Profit and power over people will fail us on SDGs, says Fiji activist

Shobha Shukla, CNS (Citizen News Service)
A shrinking civic space is a reality in most countries today. Human rights defenders are being targetted by the State, even though the State is supposed to be the vanguard of human rights. In order to exist, civil society and women human rights defenders (WHRDs) will have to resist the regressive advances of the States that encroach upon their space and rights, and persist in their efforts to effectively insist for development justice.

Fiji Women's Rights Movement (FWRM), is one such multi-ethnic and multicultural non-governmental organisation committed to removing discrimination against women, and protecting women human rights defenders (WHRDs), through institutional reforms and attitudinal changes. Its Executive Director, Nalini Singh, shared with CNS (Citizen News Service) some of the challenges that WHRDs are facing in most countries of the Asia Pacific region. Nalini Singh is also among the key participants at the forthcoming 3rd Asia Pacific Feminist Forum (APFF 2017), to be held in Chiang Mai, Thailand (7-9 September 2017).

Profit and power, over people?

"States never like to hear criticism or being pointed out in terms of lack of accountability or to be held accountable to their commitments. It becomes easier for States and State machineries to operate in a space void of accountability. But people who make up the State machinery need to realise that they are not lone rangers - they have been mostly put in those positions by the people and it is for these people, that they must be answerable to. Additionally, it is profit and power over people who are again and again becoming collateral damage in this quest for States to gain profit and power. Sometimes the States collude with religion, military and private sector to amplify their means of getting more power and profit. This greed and a lack of accountability and respect for human rights, is what prompts them to attack those who rise up to demand their rights”, said Nalini.

Are women human rights defenders facing more risk?

In her opinion, more women human rights defenders (WHRDs) are being targeted everywhere as they are more vulnerable and sometimes even considered a softer target. Even though they generally face all of the same risks as human rights defenders, in their case there is an additional dimension of gender-specific threats and violence - such as rape and sexual violence - like in the case of LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer) activists and women.
WHRDs face physical and psychological violence which can have adverse social consequences, like stigmatization and discrimination. Attacks against WHRDs often focus on their reputation and/ or their sexuality as nonconforming with dominant stereotypes of appropriate female or male behaviour. As a result, WHRDs may find themselves isolated and ostracized by their communities. WHRDs can also face additional risks from their own families and communities. Thus, for instance, they can be the target of religious extremism and accused of promoting foreign values. Moreover, WHRDs work within the reality of dominant gender stereotypes, which means they can be easily targeted when participating in collective public actions because such a role does not fit the stereotype perceptions of 'appropriate' places for women in society. In conflict situations, their threats and risks are often exacerbated. The particular challenges and violations that WHRDs face call for gender-specific protection measures and programmes. But we also need to be wary of the approaches our governments take on for development - under the garb of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), at the cost of human rights.

Gender-specific protection measures are key!

The most important layer of work in terms of creating a positive change is done at the national level, believes Nalini. It is indeed critical to protect human rights defenders, especially women, in our quest to achieve development justice, which includes gender justice and sexual and reproductive health and rights for all.

For this it is vital to develop, implement and regularly revise gender-specific protection measures and programmes, so that the States promote, respect, fulfill and protect human rights of all women and people, says Nalini Singh of Fiji Women's Rights Movement (FWRM).

Shobha Shukla, CNS (Citizen News Service) 
29 August 2017
(Shobha Shukla is the Managing Editor at CNS (Citizen News Service) and the above article is based upon her interview series of key women leaders in Asia Pacific region who have played a key role in striving for development justice. Follow her on Twitter @Shobha1Shukla)