Why is Women Human Rights Defenders Day Important?
Women human rights defenders include any women, girls and gender diverse people who work to uphold rights. This may involve confronting physical and/or sexual violence or abuse as they lobby for equity and change. It can also involve transforming the cultures which led to this violence in the first place. Women human rights defenders engage in very complex actions to pass legislation, win in court, and foster social movements often on the sides of their desks, behind the scenes or while carrying family responsibilities.
In many countries, including Canada, many of these rights are still being fought for. Either they are not recognized or they have not been implemented. Women Human Rights Defenders Day was instituted on November 29th to recognize the women who continue to struggle on behalf of all women and gender diverse persons for the betterment of society.
Human Rights Defenders Deserve Legal Protection
Women Human Rights Defenders face unique challenges. They often overcome and/or transform cultures of misogyny to achieve their goals They may face resistance due to cultural norms in their own communities. Women who speak truth to power face risks if they lack legal protection. They become targets for violations of privacy, harassment, and punitive legal fees from the powers they challenge. In some cases they risk facing death.
While Canada has offered a path to residency for Women Human Rights Defenders under threat abroad, barriers still exist for women human rights defenders at home. In fact, Canada currently has some of the poorest whistleblower protection laws in the world. Without these laws in place, women can are discouraged from engaging in the human rights work they need to do.
What Are Women Human Rights Defenders Doing In Nova Scotia?
Indigenous Women & Anti-colonialism
Indigenous women and gender diverse people have engaged in resistance for Indigenous sovereignty, and against resource extraction and climate change since contact. These people face some of the most profound state repression in Canada. In Nova Scotia this has included resistance against environmental degradation in Indigenous and African Nova Scotian communities. Women have led movement, advocacy and research work collaborating to bring this urgent issue to the forefront.
Read: Water Protectors
Watch: There’s Something in the Water Read: There’s Something in the Water
Disabled women frequently face challenges to their safety and autonomy. Institutionalization has limited the quality of life of disabled people. In fact, over 80% of disabled women will face sexual abuse in their lifetimes as a result of this social imbalance of power. Disability activists in Nova Scotia recently won the largest human rights award in Canadian history. The province of Nova Scotia discriminated against people with mental and psychiatric disabilities by denying their right to live in community. Two women, Beth MacLean, Sheila Livingstone, lived in a locked ward at the Nova Scotia Hospital until winning their case at the Court of Appeal along with Justin Delaney. Beth MacLean passed away this year, at the age of 50.
Listen: Fighting the institutionalization of disabled Nova Scotians [PODCAST]
Arbitrary street checks, as well as discrimination in health care, education and employment continue to undermine the well-being of African Nova Scotian. They especially face the risk of criminalization due to a lack of community services for African Nova Scotian Women. For example, in cases of sexual trafficking and exploitation stigma results in victims being blamed, rather than the personal and systemic trauma that African Nova Scotian women face in their communities. Community advocates such as African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition, and the Black Women’s Legal Education and Empowerment Project at the Elizabeth Fry Society advocate to address these community service gaps.
So, today we at Connect will raise awareness, as we offer our support and gratitude to women human rights defenders.