Scroll Top Celebrates International Women’s Day Celebrates International Women’s Day and Women Rights Defenders

Women together are unstoppable and from the alliance we are capable of advocating and achieving social change, access to justice, respect for human rights as well as recognition of the psychosomatic impact on our forcibly displaced bodies.”  Fernanda Martinez, WHRD from Nicaragua


Fernanda Martinez is a young feminist activist who was forced into exile from Nicaragua to Costa Rica due to her human rights work and activism. After arriving in Costa Rica, and with the support of other women and international organisations, she managed to overcome her traumas, and the fear of political repression. She regained the strength to raise her voice and to defend the human rights of women who are still oppressed in Nicaragua and the ones who are forced into displacement. This is how, in 2020, the women-led organisation Red de Mujeres Pinoleras, working with exiled women from Nicaragua, was born. The organisation defends women’s rights and gender equality through political advocacy, it provides support to migrant women and political refugees who are at risk, and strengthens networks that can support them emotionally, economically, and politically. Since its creation, consortium partner Peace Brigades International (PBI) provided essential support in enhancing the group’s capacities and organisation, supporting the network in building its strategy, structure, and mission. Thanks, in part, to this valuable support, the organisation is now a point of reference not only for women but for all of the Nicaraguan community in exile victims of political repression.

From Eastern and Central Asia to the Americas and the Middle East,  WHRDs and feminist CSOs, such as Red de Mujeres Pinoleras, are struggling daily to make the call for gender equality and justice a concrete and tangible reality. While focusing on dismantling gender-based violence, discrimination, and patriarchal power structures, women and feminist movements are also at the forefront in the protection of environmental, cultural and social rights, both globally and in their communities. For today’s feminist movements intersectionality is increasingly becoming a guiding principle. There is a rising awareness of the intersection between gender and other forms of identities and challenges, such as ethnicity, religion, and environmentalism, that makes the struggle for justice and equality a global and unified battle. In this context, WHRDs are demonstrating remarkable courage in resisting political oppression, all too often embodied and sustained by their own governments, and building a more sustainable and inclusive future for society as a whole. And it is precisely in the most difficult humanitarian and conflict situations that the work of WHRDs has proven to be essential and effective in promoting peace, stability, and justice.


In more and more places around the world, human rights work is a high-risk activity and this is especially true for Woman human rights defenders. Apart from the generalized shrinking of civic space and the worsening of authoritarian repression in both democratic and non-democratic countries, WHRDs face systemic challenges due to their gender and sexual identities, that threaten the possibility to continue their legitimate work and their very existence.

An OHCHR 2020 report on WHRDs found that attacks against WHRDs particularly target their personal behaviour, morality or their private sex lives. Sexual and reproductive rights defenders are those mostly at risk, because their voice is perceived as directly confronting the social and gender conforming norms upon which the State relies. For this reason, their claim for the protection of fundamental rights are often repressed and their physical and psychological integrity heavily threatened. Furthermore,’s report Holding the Line states that between the heaviest physical threats, gender-based violence and killing are the most common. But one cannot underestimate the use of more insidious repression means, such as the instrumentalisation of law to selectively criminalise particular defenders and attack their credibility. A 2022 Front Line Defenders report calls attention particularly to the digital realm as a new dimension of repression and harassment against WHRDs. Additionally to more ‘traditional’ forms of repression, such as physical attacks and attacks against family members, digital surveillance, cyber-attacks, online defamation campaigns, and internet shutdowns have become  a common practices employed by States and non-State actors to silence women activists in the most difficult contexts. Defenders of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex people are specifically targeted for their activism as well as for their gender identity, sexual orientation or sex characteristics. Furthermore, women defenders with disabilities are at particular threat of being falsely diagnosed with psychological disorders and being forcibly institutionalized, as stated by a 2020 Security Council report.


Against this human rights backlash,’s support is demonstrating impressive strength in delivering support, enhancing resilience, and allowing WHRDs to continue their valuable work for society. In 2020, adopted a Gender Strategy to guide the implementation of its programmes in a gender-sensitive and intersectional manner. In this strategy, the specific needs and challenges of Women Human Rights Defenders are acknowledged and supported. Intersectionality implies the recognition that the situation of a defender within society is simultaneously defined by multiple factors, from gender identity and economic status to political ideology and ethnicity. In this respect, one of the most essential measures taken is the inclusion of family support in our protection programmes, with family networks recognised as crucial in sustaining and empowering defenders. Gender and intersectional sensitivity are also upheld during the formulation of policies, communication strategies, and reporting mechanisms.

By recognizing their specific challenges, tailoring programs accordingly, and embracing a gender-sensitive approach, paves the way for inclusive and effective protection mechanisms that resonate with the diverse realities of women human rights defenders. As a result, since its inception, has ensured holistic assistance to over 70,000 at-risk human rights defenders, over 50% of whom identified as Woman Human Rights Defenders, trans-male, trans-female, gender-queer, or gender non-conforming individuals. In the past year,  over 3,800 WHRDs, including women-led CSOs, benefited from our support, resulting in the increased protection of women’s rights at the local and international level.

This was the case, for example, of a grant delivered to the an organisation in Georgia through our consortium partner Urgent Action Fund for Feminist Activism (UAF). With the support of this grant, the feminist organisation was able to continue and enhance the promotion of social, economic, and political development of women, especially of those living in the most vulnerable socioeconomic situations, amid increasing governmental repression. Similarly, a Kurdish women’s rights defender and lawyer, combating rights violations and violence against women, was able to continue to help vulnerable women have their rights implemented through a grant provided jointly by OMCT and FIDH. These cases, as many more, show that’s support to one organisation or woman defender results in the benefit of a larger group, contributing to our long-lasting aim of implementing the feminist agenda  and the principles of gender equality and justice in the world.


Image by freepik