Women defenders: the cornerstone of human rights defense

Because of their work in defense of human rights, women human rights defenders challenge the traditional gender roles of the patriarchal society that keeps women in the domestic sphere. Consequently, women human rights defenders often suffer from serious public defamation campaigns that aim to damage their reputation, accusing them, among others, of neglecting their family or of being in search of sexual partners. In addition, women human rights defenders are often targets of attacks, threats and harassment, also of a sexual nature. Their families and children are also targeted in attempts to silence them.

Septiembre 2018 - celebración 40 años del ccajar
Soraya Guitierrez, Lawyer and Human Right Defender, President of the Collective of Lawyers José Alvear Restrepo (Ccajar)

In his January 2019 report on the situation of women human rights defenders, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders, Michel Forst wrote: “Women defenders often face additional and different risks and obstacles that are gendered, intersectional and shaped by entrenched gender stereotypes and deeply held ideas and norms about who women are and how women should be.” “In the current political climate, in which there is a backlash against human rights, women defenders are often the first to come under attack.” [1]

Women Defenders: Bold, Brave and Fearless

A psychosocial focus enables us to reflect on the impacts of socio-political violence and serious human rights violations, and on the strategies that women build to confront this violence. Patriarchal and socio-political violence violate our bodies, which are our first territory, and in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Colombia, women resist violence by practicing ancestral knowledge, rituals, offerings, cleansing, and by honouring the elements of mother earth. These are just some of the mechanisms that women use and which have enabled them to survive in the midst of adverse contexts where they live and work.

The coming together of women’s organisational processes has helped to make visible the different issues we face. The reality for a woman living in a rural area is not the same as for a woman living in an urban context, and it is therefore important to understand the different problems we face by looking at our ethnic, racial, sexual, gender and intercultural differences. It is only in this way that a comprehensive protection and security focus can be created so that women human rights defenders can continue carrying out our work in conditions of equality, and above all, dignity.

It is essential that States commit to ensuring a safe environment for human rights defenders, implementing prevention and protection with a gender focus. We reiterate the need to promptly investigate all cases of threats and attacks against women defenders and to condemn those responsible.

Meeting of Women Human Right Defenders, September 2018

Laura Melchior Diaz and Peace Brigades International


[1] Ver: Noticias ONU: Se intensifica la violencia contra las mujeres defensoras de los derechos humanos, 28 de febrero 2019

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