General: GCHR marks International Women’s Day 2017 in solidarity with WHRDs in the Gulf and neighbouring countries


On 08 March 2017, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) marks International Women’s Day by reminding the international community about the need to provide more protection for women human rights defenders (WHRDs) around the world, particularly in the Gulf region and neighboring countries. Today, GCHR stands in solidarity with WHRDs everywhere.

 Since 1975, the world has been celebrating International Women’s Day. While acknowledging the achievements made in terms of women’s rights around the globe, GCHR believes that this day is a reminder for all of us of what we haven't achieved yet, and the need to work more collaboratively to address the gaps and obstacles we witness and face; it gives us a drive to make the world a safer place for women to defend and enjoy their rights.

In 2017, hundreds of women are still in captivity, detention, exile, many are under surveillance, travel bans and judicial harassment, while others are subjected to torture, disappearance or murder as a result of their human rights activities. In conflict zones, targeting women increases in parallel with the increase of violence, where sexual violence against girls and women is used as a tool of war, human trafficking, and early marriage plus other types of targetings puts women at greater risk.

In addition to physical and psychological violence, women in Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, Syria, and Yemen suffer from all types of daily targeting and attacks for being women, while they work tirelessly to defend human rights in the region. Like their peers across the Gulf region, they work under government surveillance, risk of persecution, detention and torture for demanding their basic rights such as social rights in Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and political rights in Bahrain, while others are struggling to have a voice in shrinking civil spaces in countries including the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

Despite all odds, women refuse to be submissive, oppressed, marginalised, used and excluded; instead they have found strength in solidarity, and collaborative work. The beginning of this year showed how women can mobilise their efforts to refuse patriarchy and challenge the status quo. In January 2017, fighting for their legitimate rights, in a changing world where extremism, fundamentalism and segregation are widely promoted and celebrated, women’s marches took place in over 161 cities across all seven continents in solidarity with each other to promote women’s rights everywhere.

On 08 March, more marches are expected to take place all over the globe, including one organised by GCHR’s regional partner, the WHRDs Middle East and North Africa Coalition in Lebanon.

At the United Nations Human Rights Council this month, the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition, of which GCHR is a member, “highlighted the importance of ensuring the genuine and safe participation of women human rights defenders in policies and programmes to combat fundamentalist ideologies and rhetoric.” GCHR will also join efforts at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) this month to highlight the struggle of WHRDs.


Gulf area and neighbouring countries: In 2016, GCHR developed its WHRDs programme, which aims at: 1) reassessing the current international protection mechanisms, 2) identifying the gaps in impact and protection, 3) working on preventative measures to ensure the sustainability of protection, 4) shifting from a post-violation to pre-violation methodology of actions on violations against WHRDs, and 5) enabling a defensible environment for WHRDs to carry out their legitimate activities to defend their rights and the human rights of all. GCHR issued a report entitled “Before It’s Too” which has preliminarily investigated the threats and the trends targeting WHRDs in the MENA region. It was released at the UN in 2016 with support from CIVICUS and in cooperation with AWID, the WHRD MENA Coalition and Nazra. The programme has established a task force group to work more proactively on WHRDs issues.

Saudi Arabia: GCHR strongly supports the campaign to end the male guardianship system of women, #IAmMyOwnGuardian. The campaign received widespread support across the country, and thousands of social media users joined the campaign. Women activists submitted thousands of letters to the King of Saudi Arabia to end the country’s guardianship system. Another petition to the King to end guardianship was signed by 15,000 people (men and women).

Iran: GCHR highlights the efforts of Iranian civil society calling for women’s rights to participate in sports. As of last month, women are allowed to watch beach volleyball matches in Kish “if they observe Islamic rules.” The sports federation proved that it has the power to defy discriminatory laws [under a 2012 decree, women were barred from attending volleyball tournaments in Iran] excluding women from the sports scene and it is thanks to WHRDs in campaigns such as #Watch4Women adopted by movements like Open Stadiums (@OpenStadiums), that we can have hope for more women’s participation in all public space in Iran. “Women in Iran despite all the inside and outside obstacles continue their demands for equal rights,” says an Iranian WHRD.


On the occasion of International Women’s Day, GCHR would like to:

● Remind the governments in the Gulf region and neighbouring countries, specifically Bahrain, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Syria and Yemen, of their international commitment towards women’s rights, eliminating all forms of discrimination against women, and putting an end to violence against women;

● Urge governments in the region and the international community to provide safe spaces and secure environments for WHRDs to work freely and more effectively on human rights issues;

● Reiterate its call to governments to free all WHRDs from detention, prisons, charges and any types of persecution they are subjected to due to their legitimate peaceful activity;

● Renew its commitment to support all WHRDs and their activities in the Gulf region and neighbouring countries, to demand and defend their rights and the rights of everyone; and

● Stand in solidarity with all WHRDs who are striving every day to achieve equality, justice and freedom.