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Women rights activists under attack: Amnesty

Chase Winter
November 29, 2019

Activists continue to be sexually assaulted, threatened, intimidated, criminalized and even killed, the rights watchdog has said. Women human rights defenders even face hostility from members of their own family.

People take part in the nationwide women's strike 'Black Friday'
Image: picture-alliance/PAP/M. Obara

Women human rights defenders regularly experience a myriad of threats and attacks related to their work of promoting rights of women, gender equality and sexuality, Amnesty International said Friday.

In a report marking International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, Amnesty said that these activists continue to be assaulted, threatened, intimidated, criminalized and even killed for their campaigning.  

Read more: Women still face legal discrimination in 155 countries

"Women human rights defenders are attacked because of who they are and what they do. The risks are even greater for those facing intersecting forms of discrimination — if you are a woman and from a racial minority, indigenous, poor, lesbian, bisexual or trans, a sex worker, you have to fight so much harder to have your voice heard by those in power," said Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International's Secretary General.

Despite advances in the feminist movement that have made it stronger than ever, women activists are under growing pressure in recent years from politicians, religious leaders and violent groups "spreading politics of demonization," Amnesty said.

Read more: 'We need to talk about religion and patriarchy': Bangladeshi activist

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"Because women human rights defenders are often at the forefront of progress, they often are the first to be targeted in increasingly frequent backlashes against a more inclusive, fairer world," the rights watchdog said in the report, entitled "Challenging power, fighting discrimination: A call to action to recognize and protect women human rights defenders."

Citing Poland, where women rights defenders have fought restrictions on abortion and documented other violations of the rights of women and LGBT+ people, Amnesty said some have faced attacks in a climate where racist, anti-immigration sentiment has increased.

Elsewhere, including in Bahrain and Egypt, sexual violence as a form of torture is used to silence women rights defenders, Amnesty said. Women may also face domestic violence and abuse based on cultural notions such as "honor," threats of divorce, or being forcibly separated from their children.

Similarly, women activists are often subjected to smear campaigns attacking their "deviant behavior," which Amnesty said are designed to fuel hostility against them. For example, Italy's former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini derided Carola Rackete, the German captain of the Sea-Watch 3 rescue boat, which was followed by a slew of slurs from others who incited sexual violence and targeted her gender and appearance.

"These women need to be celebrated and protected for the courageous work they do to improve all our lives, but especially those of the most marginalized communities," said Naidoo.

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