Statement: We must urgently defend the rights and lives of women human rights defenders

UN Women statement on International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, 29 November 2022

The bravery and courage of women in situations such as those in Afghanistan and Iran, asserting and calling for their human rights in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity, continues to inspire us. In these countries and others, women in all their diversity continue to prove that the quest for the recognition of human rights is universal, untiring and unstoppable.

International Women Human Rights Defenders Day is an occasion to celebrate and thank those women and girls who tirelessly advocate for human rights, and people of all genders who defend women’s rights and rights related to gender equality. Around the world, women human rights defenders give of themselves to bring about a future in which all persons enjoy the dividends of equality and the fullest range of rights. 

The debt we owe women human rights defenders has never been greater. They stand on the frontlines of today’s multiple converging crises, seeking their solution.  Every day they risk their lives in the face of authoritarianism.

All too often, their reward for this is hostile attacks, reprisals and severe, often gender-based, violations of their rights.  Even when their safety is not directly threatened, they are routinely silenced and denied access to policy-making spaces.

Alongside this targeting of women, hard-won gender equality gains are being rolled back, democratic institutions are facing grave threats and civic space is narrowing. These all threaten women rights defenders’ ability to do their important work.

We must urgently protect the lives and work of women human rights defenders. Their right to participate and express their independent views are non-negotiable.

We must guarantee an environment that enables their work, including legislation that protects and supports them and holds accountable those who attack them.

We must ensure rapid and flexible funding for their work.

We must streamline governmental procedures for granting asylum or temporary relocation for women human rights defenders at immediate risk, and for supporting women who live in exile so that they can continue their activism.

And we must ensure, always, that our support for their efforts is consistent, resolute and visible. When we highlight the work of women human rights defenders, we assert their legitimacy and afford them some measure of protection that makes it harder for perpetrators to attack them with impunity.

Yesterday, UN Women released a set of recommendations focused on means to support women human rights defenders at-risk in migration contexts. This is an important contribution to the policy discussion, yet there is vital work to do in the road ahead.

As UN Women, we will continue to work with partners and across the UN System to strengthen recognition, accountability and protection for women human rights defenders worldwide.