Two UN events call on States to put protection of WHRDs into practice


International Women’s Day was marked on 9 March by two UN events in New York and Geneva highlighting the ongoing threats, risks and attacks against women human rights defenders, despite the existing State obligations to ensure their protection and to create an enabling environment for their work. 

The protection of women human rights defenders remains woefully inadequate despite the obligations States have made in this regard. Two side events were held simultaneously, in parallel to important fora on human rights and the rights of women in Geneva and New York. Each sought to draw attention to the urgent implementation by member States of obligations towards recognising and protecting women human rights defenders, as expressed very clearly in the 2013 UN General Assembly resolution 68/181.

In Geneva, alongside the 27th session of the UN Human Rights Council, panelists included Ambassador Steffen Kongstad (Permanent Representative of Norway), Hina Jilani (human rights lawyer from Pakistan), Ahlem Belhadj (Tunisian feminist activist), Alejandra Burgos (Salvadoran Network for Women Human Rights Defenders) and Jane Connors (OHCHR). The event was moderated by Geir Sjoberg (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway).

Resolution 68/181 calls on States to recognise and acknowledge the work of women human rights defenders in the promotion and protection of human rights. Panelists stressed that such public recognition by their governments would go a long way in ensuring protection from discrimination and abuses from within families and communities. 

Click here for the press release on the event in Geneva.

Parallel to the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York, which also commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, panelists included Cristina Hardaga Fernandez (JASS Mesoamerica), Mary Akrami (Afghan Women's Network), Mozn Hassan (Hazra for Feminist Studies), Reine Alapini-Gansou (African Commission Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders), Hans Brattskar (State Secretary of Norway) and Samira Merai Friaa (Minister of Women, Family and Children, Tunisia). 

During the panel discussion, Commissioner Reine Alapini-Gansou drew attention to the first ever report of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights focusing on the situation of women human rights defenders in the region. Reiterating the recommendations of the report, she urged States to put in place national mechanisms for the protection of women human rights defenders, as well as to implement laws to ensure accountability for violations. 

Participants at the event in New York, including from the WHRD International Coalition, expressed their disappointment that the political declaration adopted by the Commission on the Status of Women earlier that day did not explicitly refer to women human rights defenders.

Click here for the press release on the event in New York.

At both events, the OHCHR screened a 'highlights video’ as part of their #reflect2protect campaign, which conveyed key messages about the need for everyone to stand up and be counted as women’s human rights defenders. In it, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights states that ‘real change does not happen unless women and men fight for these rights – and at the forefront of this fight are women human rights defenders’.

'If the General Assembly resolution is to have any impact at all, governments must ensure its effective implementation. Women human rights defenders are crucial partners towards this end. In particular, their participation needs to be ensured and safeguarded in the development of laws and policies affecting them and their work' said Pooja Patel, Programme Manager at ISHR. 


  • Human rights defenders
  • United Nations
  • Women's rights and WHRD
  • Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
  • Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council
  • UN General Assembly
  • UN Human Rights Council
  • National HRDs laws/policies