HRDs being interviewed by journalists


Women human rights defenders come together around the world

8 March 2023

Collectives of women human rights defenders (HRDs) are organising around the world to combat the violations of their rights, deepened by the structural discrimination that women face almost everywhere in the world. For more than 15 years, Protection International (PI) has witnessed these women’s resilience, empowerment and strength. Women’s movements are coming together from Latin America to Asia, Europe and Africa to protect their rights and challenge gender-based discrimination safely. On International Women’s Day, we want to share some recent stories that reflect their strength as individual women HRDs and their strength as women’s collectives, as well as the powerful initiatives they lead when forced to defend their rights and protect their communities. We hope they inspire you as much as they inspire us.

Women human rights defenders stand together after a PI workshop in DRC
Women human rights defenders stand together after a PI workshop in DRC

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, more than 480 women human rights defenders have come together to form a protection network in the midst of the conflict and violence in the country today. These women have become targets of death threats, physical and sexual violence, and widespread stigmatisation. However, by coming together and creating the Coalition of Women HRDs with the support of PI, they have been able to develop greater protection. Together they have increased their capacity to denounce and demand action from the State, in the face of the threats they receive.

Meanwhile, in Honduras, women from the Lenca indigenous community of Retoica have organised themselves to confront the persecution, harassment, violence and layers of discrimination they face on a daily basis because of the intersection of their gender, ethnic origin, rural origin and other factors. Besides, as women and environmental HRDs, they have organised to confront the actions of a powerful hydroelectric project affecting the Petacón River. By using community radio as a tool to strengthen the social tissue, they have also reinforced their mutual support and their outreach capacity to denounce the threats they receive.

Women human rights defenders from Colombia carry out a group activity during a PI workshop
Women human rights defenders from Colombia carry out a group activity during a PI workshop

Not far away, in Colombia, indigenous women in the Orinoquía region are organising to develop adaptation and mitigation strategies to increase their resilience to climate change. Climate change is affecting their way of life, the relationship with their bodies, territory, and cultural and ancestral practices. Together with PI, this collective of human rights defenders has drafted a document outlining a series of recommendations addressed to their governments, aimed at developing public policies for climate justice that consider their ethnic knowledge.

Similarly, in Brazil, a collective of black women is organising to confront police violence, structural racism and gender discrimination with an ethnic and racial approach. PI has conducted research to better identify the barriers black women face in defending their rights. Such barriers affect their access to education, health, communication, to the labour market, academic research and public policies. However, through organisation and collective work, they are on the way to building a society that gives them greater access to justice.

Thai women human rights defenders demonstrate together for constitutional amends on care incom
Thai women human rights defenders demonstrate together for constitutional amends on care income

On the other side of the world, in Thailand, women human rights defenders have organised to demand improvements and amendments in care income support. Through various spaces, they have contributed to the discussion on the importance and value of the work done by mothers and caregivers at home. This collective of women is leading a campaign to demand a constitutional amendment, while raising public awareness about the value of care work and fair compensation.

Finally, over the past year PI started operations in Eurasia, where we facilitated our first protection workshops and accompaniments. We had the chance to meet and train a group 19 women human rights defenders and activists, working on peacebuilding in Azerbaijan; and to meet and train activists’ grassroots organisations actively defending the rights of LGTBQI+ people in Armenia.

This is a glimpse of some of the amazing women PI has supported and accompanied in the last few months. Women continue to come together and organise to stand up to governments, companies, patriarchal societies and overall historical discrimination, and these women’s HRDs collectives are a shining example of the power of unity and solidarity, with an impact that goes far beyond the protection of women defenders. They manage to increase their resilience through collective struggle and mutual support networks. PI has played its support role through the facilitation of tools and workshops, particularly on protection and security, which increase their agency and reinforce their networks, as well as through research, advocacy, policy and outreach work.

The design in the cover picture is an intervention on the original piece by Violeta Noy for Fine Acts,
shared under a Creative Commons-Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license (CC-BY-NC-SA).