The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic is more than a crisis. It is a global opportunity to rethink how we manage and govern our world. It reminds us that prioritizing human security over national security is the key to a peaceful and just future—and feminist leaders are leading the way as they put human rights and the evidence-based policies at the centre of their response to the pandemic.
Unfortunately, though, in too many countries and communities, the response to COVID-19 has exacerbated existing inequities and increased violence against women and other marginalized people. Almost universally, lockdowns have increased the levels of domestic violence. The U.S. and France are reporting dramatic spikes in domestic violence calls to hotlines. In China, the number of cases reported to police nearly tripled in February.
In conflict settings, women face the double threat of war and a pandemic. In Yemen, the shelling of the women’s section of the Central Prison in Taiz on April 5 left at least five women and one child dead. The women human rights defenders who responded to this tragedy are the same women raising alarm bells about the lack of clean water for Yemenis to protect themselves against the Coronavirus.
Many governments such as Iran, Hong Kong and Syria have implemented militarized measures to curb the pandemic. Curfews, roadblocks, street policing and surveillance all put women human rights defenders at greater risk for repression. In Colombia, activist Carlota Isabel Salinas Pérez was murdered outside her home on March 24 after collecting foodstuffs for families in need. Women are jailed simply for calling for peace and demanding an end to human rights abuses. Keeping women activists in prisons where the virus flourishes amounts to a targeted killing of women human rights defenders. In Iran, for instance, authorities temporarily released over 80,000 inmates to prevent the spread of coronavirus. However, women political prisoners and women human rights defenders were kept behind bars despite the high risk of infection.
We are deeply concerned by these militarized responses to the pandemic—and their impact on those who have dedicated their lives to advocating for peace and human rights. States have a universal duty to respect and safeguard human rights during national emergencies.
We call on states and non-state actors, globally to:
- implement the UN Secretary General’s call for an immediate and global ceasefire;
- ensure COVID-19 does not become a tool of repression against women human rights defenders and immediately release detained women human rights defenders;
- ensure women-led solutions are at the center of all national and international COVID-19 responses and initiatives.
Women’s voices and solutions must lead us through this pandemic and its aftermath, as we strive to achieve health, lasting peace and human security for all.
Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Guatemala
Shirin Ebadi, Iran
Jody Williams, USA
Tawakkol Karman, Yemen
Leymah Gbowee, Liberia
Join us for more during our Women Human Rights Defenders Week of Action for #FeministResponders!
WATCH our When Feminists Rule the World live podcast episode with Egyptian women human rights defender Mozn Hassan, Mexican-American journalist Maria Hinojosa, and hosted by comedian Martha Chaves. Watch here!
Join us Friday, May 1st at 11 am ET for a Twitter Live Q&A with Interview Her expert and defender, Muna Luqman from Yemen!
Tune in next Monday, May 4th at 11 am ET for a Facebook Live conversation with outgoing UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders, Michel Forst, to talk risks and challenges faced by women human rights defenders and how the global community can act to protect them.
Every day this week:
Each day of #FeministResponders week we will introduce you to a new women human rights defender based in the Middle East, working for peace amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to learn more about these activists and their inspirational work.