Who are women human rights defenders?

Women human rights defenders are broadly defined as women who defend the human rights of all, or individuals of all genders who defend the rights of women.

At Global Fund for Women, we support women human rights defenders who challenge violence against women, advance sexual and reproductive health and rights, and seek economic justice for women. While we acknowledge that the term “women human rights defenders” refers not only to women but also to all activists who defend women’s human rights, our focus is on the roles, risks, and vulnerabilities of defenders who are women and gender non-conforming individuals.

Through our work with women human rights defenders, we recognize that women who defend particular rights, or work in certain contexts, face more threats and have been assassinated because of the work they do. When women human rights defenders work in conflict; under fundamentalism; in environments where natural resources and labor are controlled and appropriated by corporate powers; under patriarchy; and during crises of democracy–they face increased threats and attacks.

Not only do they face the same threats as other human rights defenders—such as surveillance; false charges and unfair trials; torture and other violence; and assassination—women human rights defenders also face threats due to their gender. These include sexual abuse and harassment; domestic violence; threats against their children; and smear campaigns. In addition, women human rights defenders face extreme hostility and intensified threats when their work challenges male dominance in society. This is especially true when women human rights defenders are seen as challenging the cultural or religious stereotypes that perpetuate the role of women as gatekeepers of their families and communities’ honor.

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Around the world, women activists work tirelessly to defend our freedoms and rights, despite threats and violence. Their courage is extraordinary. Their work is crucial for advancing human rights. And yet many of us have never heard their stories.