Over the last few years, the space for Women Human Rights Defenders has been shrinking. Government agents are using security policies, including counter-terrorism strategies and COVID-19 prevention measures to restrict public freedoms and the role of women’s groups and organizations. This has led to the targeting of human rights defenders, such as journalists and activists for threats and attacks by authorities. The situation is even worse for Women Human Rights Defenders. In restrictive and even open civic space environments, women human rights defenders and other other minority groups such as the LGBTI community, tend to suffer additional layers of difficulties based on their gender as a result of patriarchal norms. How civic space violations are experienced is also based on gender. There have been several arrests and detentions of Women Human Rights Defenders.

For example, FOCDE has documented cases where WHRDs working on environmental rights have been arrested for working to defend women experiencing environmental injustices. For WHRDs global developments and pushbacks on human rights through anti-gender discourse has further complicated their work. With the age of technology and with restrictions on the physical integrity of WHRDs, increased numbers of women activists and defenders have resorted to new digital communication platforms. But these new spaces have also not been spared by the State which has imposed onerous laws to govern the online space.

FOCDE is working to empower Women to be on the Frontlines of defending women rights. However, the shrinking space for civil society impacts women activists and sustainable development for women and girls. FOCDE is implements actions aimed at generating dialogue on how women’s rights and development communities can collectively respond to the crackdown on civil society, and pushback on the restrictions women activists face that are hampering women’s equality and inclusion in sustainable development. FOCDE implements actions that fosters mechanisms for the protection of Women human rights defenders to ensure their safety and security.

A free and open civil society which enjoys the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association is vital for achieving participatory, sustainable, and accountable development. Where civil society has enjoyed a more enabling environment, it has contributed to better access to education, healthcare, environmental improvements, debt relief and poverty reduction. However, in recent years the space for civil society to fulfil this essential function has been rapidly closing. FOCDE implements actions that bring together diverse actors to discuss the specific restrictions and challenges women activists face, and the impact these then have on women and girl’s equality, inclusion and ability to participate in sustainable development.