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

One year in detention: we stand with #Xuebing

Today, 19 September 2022, marks one year in detention for two young Chinese human rights defenders: Huang Xueqin, an independent journalist and key actor in China’s #MeToo movement, and Wang Jianbing, a labour rights advocate. China must respect and protect their rights in detention.

Stronger accountability measures needed in Afghanistan

One year after the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, the UN independent experts have affirmed the calls of Afghan civil society that “it is time to rapidly step up efforts to ensure accountability for violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law. Impunity will only lead to further violations and deterioration of the human rights situation in the country.”

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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