For Immediate Release: November 2, 2011
Washington, DC – In testimony submitted today as the Senate Subcommittee on Global Women’s Issues holds a hearing to discuss challenges and opportunities for women in the wake of the Arab Spring, Human Rights First detailed ongoing gender violence and the harassment of female activists in transitioning nations. The group praised the committee, especially co-chairs Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Robert Casey, Jr. (D-PA), for taking up the issue and urged continued support for women’s rights throughout the region.
“A pattern of targeting politically active women has emerged,” wrote Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley, who leaves this week to visit with female activists in Egypt and Indonesia. “Local activists report being assaulted, stripped, sexually baited, and threatened with charges of prostitution and virginity tests. There appears to be a policy of trying to intimidate women out of the political sphere through this gender violence.”
According to Dooley, in Egypt, security forces continue to target women in ways similar to that of the old regime. Local activists from Nazra and elsewhere have reported to Human Rights First that in March, the Egyptian Army inflicted “virginity tests” on women in Tahrir Square. The women subjected to the virginity tests by soldiers were threatened with prostitution charges if they were found not to be virgins, and such threats to women’s privacy remain common.
In Bahrain, female digital activists covering the protests are subject to organized online campaigns to discredit them for drinking alcohol or being promiscuous. Just three weeks ago, Jaleela Al-Salman, a Bahraini teacher and vice president of the Bahrain Teachers Association, was rearrested. She was taken in the middle of the night just days after speaking with Dooley about her experience of being tortured while in detention. Yesterday, she was released from jail, but remains in constant threat of rearrest.
During his upcoming trip to Egypt, Dooley will meet with women’s political groups and discuss the challenge of organizing a political freedom movement with so many complexities. In Indonesia, he will coordinate a peer-to-peer exchange for female activists. Through this exchange, female activists will share their experiences with gender violence and provide advice for overcoming this intimidation.
In today’s testimony, Dooley noted that U.S. policy prioritizes women’s rights as human rights, a step Human Rights First applauds. “Like many activists who are newly-engaged in transitioning nations, women need to be assured that the public space is safe for them to venture into without fear or harassment,” concluded Dooley.