Because of their work in defense of human rights, women human rights defenders (WHRDs) challenge  traditional gender roles of the patriarchal society that religates women to the domestic sphere. Consequently, WHRDs 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, including those of a sexual nature. Their families and children are also targeted in attempts to silence them.  

In his January 2019 report on the situation of WHRDs, 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.” Read the full WHRD report.

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

To celebrate International Women's Day, this week PBI together with the Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders publishes a series of videos about the challenges facing women human rights defenders and the strategies that WHRDs use to protect themselves and each other. Join us on facebook, twitter and youtube and help us celebrate with the hashtags #ExtraordinaryWomen and #UsWomenDefenders.

Find out more about PBI's work protecting and supporting the courageous work of women human rights defenders here