The pandemic will not hinder us from uniting as women #CSW65
I was honored to attend the CSW65 from March 15-26, 2021 as part of the KAIROS’ delegation and through the generous accommodation of ACT Alliance.
The pandemic may have hindered women from gathering physically but, through technology, participants including here in the Philippines were able to experience New York for two weeks. Indeed, not even a pandemic can stop courageous and dauntless women from around the world in their fight for gender equality.
The multitude of forums and topics during the event compelled me to choose topics which are relevant to my country, the Philippines. As a young and aspiring human rights lawyer, topics on gender justice, human rights activism and how the pandemic has affected these advocacies interest me.
Incidentally, as we ended the CSW65 on March 26, 2021, the government of the Philippines announced another lockdown in its capital city and nearby regions. This is in response to an all-time high COVID-19 cases and the emergence of its new variants.
In the session titles “The pandemic will not stop us: Impact of COVID-19 on women peace activists in Colombia, Philippines, South Sudan & Ukraine” sponsored by the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders Inc., women peace activists from different parts of the world narrated how the pandemic has caused hardships. To name a few, there is the alarming increase in domestic violence, exclusion of women in decision-making and in COVID-related policies, slower progress of peace talks, widespread unemployment and killings of women human rights defenders.
One of the participants in the session pointed out that in the Philippines, the government is combating the pandemic through military-based tactics rather than on medical-based solutions. More than a year since the first COVID-19 recorded case in the Philippines and with the military at the helm, we are still in the lockdown-stay-at-home mindset. Many front-liners and health care workers have already died on duty. At the same time, the county has recorded its highest number of extrajudicial killings amidst the pandemic, some perpetuated by the military.
I cannot help but remember the heartbreaking plight of Reina Mae Nasino; woman, mother, human rights worker and detainee. She was arrested in 2019 inside her office along with other activists. The police planted firearms and explosives and she was later indicted on trumped-up charges of Illegal Possession of Firearms and Explosives. She was pregnant when she was detained, yet she was not given prenatal care. The restrictions became more stringent when the lockdown was imposed in March 2020. Soon after she gave birth, the Court ordered her separation from her baby, despite the fact the baby was very sick. Her baby soon died. The violence did not stop with Nasino’s case. Human rights lawyers and defenders, media workers and activists continue to be arrested on trumped-up charges, in an effort to silence dissent and discourse. Killings and attacks continue to persist.
At the end of the forum, this question was posed – “how do we strengthen protection of human rights activists during the pandemic?” One of the speakers accurately responded that the answer is to create international pressure and clamor through the help of international human rights organizations. It is imperative that we set up an international accountability mechanism to end the cycle of violence and impunity.
The pandemic should not hinder us from uniting with others; women, men, LGBTQIA+ individuals, indigenous peoples etcetera, in our fight for human rights.
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Reflection by Fermina A. Agudo, National Union of People’s Lawyers, in the Philippines.