Women activists: unyielding in their defence of rights

No-one said defending human rights was easy. Activists can face threats, intimidation and even death for the work they do. In the case of women who defend human rights, and those who uphold women’s rights and demand gender equality, the risks can be even greater.

On the International Day of Women Human Rights Defenders – 29 November – in particular, we celebrate the commitment of these defenders to uphold the whole spectrum of human rights.

Women human rights defenders are at risk of attack because of the work they do, but also because of who they are. The threats and marginalisation they can encounter is frequently gender specific and can include sexual violence.

Rita Mahato, a health counsellor with the Women’s Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC) in Nepal was threatened with rape and death when her office in Siraha district was attacked by men from her community who objected to WOREC’s work to defend the rights of women. Women activists in many societies can be perceived as crossing established “boundaries”, challenging social codes and this can increase their level of risk.

Women human rights defenders campaign against intimidation and harassment from state authorities and non-state actors. Critically they also point to abuses of women’s rights in the private sphere – in their communities and in their homes.

The Campaign for Equality in Iran resists the relegation of women to the private sphere, pressing for women’s rights to be central to national discussion where women are active participants. It seeks to change all laws which discriminate on the basis of gender.

Activists have reached out to citizens to show how such laws negatively affect women’s lives and wide society. Its “One Million Signatures” campaign is mobilizing Iranians – both men and women – to demand equal rights for women under the law.

For human rights to be realised, they need to defended. Women all over the world are engaged daily in this struggle. On the International Day of Women Human Rights Defenders, we reiterate our call for the protection and promotion of their rights and work. It is essential for the future of all our human rights and fundamental freedoms.