Space for the feminist movement is shrinking. Gender activists face double layers of restrictions compared to their male counter-parts because they are challenging patriarchal systems. These brave women and non-binary activists continue to fight for equality despite facing repression from not only governments and religious or militant groups, but also from within their own homes and communities.
They are targets of microaggression, rape and death threats, online harassment and intimidation. Sadly, too often, the threats are not idel and gender activists are arrested, murdered or face sexual violence. To commemorate the International Day for Women Human Rights Defenders on 29 November, we interviewed six dedicated gender activists – from the Philippines, United States, Poland, Egypt, Zimbabwe and Honduras – who are shaking up the world.
Azza Soliman, Egypt
Women’s rights lawyer and founder of the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance, Azza Soliman, is facing some of the most severe restrictions one can face as a women human rights defender. After twenty years of supporting survivors of domestic violence in Egypt with legal assistance, she is accused of receiving foreign funding for activities against national interest. If convicted she could face life in jail. Azza’s bank account has been frozen and she is banned from leaving Egypt while waiting for the verdict from the court.
“Government media is accusing me of not being a proper Muslim woman because I’m divorced and I don’t wear a head scarf. They try to attack my personality. Now, I am scared to walk in the street because the defamation is an indirect invitation for people to attack me.”
In spite of these immense difficulties, Azza has managed to fight back. She prioritises self-care through therapy and has also taken actions against the restrictions. “I am running a case against the British bank in Egypt that froze my account and also the World Bank because it supports this bank financially in Egypt. I continue fighting with the support from local communities in Egypt and all the solidarity messages I receive from all over the world. It is good to know that I am not alone in this.”