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11 Things to Know About Women Human Rights Defenders

Women human rights defenders are women who raise their voices, risking their own safety to continue to protect and preserve human rights for all. In DefendHer, Global Fund for Women, Just Associates (JASS), and MADRE tell the stories of 14 different women human rights defenders and their organizations and showcase the issues they face, the work they do, and the gains they’re making in their work for justice. Here you can learn more about women human rights defenders. We hope the stories inspire you to step up and use your own voice, resources, and networks to support these courageous women so that they can continue to defend us all.

1. Who exactly are women human rights defenders?

Women human rights defenders are any women who defend human rights—for women, for men, for all. Defenders are attacked for who they are—their identity as women—and for what they do—fight for human rights for all. They come from a wide variety of backgrounds, movements, and organizations, and are united by their common concern for justice. They include community leaders, teachers, mothers, union members, LGBTQI activists, indigenous women, feminists, lawyers, journalists, and academics.

Interested in the Global Fund for Women’s definition of “women human rights defender”? Check it out!

2. Women human rights defenders respond to crises and demand rights.

Women human rights defenders protect the rights of people and communities, and organize people to demand respect for their own rights. They are often on the frontlines of war, disaster, resource exploitation, state violence, and more. For many, this means starting by addressing urgent community rights, including for food, health, and humanitarian aid delivery. Learn more about women human rights defenders’ urgent responses to crisis and how this informs their demands for rights in MADRE’s article, “Myth Busting in Defense of Grassroots Crisis Responders.”

3. When violence strikes: Learn about the dangers women human rights defenders face 24/7.

Women human rights defenders experience violence and threats because of their work and because of their gender. AWID’s infographic—developed from analysis gathered within the Mesoamerican women human rights defender initiative and others—showcases how and where violence occurs against women human rights defenders, and what we must do to ensure their protection.

4. Women human rights defenders are a part of movements for social change.

While the work these defenders do is courageous, they don’t do it alone. Women human rights defenders are part of larger movements, networks, and organizations, as shown in this Infographic from Global Fund for Women, “What is a Movement?”

JASS (Just Associates) has also just launched We:Rise a digital platform that gives a behind the scenes look at how movements are built—the challenges, the compromises, and the achievements along the way—and offers resources for anyone who wants to change the world. See the critical role women human rights defenders play—and how you can, too!

5. What are some other organizations and initiatives that are supporting women human rights defenders?

DefendHer is a project of Global Fund for Women, JASS, and MADRE, and it joins a long history of efforts to raise the voices of women human rights defenders and generate support for their work. The Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition and its member organizations and the Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative (site in Spanish only) are great places to learn about organizations supporting women human rights defenders around the world.

6. From survivors to defenders: More women’s stories of becoming forces to be reckoned with.

An alarming number of women face violence and even death threats in Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala. Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Jody Williams and Rigoberta Menchu Tum traveled through these countries to document the violence faced by women and activists. They found that some survivors, in the face of corrupt and complicit governments, became defenders themselves.

7. Words from the wise: Hear the stories collected from women human rights defenders themselves.

Women human rights defenders’ efforts must be recognized and supported, a key motivation behind this DefendHer campaign. If you want to read more about the situation of women defenders, check out this detailed report that showcases data gathered by Mesoamerica defenders from 2012 to 2014.

8. Learn the names of the women human rights defenders killed while demanding change.

Women human rights defenders are often the targets of violence and death threats. Some are killed while defending people and communities’ rights. Check out AWID’s infographic that names the women human rights defenders killed up to 2015 and a tribute to these fallen defenders.

9. What else should I know when I talk about women human rights defenders?

The Feminist Movement Builders’ Dictionary: 2nd Edition serves as a one stop shop for words commonly used by women defenders. With definitions from “ableism” to “women’s human rights,” this can act as your one source to refer to as you raise your voice and share this campaign’s stories and message.

10. Make DefendHers a part of your daily life

You hold the power to stand with women human rights defenders around the world. Begin your own activism today by sharing the stories you’ve read with your own community, spark a conversation with friends and family, and consider how women you know may also be powering the struggle for human rights in your own community.

11. Inspired yet?

Take action for women human rights defenders now. Sign our message of solidarity to the women and organizations in DefendHer telling them you stand with them!