International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

Governments should support an important international resolution on the situation and protection of women human rights defenders, the International Service for Human Rights said today.

States are negotiating a draft resolution for adoption by the UN General Assembly later this month. It is the first time that the UN’s top body has been called on to specifically consider the situation of women human rights defenders, a category which includes both women who defend human rights and men who defend women’s rights and rights related to gender.

‘The promotion of women’s rights and the protection of women human rights defenders are essential for peace, security and development,’ said Eleanor Openshaw, Women Human Rights Defender Program Manager with ISHR.

‘Women human rights defenders challenge gender inequality and stereotypes and promote women’s empowerment and participation. They often also challenge traditional religious and cultural values and practices which subordinate, stigmatise or restrict women,’ Ms Openshaw said.

‘Because of the nature of this work, women human rights defenders in all regions of the world face significant threats and attacks, from smear campaigns to sexual violence.’

Recognising the value of their work and the attacks they face, a group of States led by Norway has drafted the first-ever resolution on women human rights defenders for consideration by the UN General Assembly.

‘The successful adoption of this draft resolution is crucial,’ said ISHR Legal Counsel Madeleine Sinclair.

‘The resolution would contribute to an international environment in which the work of women human rights defenders is recognised as not only legitimate but invaluable. It would provide practical guidance to States on how best to protect women human rights defenders and ensure that they can work in a safe and enabling environment.’

‘Importantly, the passage of the resolution would also demonstrate solidarity with – and be a source of inspiration for – the many women human rights defenders around the world who face serious risks on a daily basis just because they dare to stand up for women’s rights and to challenge the status quo,’ Ms Sinclair said.

With negotiations at a critical juncture, ISHR is calling on States from all regions to support the resolution and to resist moves to weaken the text by removing references to sexual and reproductive health, reproductive rights and sexuality.

‘The promotion and protection of sexual and reproductive rights is among the most important but risky types of work that women human rights defenders undertake,’ said Ms Openshaw.

‘It would be a betrayal of this courageous work – work that costs some women defenders their lives – to weaken the resolution in order to appease or seek a consensus with reactionary and repressive States.’

Acknowledging the leadership of Norway and Ireland in developing the draft text, Ms Openshaw urged States from across the world to join and support the historic resolution.

'Women's rights are universal and support for a strong resolution should be similarly universal,' Ms Openshaw said.

‘While it is pleasing to already have support for this resolution from such a diverse group as Argentina, El Salvador, Jordan, New Zealand, Serbia and Turkey, we look forward to many others, including the United States, African States, and States from across Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East joining the growing consensus,’ Ms Openshaw said.

'With the African Union's Maputo Protocol on women's rights celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, and the Inter-American Convention on Violence against Women turning 20 next year, we look forward to seeing strong cross-regional support for this historic international resolution,' concluded Ms Openshaw.

Link to Draft UN General Assembly Resolution:

An overview of the ACTION you can take to support the draft resolution, posted by the Association for Women's Rights in Development, is available here.