Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRD) In Nepal nave aimed at breaking the culture of silence while championing the transformation of women from victims to changemakers. In doing so we have faced serious discrimination on the basis of our gender, our work and the rights we work for. Our struggle to change the patriarchal norms and values and structural violence has culminated in control over our bodies and physical integrity.
The movement of Women Human Rights Defenders has overseen substantial milestones over the years encouraging women like ourselves to come together in a concert fashion on an effort to .put an end to violence against ourselves.
The situation of women continues to be a major cause of concern. Continued male privilege, denial of basic rights, physical – social and psychological violence and discrimination are still being engraved on women’s bodies making the personal intensely political
As women continue to challenge the feudal, patriarchal structures, unequal gender power relations and structural inequalities; protectionist responses are reinforced. Shorn up often through law, policy and through development projects, which undermine the agency of women and challenge their very physical and psychological integrity.
It is crucial a mention that Women Human rights Defenders have participated in all of the country’s political movements though often those who struggled for women’s rights alongside democratic rights were marginalized or even excluded from the movement. During the armed struggle hundreds of women who took up arms to struggle for broader fundamental rights found themselves struggling for their own rights ‘even within their own political nexus.
In 2003 as a result of Women Human Rights Defenders coming together the Women’s Charter for Women'(SIC) was created. It was in the midst of people’s war when an extremely volatile political situation had led to serious economic and social consequences that WOREC organized four regional People’s Assemblies on Conflict and Displacement: Challenges for Peace and Development. Each assembly was held in separate developments regions of Nepal; Eastern, Western, Mid-western and central region. Focusing -as it does on conflict transformation and peacebuilding the women’s charter serves now as a road map for the inclusion of particular issues faced by women. Issues that must be of focus and lead the way for our deserving inclusion into the constitution of Nepal being drafted at the constituent assembly.
As the movement has progressed; to register the level of human rights violations perpetrated against women and to recognize the work of Women Human Rights Defenders in a systematic order became crucial to the development of this movement. Documentation of cases as a strategy to support the advocacy worked was developed by WOREC Nepal began documenting cases of human rights violations perpetrated against women in the context of armed conflict in 62 districts in 2005[i]. It soon became evident that Women Human Rights Defenders documenting these cases faced risks themselves and without the necessary support mechanisms the exposure to the level of risk threatened the movement itself.
During the autocratic regime of King Gyanendra, Women Human Rights Defenders gathered courage and hope and organized the First National Consultation on Women Human Rights Defenders, held in Kathmandu on March 8th, 2006. Some 450 women human rights defenders from 64 districts took part in identifying the concerns of their main concerns and in developing national strategies for the promotion of women’s rights to defend human rights – the right to be WHRDs. The consultation focused on the diverse challenges faced by women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBTI) human rights defenders: the need for documentation with an aim to developing specific national and international protection mechanisms.
It is key mention that Hina Jilani, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders stressed the importance and the necessity of such events. Mary Jane Real, the coordinator of the International Women Human Rights Defenders Campaign also participated in this event. During the consultation, several workshops were organized to discuss the specific issues facing Women Human Rights Defenders and on the national and international mechanisms for security and protection of Women Human Rights Defenders. One of the major outcomes was the need to establish a Women Human Rights Defenders Network throughout all 75 districts.
The Second National Consultation focused on the role of WHRDs in CA. This consultation held in June 2006, focused on “women’s participation for an inclusive and democratic Constituent Assembly.” More than 500 Women Human Rights Defenders from 68 districts participated in the consultation. Women’s representation in the Constituent Assembly and that representation was based upon the geographical and socio-cultural diversity of Nepalese women was the main topic of discussion. Restructuring of the political parties to ensure adequate representation of women at all levels of decision and policy-making was also addressed in the consultation.
As the dialogue for the Constituent Assembly developed, the third National Consultation of Women Human Rights Defenders in November 2006, focused Oil developing the Women’s Charter for equality – a Road map that aimed at integrating all the diverse issues faced by Nepalese women into the new constitution. This consultation also marked the celebration of the first International Women Human Rights Defenders Day on 29 November in Nepal. The Women’s Charter is the outcome of the efforts of diverse women’s groups committed to protecting human rights on issues, or sexual orientation, sexual rights, caste discrimination and violence against women, disability, health and the right of women to defend human rights. The groups came together under the banner of Women’s Campaign for Equitable Partnership and Just Peace. Women’s groups are now using the Women’s Charter as a tool in their advocacy work.
The Fourth National Consultation of Women Human Rights Defenders in November 2007 marked the second International Women Human Rights Defenders’ Day Women Human Rights Defenders shared their experiences of the then current political context in Nepal. Political instability and again patriarchal power structures were highlighted as common themes and major concerns. The consultation included a book launch ‘CLAIMING RIGHTS, CLAIMING JUSTICE: A Guidebook on Women Human Rights Defenders by Ms. Lisa Pusey, another member of the International Women Human Rights Defenders Campaign. This guidebook is a result of the collective effort numerous individuals, groups and institutions committed to the cause of affirming and upholding women’s human rights from around the globe. During this consultation, the National Alliance of Women Human Rights Defenders (NAWHRDs) was formed. This is a unique platform of women defending human rights with a 23 member executive ‘ body representing the diverse nature women’s movement including networks focusing on disability, Dalits, housing rights, sexual minorities, Muslim, Badi, land rights and the entertainment sector.
On 18 March 2009, Women’s Group Supporting Participation of Women Candidates in Decision Making Level facilitated by the Secretariat of National Alliance of WHRDs (NAWHRDs) launched Hotline assistance called (a support network demanding No Violence Against Women in the CA Elections) in Nepal amongst women candidates (proportionate system), journalists, WHRDs, students, women activists, women human rights organization, human rights defenders, international agencies etc. It had been raised in consultation with women candidates of various political parties that there should be some forms of the support mechanism, which can be easily accessed by women candidates, voters and monitoring groups. A strategy can be that a TOLL-FREE Hotline needs to be installed which will be a 24-hour assistance that women candidates and women voters/observers/volunteers call and receive information. It was reported that around 32 cases were documented in which women faced violence, attacks on their reputation and personhood. Two women had to be hospitalized. Moving forward advocacy with the political parties needs to happen to ensure that such incidents do not occur in the next election and women find a conducive environment to exercise their right to participate in a political sphere’.
10 April 2008, the historic Constituent Assembly Elections took place. People chose their representatives to draft the new constitution. 15 WHRDs were nominated as representatives from various political parties. Out of 601 candidates, 197 are women. However, the roles of the women in Constituent Assembly members are defined and influenced by the mandate of the political parties which are led by the patriarchal male figures such that issues of the party take precedence over issues related to rights of women
12 July – 6 August 2008 witnessed the movement of WHRDs protesting against the murder of Laxmi Sohara, a member of WHRD network, Kanchanpur district. This event developed into a nationwide protest where WHRD Networks from different districts came to Kathmandu and began a relay hunger strike, rallies, meeting with various stakeholders such as the President, Chair of the Constituent Assembly, members of the Constituent Assembly, Civil Society, etc. After 24 days of intense political activism, the Constituent Assembly directed the government to develop mechanisms to address violence against women. This marked a historical moment of Women Human Rights Defenders in Nepal.
November 2008 saw the fifth National Consultation marking the 60th Anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights and celebration of the courage of human rights activists and defenders. The theme for the Fifth consultation was ‘Ensure the right to justice and guarantee the security of Women Human Rights Defenders.” The participants called for accountability and political commitment from state and political parties to end all forms of violence against women and to investigate and punish those found guilty of crimes. To do this the participants suggested the creation of a High-Level Commission to deal with all forms of Violence against Women and Support and defend the rights of Women Human Rights Defenders. It was attended by 300 WHRDs from 72 districts.
The absence of support mechanisms designed for women whose human rights are being violated on a daily basis only serves to aggravate this situation. The absence of any support means the majority of cases go unreported. When reported the cases are often ignored due to prevailing societal attitudes towards the human rights of women. Secondary or re-victimization is common in Nepal and laws developed to support victims of human rights violations often favor mediation as opposed to viewing these violations as a matter for the criminal justice system. WHRDs for daring to challenge these attitudes and “norms” are often victims of violence themselves having little recourse to the “mainstream” again because of this prevailing attitude that a woman’s place is in the home. The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders recognize everyone as Human Rights Defenders and to be protected by the state. However, the reality is different and non-recognition of their work as “Human Rights Work” is placing them at greater risk. The murder of Nirmala Thapa, Laxmi Bohara, Uma Singh, Shanti Devi Koiri, Januka Pariyar, and others are some of the worst examples of violence against us – of where and how we are being placed by the society at large.
2009 marked the First Regional Forum of Women Human Rights Defenders with the slogan: We commit to work together, we act to assert our rights, we demand accountability. This was the forum to pay tribute to the Women Human Rights Defenders – to celebrate women’s resistance against human rights violations and their movement to justice. The Regional Forum was held in five development regions with a series of events building skills of Women Human Rights Defenders through documentation training, linking different issues of women’s movement and its role in advancing women’s human rights, parallel workshops on women’s access and control on natural resources, land Rights challenges faced by Women Human Rights Defenders, current challenges of Women’s Movement in Nepal, etc were intensely discussed and shared with the outcome in the regional declaration . The Regional Forum was attended by 200 Women Human Rights Defenders working on diverse issues such as Economic Social Cultural Rights, Political Rights, Domestic Violence, Indigenous Rights, Rights ‘ of Sexual minorities, Women with Disabilities and marginalized issues. The main theme f0r each regional forum was “A Federal Democratic Nepal is possible on the basis of equality and social justice and we can make it happen”. This regional forum witnessed wider participation of men 8th children to end Violence Against Women.
The 6th National Consultation of Women Human Rights Defenders was organized on 4th and 5th March 2010 on the special occasion of 100th International Working Women’s Day. The 100th international working women’s day was celebrated with the theme ‘Equal rights, equal opportunities: progress for all’. The various themes like “Women-Centered New Constitution on 28 May 2010 for the equal rights, equal opportunities progress for all,” Personal is Political” and Unity in Diversity” were the major highlights This was the first consultation of Women Human Rights Defenders where different generations of Women Human Rights Defenders were interlinked. The platform was used to honor and recognize the contribution of Women Human Rights Defenders in defending Human Rights, to document the success and challenge of women’s movement and the first feminist capacity building course was launched. It was a very emotional space where the leadership of women’s movement was transferred to the younger generation by the elder generations thus igniting the spirit for the new generation. There were 300 Women Human Rights Defenders from 72 districts working at community on issues like violence against women, disability, Dalit, indigenous community Madhesi, entertainment workers, landless, squatter community, young women and women from geographically marginalized areas, human rights organization,government officials, media,academics, students who were a part of this consultation.
Irrespective of the efforts of Women Human Rights Defenders to advocate for social transformation and end to structural violence, Violence Against Women has been recognized as an “issue” but not as a “political issue”. In the field of criminal justice however, when it comes to implementing the court decisions or operationalizing public policies, the state is slow to respond and act. On account of the- fact that the Government and the legal structures continue to be based on the exclusionary model privileging the elites has made the fight against structural discrimination during the current transition phase difficult. Numerous challenges remain to be surmounted including the strengthening of the Rule of Law, rampant impunity and corruption, lack of a serious commitment to women’s rights, and a low-level political will to address the root causes of Violence against Women.
In 2011, Nepal reported to the Universal Periodic Review to review its human rights situation and then implement the recommendations endorsed by the Human Rights Council. The Women Human Rights Defenders firmly believe that there are challenges to integrating women’s human rights concerns within UPR however there are confident the Review will raise issues of the multiple forms of discrimination faced by women such as adequate housing, land, and political representation, sexual and reproductive health rights, Dalit women etc. In June 2011, the government accepted recommendations of Universal Periodic Review to guarantee security for Women Human Rights Defenders.
As the journey of the Women Human Rights Defenders continues, we have put forward following demands to the Government of Nepal
ON RECOGNITION AND SECURITY OF WOMEN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS
• Take all possible measures to fully ensure that all forms of assault, attack, threat, and intimidation against human rights defenders are prevented and should such incidents happen, ensure a thorough investigation, and prosecution of perpetrators in accordance with the established legal process and Supreme Court Directives on Women Human Rights Defenders.
• Strengthen the role of WHRDs in the administration of Justice of enforcing appropriate legal and practical measures for their identity, solidarity, and security.
• Special attention should be given to the local implementation strategy for Nepal.
In solidarity with the struggles of Women Human Rights Defenders
JYOTSNA MASKAY (Chair, District Alliance of Women Human Rights Defenders, Kathmandu)