Photo courtesy of Front Line Defenders

Thirty years ago, Juwairiya Mohideen was one of the 75,000 Muslims driven out of the North by the LTTE. She and her family were forced to settle as refugees in Puttalam, where she still lives.

Ms. Mohideen is a recipient of this year’s Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk, which honours the work of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) who promote and protect the human rights of others, at risk to themselves. Front Line Defenders was founded in Dublin in 2001 to protect HRDs.

“In the journey of my service I have faced many sorrows, problems and threats; I overcame them with the support of my family and friends,” said Ms. Mohideen, who is married with two children, in a statement.

“Juwairiya Mohideen works to advance women’s rights against conservative religious forces, to improve the lives and wellbeing of marginalized groups and to seek justice and accountability for victims, and does so both under harassment and threat and always with a welcoming smile. From her own pain and trauma of displacement in her youth, she has built an incredible reputation as a determined champion of justice. She is a role model for all of Sri Lanka,” said Andrew Anderson, Executive Director of Front Line Defenders.

Ms. Mohideen started her work by providing support for the IDP community and focusing on the needs of women and girls. In 2010 she established the Muslim Women’s Development Trust (MWDT), where  she is the Executive Director, to provide practical support, comfort, advice and legal assistance to women and girls facing abuse, violence and discrimination.

Due to her advocacy work to reform the 69 year-old Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA), Ms. Mohideen has received threats against herself and her family and attacks on her character, been called a traitor and shunned by some of her community. She continues to support local women and girls, encouraging them to share their stories of discrimination and violence under the MMDA.

“Because of this law, women and girl children suffer daily abuses. In my work, I meet many women who come to us in tears, badly affected with deep trauma because of this discriminatory law,” Ms. Mohideen said. “Until my last breath I will live for the independent life of women in this world.”

Apart from women’s rights, she also works promoting peace between the Tamil and Muslim communities after the displacement.

With news of her award, messages of congratulations came on social media. “She bears witness to hundreds, if not thousands, of stories of injustice and violence faced by women,” said lawyer Ermiza Tegal.

The EU in Sri Lanka said the award is “recognising her long and dedicated efforts to address sexual and gender-based violence and fight for legal reforms to advance the rights of women and girls in Sri Lanka.”

“A remarkable advocate for women working in a challenging crossroads of culture, history and politics,” said Canadian High Commissioner David Mckinnon.

“She has been undeterred by threats against her and her family, blatant misinformation, attacks on her character, called a traitor and shunned by parts of her community,” said human rights activist Marisa de Silva.