This oral statement was broadcasted at the 51st Session of the Human Rights Council Annual Discussion on Integration of a Gender Perspective along the theme “Overcoming gender-based barriers to freedom of opinion and expression”. Watch the video statement here.
My name is Evelynne Gomez and I am making this statement on behalf of the Asian Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women, ARROW.
We welcome the Council’s recognition of the important role of women, women journalists, and women human rights defenders in building democratic societies. We cannot have democracy without freedom of expression. The growing trend of further oppression to the civic space contributes to the heightened intimidation and risks faced by women human rights defenders and journalists across the region.
Evidence suggests that blasphemy and morality laws stifling the voice of dissent are not only being increasingly invoked, they are weaponised to stamp out dissent on a range of issues. Tackling oppression and freedom of speech can start with provision of information on affirmative sexuality. Provision of information helps women and gender-diverse people to understand and exercise their rights; make informed decisions with regard to their own health and bodies; and hold governments to account and challenge injustice, discrimination, and oppression.
We call on States to take the following actions:
- Repeal all laws criminalising people including women journalists who speak out or protest peacefully, including the articles in the Penal Code that criminalise defamation and blasphemy, and repeal laws that prevent peaceful assembly.
- Structural, systematic and legal barriers to freedom of opinion and expression must be addressed. People must have access to accurate information and it must not be restricted by States. This includes access to safe and accurate information about people’s mental health and wellbeing, including sexual and reproductive health and rights. States must take measures to ensure SRHR information does not discriminate against groups such as unmarried women, young people, ethnic, indigenous and minority groups, gender non-conforming or any other groups or individual and must decriminalise safe abortion.
- Upholding the right to privacy, the power of governments and companies to obtain information about individuals and organisations must be restricted.
- Gender transformative policies to protect women and gender-diverse peoples freedom of expression need to be upheld and implemented by the State.
- Ensure that restrictions on media workers’ and publishers’ to cover any issues in the manner of their choosing must be lifted. Government censorship powers must be scrapped.
- Put in place protective laws and policies to end all forms of violence, abuse and discrimination against human rights defenders, especially women human rights defenders, who are being targeted by online and offline sexual and gender-based violence and discrimination.