Who are Women Human Rights Defenders?

The former Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders Margaret Sekaggya, defines WHRDs «as both female Human Rights Defenders, and any other Human Rights Defenders who work in the defence of women’s rights or on gender issues» (A/HRC/16/44)[1]. The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders recognises the important role of HRDs, including women defenders, and outlines the relevant rights of all HRDs and the obligations of States.

The international campaign on WHRDs defines them as «women active in human rights defence who are targeted for who they are and do as well as all those active in the defence of women’s rights who are targeted for what they do.» Simply put, it describes human rights activists who are women, as well as other activists (whether male, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or any other genders) who also defend the rights of women.[2]

Typical challenges faced by WHRDs were highlighted in a survey conducted in several urban settlements in Nairobi (Mathare, Kibera, Mukuru Kwa Njenga, Mukuru kwa Ruben and Mukuru Kaiyaba). These included outlawed gangs, murder, child abuse, gender stereotyping, rape, lack of formal security structures, endemic ignorance, substance abuse and entrenched conditions of squalor. These exacerbate the vulnerability threshold of WHRDs in such environments.

However, WHRDs should not be defined as a special category[3], but the risks, challenges and vulnerabilities they face because of their gender should be highlighted in order to develop responsive protection strategies. This recognition and protection derives from the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. It is also essential to understand that the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) asserts that such protection must include setting up enabling conditions to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women, which also disadvantages WHRDs.


[1]Original report found in www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/16session/A-HRC-16-44.pdf

[2]Defending Women, Defending Rights: Proceedings of the International Consultation on Human Rights Defenders (2006), p. 1 (see also http://www.defendingwomendefendingrights.org/resources.php)

[3]Report submitted by Special Representative of Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders, Hina Jilani, to the 58th session of the Commission on Human Rights, E/CN.4/2002/106, 27th February 2002.

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