HRC side event panelists

Panelists of the side event of the 54th Session of the Human Rights Council, “75 years on: Promoting Civic Space and Enhancing Gender Justice”.


Co-hosted by The Lutheran World Federation, the World Council of Churches, ACT Alliance, UN Women, UNFPA and the Danish Mission, along with other partners, the event celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—yet also acknowledged a global pushback on human rights, where women and girls’ human rights are being threatened, deprioritized and structural inequalities further intensified in both virtual and physical space.

Rachel Tavernor, of the ACT Alliance Global Gender Justice Programme, offered opening reflections on deepening fundamentalisms, increasing polarization, and an instrumentalisation of religion, all of which are contributing to the shrinking of civic space in national, regional, and global contexts.

While the context is challenging, we will hear today from powerful advocates, who are promoting civic and democratic space, defending human rights, and advancing gender justice,” she said. “An anniversary is an opportunity to look back, and look forward to the struggles so far, and serves as a clarion call for increased action, new strategies, and innovative partnerships.”

Adriana Quiñones head of Human Rights and Development for the UN Women Geneva Office, spoke about the importance of protecting civic space, and of promoting empowerment through economic independence. She also emphasized the importance of technologies to protect civic space online.

Karina Pultz, DanChurchAid senior human rights advisor, noted that women are 27 times more likely than men to be targets of online harassment—and that social media heightens that risk. Yet she also noted that faith actors can address structural changes to prevent harassment.

The Lutheran World Federation’s lead on gender justice and women’s human rights advocacy, Sikhonzile, Ndlovu Maphosa, raised the issue of limited access for faith actors to participate in relevant UN forums despite stated openness and invited a rethinking of how faith-based organizations work in civil society spaces.

Rev. Nicole Ashwood, WCC programme executive of Just Community of Women and Men, said that presenters agreed on the complementarity of civil society and the UN in ensuring the defence of women’s human rights. 

One cannot help but think of the various wars occurring globally, where women and girls are often first responders and ‘collateral damage,”  she said. “Intervention by all stakeholders is key, not only in decision-making and the global and local levels, but also in development of policy and equity for truth telling and trauma transformation.”

Another core area is followup, noted Ashwood, “whether with the reporting mechanisms, or with the commissions themselves,” she said. “The WCC has been actively supporting the preparation of alternative reports for the country reviews of the Universal Periodic Reviews, and over the past nine years, we have been actively enhancing capacity for church workers and grassroots organization leaders to efficiently advocate for justice in their spaces of influence.”