CSW: Progress urgently needed to recognise WHRDs and SOGI


Despite mounting evidence of targeted violence against women human rights defenders, particularly those working on development issues, the Commission on the Status of Women failed at ensuring their adequate protection.

(New York) - Despite mounting evidence of targeted violence against women human rights defenders, particularly those working on development issues, the Commission on the Status of Women failed at ensuring their adequate protection, the International Service for Human Rights has said.

Just days before the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) met in New York, the murder of Honduran activist, Berta Caceras, made evident the high risks involved in protecting land and environment rights while confronting corporations.

The CSW is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and women’s rights. Its 60th session this year focused on women’s empowerment and its link to sustainable development.

Better recognition and protection essential for women human rights defenders

In their Agreed Conclusions, States acknowledged the major contribution of women human rights defenders and the importance of States engaging with them in the implementation of Agenda 2030 (the Sustainable Development Goals) and the Beijing Platform for Action.

‘The role and contribution of WHRDs around the world in human rights and development policies and programmes must be a guarantee by all States,’ said Ms Pooja Patel, programme manager at ISHR. ‘It is disappointing that the Agreed Conclusions did not go further to call for a safe and enabling environment explicitly for women defenders, and that the text was adopted without any acknowledgement of the particular risks faced by women human rights defenders,’ she added.

The UN General Assembly resolution 68/181, adopted in 2013, outlines a series of steps for States to better protect women defenders. This was echoed by CSW in 2014, however, negotiations in subsequent years have seen such references taken out. 

Noelene Nabulivou, Political Adviser, DIVA for Equality Fiji; DAWN Associate, who spoke on a panel on the role of women human rights defenders held during CSW noted, ‘The 60th Commission on the Status of Women missed another opportunity to adequately support and defend women human rights defenders, despite increased public calls and momentum this year,’

She added that ‘these Agreed Conclusions insufficiently engage with current realities of corporatisation of development, where transnational corporations and international financial institutions create dangerous and extractive maldevelopment conditions, while too many governments look away, or actively participate. Women human rights defenders are targeted, imprisoned and killed for their work every day. Soft language and fence sitting do not help. Governments must publicly stand with those at the dangerous front-lines of gender equality, women's human rights, and economic, ecological and social justice, and clearly reject those rolling back decades-long gains. Where there is violation of the human rights of WHRDs there must be clear political response - from south, north and all between.’

In her closing remarks to CSW, Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, noted how the UN body was appreciative of ‘the understanding of the challenges faced by women human rights defenders’ reflected in the text. 

By conrast, ISHR's Pooja Patel said, ‘Disappointingly, UN Women’s zero draft of the Agreed Conclusions, which provided the basis for CSW to start negotiations, did not contain any reference to the legitimacy and value of the work of women defenders. This is puzzling, given that the body has been encouraged by General Assembly resolution 68/181 "to address the situation of human rights defenders, including women human rights defenders, in their work",' said Ms Patel.

‘We strongly encourage UN Women to ensure that the protection needs of women human rights defenders are considered a priority in their work with States in the multilateral as well as bilateral sense.’

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The Agreed Conclusions also fails to recognise acts of violence and discrimination against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. States opposed even an expression of ‘grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity’, which would have brought the text in line with standards at the Human Rights Council. 

Several States including Canada, Colombia, Finland, Mexico and US did express concern at the exclusion of this language but this was not enough to meet push back from others including the Holy See.

‘All women have the right to live free from violence and discrimination, including on the basis of one’s sexual orientation and gender identity or expression,’ said Ms Patel.

National Human Rights Institutions

Meanwhile, positive outcomes related to the participation of national human rights institutions provided new opportunities for engagement of stakeholders. CSW encouraged its Secretariat to consider how to enhance the participation of A-status NHRIs in its proceedings, as soon as its next session. At its 70th session in 2015, the General Assembly adopted a landmark resolution on NHRIs encouraging a number of UN mechanisms and processes, including the CSW, to ensure enhanced participation of NHRIs in their proceedings. 

Commenting on this outcome, Pip Dargan, Gender Focal Point, for the Asia-Pacific Forum for National Human Rights Institutions noted that this was ‘a significant step’ and that NHRIs ‘look forward to further discussions with States and UN Women in the lead up to CSW 61 on measures to enable that participation'.  



  • Human rights defenders
  • LGBT rights
  • United Nations
  • Women's rights and WHRD
  • Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)
  • National Human Rights Institutions