More than half of the women cited in AWID’s 2017 tribute to female activists were murdered for defending their rights. Among the women killed are those who fought to protect their land from the state and multinational companies, or called out injustices or corruption, or stood up for the rights of lesbian, gay and trans people.
While thousands of men defend human rights, women face particular challenges for their activism. They are targeted for who they are, as women, not just because they are protesting. In countries that view a woman’s role as being in the home, female human rights defenders are more prone to attack than men because they are seen as breaking social norms.
To mark international Women Human Rights Defenders’ Day on Wednesday, we honour some of the women who have been killed this year.
Emilsen Manyoma, Colombia
Emilsen Manyoma was the leader of the Comunidades Construyendo Paz en los Territorios (Conpaz), based in Buenaventura. The organisation worked with communities displaced by companies wanting their land for mining and agricultural projects. The region is marked by the presence of paramilitaries and drug traffickers. Manyoma had documented killings and forced disappearances, and was an outspoken critic of the companies forcing people off their land. She was killed with her husband, Joe Javier Rodallega. Their bodies were found on 17 January.
Shifa Gardi, Iraq
Shifa Gardi was a reporter for the Kurdish channel Rudaw. She had been credited for breaking the “stereotypes of male-dominated journalism”. She was killed by a roadside bomb while covering the battle for Mosul on 25 February.
Ruth Alicia López Guisao, Colombia
Ruth Alicia López Guisao was a community leader who worked with the indigenous people of Medio San Juan on food security, health and education projects. She was a member of Asociación Agroecológica Interétnica e Intercultural (Intercultural and Interethnic Agroecological Association), and worked in areas overrun by paramilitary groups. On 2 March, she was shot and killed by two unidentified gunmen while visiting her family in Medellín. Since her death, her family have received threats of violence.
Sherly Montoya, Honduras
Sherly Montoya was a member of Grupo de Mujeres Transexuales – Muñecas de Arcoíris, which advocates on issues affecting transgender women. The group is a member of Asociación LGTB Arcoíris, an organisation working on equality and justice for the LGBTI community in Honduras. Her body was discovered in the capital, Tegucigalpa, on 4 April.
Miroslava Breach Velducea, Mexico
Miroslava Breach Velducea was a reporter for the national newspaper La Jornada, among other publications, before starting her own news agency, MIR, this year. Her main beat was organised crime, politics and corruption. She was shot eight times when she left her home in Chihuahua on 23 March. According to the BBC, a note left at the scene read: “For being a loudmouth.”
Miriam Rodríguez Martínez, Mexico
Miriam Rodríguez Martínez became an activist and leader of the Collective of Missing Persons in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, following the disappearance of her daughter in 2012. She started her own investigation into the disappearance and unearthed her daughter’s remains and information that implicated the Los Zetas drug cartel. On 10 May, Mother’s Day in Mexico, she was shot 12 times at her home by a group of armed men.
Yoryanis Isabel Bernal Varela, Colombia
Yoryanis Isabel Bernal Varela fought for the rights of indigenous women. She led the Wiwa tribe in the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta. She was killed by armed assailants on a motorbike in January.
Patricia Villamil Perdomo, Honduras
Patricia Villamil Perdomo defended the rights of migrants. She was the Honduran consul in Tapachula, Mexico, where she became vocal about a human trafficking network, allegedly operating under the nose of state authorities. She also spoke out against human trafficking groups operating along the southern Mexican border. She is understood to have received written threats signed with “Z” – for the Los Zetas drug cartel. She was found dead at her home on 20 March. She is understood to have been suffocated.
Micaela García, Argentina
Micaela García was a women’s rights activist and member of the leftwing organisation JP Evita. She was involved in the protest movement Ni una menos (Not one less), which campaigns against gender-based violence. She was studying to become a teacher. Her body was found in Gualeguay, north of Buenos Aires, a week after she disappeared in April 2017.
Meztli Omixochitl Sarabia Reyna, Mexico
Meztli Omixochitl Sarabia Reyna was a member of the Unión Popular de Vendedores Ambulantes 28 de Octubre (Upva), which defended the rights of street vendors. Many members of Upva, based in Pueblo, have been subject to death threats and attacks. She was shot twice during an attack on the group’s offices on 29 June.
Idaly Castillo Narváez, Colombia
Community leader Idaly Castillo Narváez was a member of the victims’ group Mesa de Participación de Víctimas del Municipio in the Colombian state of Cauca. She was killed in August. Her body was found with signs of torture and rape.
Leonela Tapdasan Pesadilla, Philippines
Leonela Tapdasan Pesadilla was a member of the Compostela Farmers’ Association (CFA), which opposes large-scale mining projects in the area. Members of the association have been targeted by state security forces. She and her husband had donated some land to be used as a school for indigenous children in Mindanao. They were shot at their home on 2 March.
Mia Manuelita Mascariñas-Green, Philippines
Mia Manuelita Mascariñas-Green was a lawyer at the Environmental Legal Assistance Center, a network of volunteer lawyers. She had been working on cases involving land rights. She was ambushed and killed in her car by four gunmen near her home in Bohol on 15 February. Her three children and nanny were in the car.
Laura Leonor Vásquez Pineda, Guatemala
Laura Leonor Vásquez Pineda, was one of the leaders of the Committee for the Defence of Life and Peace in San Rafael Las Flores, which was active in opposing the El Escobal mine owned by the Canadian company Tahoe Resources. She was arrested and imprisoned for seven months as a result of her activism, before charges were dropped. She was shot dead by a group of men who broke into her house on 16 January.
Gauri Lankesh, India
Gauri Lankesh was a prominent human rights journalist, critically outspoken on the country’s caste system, and on rightwing Hindu nationalists. Lankesh worked for the Times of India, and was an editor of a Kannada-language paper. Last year she was found guilty of defamation over a story accusing members of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata party of theft. She was shot outside her home in Bangalore on 5 September.
Orouba Barakat, Syria
Orouba Barakat was a prominent human rights activist and member of the Syrian National Coalition. Since the 1980s, she had opposed the regimes of Hafez and Bashar al-Assad. Barakat was understood to be investigating torture in prisons by government forces. In September, Barakat and her daughter, Halla, a journalist, were stabbed in their home in Istanbul. “The hand of tyranny and injustice assassinated my sister Dr Orouba and her daughter Halla,” wrote Orouba’s sister Shaza on Facebook.
Efigenia Vásquez Astudillo, Colombia
Efigenia Vásquez Astudillo was a journalist for Renacer Kokonuko, a community radio station operated by the Kokonuko indigenous group. On 8 October she was shot while covering clashes between the police and local community members, who were occupying land in Puracé, in the south-western department of Cauca. She died of her injuries in hospital.
Jennifer López, Mexico
Jennifer López was a trans activist and campaigned for the rights of the LGBTQI community in Ometepec in Guerrero state. The well-known activist was murdered in May.
Daphne Caruana Galizia, Malta
Daphne Caruana Galizia was an prominent investigative journalist and anti-corruption activist. She reported regularly for The Sunday Times of Malta and The Malta Independent and wrote a blog. She had led the Panama Papers investigation into corruption in Malta. She had received numerous threats on her life. On 16 October, she was killed in a car bomb attack near her home.
Aysin Büyüknohutçu, Turkey
Aysin Büyüknohutçu, an environmental defender and farmer, was actively involved in local politics and the legal and civil fight against stone quarries in the Finike district and throughout the rest of Antalya. Büyüknohutçu, along with her husband – also a well-known environmental activist – led a campaign and lawsuit against a marble quarry, managing to get its operations shut down. She and her husband were murdered in May at their home.
Jane Julia de Oliveira, Brazil
Jane Julia de Oliveira was an environmental defender in Pará state. She was president of the Associação dos Trabalhadores e Trabalhadoras Rurais (Association of Rural Workers). On 24 May, she, along with nine other activists, was shot and killed at the farm they were occupying. The killings occurred when police went to the farm to arrest the group.
Rosalyn Albaniel Evara, Papua New Guinea
Rosalyn Albaniel Evara was a well-known journalist and business editor at the Post-Courier, Papua New Guinea’s largest newspaper. On 15 October, she collapsed suddenly at home and died soon after arrival at the hospital in Port Moresby. At the funeral, her aunt, a human rights activist and campaigner against violence against women, revealed Evara had been subject to ongoing physical abuse. The funeral was stopped, and an autopsy and investigation ordered.
Luz Yeni Montaño, Colombia
Luz Yeni Montaño was part of the Community Action Board in Tumaco, in the department of Nariño, and had advocated on behalf of people displaced in the region. She spoke up against the systematic assassinations of community leaders in Colombia. On 12 November, she was murdered by gunmen on motorcycles.
Kátia Martins, Brazil
Kátia Martins was a land rights leader and environmental defender in the state of Pará. She was president of the Family Farmers Association and had spent her life fighting for a better quality of life for farmers. She had been threatened by groups who wanted to occupy the land she was living on. In May, she was shot five times and killed in front of her house by unknown assailants on motorcycles.
Maria da Lurdes Fernandes Silva, Brazil
Maria da Lurdes Fernandes Silva was a community land rights leader and environmental defender in Pará. She denounced illegal acquisition of land in the region. She and her husband had received death threats. On 26 July, she was shot inside her house by unknown assailants. Her husband was also killed.
The full list of women human rights defenders who have died since 2012 can be found at AWID’s online tribute. Photos courtesy of AWID. Illustration by Carol Rossetti/AWID
This article was originally published by The Guardian