Submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Women Human Rights Defenders  

Six women human rights defenders that attended Civil Rights Defenders’ conference Defenders’ Days in April 2018. Photo: David Lagerlöf.

On 28 September, Civil Rights Defenders submitted our response to the UN Special Rapporteurs call for input on ‘the situation of women human rights defenders’, which will form the subject of the Special Rapporteur’s 2019 report to the 40th session of the Human Rights Council.  

Following the 2013 adoption of the UN Resolution (A/RES/68/181) on protecting women human rights defenders, UN Special Rapporteur Michel Forst has devoted particular attention to the situation of women who promote and defend human rights. The Special Rapporteur’s forthcoming report will be the latest initiative to strengthen recognition on the experiences and challenges faced by women human rights defenders as well as on concrete steps taken by different stakeholders to prevent attacks against them. Civil Rights Defenders submission is part of a larger effort from civil society and other relevant stakeholders to inform the Special Rapporteur on recent trends and challenges, specific groups of women human rights defenders who face higher or specific risks, good practices and recommendations.  

“Showing specific interest for the situation of women human rights defenders is crucial in understanding the specific challenges for an important part of actors in human rights. The needs of human rights defenders differ a lot depending on several prerequisites, why contextual understanding is key in the struggle for human rights for all. To add gender sensitivity and analysis to this understanding of challenges and needs will benefit us all, and most importantly – the women human rights defenders,” said Marcin de Kaminski, Programme Director for Civil Rights Defenders’ Human Rights Defenders at Risk Programme.   

In our submission, we highlight that women human rights defenders experience the same risks and violations as other human rights defenders, but are targeted through intimidation and attacks specifically related to their gender, which are visible through gender based violence, emotional extortion, family hostage situations and stigmatisation. In addition to these gender-specific threats, we bring attention to the fact that women human rights defenders engaged in other non-discrimination issues i.e. sexual and reproductive health and rights and LGBT issues face greater risk for violence, harassment and attack. Furthermore, individual women human rights defenders lacking social support structures or engagement in support networks are more vulnerable for physical and psychosocial threats and can face increased pressure to withdraw from public spaces. 

Civil Rights Defenders specifically recommend Mr. Forst to focus on the following in his report:  

  • Local, national and global recognition and support for women human rights defenders to strengthen public awareness on the legitimacy and importance of their diverse human rights work; 
  • An integrated approach to security and protection to support the wellbeing of women human rights defenders and their families; 
  • Support for women human rights defenders who are at a greater risk for intersectional discrimination and to women human rights defenders who may be less accessible due to geographical location, language and cultural norms and practices; 
  • Investment in training on the risks, responsibilities, tools and strategies to protect women human rights defenders and their networks in digital spaces; 
  • Flexible multi-year funding to women human rights defenders and women’s organisations working with human rights to strengthen organisational capacity, integrated security measures, networks and advocacy. 

Read our full submission: Civil Rights Defenders submission to UNSR 20180928.