More must be done to ensure women in civil society are protected


Twenty-five years since the ratification of the Beijing Platform for Action, and a year since women across the world participated in the Women's Global Strike - gender justice is still not a reality for most women. Despite mass mobilisations globally with women at the forefront, and despite numerous campaigns and policy interventions orchestrated by women civil society leaders, activists and lawyers, women across the world struggle to achieve full equality.

The theme of this year’s UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW65), running from 15 to 26 March 2021, is Women in Public Life: Equal Participation in Decision-Making. Meaningfully realising Sustainable Development Goal 5 (on Gender Equality) requires ensuring that civic freedoms for women in civil society are protected, recognised, celebrated and supported by multilateral institutions and governments across the world. This can only be done by recognising how SDG 16 (on Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) is an important conduit to guaranteeing the civic freedoms of women activists around the world who have improved human rights for all despite significant hurdles. To this end, the undersigned are calling for the UN system and governments across the world to ensure that the work of women in civil society is protected, resourced and supported in all spheres.

Rather than sit back, women and girls across the world are mobilising in solidarity to challenge the entrenchment of neoliberalism, inequality, sexism, militarism, racism and patriarchy at local, national and international levels. Around the world, women of all ages are taking to the streets and occupying virtual spaces to stand up for the human rights of all and demand systemic change. Movements such as “Ni Una Menos” in Latin America, the Czarny Protests in Poland, or the protests led by the feminist movement in Lebanon, Algeria and Iraq have challenged patriarchal systems, showing that women are a force to be reckoned with. Organisations, like the League of Professional Women in Ukraine, have led programmes enhancing women’s capacity to step into leadership roles, engage effectively in the labour force and identify the learning needs of women. While those like the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) have actively equipped and supported women activists to engage with macroeconomic policy and address inequalities.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, now more than ever it is critical to reimagine ways of supporting and protecting women activists as they conduct their work to enhance public life. The mass mobilisations of protesters, featuring women at the forefront, have led to reform of political systems, review on restrictive conditions of loans with international finance institutions, and the protection of sexual and reproductive health rights. Despite these incredible gains, women’s rights organisations continue to be chronically under resourced. Women also face a triple jeopardy: from state-endorsed restrictions and violence arising from their civil society work, to misogynist backlash for parting with patriarchal norms, and for the lack of resources and community-care to deal with psychosocial pressures and harm for doing this work. Women journalists have faced deteriorating conditions while conducting their work - this has included heightened restrictions while covering COVID-19, amidst already amplified physical attacks and online harassment.[1]

Recognising the interface between gender equality and civic freedoms, UN Special Rapporteur Clement Voule wrote that, “the voices of women and their contributions to activism and civil society continue to be undervalued, under-resourced and undermined. While significant progress has been made to ensure women’s participation in public life, State and non-State actors alike continue to violate women’s rights to the freedoms of peaceful assembly and of association – both online and offline.”

It is impossible that the sustainable development goals will be effectively met without addressing the multiple ways in which women’s contribution to change is systematically targeted by state and non-state actors alike. Thus, during this year’s Commission on the Status of Women, the undersigned organisations urge governments and multilateral bodies to allocate meaningful resources and implementation to match the policy frameworks that exist to realise gender equality and meaningful support for women in public life. Specifically, we call for:

  1. Governments to create enabling environments in law, policy and practice for women's participation in public life, with particular focus on removing any barriers to freedom of assembly, association, and expression for women and girls;
  2. Governments to establish and fully resource independent national institutions to safeguard promote and protect women's civic participation;
  3. Ensure that press freedom is prioritised and protected, rolling back any legislation that unduly criminalises the work of journalists, and ensuring that women who are journalists are able to access justice, protection and safe working conditions while conducting their work.
  4. Governments to ensure full investigations into attacks against women human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists, and to train and direct law enforcement agencies to uphold and respect the rights of women as they participate in public life;
  5. Governments to develop and implement gender-sensitive plans to roll-back COVID-19 regulations that unduly place restrictions on civic space for women in civil society;
  6. Governments to make amendments to existing legislation on assembly, in line with the UN General Comment on Article 21 of the ICCPR, recognising and protecting the right to assembly online and in-person, with special attention given to the gendered dimensions of the right to assembly;
  7. Governments to implement the recommendations of ILO Convention on Violence and Harassment, 2019 (No. 190) - recognising the work of women activists, journalists, protesters and civil society leaders as work that is to be rightfully carried out free from violence and harassment.
  8. Governments to commit to structural, long-term investments, such as developing infrastructure to upscale civil society efforts and empowering women in civil society to develop sustainable alternatives, to enable the resilience, relevance, and sustainability of civil society, especially prioritising women in civil society;
  9. Governments and power holders to address the gender injustices and underlying biases that result in the under-resourcing of women’s rights organisations;
  10. Government representatives to avoid vilifying and harassing women at all levels and develop mechanisms to hold those who threaten, attack, and assault women as well as those who subject women to smear campaigns accountable for their actions, making public examples of the perpetrators so as to serve as a deterrent to others; and
  11. United Nations to actively encourage the participation of women in its fora, condemning reprisals targeting women, and ensuring the removal of barriers to this participation in line with the calls by UN Secretary General António Guterres and the UN Guidance Note on the Protection and Promotion of Civic Space.

The undersigned,

1. Abba
2. Accord-Bridge Foundation
3. Action Communautaire d'Appui au Développement
4. Action for Humanity & Social Progress
5. Action pour la Lutte Contre l'Injustice Sociale (ALCIS)
6. Action Sociale et d'Organisation Paysanne
7. ActionAid International
8. Actions for Development and Empowerment (ADE)
9. Actions pour la Protection des Femmes (APF)
10. Advocacy for Widows Empowerment Foundation
11. Africa Rise Foundation
12. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies
13. African Observatory of Civic Freedoms and Fundamental Rights (OCFFR-AFRICA)
14. Afrihealth Optonet Association [CSOs Network]
15. AJBDEM Durable
16. AJSA (Anchalik Jana Seva Anusthan)
17. Alliance for Development and Population Services (ADEPS)
18. ALVA - Albanian Values - Vlerat Shqiptare
19. Amandla Centre of Zimbabwe
20. Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
21. AMWS
22. Angels in the Field
23. Anges KAVIRA
24. Appui Solidaire Pour Le Renforcement De L Aide Au Developpement
25. Arkemetría Social
26. Asociación Unión de Talleres 11 de Septiembre
27. Asociatia GEYC
28. Association Congolaise pour les Droits et la santé
29. Association de sauvegarde de la Médina de Gafsa
30. Association des jeunes pour le development et la protection des droit de l'homme
31. Association des Volontaires pour le Développement Communautaire
32. Association Femmes et Enfants
33. Association for Promotion Sustainable Development
34. Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons
35. Association 'Paix' pour la lutte contre la contrainte et l’injustice
36. Associazione I Bambini dell'Africa (Association les Enfants d'Afrique)
37. Audacious Dreams Foundation
38. Bahrain Centre for Human Rights
39. Bicosito Bangladesh Foundation
40. Brain Rest Project
41. Bridged gap
42. Building Blocks for Peace Foundation
43. Bulgarian Center for Not-for-Profit Law
44. Bullyid Indonesia
45. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
46. CAPTE - Uruguay
47. Casa Generalizia della Societa del Sacro Cuore
48. CDIA - Coordinadora por los Derechos de la Infancia y la Adolescencia de Paraguay
50. Centre Africain pour la Solidarité et l'Entraide entre les Communautés (CASEC|ACSAC)
51. Centre de défense des Droits de l'Homme et Démocratie (CDHD)
52. Centre de Recherche pour la Gestion de la Biodiversité (CRGB)
53. Centre de Recherche sur l'Anti-Corruption
54. Centre for citizens Conserving
55. Centro de Investigación y profesionalización en política y economía
56. Centro Transdisciplnario para el Humanismo Económico, A. C.
57. CEP International
58. Chambre Camerounaise des Acteurs en Psychologie (CCAP)
59. Children and Youth for Peace Agency-Sierra Leone (CYPA-SL)
60. Christian Aid
61. Circles of Hope Community Support Group for PLHIV/AIDS
62. Citoyen Libre
63. CIVICUS Alliance
64. Coalition WILD 2020/2021 Global Mentorship Participants
65. Commonwealth Youth Gender and Equality Network
66. Community Care Foundation-Uganda
67. Community Support for Development in Kisumu (CSD Kisumu)
68. Community Welfare and Development Fund
69. Conacce Chaplains Internacional
71. Congo Leadership Academy
72. Consortium of Ethiopian Human Rights Organizations (CEHRO)
73. Creación Positiva
74. Curtis Business
75. Dandora Dumpsite Rehabilitation Group
76. DHEWA (development for health education work & awareness) Welfare Society Chakwal Pakistan
77. District Ayurved Office
78. Dominica National Council of Women (DNCW)
79. Dr Uzo Adirieje Foundation (DUZAFOUND)
80. Droits de l'Homme Sans Frontières (DHSF)
81. East Eagle Foundation
82. Eastgate Media Zim
83. Echoes of Women in Africa Initiatives
84. Ecology Africa Foundation
85. Empire Partner Foundation
86. Empower Society Transform Lives (ESTL ) Singida Tanzania
87. Entaxis - Action for inclusion and education
88. Environmental Heritage foundation of Botswana Trust
89. Equality Right Africa Organization
90. Equip-2-Learn
91. Equip-2-Learn
92. Espace De Réflexion Et Actions Des Filles
93. FALCOH Foundation
94. Federation Des Femmes Pour Le Developpement Integral Au Congo (FEDICONGO)
95. FOKUS - Forum for Women and Development
96. Fondation Generation Libre
97. Fondation Generation Libre
98. Fondation Marie-Claire
99. Fondation Nicole Ilunga
100. Formidable Initiatives for Women and Girls
101. Forum for Empowerment and Transformation of Young Leaders
102. Fundación Ávila Cruz A. C.
103. Fundacion Kalu Ibaky
104. Fundación T.E.A. Trabajo Educación Ambiente
105. Futur Radieux
106. Future Leaders Society
107. Future We Want United Nation
108. Gala Initiative Uganda
109. GEMF
110. Gender- Centru
111. Gender Justice
112. Girls Education Mission International
113. Girls In Need
114. Give Hope Uganda
115. Global Learning for Sustainability
116. Global Socio-economic and Financial Evolution Network (GSFEN)
117. GRAP
118. Grève Internationale des Femmes.
119. Grupo Creamos
120. Gutu United Residents and Ratepayers Association- GURRA
121. Haakro Welfare Association
122. Helping Our People Excel
123. Hernan Behrens Siempre Diversidad Argentina
124. Hope Worldwide - Pakistan
125. Indraprastha Public Affairs Centre
126. Indraprastha Public Affairs Centre
127. INEVA - International Network of Values
128. Initiative des Femmes pour la Paix, la Promotion et le Développement (IFPPD)
129. Initiatives des Femmes en Situations Difficiles pour le Développement Durable et Intégré
130. Initiatives des Femmes en Situations Difficiles pour le Développement Durable et Intégré (IFESIDDI)
131. INSPIRIT Creatives NGO
132. Institute for Democratic Action & Development (IDAD)
133. Instituto para el Futuro Común Amerindio (IFCA)
134. Instituto para el Futuro Común Amerindio (IFCA)
135. International Association for Political Science Students
136. International Presentation Association
137. International Public Policy Institute
138. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
139. International Women Fund Azerbaijan
141. IUCN National Committee of the Netherlands (IUCN NL)
142. Izandla Ziyagezana Community Development Center
143. Jade Propuestas Sociales y Alternativas al Desarrollo, A.C.
144. Jajere youth consultative forum
145. Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society
146. K.U.L.U.- Women and Development
147. Kadiwaku Family Foundation
148. Kanishksocialmedia - KSM CHANNEL
149. Karapatan Alliance Philippines
150. Khmer National Liberation Front
151. Kiangure Springs Environment Initiative
152. Kijana Hai Foundation
153. Kolektif Ruang Baca Puan
154. Lanka Fundamental Rights Organization
155. Las pasionarias - Programa de Radio ENxebre
156. Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy
157. Legal Right Informants
158. Let There Be Light International
159. Life bridge for progression outreach
160. Ligue pour la solidarité congolaise
161. Ligue Tchadienne des Droits de l'homme
162. Local Sustainable Communities Organisation (Losco)
163. Love to Love
164. Maison de la Société Civile
165. Manna Development Agecy
166. Media Education Centre
167. Meera Foundation
168. mHub
169. Mother Daughter Empowerment
170. Motherland Water Association of Lesotho
171. Mouvement Citoyen Ras-le-bol
172. Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People-MOSOP
173. Mujer Fuerte
174. MY World Mexico
175. National Council of Women
176. National Youth Council of India
177. Nawi Afrifem Macroeconomics Collective
178. Network for Women Economic Empowerment Peace and Development
179. New Europeans
180. New Life Organisation
181. NGO "League of Professional Women" (LPW)
182. NGO Federation of Nepal
183. NGO Futures LLC
184. NGO Peace One Day Mali
185. NGO World and Danube
186. Nigerian Youth SDGs Network
187. Northern Smoke Signals LTD.
188. Nouveaux Droits de l'homme Congo Brazzaville
189. Observatoire du Sahara pour la Paix, la Démocratie et les Droits de l'Homme "OSPDH"
190. ONG AJED (Appui Jeunes Pour Le Développement)
192. Pariwartan Sanchar Samuha
193. Parlement Africain de la Société Civile
194. Participatory Research Action Network- PRAN
195. Pastoral Women's Council (PWC)
196. PAX
197. Paz Civica
198. Peaceful and Active Centre for Humanity - Peach
200. Psychologues du Monde Afrique
201. Queen of Peace Foundation
202. RACI
203. Rainforest Alliance
204. Rashtriye Mahila Surkasha Manch
205. Rausing Zimbabwe
206. REDHNNA, Red por los DDHH de Niñas, Niños y Adolescentes
207. Remesha Magazine
208. Rencontre pour la Paix et les Droits de l'Homme
209. Research Centre Consult
210. Research Institute and Youth Empowerment
211. Réseau des jeunes pour la promotion de l'abandon des MGF et des mariages d'enfants
212. Réseau des Organisations de la Société Civile pour l'Observation et le Suivi des Élections en Guinée (ROSE)
213. Réseau national de la jeunesse du Mali
214. Réseau Nigérien des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (RNDDH)
215. Réseau SOS Femmes en Détresse - SOS FED
216. Rural Women's Network Nepal (RUWON Nepal)
217. San Youth Network
218. Save Dreams Liberia
219. Save Our Youth Zambia Foundation
221. Scarlet initiative Uganda
223. Shanduko Yeupenyu Child Care
224. Sheila Reyes Peñafiel
225. Shibganj Integrated Development Society
226. Sisters of Charity Federation
227. Social Mission Catalysts LLC
228. Society for Conservation and Sustainability of Energy and Environment in Nigeria (SOCSEEN)
229. Soroptimist International
230. SOS Jeunesse et Enfance en Détresse "SOS JED"
231. Sourires de femmes
232. South Sudan Community Change Agency
233. Speaking Influence Africa
234. Students for Global Democracy Uganda
235. Sustainable and Inclusive Development for Southeast Asia
236. Sustenta Honduras
237. Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition
238. Tanzania Network of Women Living with HIV and AIDS (TNW+)
240. TEDIC
241. The Coalition for Women in Journalism
242. The Digital Biography
243. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights
244. The Wave Ke
245. Tim Africa Aid Ghana
246. Toto Centre Initiative
247. Tournons la Page Côté D’Ivoire
248. Trans Alliance Anna Foundation Uganda
249. Tribal Rights Watch Pakistan
250. Tulips International Foundation
251. Udisha
252. UDK Consultancy
254. Ukrainian Association for Research in Women's History
255. Ukrainian Women Veteran Movement (UWVM)
256. Unique Foundation, The Gambia
257. Valeurs
258. Volunteer Activists Institute
259. Volunteers Members International Human Rights Commission
260. Wacare Organization
261. Welfare Taskforce for Malaysian Students Abroad
262. Welsiane Foundation
263. Western Youth Empire
264. WHRDMENA Coalition
265. WIPGG Nigeria
266. Women Against Violence and Expediency Handling Initiative
267. Women and Modern World Social Charitable Center
268. Women Deliver
269. Women for Change
270. Women in Development
271. Women Legal Work and Marriage Counselling
272. Women Liberty
273. Women's Coalition Against Cancer - (WOCACA)
274. Women's Major Group
275. Women's March Global
276. Women's World Summit Foundation
277. Word Smash Poetry Movement
278. YARD-Liberia, Inc
279. YEPSAfrica - Youth Ending Period Stigma.
280. YESAID Society
281. Young Peace Builders (YPB)
282. Young Professional Development Society Nepal (YPDSN)
283. YoungMenEngage for Equality2030
284. Youth Desk Evangelical Church Of Cameroon
285. Youth for Pakistan
286. Youth for Peace and Development
287. Youth Forum for Social Justice
288. Youth innovation centre
289. Youth Without Borders - Tunisia
290. 中华民国(武汉)行政院筹委会

[1] For some examples of the threats and restrictions that women face when participating in public life, please see this Appendix



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