Countering risks and threats to women human rights defenders in Pakistan
In Pakistan, all human rights defenders face severe risks, but women human rights defenders even more so. They need security measures and plans and a network of allies who can help them in times of crisis. Little things can save a life. The Democratic Commission for Human Development (DCHD) is working to counter risks and threats to women human rights defenders.
Every year, thousands of human rights defenders brave dangers to help make Pakistan a better place. Many of them take risks that they believe are just part of the job, others get specific threats to their person but continue their work anyway, and sometimes, it costs them their lives. One in every two human rights defenders in Pakistan receives a threat. It is not dangerous for some of us; it is dangerous for all of us.
The Democratic Commission for Human Development (DCHD) has been working in Pakistan since 1994. Most of those who have been threatened or lost their lives have been our colleagues. As the situation has become more difficult, not just in Pakistan but in the entire region, DCHD has begun work focusing on security for human rights defenders. The research showed that while all human rights defenders face severe challenges, women human rights defenders have an even more complex experience that is fraught with challenges.
Survey on risks and security
In 2015, KIOS partnered with DCHD to focus on the challenges that women human rights defenders face in Pakistan. One of the results of this work was a survey, which developed empirical data on the security of women human rights defenders. In Punjab, the largest province, defenders are more likely to receive threats, while the nature of the threat in Khyber Pakhtunwa and Baluchistan is more likely to be severe.
The biggest challenge beyond the nature of the risks faced by women human rights defenders was the lack of preventative measures taken or available to the participants. Almost a quarter of respondents had no security provided by their organisation, while life insurance policies are not even part of the discussion. The results provided empirical evidence for advocacy. They also helped the human rights defenders community question their own attitudes. There is a need for security measures in light of the fact that the danger is real, as well as in light of the gendered experience of women human rights defenders within their own organisations.
Developing security measures and plans
In the past year, DCHD has worked to train over 300 women human rights defenders around the country. Security begins with the individual, and little things can save a life. It can be making sure that you check in with someone at specific intervals, travel with someone if there is any sort of risk, or simply that you are aware of your surroundings. It doesn’t stop there, and it is imperative that human rights organisations take the steps necessary to protect their people. The training sessions were replicated within organisations and DCHD facilitated the development of security plans and measures.
Building a network of lawyers and journalists to strengthen human rights in Pakistan
At the same time, DCHD worked with lawyers and journalists to create a support network for women human rights defenders. When a defender receives a threat, they need allies. The media can be a friend in certain situations and very dangerous in others. By connecting women human rights defenders with journalists who understand their issues, we hope to make the media an asset rather than a liability.
This is coupled with the need for lawyers who understand issues faced by defenders, the legal system and the particular mechanisms available for human rights defenders (such as the National Commission for Human Rights and the National Commission on the Status of Women). By creating this network, defenders have a specific set of actions and assets they can utilise in times of crisis.
Women human rights defenders in Pakistan continue to face challenges, and considering what they go through, it is hard not to be inspired by their bravery and determination. DCHD’s work doesn’t fix the problem, but it has helped contribute to a better understanding of what is happening and what needs to be done. There’s still a journey ahead, and DCHD is glad that KIOS has been our partner in the small part we’ve played in helping to solve a complex and large issue.