Agenda 2030 | Women defenders call for inclusion, accountability and justice


Women human rights defenders must be protected and supported, and attacks against them prevented and prosecuted, if States are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and make progress towards just and equitable communities worldwide, says the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition, of which ISHR is a founding member.

Courtesy of JASS Mesoamerica

(Geneva) - ISHR is proud to join the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRD-IC) in a statement to the UN Human Rights Council calling on states and the international community to ensure that the work of WHRDs is recognised and valued, at the UN and at home, and that they can carry out their work freely and without threat. 

'From threats against their bodily integrity to threats against their family members, women defenders face unacceptable risks when it comes to engaging in the important work of advancing human rights,' said Sarah M. Brooks, ISHR programme manager and advocate. 

'The range of violence committed against women, including defenders, is huge. But equally challenging are the longstanding barriers to documenting, preventing and ensuring accountability for these crimes,' added Natasha Latiff, founder and legal advisor of SAHR, an NGO which focuses on strategic litigation for women in Afghanistan and India. In this regard, the joint statement highlighted the killing of Honduran woman human rights defender Berta Cáceres, in relation to which there has been inadequate investigation or accountability. 

'We call on States to explore, innovate and invest in tools that help prevent and prosecute violence against women, in particular rape and killing. These are essential for making reporting for communities of women, especially in rural areas, easier and safer,' Ms Latiff said.

It is critical that current discussions in the Human Rights Council, particularly as to proposed resolutions focused on women's rights, can reflect those realities and, at the same time, give substantive guidance to States to promote effective implementation and push change at the national level.

As Bose Ironsi, a defender working on women's equality and health from Nigeria, says: 

In this resolution on violence against women, I see my work. I see it underline the importance of combatting stigma and discrimination, and of including men and boys. But now, I want to know, how can I use this on the ground?

The full statement of the WHRD-IC follows.

For questions, please contact Sarah M. Brooks at s.brooks[at]  

Photo credit: JASS Mesoamerica.


Open Statement to the Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, and the Working Group on Discrimination against Women in Law and Practice

Agenda 2030 sets out an ambitious action plan for people, planet and prosperity, to be implemented by all countries in collaboration with all stakeholders. The work and the determination of women human rights defenders and feminist organisations were key in putting these goals on the table, particularly those related to eliminating inequality and discrimination against women.

Even as the international community now considers how to implement the Agenda, women defenders and civil society organisations continue to do the important and dangerous work of defending human rights, including in the areas of health, education, justice, employment, corporate accountability and environmental protection.

The efforts of women defenders are important if not vital to effective implementation of the goals, and they play a key role in holding states accountable and highlighting long-overlooked violations. At the same time, the severe challenges, threats and attacks women defenders face can weaken or undermine the ability of societies to achieve real change through the Agenda.

Attacks against women human rights defenders include killings, violence, prejudice, exclusion, and repudiation. Attacks are often gender-based, arising both because of their activism and because they are women. Ironically, women defenders’ vulnerability can increase when they work on issues central to the Agenda’s aims, such as promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights, or seeking to combat multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination.

In that regard, and in light of the resolution on violence against indigenous women being negotiated at this Human Rights Council session, we must emphasise that indigenous and rural WHRDs, who defend territories from displacement and environmental devastation, are at great risk precisely for promoting a development model centred around the principles at the heart of the 2030 Agenda. They need to have a means of effectively participating in development decisions and in monitoring the impacts, especially regarding land and the environment.

The murder of Berta Cáceres is a stark example. Efforts to cast her killing as a romantically or sexually motivated 'passion crime' are emblematic of the gendered misrepresentation of women’s human rights advocacy. 

  • We call on governments to recognise WHRDs and their legitimate and vital work, including in relation to the Agenda 2030 targets, and to protect and promote that work through the creation of a safe and enabling environment free from harassment, intimidation and violence, by both state and non-state actors.
  • We urge governments to design national level strategies, in conjunction with WHRDs and civil society, to guide implementation of the range of international obligations relating to the recognition of, and protection for, WHRDs – in particular, UNGA Resolution 68/181.
  • We expect governments and the international community to include WHRDs in the development and monitoring of policies and programmes relevant to Agenda 2030. This includes also large-scale development projects, which have a particular impact on indigenous communities and WHRDs.

It is in the interest of the governments in this Council, the UN system, our peoples and our planet to insist on recognition and protection for WHRDs so that they can sustain their activism and contribute to building just and equal societies worldwide.