Recognition / Awards


The creation of various initiatives to recognise and honour the courageous work of Human Rights Defenders can be used to benefit the campaign for visibility and recognition of Women HRDs and their specific challenges. Human rights awards[1] granted to WHRDs can serve as an important motivation in their work, which not only serves their individual cause but also enhances the visibility of WHRDs’ achievements and challenges. An example of such an initiative is the International Women of Courage Award which was presented by First Lady Michelle Obama and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2010.[2] The award was presented to Kenyan lawyer Ann Njogu, the Chairperson of CREAW , a legal clinic that offers legal aid and workshops about women’s rights to poor women. Amongst other human rights initiatives, Ann also helped campaign for a new constitution and worked on projects on sexuality, widow inheritance and dowries. As a part of her work, Ann has experienced the dark side of promoting women’s rights; she has been threatened, arrested and assaulted. Despite all this, Ann still chooses to continue with her work, exhibiting a strong dedication to human rights.

All in all, it is essential for WHRDs themselves to recognise and actively address challenges. This can best be done by joining hands to develop appropriate strategies to combat inequalities inherent in society, yet unfortunately also visible in the human rights movement. Getting fellow Human Rights Defenders aboard would benefit the cause, by drawing on their potential and widening the scope of influence. Recognition of WHRDs’ specific challenges by State and non-State actors should furthermore be a flagship of human rights advocacy by international organisations and other relevant actors in forums such as the UN Human Rights Council. Only a strategy waged on all fronts will yield sustainable results in the long-term perspective.

Human rights awards can be a significant aid to HRDs. They can provide recognition and encouragement, and as such can represent important moral and psychological support for WHRDs stigmatized for their work. By raising their media profile, awards may also increase protection for WHRDs, although the likely impact of increased publicity on their security situation should be taken into account when WHRDs are being considered for an award. Awards can also be accompanied by a cash donation to the WHRD or organization, which can be an important source of funding, for example, expanding activities or improving security measures.

Below are four of the most prominent international awards (taken from ‘Directory of Urgent Responses for WHRDs‘ by AWID and the WHRD International Coalition), which are not specifically for WHRDs, but a number of recipients are women. These are:

  • Goldman Environmental Prize: Each year this award honours 6 grassroots environmental activists from each of the world’s inhabited regions for sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment. The Goldman Prize views “grassroots” leaders as those involved in local efforts, where positive change is created through community or citizen participation in the issues that affect them. Prize recipients are often women and men from isolated villages or inner cities who chose to take great personal risks to safeguard the environment – protecting endangered ecosystems and species, combating destructive development projects, promoting sustainability, influencing environmental policies and/or striving for environmental justice. Each Prize recipient is awarded $175,000 to pursue their vision of a renewed and protected environment
  • Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders: This award is granted annually to an individual or organisation who has demonstrated an exceptional record of combating human rights violations by courageous and innovative means. The award aims at encouraging HRDs who are at risk and therefore in need of immediate protection. The prize money of at least 20,000 Swiss Francs is to be used for further work in the field of human rights. The Martin Ennals Foundation, which grants the award, is a collaboration among ten of the world’s leading human rights NGOs.
  • Front Line Defenders Award: The annual Front Line Defenders Award was established to honour the work of a human rights defender who, through non-violent work, is courageously making an outstanding contribution to the promotion and protection of the human rights of others, often at great personal risk to themselves. A cash prize of 15,000 Euro is awarded to the Award recipient and his/her organisation in an effort to support the continuation of their important work.
  • Human Rights Tulip: An award of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs for courageous Human Rights Defenders who promote and support human rights in innovative ways. The prize is intended to help Human Rights Defenders to learn from each other. The winner can use the prize worth 100,000 Euro to further develop or expand the scale of its work for human rights.
  • Roger N. Baldwin, Medal of Liberty: Award is presented by Human Rights First (HRF) every other year to a human rights organization or activist outside the United States that has made a distinguished contribution to the protection and promotion of human rights. Criteria upon which the Baldwin Medal is awarded include distinctiveness and effectiveness of the nominee’s human rights advocacy and the degree to which the nominee faces risk as a result of their work. The awardee receives a trip to the United States to engage in advocacy and US$25,000.

As well as international human rights awards, there are other, country-specific awards, which are granted by a range of sponsors, for example, NGOs, members of the diplomatic community or the state.

In Kenya, the following awards are available;

  • Jurist of the Year Awards: An annual award that seeks to give recognition, acknowledgment and encouragement to jurists who have consistently, fearlessly and impartially promoted the rule of law and human rights in Kenya during the year. The award is given out on the 10th December each year since 1993 to commemorate and honour the United Nations International Human Rights Day as an advocacy tool to motivate jurists who engage in human rights work.
  • Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network (PAHRD–Net) opened a call for nominations for the 2nd Edition of Human Rights Defenders annual awards. The awards will honour exceptional individuals who peacefully promote and protect universally recognized rights as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Altogether six awards will be presented, one overall award and five sub-regional awards:
    • Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Award
    • East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Award
    • West Africa Human Rights Defenders Award
    • Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Award
    • Central Africa Human Rights Defenders Award
    • Northern Africa Human Rights Defenders Award


Fellowship programmes provide WHRDs with the possibility of taking leave from their regular work to pursue projects that will contribute to their protection and enhance their capacity to continue their work in defence of human rights. Fellowships can take place inside or outside a defender’s country. Fellowship programmes can include scholarship to a formal degree, or cover non-degrees schemes, such as taking a course or concluding research. They also support internships with other organizations, participation in conferences, or trauma counselling.

Below are a couple of examples.  In both cases, the WHRD cannot apply for the fellowship directly:

University of York Centre for Applied Human Rights – Protective Fellowship Scheme for Human Rights Defenders at Risk

Under the scheme, HRDs at risk follow training and education programmes and contribute to the activities of the Centre. The program allows the HRDs to rest and seeks to build their capacity and give them tools they can use upon their return. HRDs cannot apply directly to the Centre; they must be nominated by one of around 30 designated civil society organizations of which many are in the field.

One of the beneficiaries has been Ruth Mumbi from Kenya. She is a passionate community mobiliser, and is the founder and current National Coordinator of Bunge la Wamama, a movement that conducts strong advocacy and campaigning on issues of social justice and accountability in different parts of Kenya. She was also nominated for the 2016 Front Line Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk. The award is to recognize outstanding contributions made by human rights activists.

Front Line’s Fellowship and Rest & Respite Programmes

Their purpose is to enable Human Rights Defenders to take some time out in a safe environment while at the same time enhancing their skills so that they can work more effectively when they return home. Human Rights Defenders can take some well-earned rest and respite and escape the stressful and difficult circumstances in which they work for a short time. They can also choose to work on a specific project, learn about digital security or improve other skills relevant to their work. Fellowships and rest & respite are offered on an invitation only basis.

[1]For example Ginetta Sagan Fund Award, Front Line Defenders Award, Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders or Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award.

[2]Human Rights Watch, “Defending Women in Kenya” 19thApril 2010.

Responsibility for the information and views set out in this Toolkit lies entirely with the authors.