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Overcoming gender-based barriers to freedom of opinion and expression

Intervention by Mark Cassayre, Permanent Observer of the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) to the United Nations in Geneva 51st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council
Annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective throughout the work of the Human Rights Council and that of its mechanisms
Theme: Overcoming gender-based barriers to freedom of opinion and expression

Thank you, Mr. President.

It is a pleasure to take the floor on behalf of the International Development Law Organization (IDLO). IDLO greatly appreciates the opportunity to address this distinguished panel and audience.

As the only global intergovernmental organization exclusively dedicated to promoting peace and sustainable development through the rule of law, IDLO has committed to reducing the justice gap for women and girls as a key objective of its Strategic Plan 2021-2024.

We welcome the report on ‘Gender justice and freedom of expression’ of the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Ms. Irene Khan. We support its conclusions and recommendations on combatting gender-based violence that targets female human rights defenders, politicians or feminist activists; safeguarding civic spaces for women’s mobilization; and the paramount importance of ensuring women’s participation in all levels and forms of decision-making.

We have seen these challenges on the ground through our work on gender equality and access to justice for women and girls in countries across the globe. In our upcoming research report on Survivor-Centred Justice for Gender-Based Violence in Complex Situations, our findings show, among others, that in situations of conflict or political instability, women’s organizations and women human rights defenders may be targeted for violence and persecution. Thus, support to women’s organizations working to end GBV cannot be separated from efforts to create and safeguard civic and political space for collective action and advocacy. Examples of persecution have included intimidation of civil society leaders who speak up against violations of women’s human rights. The report also shows the important role that women lawyers play not only in representing and supporting survivors, but in legislative reform as well to create an enabling environment for justice for survivors of GBV.

In our series of publications on the barriers and pathways to improving women’s participation in the justice sector, we identified threats, intimidation or harassment that women justice professionals face, including sexual harassment and unfair treatment from co-workers and superiors, as well as members of the public. In another report, we saw how women’s voices, agency and leadership are limited in climate decision-making and governance at all levels, despite being on the frontlines of climate action in many countries.

IDLO will continue to work on ensuring enhanced leadership and participation of women and calls for national and international policymakers to promote a safe and enabling environment for women to advance and excel at all areas, including in the justice sector.


  • In the experience of the UN Special Rapporteur, are there specific restrictions to freedom of opinion and expression that affect women judges and lawyers and what can be done to address them?
  • In the distinguished panellists’ view, what priority should justice and rule of law measures be given in wider efforts to address the gender barriers to freedom of opinion and expression?

Thank you.