Defending migrants’ human rights must not cost women their lives

UN Women

On the occasion of this year’s International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, we recognize and commemorate the tireless efforts of women human rights defenders around the world, especially those at risk in migration contexts.

Statement: Defending migrants’ human rights must not cost women their lives

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Today, UN Women is launching a groundbreaking set of recommendations on the protection of women human rights defenders at risk in migration contexts. Developed with the support of preeminent experts, including migrant women human rights defenders, they underline the critical role of migrant women human rights defenders in securing the rights of people on the move. These recommendations are the first of their kind and a rallying cry to mobilize governments into action! We urgently need greater protections for all women human rights defenders so that, wherever they are and whomever they help, they will be protected from violence, discrimination, and harassment. We must ensure that women in all their diversity can defend rights safely, without fear of retaliation.

These recommendations are our chance to resist the rollback of rights we have all witnessed. They are a blueprint for a better world, one in which the lives of all women human rights defenders are protected, promoted and valued. No one should be dying in defence of those most in need of our support.

There are estimated to be 281 million migrants worldwide, moving for many different reasons: some to escape poverty, unemployment, political instability, violence, while others leave to pursue opportunities: to study, develop their careers, to be with their families. Migration is inherently shaped by gender. While all migrants may experience negative stereotypes and prejudice, women, girls, and gender-diverse people too often face the brunt of discriminatory migration laws and policies. They face violence, sexual exploitation, forced labour, and trafficking, particularly when migration is not safe and regular pathways are out of reach.

Women human rights defenders play a crucial role in protecting migrant rights. They do so in numerous ways-rescuing those in distress at land and sea, accompanying migrants on dangerous journeys, offering food and water. Some provide shelter, transport, healthcare, education, legal aid, and integration support. Others document human rights violations or advocate for laws, policies, and practices that protect the rights of migrants, refugees, and stateless persons. In doing so, they face enormous risks: to themselves, to their families, to the people they seek to defend. They may be silenced or belittled, face intimidation, harassment, slander, violence, criminalization, and smear campaigns. In recent years, we are seeing a dramatic rise in anti-rights movements, resulting in a backlash against women’s rights organizations and a rise in attacks against women human rights defenders and activists.

This year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign is coming together under the banner of “UNiTE! Activism to end violence against women and girls”, an opportunity for us all to act in solidarity with women’s rights activists in calling for a world free from violence for all women and girls. Since 1991, the campaign has been active between 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and 10 December, International Human Rights Day. By launching these recommendations during the 16 Days of Activism, we hope to increase awareness about the visible and invisible dangers faced by migrant women human rights defenders and encourage governments to make good on their commitments to eliminate gender-based violence once and for all. This is our chance to stand with those who risk their lives to protect others.

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