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Young #femdefenders participating in the Pride parade in Malmö, Sweden. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna.
Young #femdefenders participating in the Pride parade in Malmö, Sweden. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna.

#Femdefenders – Young women who tear down barriers

Around the world, women face threats, harassment and violence, simply because they are women. In spite of this, young women human rights defenders dare to challenge the resistance and fight for peace and women’s rights. Our new study examines the obstacles they face and how they find the strength to carry on.

Every year, on November 29th, The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation celebrates Femdefenders’ Day, the International Day of Women Human Rights Defenders. Women who fight for peace and equality are often particularly vulnerable and therefore we want to honour their struggle and courage.

This year, we have a particular focus on young women human rights defenders who are active in the Western Balkans, Southern Caucasus and Sweden. 140 femdefenders have participated in Kvinna till Kvinna’s training programme Young Women’s Peace Academy, a unique project aimed at strengthening young women activists in their work for peace and women’s human rights.

Defamantion and sexual harassment

128 of them took part in our study, #Femdefenders – Young women who tear down barriers, which among other things shows that more than 50 percent have been subjected to defamation, sexual harassment, intimidation or abuse because of their commitment to peace and women human rights. However, they often encounter the greatest resistance because of their refusal to behave according to traditional gender norms.

“They challenge the expectations of how young girls should act. The traditional roles that dictate that they preferably should neither be seen nor heard and mostly focus on having children and take care of their family,” says Charlotte dos Santos Pruth, editor of the report.

Strong nationalist movements

The young women who have participated in Young Women’s Peace Academy come from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia and Sweden. The difficulties they face are similar, even if the women who live in post-conflict areas are subjected to the most restrictions.

“In post-conflict areas, there are strong nationalist movements, which means that the standards for how girls and boys should be are more powerful. The upsurge of nationalist movements have been more recent in Sweden, while in the Balkans and in the Caucasus they have been around for a longer period of time and the gender roles thereby have become more cemented,” says Charlotte dos Santos Pruth.

Together they can change the world

In Young Women’s Peace Academy, the young feminists and peace activists have been able to strengthen their leadership and communication skills, as well as learn from and support each other. They have met several time during this year and have exchanged views, ideas and experiences. Through this they have been able to build an even stronger foundation for their activism and they have also jointly prepared a manifesto regarding young women’s rights and the work for a peaceful world.

The manifesto aims to influence the debate about women’s human rights and peace work from young women’s perspectives. To spread feminism globally, fight against patriarchal structures and increase the safety of feminists and activists are the issues they see as the most important. And together, #femdefenders can change the world!

Olga Beletski

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Updated in: 2015-11-27