Business support to defenders cannot be gender-blind


How do the human rights impacts of business operations, especially large extractive projects, impact women defenders? What can governments and companies do to protect and empower these important actors? ISHR, in collaboration with the Women Peacemakers Program, calls on companies to support and speak out for WHRDs.

ISHR would like to express its appreciation to the Women Peacemakers Program for their efforts in compiling this year's 1325 Pack on 'Women, Peace and Security: Business as usual?'  The article referenced below was originally published at 

Last week’s annual Forum on Business and Human Rights offered a critical opportunity for businesses to engage with defenders, and to deepen discussion about the positive role they can play in promoting human rights in countries in which they operate.

As a follow on to these discussions, and in partnership with the Women Peacemakers Program, ISHR took the opportunity this week to underline how women defenders can be impacted by business operations – especially those with security sector implications – and what businesses can do to make sure their perspectives are taken into account.

Recommendations from the article include:

  • ensuring that corporate human rights policies and processes facilitate and meaningfully consider the views of women and girls in affected communities;
  • enforcing contractual obligations, in particular in security arrangements, related to respect for and the protection of women human rights defenders; and
  • holding corporate actors accountable for human rights abuses, and redoubling efforts to ensure that the experience of violence against women defenders is accurately documented.

‘We can clearly see from the most recent report of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders that defenders working to promote corporate accountability – whistleblowers, land and environmental activists, trade unionists – are particularly vulnerable,’ says author Sarah M. Brooks, ISHR advocate and focal point on women defenders.

‘When we view this through a gender lens, we see that women are more dependent on access to land; more exposed to certain kinds of corporate abuse, especially when the security sector is involved; and more constrained in their ability to seek remedy. This makes the work of women defenders in the corporate accountability space even more critical, and yet even more challenging.’

ISHR’s regional partners regularly press for better protection for women defenders, including in the corporate accountability context. In a statement to the Human Rights Council in September, the Honduran Women Human Rights Defenders Network and ISHR jointly highlighted business complicity in the suppression of defenders’ work in Honduras. The government accepted 21 Universal Periodic Review recommendations related to the protection of defenders, and in particular women defenders.   

Regional mechanisms are also engaged. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights recently published a digital version of their report on women human rights defenders in Africa. This included specific recommendations related to security and polices forces, including the ability of ordinary national courts to prosecute crimes by military personnel against women HRDs, and the need for sensitisation of judicial and polices forces to the work of women defenders.

There is an incredible amount of work being done by civil society to press for better documentation of violence against women defenders and full implementation of UN resolution 68/181. Simultaneously, there is an incredible amount of work being done to urge broader recognition by business of the value of engaging with, and speaking out for, human rights defenders.

Says Ms. Brooks, ‘The purpose of this article, and the reason we connect it with the Women, Peace and Security Agenda, is to recognise the intersections of these two populations, the increased vulnerability for women defenders, and the imperative that this intersectionality inform both business and government responses’.

For more information, please contact Sarah M. Brooks, on


  • Corporate accountability
  • Women's rights and WHRD
  • UN Special Rapporteur on HRDs