From climate change to the unprecedented loss of biodiversity and widespread pollution, our planet is under threat and with it the enjoyment of many of the most fundamental human rights – from the right to life and health to the right to food and safe drinking water. The COVID-19 outbreak has further exacerbated these challenges.
Women Environmental Human Rights Defenders are playing a key role across the globe to protect our planet and its people. They work with small or large human rights organisations; they are activists at grass root level or litigate in court against environmental offenders. They fight against the loss of their livelihoods in the forest, against the illegal exploitation of their country's natural resources, and for the right to know about the state of the environment. They often do so at very high risks. According to reports, defenders of land, environmental and indigenous peoples’ rights are nearly three times more likely to be assaulted than human rights defenders working in other sectors. Women environmental rights defenders also face a range of additional gender specific forms of threats and intimidation. The Secretary General has recently announced a plan of action to protect environmental human rights defenders in view of the particular risks they encounter.
Protecting human rights and the rights of all women and girls, and protecting the environment are two sides of the same coin. The Human Rights Council recognised in 2019 for the first time in a dedicated resolution the "contribution of environmental human rights defenders to the enjoyment of human rights, environmental protection and sustainable development". The same resolution also stressed the importance of gender equality, the empowerment of women and the role women play as managers of natural resources and agents of change in the safeguarding of the environment.
Nevertheless, the close link does not always receive the necessary attention amongst policy makers, and it is essential that the different communities work closely together. The Commission on the Status of Women provides a great opportunity in that regard with its 2021 focus on “Women's full and effective participation and decision-making in public life and the elimination of violence”, and with 2021 as the “super year for climate and nature” ahead of the Conferences of the Parties in Glasgow and Kunming, there is a further opportunity for more focus on the significant contribution of Women Environmental Human Rights Defenders to a sustainable future.
On the occasion of the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the EU Delegation to the UN, together with the Permanent Mission of the United States, and Front Line Defenders and FRIDA Young Feminist Fund as co-sponsors, will provide a platform for five women whose work, in different parts of the world and addressing very different environmental problems, is making a difference for the protection of people and planet. A panel discussion will provide opportunities to hear about their experiences and the particular challenges of women environmental human rights defenders across continents. The objective is to contribute to the priority theme of the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women by coming up with recommendations on how to promote the participation and decision-making of women environmental human rights defenders in public life and to ensure their protection.
Panel discussion, followed by Q&A, focusing on: