Keep Saying Their Names

Keep Saying Their Names

“Marielle, Presente!” chanted protestors last year in Rio de Janeiro in response to the assassination of Marielle Franco, a Black, feminist LGBTIQA+ activist and Rio Councillor. “Say Her Name!” echoed in the streets of New York City, as protestors marched in solidarity with their Brazilian sisters and brothers. 

Violence against activists like Marielle is not unique. The UN Human Rights High Commissioner (OHCHR) reported this year that women human rights defenders (WHRDs) face worsening violence. Across the globe attacks on WHRDs are only validating the OHCHR Commissioner’s report. 

In Zimbabwe, Peace is Loud speaker, Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda – who has fought her entire life for peace, social justice and women’s rights – is now having to fight for her daughter, Farirai, part of the next generation of Zimbabwe’s WHRDs. In May, Farirai attended a human rights workshop in the Maldives, led by CANVAS, on non-violent civic engagement, effective communication, and digital security strategies. Upon her return from that workshop, Farirai and six other young activists were falsely charged with subversion, with the intent to overthrow the government, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years. Farirai was detained in maximum security prison, and is now on house arrest with her passport, computer, and phone seized. Her fight for freedom is ongoing. You can support Farirai directly by donating to cover her legal fees through the Rozaria Memorial Trust.

Marielle and Farirai aren’t alone, nor is this just a Brazilian or Zimbabwean issue.

In Colombia last June, Clemencia Carabali came under attack by paramilitaries trying to squash community activism. Clemencia works in the Colombian state of Cauca, primarily with Afro-Colombian women, teaching them about their rights, and how to demand them, as women, Afro-descendants and survivors of war. 

In Saudi Arabia earlier this year two dual Saudi/United States citizens, Salah al-Haidar and Bader al-Ibrahim, along with six other women’s rights activists, were arrested for publicly supporting women’s rights in the country, including the right to drive a car.

In Libya, Amnesty International warns that WHRDs are still under attack in light of the 2014 assassination of renowned Libyan human rights lawyer and activist, Salwa Bugaighis, by “unknown hooded men wearing military uniforms.” Her crime? Fighting for a democratic, open society and women’s inclusion in government. 

In Israel, even post-mortem, there is an ongoing smear campaign around the death of Razan al Najjar, the 20-year old Palestinian WHRD and paramedic killed by Israeli fire in Gaza last year while attempting to treat a wounded protestor. Despite video evidence of her approaching Israeli forces near the border fence with her arms up and her white medical vest on, Israeli media is painting the narrative that she was “engaged in rioting and had attended the protests to shield militants disguised as protesters.” 

And, it will likely not come as a surprise that the United States isn’t immune to this issue either. WHRDs live under the threat of violence here too. Representative Alexandria Octasio-Cortez, an outspoken advocate for climate justice, racial justice, pay equality, and more, receives so many death threats on a daily basis “her staff stiffen every time someone knocks on the door of her office.” #MeToo founder, Tarana Burke, experiences “regular death threats,” for sparking a movement to support survivors and end sexual violence. 

Marielle, Farirai, Clemencia, Salah, Bader, Salwa, Razan, Alexandria, Tarana, let’s say their names. Let’s keep saying their names. And, if you want to do more you can donate to any of the members of the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition, organizations working tirelessly to support, uplift and protect WHRDs. Or, host a speaker! Whether it be for an event in your community, or at your child’s school, our roster is full of WHRDs from around the world with their own stories of peaceful resistance in the name of defending human rights. 

Johna Hoey is the director of Peace is Loud’s Speakers Bureau, which raises visibility and influence for women changemakers who are breaking new ground in the fight for peace and justice.

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