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International Women’s Day: Celebrate the courage of women human rights defenders!

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iwd_5.gifWomen Human Rights Defenders International Coalition, comprised of 18 organisations including FORUM-ASIA, celebrated the courage of women human rights defenders on International Women's Day, 8 March 2009.

In a survey by the coalition in 2008, "women human rights defenders identified the most common violations they experienced as:  intimidation and harassment; surveillance and blacklisting; attacks and intimidation, including of family members; defamation, slander, vilification; killing and attempted killing".

Their statement called for all governments to implement human rights treaties and to continue funding the programmes for the advancement of women's human rights, particularly in the present financial crisis.

Many civil society organisations in Asia and beyond organised activities for the day. But "It is just another day of hardship and suffering", said Kek Galabru, the president of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights (LICADHO), a FORUM-ASIA member.

LICADHO's statement issued on the day notes that "there is nothing special about this day for the many Cambodian women who are struggling to feed their families because they have been evicted from their homes or are living in fear of eviction."

Many women gathered on the day near a "sacred tree", where they used to pray before it was torn down during eviction. Among the participants are the women who were evicted from other regions.

Odhikar, a FORUM-ASIA member in Bangladesh, released a report on violence against women on the day. “Violence against women is a serious issue in Bangladesh”, it says, but “neglected by various agencies of the government”.

According to the report, rape, “acid attacks” and dowry-related violence are the major forms of violence that the Bangladeshi women face. The organisation provides data showing that 133 persons were attacked with acid “acid violence”, acid of similar corrosive substance thrown to women. Women’s rejection of marriage proposal or sexual advances is one of the reasons for the crime. The organisation also reports that at least 269 women last year became victims of dowry-related violence; delayed payment for marriage dowry causes the use of violence against the young wives.

Also on the day, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) expressed concerns over "the violence perpetrated against women, violation of human rights of women, and discrimination against women in the crisis situation in Sri Lanka".

Their statement presents cases of violence against women in the country, such as the recent sexual abuse case of a 14-year-old girl by the security forces. They also note that the conflict "also disabled mechanisms through which women victims and survivors of violence can seek justice and redress", subjecting women human rights defenders to risk.

International Women's Day is observed annually in March by member states of the United Nations. The theme for the day this year, "Women and Men: United to End Violence against Women", highlights the multi-year (2008-2015) United Nations campaign "UNITE to End Violence Against Women".