Suffocating the movement – Shrinking space for women’s rights

(kvinnatillkvinna) During this time, we have listened to members of the feminist grassroots movements to identify their priorities and provide safe spaces for women human rights defenders to meet and exchange ideas. We have persistently provided long-term financial support, something that is quite unique in the development cooperation community, as it tends to be sensitive to new trends and topics.

During the 1990s, the world experienced a wave of optimism. After the fall of the Berlin wall, we witnessed the construction of democratic societies in central and eastern Europe, as well as positive examples of progress in several African countries. With the new millennium, however, the direction changed with the 9/11 attacks. In the aftermath of the war against terror, it soon became clear that human rights, vibrant civil society and democratic values were not priorities.

 At Kvinna till Kvinna, we noticed signs of change early on. It became difficult to channel funding to women’s organisations in several countries, and the women’s rights defenders, our partners, suffered a harsher climate, with constant threats to their work, their lives and sometimes even their families.

Increasing fundamentalism, conservatism and traditional values started suffocating the women’s movement. Women were physically prevented from moving freely and women’s organisations were threatened and harassed. The shrinking space for civil society organisations has a negative impact on all organisations, but it hits women’s organisations particularly hard. In patriarchal societies, women are excluded from decision-making arenas, so their fight for influence and to secure women’s rights takes place within the civil society.

Research shows that a feminist movement is the single most important factor to fight violence against women. What happens when civil society is no longer able to organise itself or receive foreign funding? Or if women activists are labelled “whores” or “spies”, and the safe spaces for women to meet are shut down? What happens to women’s rights, the fight against sexual harassment and gender equality?

Kvinna till Kvinna will not give up, and neither will the women rights defenders with whom we work. We will carry on finding flexible and innovative ways to support women activists in conflict-affected countries, and they will find ways to continue their struggle for women’s rights. In this report, we have reached out and received input from 123 prominent women human rights defenders from many countries and organisations.

We work together to raise awareness of the urgent need to stop the war against civil society. We need to reverse this development now or risk losing gains for women’s rights that have taken generations to achieve. As one of the women human rights defenders interviewed in this report said: “It is killing our movement.”

Read the full report here.