Learn More About AWID’s Work To Support And Protect Women Human Rights Defenders
Some of the most common questions about our WHRDs Initiative can be explored in this section.
Who are WHRDs?
WHRD is the acronym we use for Women Human Rights Defenders: women activists who uphold the rights of people, communities, and the environment. WHRDs are women active in human rights defense, as well as men and women active in the defense of women’s rights and the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) people. These defenders are attacked for who they are – their gender identity, and for what they do – fight for human rights for all. It is both their identity and their work that makes them vulnerable to specific attacks, as their activities in human rights defense questions fundamental assumptions about gender roles in society.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders refers to “female human rights defenders, i.e. women who, individually or in association with others, act to promote or protect human rights, including women’s rights… also male human rights defenders working on women’s rights as well as on gender issues.”
Are women activists also WHRDs?
Yes, women activists are WHRDs, even if they do not use this term to describe themselves and their work. AWID promotes the use of this term in order to legitimize the work of women defenders as human rights work, and in that way break the perception that women’s rights are secondary to human rights. Additionally, we encourage activists to identify themselves as WHRDs because all Human Rights Defenders (HRD) are afforded special rights and guarantees based on the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. Many groups are not very familiar with the HRD framework and the different mechanisms at their disposal. Often WHRDs are not recognized as defenders and so do not tap in to protections, tools, and resources that can increase their safety and security. Valuing the work of WHRDs leads to a recognition of the risks involved in this critical work, and promotes awareness among WHRDs and their supporters of the possibility of violence and being targeted.
Why do WHRDs face different types of violence than HRDs in general?
Women Human Rights Defenders face the same types of risks faced by all human rights defenders. However, as women, they are also exposed to or targeted for gender-based violence and gender-specific risks. One of the reasons that they face increased risk is that they are breaking gender norms and stereotypes. Their work is seen as challenging traditional roles of women, and this can lead to a lack of support from authorities and communities who believe that they should not have the right to act as defenders. This reality is recognized by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of HRDs in her 2010 Annual Report, which details the seriousness of violations against WHRDs, and highlights the need for a gender-specific approach to protection.
What are the main risks and challenges for WHRDs?
As stated by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of HRDs, “women defenders are more at risk of suffering certain forms of violence and other violations, prejudice, exclusion, and repudiation than their male counterparts.” WHRDs face a variety of threats as a direct result of their work and because of changes in the context in which they do their work. In addition to violence and aggressions from power-holders (the State and non-state actors), many WHRDs face risks and violence that come from being undermined within their own organizations and communities, domestic violence because of their work, increased stress from responsibilities of taking care of their families and guilt of putting their relatives at risk.
The WHRD International Coalition (of which AWID is a member) released a Global Report on the Situation of WHRDs that explores several contexts that enable violence against WHRDs: fundamentalisms, militarism and conflict, globalization, and crises in democracy and governance. These contexts are often inter-woven, and when understood within the broader worldview of the role of patriarchy and heteronormativity in framing social structures and institutions, laws and public discourses, they create an environment that is indeed dangerous for WHRDs.
How is AWID working to support and protect WHRDs?
AWID has organized its work to support and protect WHRDs around four broad strategies that aim to address some of the key gaps or challenges in tackling the increasing violations of human rights of WHRDs:
- Promoting collaboration and effective coordination among human rights and women’s rights groups at the international level, to conduct joint advocacy and urgent response efforts.
- Strengthening, documenting, and modeling sub-regional experiences in protection and support networks for WHRDs, to increase security, self-care, and solidarity among WHRDs defending a broad array of rights.
- Building knowledge and disseminating information about the situation of violence against women’s human rights defenders and existing tools and mechanisms to respond to the violence, to raise awareness and increase understanding about the diverse contexts that facilitate violence against WHRDs.
- Engaging AWID’s constituencies in rapid actions and solidarity building by disseminating action alerts through our web site and electronic newsletters, to raise the profile of WHRDs facing aggressions and contribute to ensuring their safety.
Who does AWID work with to support WHRDs?
We focus our work in collaborating with networks supporting WHRDs. For instance, we form part of the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coailition (WHRD IC), a resource and advocacy network of 25 international human rights and women’s rights organizations, created for the protection and support of women human rights defenders worldwide. AWID has been involved since its inception and continues participating actively in the coalition, chairing the Urgent Responses Working Group, which seeks to improve the quality of responses for WHRDs through collaboration, knowledge-building among coalition members and publications. AWID is also part of the coalition’s Executive Committee, along with Amnesty International, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law, and Development, International Service for Human Rights, INFORM, and Women Living Under Muslim Laws. Through this coalition, we coordinate international solidarity efforts for WHRDs who are threatened or attacked and we conduct joint advocacy regarding WHRDs in international spaces, such as the UN Human Rights Council and the Commission on the Status of Women.
AWID has also joined allies in Meso-America to convene a regional initiative of WHRDs, building bridges between women in feminist and/or women’s movements and women who work or participate in mixed movements such as labor, indigenous, environment, sex workers and LGBTI rights. The Meso-American initiative emphasizes the need for collective self-care and security strategies for WHRDs, and is developing training resources for WHRDs on these topics. WHRDs from Mexico and Central America share information on urgent alerts and organize joint solidarity actions to respond to urgent situations that affect WHRDs. The initiative promotes solidarity actions to respond to urgent situations that WHRDs face in the region. Importantly, the initiative seeks to document the dimensions of violence against WHRDs in order to raise visibility of the situation of violence against WHRDs in the region at the UN and regional institutions such as the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights. An important tool for this advocacy is the production of the Assessment on the Violence against WHRDs in Meso-America, based on the direct experiences of WHRDs. AWID is a member of the Meso-American Steering Group along with Just Associates (JASS), the Oaxaca Consortium for Parliamentary Dialogue and Equity from Mexico (Consorcio Oaxaca), the Guatemala Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (UDEFEGUA), the Central American Women’s Fund (FCAM), and the Feminist Collective for Local Development from El Salvador (Colectiva Feminista).
What tools and resources has AWID made available for WHRDs?
With the WHRD International Coalition’s Urgent Responses Working Group, we produced three publications to increase awareness of resources that exist to support and defend WHRDs worldwide:
With the Meso-American Initiative of WHRDs, we participated in developing an assessment of the situation in the region:
With the WHRD International Coalition’s Global Report Working Group, we participated in developing a report, published in February 2012, that analyses the contexts that enable violence against WHRDs, based on a series of case studies from around the world:
I am an AWID member and a WHRD at risk, how can AWID help me?
If you are an AWID member or partner, and a WHRD at risk of violence, AWID may be able to put you in contact with a variety of organizations based on your situation and urgent needs. We can also write a letter on your behalf, or make a posting about your situation to our website in order to request solidarity from other AWID members and allies. A great guide for resources can be found in the centrefold of AWID’s publication Urgent Responses for Women Human Rights Defenders at Risk.
I want to get involved to support WHRDs, what can I do?
You can subscribe to action alerts through weekly newsletters that AWID circulates in English, French, and Spanish. Check our web site for daily postings of actions alerts, which often asks supporters to write a letter, send an email, or sign a petition to condemn violence against a WHRD calling for their protection. You can also contribute to emergency funds for WHRDs at risk. AWID works with the Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights and Front Line Defenders to mobilize resources for WHRDs in emergency situations.
How can I find out more about WHRDs?
You can also check our page on the AWID website: http://awid.org/Our-Initiatives/Women-Human-Rights-Defenders for up-to-date news, action alerts, and new resources!