Middle East & North Africa WHRD Coalition - A Glimpse of Hope


Este artículo también se encuentra en español aquí

By Amal Elmohandes, Director of the Women Human Rights Defenders Programme at Nazra for Feminist Studies

Este artículo también se encuentra en español aquí

By Amal Elmohandes, Director of the Women Human Rights Defenders Programme at Nazra for Feminist Studies

Women human rights defenders (WHRDs) in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have identified a clear necessity for establishing a regional coalition to address the problems and challenges that patriarchal societies impose on WHRDs' activism, in addition to the dramatic political and societal changes that have taken place. In particular, in the context of what is referred to as the “Arab Spring”, an increase in systematic abusive application of  security and legal procedures against WHRDs have exacerbated risks for WHRDs in countries that experienced the “Arab Spring” directly, as well as in those that haven’t.

Nazra for Feminist Studies and the WHRD International Coalition both raised their concerns over the particularly dire situation of WHRDs in Egypt. Cases highlighted in their statements reflect a trend pervasive throughout the MENA region.

As such, the regional coalition seeks to enhance protection measures for WHRDs, including by enhancing documentation and monitoring of violations perpetrated against WHRDs in the MENA region. The regional coalition also aims to design solidarity mechanisms with WHRDs as well as building awareness and sensitization of the work of WHRDs and their role with the view to spread the culture of respect of and support for WHRDs.

Several organizations, feminists and WHRDs met in Cairo on 17-20 June 2013, based on an invitation from Nazra for Feminist Studies, to kickstart a series of discussions related to building such a regional coalition. A steering committee was formed, which proceeded to crystallize the ideas and develop the solid base for the regional coalition including drafting the code of conduct, regulations, objectives and membership criteria. It also established that the coalition’s first General Assembly would be held on 23-26 February 2015. 

To ensure an equal sense of ownership and responsibility amongst all members of the regional coalition, the coordination role was handed to a feminist group based in Lebanon, Sawt AlNiswa[1], while an Executive Committee and several subcommittees were formed comprising of organisation with equitable geographical representation.

The MENA region is one that continues to suffer from deeply rooted patriarchal norms, fundamentalism and the severe political shifts and crises that only increase the violations faced by WHRDs in this region. It is deeply concerning that soon after the launch of the coalition on 8 March 2015, direct threats and violations were experienced by Executive Committee members. For instance, Egyptian lawyer and feminist Azza Soliman, who witnessed the killing of WHRD Shaimaa ElSabbagh and was declared a defendant in the case related to the dispersal of an assembly to commemorate the 4th anniversary of the Egyptian January 25th Revolution. While she was acquitted on 23 May 2015, the General Prosecutor decided to appeal the verdict and the next court session is scheduled for 13 June 2015 Moreover, the airstrikes and war in Yemen resulted in the death of 2 WHRDs, as documented by a member of the coalition's Executive Committee, who also lost her younger brother to sniper shots.

Subsequently, the regional coalition has been very busy. It has worked on campaigns for Azza Soliman (Egypt) and Sandra Kodouda (Sudan), in addition to publishing a position paper on the situation of WHRDs in Yemen.  Moreover, a Facebook page for the coalition has been created, and a website will be launched this year. Upcoming projects include the design of a preliminary protocol for the Emergency and Urgent Responses Committee, to map networks and groups that provide services related to the execution of the concerned committee's objectives, with reference to the Urgent Responses Document issued by AWID, in addition to working on fundraising to sustain the coalition, and conducting workshops on documentation and digital security.

The WHRD MENA Coalition will be a platform that represents the voices of WHRDs from the region, shed light on the violations experienced by them, and act as an arena in which they can enhance necessary skills to network widely with WHRDs, from the MENA region or others, and skills necessary to continue their important work in defending rights in a region that presents a number of threats, challenges and barriers to their work.


[1] Sawt AlNiswa is a network and a community of feminist writers, activists and artists working towards changing their realities by building a space that critically reflects on the social, political and intellectual experiences of women living in the Arab region.


  • Middle East and North Africa
  • Human rights defenders
  • NGOs
  • Women's rights and WHRD