On September 27 at the United Nations in New York, countries will be following up on the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action to promote gender equality and women’s rights.

But critical voices will be missing from the discussion. Instead of being allowed to work for women’s empowerment and share their personal experiences as advocates for some of the world’s most vulnerable people, they are being imprisoned by some of the same governments that are sending delegations to the conference.

U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Samantha Power launched the #FreeThe20 campaign September 1. She said the campaign is highlighting 20 representative cases of women who are being deprived of their freedom due to their activism.

“In naming these women, we are sending a message to their governments and others like them: If you want to empower women, don’t imprison them on the basis of their views or on the basis of the rights that they are fighting for,” she said.

Egyptian activist Sanaa Seif and her brother Alaa Abd El-Fattah are both imprisoned for challenging their country’s new anti-protest laws. Seif’s case will be featured in #FreeThe20. (© AP Images)

“Free these 20 women and free the countless women and girls like them behind bars, because these 20 women only represent a tiny fraction of the women currently being unjustly imprisoned. And the governments detaining them are just a handful of the governments around the world that are locking up women for exercising their fundamental freedoms,” Power said.

A new case will be featured every working day before the Beijing+20 Conference. Some of the women have already made the news, such as China’s Wang Yu, Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova, and Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, who is being held in Russia. Others are less well-known.

“To the media we urge: Write about these cases. To members of these women’s communities and to our own communities, we urge: Take up their cases as your own, and demand their release. And to the governments imprisoning these 20 individuals we urge: If you want to empower women, start by releasing these women,” Power said. “Don’t deprive your societies and the world of these women’s voices.”