Damage to human rights defenders involves different elements that are influenced, among other things, by gender distinctions. The reality in which women Human Rights Defenders operate and the ways in which the system works to hurt them are unique and many times gender and gender structures are used to pressure women.
Incrimination, arrests, investigations, incarceration, legal proceedings and trials create a complex reality that is different for women to cope with. Many women human rights activists have testified to being verbally, sexually and/or physically harassed by soldiers/police during protests, arrests or investigations, as well as being subjected to humiliating treatment based on gender, sexuality and appearance.
For example, in October 2015, 18-year-old activist Eden Tatour from Jaffa was arrested after her name was circulated on Facebook as an organizer of transportation to a protest in Nazareth. Tatour‘s father was taken into detention together with her, which not only exerted extra pressure on the family by insulting its honor, but also forced a young woman fighting for human rights to be subject to her father’s authority and as such, made her a “hostage” of the gender dynamics that are customary in her community.
“A cop who wants to silence a woman will push her in her chest,” a female activist named Carmen Almakayes Amos says. In June 2013, Almakayes Amos said she was attacked together with another women activist by a policeman who was accused of physically and verbally assaulting them while making explicit sexual remarks and touching their bodies during a protest held outside Minister Yair Lapid’s residence.
Intentional or unintentional groping of women’s bodies during a protest by policemen or soldiers, body searches or situations like finding oneself in a room alone with a man during an investigation – further undercut female activists’ sense of security and confidence to continue their activities. For women who come from religious or traditional backgrounds, this is even more complex as it may also have heavy social consequences.
Another issue that is often overlooked is the lack of privacy in access to showers and hygiene as well as conditions during menstruation when a woman is in detention or intersected. These matters are considered taboo, which is why many women are embarrassed to bring them up; a lawyer (certainly a male one) will not necessarily ask them about it or make sure they receive the proper treatment.
The problematic dynamics between a Human Rights Defender and a state representatives are all too clear. When you add gender dynamics of society in general, it creates a reality that is almost impossible for some women to bear.
Many times gender is interconnected with other aspects of damage to Human Rights Defenders. The threat to economic stability cuts across gender lines, but in a reality in which women systemically earn less than men, obviously many women will not be able to sustain the financial losses that go along with being absent from the workplace, or paying the legal proceedings and other high expenses.
In addition, in a society in which women fulfill the social role of mothers and wives, prolonged arrest can cause serious damage to children, the household and a woman’s social status. Consequently, the authorities abuse this reality to pressure communities and inhibit the involvement and leadership of women in struggles for human rights.