Women's rights
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Women's rights

Women human rights defenders have historically been at the forefront of human rights progress relating to gender and equality, creating and implementing campaigns for change.

They have effectively challenged discrimination, patriarchy and entrenched privilege. They are behind the establishment of many of the rights we now exercise day to day without questioning them, such as women’s suffrage.

Women human rights defenders (WHRDs) are women who promote or protect human rights, and people of all genders who engage in the defense of women’s rights and rights related to gender and sexuality. Working to protect women’s rights and promote gender equality and justice includes – among other things – promoting the education of women and girls, including comprehensive sexuality education; combating sexual harassment, violence and negative stereotypes; working in peace processes in conflict and post-conflict situations; promoting women’s participation in political processes. ISHR takes a broad, inclusive and feminist approach on WHRDs, and views the work of WHRDs as fundamentally countering patriarchy and heteronormativity, and thus includes all those working in the areas of bodily autonomy and bodily integrity including trans persons and persons who do not identify with binary genders.

WHRDs face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and violence both because of the work they do and because of who they are. This includes, in particular WHRDs who are part of historically oppressed groups such as: racial, ethnic, religious, and other minorities. WHRDs face unique challenges, driven by deep-rooted discrimination against women and stereotypes related to gender and sexuality. In addition to the risks of threats, attacks and violence faced by all defenders, WHRDs are exposed to specific risks. Those working on rights contested by fundamentalist groups such as sexual and reproductive health and rights and those denouncing the actions of extractive industries and businesses are at heightened risk of attacks and violence. WHRDs often face abuses perpetrated by non-State actors including members of their own family, community and faith-based groups, non-State armed groups, private security companies, corporations, and organised crime, among others. 

ISHR supports WHRDs

ISHR stands with WHRDs in their work, providing intensive training and advocacy support, lobbying to ensure that the role and protection needs of women human rights defenders are reflected in international resolutions and standards, and working with women’s rights activists and groups to promote the effective implementation of these resolutions and standards on the ground. ISHR works as part of feminist movements for change, such as the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition. 

Latest updates

Check out all the latest updates to this topic

Outcome of the NGO Forum

For the first time since 2019, the NGO Forum ahead of the ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Commission), was held in person in Banjul on 17 and 18 October. This session’s discussions focused on human rights and governance in Africa: a multi-dimensional approach in addressing conflict, crisis and inequality.

Outcomes of the 73rd session of the African Commission

After three years of online sessions, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (the Commission) resumed in person sessions. The 73rd session was held from 20 October to 9 November 2022 in Banjul, The Gambia. This session was marked by the commemoration of the 35th anniversary of the Commission.

Sudan: Stop escalation of violence against women - protect them!

As we celebrate the International Day for Ending Violence Against Women and WHRDs Day during the 16 days of activism to End Violence Against Women, we salute the courageous Sudanese women fighting for freedom and equality. We stand in solidarity with their struggle for democratic change, justice and peace.

ACHPR 73: Mauritania should take legislative measures to ensure the protection of human rights defenders

In compliance with Article 62 of the African Charter, States have the obligation to report every two years on the legislative, administrative and political measures taken with a view to give effect to human rights guaranteed by the Charter. The Islamic Republic of Mauritania, which ratified the Charter in 1986, submitted its 15th-16th and 17th Periodic Reports for its review.

Women's rights defenders' stories

What is needed from the international community in general, and from within the UN, is a concrete, coherent and unified voice in favour of the protection of human rights defenders...

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