On Human Rights Day on the 10th December 2012, the UN called on the rights of all people -- women, youth, minorities, persons with disabilities, indigenous people, the poor and marginalized -- to make their "voice heard." What Human Rights day also marked was the murder of Nadia Sadiqi, a women's activist and an Afghan official in charge of women's affairs, who was murdered by two unidentified gunmen while on her way to work.
This marked the end of a year in which attempts to brutally suppress human rights defenders continued: Nadia Sadiqi had only just taken over the job role after her predecessor, Hanifa Safi, was assassinated in a bomb attack in July. Women have long held a crucial and leading role in human rights advocacy, but living in a time where in some parts of the world human rights defenders are facing escalating levels of intimidation, harassment and attacks, and violence against women is endemic everywhere both at home and abroad, we heard the voices of women fighting for human rights loud and clear, and more so than ever before. As a young, female, human rights activist myself, this only reinforces my view that the fight for human rights led by girls and women is of even more importance moving into 2013.
United Nations officials marked Human Rights Day by declaring that everyone has the right to be heard: nevertheless, the next generation of women human rights defenders still face much of the same danger before them when they speak out. When journalist and human rights activist Natalya Estemirova was abducted and murdered by armed men in Grozny, Chechen Republic in 2009, it was a stark reminder of the dangerous consequences of being a vocal voice for human rights in Russia. Fast-forward three years, and human rights activism in Russia has a new face: Pussy Riot. Pussy Riot were not callously murdered for their activism, like the ever-growing list of journalists murdered for their human rights and political reporting, and justice for Natalia Estermedia is still being called for -- but what Pussy Riot did do was wave a flag to the world that said that the women fighting for rights in their country will not be ignored, forgotten or silenced.
The next generation of females fighting for human rights is also getting younger. When 15 year-old schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban for her efforts to defend the education of girls in October, a denunciation of targeting girls and women through violence in an attempt to silence them was echoed around the world. Michelle Bachelet the executive director of UN Women, marked Human Rights Day by commenting that this stifling of girls and women's voices is hiding back progress for women and all members of society, stating: "Women's participation is fundamental for sustainable development, peace and democracy." They may have tried to silence Malala, but she continues to inspire her generation to participate in the struggle for basic rights such as education. This was shown with 21 year-old Afghan activist Noorjahan Akbar who says in a recent Daily Beast interview that Malala's shooting only strengthens the fight for girls' rights: "Maybe 10 to 12 years ago, people wouldn't have held a protest because a young girl was attacked. But now it is happening and people are speaking up against it, fighting, and protesting. That gives me a lot of hope for the future. Not just for me and my work, but for other women."
But 2012 was not a year in which women stood alone: many men joined them in standing for their human rights. In October, Dr. Denis Mukwege a leading women's rights activist from the Democratic Republic of Congo escaped an assassination attempt, just one month after condemning impunity for mass rape in the DRC at a UN speech. But whether it be with Dr. Denis Mukwege, the Kachin women in Burma demanding an investigation into Kachin abuses, or the women and men that are taking to the streets in India today against rape and sexual violence, the message is the same: human rights advocacy is still just as important today as it has ever been.
I felt proud to see so many women as the driving force for human rights in 2012, particularly with the media showing them in their true state: as strong, powerful advocates of basic human rights, not as repressed women unable to speak out. Nadia Sadiqi did not die in vain. On Human Rights Day, the day that marked her murder, a special tribute was made to Malala Yousafzai by UNESCO and Pakistan, with the launch of Malala's Fund for Girls Education. Let's hope that 2013 continues to inspire girls and women to get involved with human rights advocacy wherever they are.