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Let the UN Special Rapporteur on VAWG Deliver her Mandate: An Open Letter

June 20, 2023

Download the letter for the French and Spanish versions and list of signatories

We, the undersigned, representatives of feminist, women’s and human rights organisations
from the four corners of the world, from the South and the North, are appalled by the attacks
against Reem Alsalem, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women
and Girls – the latest of which is an open letter by AWID.
According to the UN Human Rights Council’s resolution 1994/45, the mandate of the United
Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women and Girls is to seek and receive
information on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences, and to
respond effectively to such information. She is also tasked to work closely with all special
procedures and other human rights mechanisms of the Human Rights Council and with the
treaty bodies, so that they systematically integrate the human rights of women and a gender
perspective into their work.
We are grateful to Ms Alsalem for fulfilling her mandate and adopting a comprehensive and
universal approach to the elimination of violence against women and girls, its causes
and consequences, including causes of violence against women relating to the civil,
cultural, economic, political and social spheres.
However, even though the Special Rapporteur is doing exactly what is within her mandate,
she has been attacked, intimidated and even threatened to be dismissed because she has
been vocal about the impact of laws allowing self-declaration of legal sex on women and
girls’ safety, dignity and rights. Ms Alsalem has called for protecting and safeguarding
women’s fundamental rights not to be discriminated on the basis of sex, and for respecting
positive measures obligations such as single-sex spaces and services, including women’s
shelters, support groups and services for women and girls victims of violence, as well as
women’s safety and dignity in prisons and health care facilities.
We are currently witnessing violent rhetoric and active denigration towards feminists
concerned with the impact of self-declaration of legal sex, or, the erosion of sex and
associated with it protections and state obligations, through its conflation with gender and
gender identity, as well as the widespread de-platforming of female scholars, journalists, and
public figures who aim to broaden debates around gender identity to include considerations
for women and girls as a group with a common characteristic of female sex.
We remind that the preamble of CEDAW states that “the role of women in procreation should
not be a basis for discrimination”. Nevertheless, discrimination based on sex against women
continues and it violates the principles of equality of rights and respect for human dignity.
Many of us signatories of this letter have communicated with Reem Alsalem to voice our
concerns about escalating intimidation, threats, and malignant communications against
women and girls for expressing their opinions and beliefs regarding their needs and rights
based on sex and/or sexual orientation, and we have presented her with concrete examples
from countries, both from the Global North and Global South.
Ms Alsalem is currently being subjected to the same practices she had expressed concerns
about and wanted women to be protected from. In her May 22, 2023 statement, Reem
Alsalem denounced “the escalation of intimidation and threats against women and girls for
expressing their opinions and beliefs regarding their needs and rights based on their sex
and/or sexual orientation”.
By doing so, Ms Alsalem has done exactly what the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence
Against Women and Girls is tasked to do by the UN Human Rights Council: she is
transmitting urgent appeals and communications to States regarding alleged cases of
violence against women and girls.
An attack on her is an attack on us, and it is an attempt to silence us through silencing her.
Recalling the UNHRC resolution 1994/45, we urge the United Nations to protect Reem
Alsalem, and provide her all possible facilities to continue her mandate to seek, receive
and communicate information on violence and intimidation against women and girls, its
causes and consequences.
Recalling the obligations of all UN actors set forth in the UN Secretary General’s initiative
Human Rights Up Front and applicable to all UN bodies irrespective of their individual
mandates, we urge the United Nations to remain vigilant in identifying emerging risks
and ensuring that actions of all UN actors are guided by more effective use of the
information available from UN human rights mechanisms of which the mandate of the
Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and Girls is essential.


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