“We don’t like prisons but we are not afraid of them” – Mahienour El-Masry
We were once again reminded of Mahienour’s powerful words by Yara Sallam, who spoke at the opening plenary of the 13th AWID forum in Bahia, Brazil. Both Yara and Mahienour are Egyptian women human rights defenders who have spent 15 months in prison (Yara for protesting her country’s anti-protest law and Mahienour for protesting police brutality). Both have had an arduous experience that should not be romanticized. Neither have stopped their activism as a result.
Around the world, there are countless women who are standing up to defend their rights and the rights of their communities, who are facing threats and violent repercussions as a result of their activism, and whose names should be remembered and stories told. This need to document, to remember, and to protect has never been as clear as it is today, as we witness a steady increase in the aggression against women human rights defenders. Indeed, it is no secret that their increased influence is also generating a terrible increase in the attacks against them. There are many perpetrators, but whoever they are, their actions have been allowed by the very governments that have a duty to protect these defenders.
It is left to us to remind these governments and the international community that women human rights defenders will not be silenced—that attempts to silence one will only result in many more defenders throughout the world springing up to join their cause and echo their demands. New tools, like the just-launched Manifesta platform, make international solidarity more streamlined and powerful than ever. We have experienced the importance of truly being in solidarity with each other and will continue to perfect this solidarity. Solidarity with Ruth Mumbi in Kenya, with Mozn Hassan in Egypt, with Homa Hoodfar in Iran, with Gloria Ushigua in Ecuador and many, many others.
In addition to #DefendHer (the recently launched women human rights defenders campaign by the Global Fund for Women, JASS, and Madre) there are a number of similar efforts that are emphasizing the roles played, and the threats faced, by women human rights defenders. It is my deepest wish that we engage with all these efforts to learn about these defenders and seek out new ways to be of support to each other.