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Shielding women rights defenders

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In recent years, the interconnectedness between a healthy environment, human rights, climate action, biodiversity conservation, and gender equity has gained significant recognition. To address these complex issues comprehensively, the United Nations (UN) and civil society organisations have united their efforts to strengthen collective advocacy. Central to this endeavour is the protection of women human rights defenders (WHRDs) and their communities, who play a vital role in defending these causes. This article explores the importance of safeguarding grassroots WHRDs, ongoing initiatives, and the imperative need for holistic collaboration to achieve sustainable progress.

The Whole-of-UN Approach in Thailand: During my participation in the “Working with Civil Society” event in Thailand, organised by 21 UN agencies, it became evident that the UN has embraced a whole-of-United Nations approach. This approach aims to reinforce collective advocacy on climate action, biodiversity conservation, and gender equality. Organisations such as Protection International in Thailand have worked closely with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights South East Asia, advocating for positive change through a human rights-based approach and the protection of human rights defenders.

Supaporn Malailoy, a representative of the Enlaw Foundation, emphasised in her speech the significance of democratic processes and constitutional guarantees for people’s rights and freedom. She stressed that achieving a good and healthy environment requires a democratic framework that respects the voices of the people.

While engaging in dialogues at the UN, organisations like PI and partners such as The Grassroots Law for Human Rights and Corporate Accountability and Business Project (G’Law) and Enlaw are simultaneously supporting the demands of mothers, women, and HRDs for the relocation of sugar and biomass power plants. These plants have been affecting communities in the Prathum Rat district of Roi Et province, located 445 kilometres away from Bangkok. The campaigns of these groups have aimed to safeguard Thung Kula’s rice development for European export and ensure public participation. However, biased public hearings held within the company premises effectively excluded dissenting citizens and HRDs.

The recognition of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right is intertwined with the role of WHRDs. These women are at the forefront of caring for their families, lands, and the planet. They advocate for environmental justice, sustainable practices, and oppose extractive industries. However, they face immense challenges, including criminalisation, harassment, threats, and violence. Documentation from Protection International reveals that over the past six decades, 62 environmental rights HRDs have lost their lives while protecting the planet. In the past nine years alone, 566 grassroots WHRDs have faced criminalisation and strategic litigations known as strategic lawsuit against public participation (Slapp).

To dismantle systemic discrimination and empower women and girls as climate and environmental justice defenders, it is crucial to embrace them in meaningful public consultations and decision-making practices. Rural Indigenous communities, mothers, and caregivers have been organising and fighting for their rights, particularly regarding land occupancy, natural resource management, and climate justice.

Recognising the strategic role of care work performed by women, their leadership in resistance movements, and their ability to build bridges between communities, as well as supporting them in their demand for care income, is vital for sustainable progress.

Despite the challenges, WHRDs have achieved significant victories.

The Dongmafai Group’s 27-year struggle against quarry mining companies resulted in the reclamation of the mining zone, which was proclaimed as a community forest zone. Similarly, the Southern Peasants’ Federation of Thailand (SPFT) successfully revoked unlawfully issued title deeds to oil palm plantations. These examples of women and community-led victories demonstrate the importance of collective action and perseverance.

To support these efforts, UN agencies in Thailand must also prioritise Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which focuses on sustainable peace and democracy. Furthermore, UN agencies should support women and HRDs in Thailand in drafting a ground-breaking constitution that encompasses the protection of women and human rights defenders, community rights, environmental justice, and a healthy environment.

Holistic reinforcement of collective advocacy for a healthy environment, human rights, climate action, biodiversity and gender equity is crucial for achieving sustainable development. Protecting WHRDs and their communities is an integral part of this process, as they contribute significantly to environmental activism, justice, and gender equity. By dismantling systemic discrimination, empowering women and girls, and ensuring their rights to a clean and sustainable environment, we can create a better future for all.

Let’s keep supporting Thai women HRDs, their communities and people’s movements. They are the driving force for positive change, advocating for a healthy environment, human rights, climate action, biodiversity and gender equality. Without their support, collective efforts in these areas would not succeed.

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