Women's rights

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

HRC50: Sudan must end violence against peaceful protestors and women human rights defenders

On 15 June 2022, the Human Rights Council held the interactive dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights since, and human rights violations and abuses committed during, the period of the military takeover in the Sudan. ISHR delivered a joint statement on behalf of MENA Women Human Rights Defenders Coalition, Sudan Women Rights Action and Nora Center for Combating Sexual Violence, on the situation of women and human rights in Sudan to shed light on the struggle for equality, freedom and democracy.

HRC50: Call for Urgent Debate on women’s rights crisis in Afghanistan

Women and girls in Afghanistan are facing a human rights crisis, deprived of the fundamental rights to non-discrimination, education, work, public participation and health. The Taliban has also imposed draconian restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly and movement for women and girls. The world's worst women's rights crisis demands an urgent and proportionate response from the UN Human Rights Council, says a coalition of 25 leading NGOs from all world regions.

HRC50 | Key issues on agenda of June 2022 session

The 50th session of the UN Human Rights Council, from 13 June to 8 July 2022, will consider issues including sexual orientation and gender identity, violence and discrimination against women and girls, poverty, peaceful assembly and association, and freedom of expression, among others. It will also present an opportunity to address grave human rights situations including in Afghanistan, Belarus, China, Eritrea, Israel and OPT, Russia, Sudan, Syria and Venezuela, among many others. Here’s an overview of some of the key issues on the agenda.

Kenya should strengthen its legal framework protecting defenders

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) examined the combined report of the 12th and 13th periodic reports of the Republic of Kenya during the virtual session held from 21 April to 13 May 2022. The report presents the progress made by the country regarding the state of human rights in Kenya.

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