As UN Women hails the bravery of women’s rights defenders, we pay tribute to some of those killed in the past year
Rising misogyny and an increase in the restrictions placed on women’s freedom worldwide mean the work of campaigners who defend their rights is more important than ever, the head of UN Women has said.
In a statement to mark International Women Human Rights Defenders’ Day, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said: “Those who defend our rights in turn need our defence. Their brave and important work has provoked reprisals and attacks against civil society actors in all parts of the globe. Humanitarian, development and peace-building organisations are also increasingly facing access and funding restrictions, making the task of human rights defenders all the more precarious.”
Although men too face attack, women’s rights defenders – targeted not only for the work they do, but also simply for being female – are beset on multiple fronts. In countries that still have fixed ideas about women’s roles, activists encounter aggression both inside and outside their homes and communities.
This year’s day of remembrance for women’s rights activists comes as the family of Berta Cáceres awaits the verdict of her murder trial in Honduras. Cáceres, a Goldman environmental prize winner, was killed in her home in March 2016. She had been fighting to protect indigenous land rights.
Each year, the Association for Women’s Rights in Development updates its online tribute to women’s human rights defenders who have died. The homage now honours the legacy of more than 400 women from 80 countries.
Here, we salute some of the women who have been killed for their activism in 2018.
Marielle Franco, Brazil
‘Groundbreaking politician’: Marielle Franco. Photograph: Vienna Rye/AWID
Marielle Franco, described by the Guardian as a “groundbreaking politician”, had become a leading voice for disadvantaged people living in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro before her untimely death at the age of 38. Franco, a gay, black woman, was in her first term of office on the city council, and had been outspoken about police violence and aggression in the favelas. After delivering a speech in Rio on 14 March, she and her driver, Anderson Pedro Gomes, were shot and killed in what has been described as a targeted attack. After news of her death emerged, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Rio in protest. No arrests have been made in connection with her death.
Elisa Badayos, Philippines
Elisa Badayos died in November 2017. Photograph: Vienna Rye/AWID
Elisa Badayos was the coordinator at Karapatan, a human rights organisation in the Philippines’ Negros Oriental province. She was also a champion of poor urban communities in Cebu province, and worked with people whose family members had disappeared. Badayos, 59, and two of her colleagues were shot by two unidentified men on a motorbike in Negros Oriental province on 28 November 2017 , while investigating alleged land rights abuses in the area. Both Badayos and colleague Eleuterio Moises were pronounced dead on arrival at hospital. No one has been arrested over the murder. Badayos is survived by four children. Rights organisation Front Line Defenders believes the killing was “solely motivated by their legitimate and peaceful activities in the defence of human rights in the Philippines”.
Guadalupe Campanur Tapia, Mexico
Guadalupe Campanur Tapia was found dead in January 2018. Photograph: Vienna Rye/AWID
Guadalupe Campanur Tapia was a prominent environmental and indigenous rights activist in Cherán, Mexico. The 32-year-old was heavily involved in protecting local forests from illegal logging. Her body was found on the side of a road in Chilchota, about 30km from Cherán, on 16 January. She is believed to have been strangled.
Razan al-Najjar, Palestine
‘I am not afraid’: Razan al-Najjar . Photograph: Vienna Rye/AWID
Razan al-Najjar, 21, a volunteer medic, was shot dead on 1 June as she ran towards a fortified border fence in Gaza to reach an injured person. She was wearing a white uniform when she was shot. In her very last Facebook post, al-Najjar wrote: “I am returning and not retreating,” adding: “Hit me with your bullets. I am not afraid.”
Juana Raymundo, Guatemala
Juana Raymundo was found dead in July 2018. Photograph: Vienna Rye/AWID
Juana Raymundo, an indigenous Mayan Ixil, campaigned for indigenous rights. A trained nurse, Raymundo was coordinator of the Farmers’ Development Committee (Comité de Desarrollo Campesino – Codeca), which she joined when she was 20. Codeca had lobbied the government to investigate the deaths of human rights activists, and worked to improve land reform and farmers’ wages. Raymundo went missing on 27 July and her body was found by neighbours beside a river the next day. She was 25. Codeca said her body showed signs of torture.
Annaliza Dinopol Gallardo Capinpin, Phillipines
‘She stood with courage’: Annaliza Dinopol Gallardo Capinpin. Photograph: Vienna Rye/AWID
Known as “Ate Liza,” Annaliza Dinopol Gallardo was president of the Agrarian Reform Council for Mindanao Pioneers, in Tacurong City in the Philippines, and campaigned for land rights for local people. Gallardo, a mother of four, was shot dead outside Sultan Kudarat State University on the morning of 22 August. Her community remembered her as: “She who leads when no one wants to lead, she who talks when no one wants to talk, she who stood with courage to help the agrarian reform beneficiaries to own lands.” No one has been arrested over the 34-year-old’s murder.
Mariam Uy Acob, Phillipines
Mariam Uy Acob was shot dead in September 2018. Photograph: Vienna Rye/AWID
Mariam Uy Acob, 43, was a paralegal at the Kawagib Moro Human Rights Alliance. She fought for the rights of minority Muslim Moro communities. She was forced into hiding after exposing injustices committed against Muslim communities in the Philippines. She was shot seven times in her car in 23 September.
Juana Ramírez Santiago, Guatemala
Juana Ramírez Santiago was murdered in September 2018. Photograph: Vienna Rye/AWID
Juana Ramírez Santiago was on the board of the Red de Mujeres Ixiles de Nebaj, an indigenous women’s rights organisation, when she was shot dead while on the way to meet her husband on 21 September. A trained midwife and mother of seven, Santiago, 57, received a number of deaths threats in the months leading up to her death. She had reported the threats to the authorities.
Su’ad al-Ali, Iraq
Su’ad al-Ali was shot dead in September 2018. Photograph: Vienna Rye/AWID
Su’ad al-Ali was the president of al-Weed al-Alaiami, an Iraqi human rights organisation focused on the rights of women and children, for which she was a strong advocate. Ali was a leading participant in July protests n Basra and several other Iraqi cities, where demonstrators voiced their concerns over rising unemployment and demanded more jobs and better public services. The protests also called for an end to corruption. On 25 September, Ali was killed in central Basra. A video of the incident appeared to show someone approaching her as she was getting into her car. The person appeared to fire a bullet into the back of her head and point the gun at her driver, Hussain Hassan, who was injured in the shoulder. Ali was 46 and a mother of four.
Photograph: Nils Jorgensen/REX/Shutterstock