General: On International Women’s Day, show solidarity with women human rights defenders


On International Women’s Day, 08 March 2022, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) calls on the authorities across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to uphold to their international commitment and responsibility towards women’s rights and support the work of women human rights defenders (WHRDs) in the region. This can’t be achieved unless all WHRDs are released and free from any intimidation or fear for actively advocating for their rights. Governments should take serious measures to end the use of sexual and gender-based violence, curb online harassment of women, stop the use of surveillance to persecute WHRDs, stop reprisals against them and their families, and remove travel bans among other restrictions.

GCHR and over two dozen partners organised an Alternative Human Rights Expo to counter the narrative of tolerance promoted by the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The three themes of the Dubai Expo are mobility, sustainability and opportunity - none of which are freely available to WHRDs in the region. This includes Iraqi WHRDs assassinated, Saudi, Syrian and Emirati WHRDs tortured in prison, Iranian WHRDs sentenced to lashing and extended decades in prison, Omani WHRDs are still fighting female genital mutilation, Saudi and Egyptian WHRDs banned from travel and judicially harassed, Bahraini, Saudi, Emirati and Jordanian WHRDs whose phones are hacked, Kuwaiti women arrested for their online activism, Lebanese women fighting for the rights of everyone including migrant rights, Yemeni women deprived of essential rights, while combating patriarchy and surviving  numerous other human rights violations. 

“International women’s day is a reminder that the fight for women’s rights is not only women’s responsibilities, it's everyone's responsibility to end patriarchy and call for equality,” said Weaam Youssef, GCHR’s WHRDs Programme Manager. 

“We defend the undefended, and battle unshielded for basic rights. Protection is essential, and equity should not be negotiable! It is the governments’ responsibility to actually step up for women’s rights, instead of doing the minimum to eliminate outdated norms and obsolete misogynist practices,” she added. 

The Gulf countries for instance brag with huge propagandas about the baby steps they are taking to advance women’s rights, by allowing women to take some minimal positions and giving the minimum rights.  However, they invest massively in monitoring women’s rights defenders and endeavour to control the fate of women to minimise their roles and leadership positions in the region. The past years only showed how governments’ fear of women can shake authorities and lead to massive crackdowns, those only to be covered by whitewashing campaigns and investment in sports and sugar-coating events. Beyond organising panels at the Expo Women’s Pavilion, we call on the UAE and all MENA governments to be coherent about their approach to human rights, equality and tolerance, and to preach by example. The Alternative Human Rights Expo campaign culminates with a focus on women’s rights. 

As a theme for International Women's Day, and within the proceedings of the Alternative Human Rights Expo, GCHR and partners have organised an online panel event on 08 March to discuss sisterhood among women human rights defenders in the Arabian Peninsula, with Saudi WHRD and scholar Dr. Hala Al-Dosari, Yemeni WHRD Radhya Al-Mutawakel, President of Mwatana Organisation for Human Rights, Omani WHRD Habiba Al-Hinai, Founder and Executive Director of the Omani Association for Human Rights (OAHR), and Emirati WHRD Jenan AlMarzooqi

More specifically, the panellists will share their realities as women’s human rights defenders through storytelling, and their experience with fostering and maintaining solidarity among themselves as human rights defenders for women. Moderators are GCHR’s WHRDs Programme Manager Weaam Youssef and ALQST Director of Advocacy Julia Legner.

In September 2021, Members of the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the UAE which calls for human rights defenders to be freed, “deeply deplores the role of the UAE authorities in the extradition of the women’s rights activist Loujain Al-Hathloul to Saudi Arabia, where she has been imprisoned, tortured and persecuted for the advocacy of women’s rights”, calls for restrictions on surveillance tools to MENA governments and “invites the international companies sponsoring Expo 2020 Dubai to withdraw their sponsorship and encourages Member States not to participate in the event.”

When we join forces, small actions can grow into positive global movements that will help communities to protect and preserve the world around us. This can’t be achieved without women. A future in which women still don’t have the right to vote, are told what to wear and are prevented from travelling, working or participating equally in our society is not a sustainable or better future. We believe that women are essential voices to attain sustainability. Let’s listen to them!

Join us!

Please join us at an event on zoom today, 08 March at 16h-17h30 CET at organised by the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR), GCHR, the International Campaign for Freedom in the United Arab Emirates (ICFUAE) and ALQST. The event will be held in Arabic and English, with interpretation provided.  

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