Khaity, a Syrian researcher and humanitarian worker, opened the event by speaking about her experience as a Syrian activist. She talked about how she hadn’t chosen to be a woman human rights defender but was rather forced to be one due to being a Syrian woman. Ms Khaity spoke about the importance of uniting behind women human rights defenders through bottom-up approaches which include the voices of survivors and victims. In Syria, where women do not have any legal system to turn to are criminalised by their regime and not included in decision-making, it is important for cross-border collective work to support women responding to all forms of crises.
Ms Samira Hamidi from Amnesty International spoke about the experiences of Afghan women rights defenders especially since the drastic changes of freedoms under the Taliban control since 2021. Ms Hamidi outlined the gender persecution that women face through arbitrary arrest, torture and imprisonment and highlighted the fact that women who speak out are under direct and continual threat. This is also the situation for Afghan women who have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, such as Pakistan, where many are now being forcibly deported back to Afghanistan. Ms Hamidi urges the international community, including the UK government, to engage with and listen to women inside Afghanistan. and those in the diaspora. Finally, Ms Hamidi spoke about the importance of holding the Taliban accountable for their gender-based discrimination, which many are now calling gender apartheid. The international community needs to help protect Afghan women, and most importantly, Afghan women human rights defenders.
Ms Oksana Potapova, a Ukrainian activist, talked about her experience as a women right’s defender in the current war which, like in most other war and conflicts, holds explicit gender elements. Ms Potapova spoke on the need to engage with women human rights defenders in other countries to identify common challenges. Russia’s war on Ukraine, has now been going on for 644 days, and she talked about the gender norms which force increased unpaid and paid labour on women, whilst placing militarised expectations on men who are legally required to be conscripted into the Ukrainian army. Ms Potapova explained how women in Ukraine are embodying many narratives and stories but are still not recognised as subjects of the political process. Trans and LGBTQI+ people are present in Ukraine, Ms Potapova explains, and they need to be recognised as partners, not just through the lens of suffering. Ms Potapova closed by speaking about the importance of feminist analysis in bringing the voice and needs of women to the table- without this they will not be properly present.
Finally, Ms Chiara Capraro from Amnesty International spoke about the need for the UK government to better support women human rights defenders. Ms Capraro spoke about the commitments that the UK government has made through the National Action Plan and recent International Development White Paper as part of the WPS agenda, but how it has not yet provided a comprehensive strategy on how to implement such commitments. Ms Capraro talked about the importance of the UK government to focus on political participation and socioeconomic justice in the context of women’s rights as well as gender-based violence which was a common theme amongst the four speakers. Ms Capraro raised the importance of consider the rights of women and girls, both domestically and internationally.
Baroness Hodgson thanked the speakers, the organisers and all who attended.
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