Newsletter. The strain of Women Human Rights Defenders

Newsletter No. 1 2017: The strain of Women Human Rights Defenders

08.03 2017

Dear friends and colleagues,

Being a woman and a woman´s human rights activist mean actively regaining
my space and rights in places from which they are trying to exclude me” 

Lara Aharonian, Director of Women´s Resource Center HRH Yerevan, Armenia


In her third report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, in chapter III, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, addresses the situation of women human rights defenders (WHRD). This includes both female human rights defenders, and any other human rights defenders who work in the defence of women’s rights or on gender issues. As we commemorate the International Women´s Day, we want to highlight the special circumstances that WHRD are living under and are exposed to, and at the same time honour them for their brave and important engagement to eradicate human rights violations of women and girls.

It is essential to ensure that all human rights defenders, women and men, are protected and supported in their work, and that those who are engaged in defending the rights of women are fully recognized as human rights defenders.

In many communities women, may be perceived as an extension of the community itself. When acting as a human right defenders, they can be exposed to different forms of reprisals, including being targeted with gender-based violence (GBV) or experience gender-specific risks. Furthermore, they can be subject to violence because they challenge existing norms and stereotypes within their communities. If a WHRD, because of her human rights work is exposed to GBV, such as rape, the community may also see that as a shame inflicted on the whole community. Therefore, she has to bear with the burden not only of the trauma as a consequence of the rape, but also with the shame she has “brought” on her community.

State authorities are the most common perpetrators of violations against human rights defenders, despite the fact that they have the obligation to undertake the primary responsibility for assuring their protection. In addition, a variety of “non-State/official” actors also commit, or are implicated in violent acts against human rights defenders. Therefore, it is important that this form of violence ends and that perpetrators are held accountable for such acts.

Thus, it is necessary not only to raise awareness of the danger and reprisals that WHRD are exposed to, but also to be conscious of the impact that such aggressions have on their lives and their activism. According to the AWID publication; ” it is necessary to adopt protection mechanisms that address the different needs and realities of WHRDs. Similarly, it is necessary to move away from the concept of protection solely focused on physical aspects, towards a more embracing understanding of protection that also addresses the need to create an enabling environment for WHRDs, in order to carry out their work safely”

Further reading that highlight different aspects of Women Human Rights Defenders

Politicizing Self-Care and Wellbeing in Our Activism as Women Human Rights Defenders 
AWID 2015
Stress, burn out, uncontrollable emotional outbursts, depression, anxiety, migraines and cancer, are some of the effects that human rights defense work has on WHRDs around the world, and the ones that often make them quit their important work. AWID spoke with Jessica Horn, Senior Advisor for the African Institute for Integrated Responses to Violence Against Women and HIV/AIDS (AIR) about the politics of self-care and well being for women human rights defenders (WHRDs).

Women human rights defenders and the struggle for justice in Colombia 
ABColombia, Oidhac, U.S. Office on Colombia 2011
Colombia continues to suffer one of the worst humanitarian and human rights crises in the world. In this context, those who defend human rights and the rule of law in Colombia have continuously been victims of systematic stigmatization, threats, sexual violence, unfounded criminal proceedings, violent attacks and killings carried out by all armed actors in the conflict. Amongst this group of defenders, women play a crucial role.

Protection manual for human rights defenders 
Enrique Eguren, Peace Brigades International, European Office 2005
The gravity of the risks faced on a daily basis by human rights defenders are such that it is also important to pursue other means to strengthen their protection. In this regard I hope that this Protection Manual will support human rights defenders in developing their own security plans and protection mechanisms. Many human rights defenders are so engaged by their work to protect others that they give insufficient attention to their own security. Although this manual is written for all HRD, men and women alike, chapter 10 is specifically on women.

Self-care and self-defense manual for feminist activists 
Marina Bernal, Artemisa, Elige and CREA 2008
This important manual is a valuable asset for all women engaged in the task of constructing and inhabiting a world in which all of us can fulfill our best potential. An indispensable tool, it invites us to stand our ground while attempting to undo the injustices meted out to us, and nurture the inherent resources that are so easily depleted: our bodies, affection, intelligence, creativity, spirituality…and ourselves.

UN mandate created to reduce reprisals against human rights defenders 
International Justice Resource Center
On October 3, 2016, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in consultation with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, announced a new mandate for the Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, to lead UN work on ending intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders.

All manuals can be downloaded from the MHHRI website

There are three different manuals, which respectively address working with women, with boys and men, and with children who have experienced sexual violence.

The manuals are translated into several languages. The page numbers in each manual remain the same across languages. This allows survivors and helpers to work from copies in their preferred language and read the same content on the same pages. It also makes it easier to teach participants when participants and trainers work in more than one language. The manuals include a toolbox. Survivors can use it individually to regulate their own emotions through grounding exercises or in collaboration with a helper. Helpers can also use grounding exercises to take care of themselves as helpers.

We appreciate feedback and comments 

Welcome to our new subscribers, we hope you will find our content useful. The Mental Health and Human Rights Info Newsletter is a newsletter with the aim to provide insight on a certain subject across the scope of our work; human rights violations in war and conflict areas and mental health. Our intention is to deliver a newsletter as a short “lecture” where you can find relevant information regarding a specific subject from a mental health perspective. You will receive our newsletter 5 times a year.

We would appreciate your thoughts and suggestions on other issues you would like to see in this newsletter or if you are planning an event on related issues, please let us know so we can include your event in our newsletter.

If you know anyone who would be interested in receiving this e-newsletter, please forward it, and encourage them to sign up.

Facebook and Instagram 
On our MHHRI Facebook page, and on Instagram we are continuously posting new and relevant articles that we add to our website, as well as events and videos. We also just launched our new LinkedIn page!

Sincerely yours,
Take care – and we are wishing you all the best.

Sincerely yours,

Mental Health and Human Rights Info