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On 29 November 2022, the Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) commemorates International Women’s Human Rights Defenders Day under the theme “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow.”

SALC, whose mandate is to promote and advances human rights and the rule of law in Southern Africa, acknowledges the immense work and sacrifice of all women human rights defenders across the region, including all women who are resilient and work tirelessly with great bravery to ensure that women from diverse socioeconomic settings are safe, protected, recognised and have equal access to social, legal, and legislative support. This includes the rights to access to land, sexual reproductive health, protection from sexual, physical and verbal abuse, as well as economic abuse.

Human rights defenders face many threats, and women human rights defenders face an even greater risk as they aim to challenge systems controlled and influenced by heavy patriarchy and religious and cultural fundamentalism, which for a long time have disadvantaged women and made them vulnerable to all forms of violations. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) defines the right of women to be free from discrimination and are entitled to complete protection and equality by ensuring access to equity and equality for all women. This includes the right to free civic participation, access to universal health coverage, education, and protection from human rights violations. The CEDAW, in line with the 2030 agenda for sustainable goal number four, promotes achieving gender equality, empowerment, and safety of all women.

SALC encourages all governments, civic society organisations, and protective services to support and partner with women human rights defenders to ensure full social justice for all women. The recognition and capacity strengthening of women, including women living with HIV, disabilities, lesbian, sexual and transgender women, and adolescent young girls, is one step towards ensuring that multiple impartialities and inequalities are addressed; and that women can play an active participatory role in contributing towards climate change and sustainability.

By: Bradley Fortuin, SALC’s Programme Officer, Equality Cluster