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Women Human Rights Defenders

Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) are women who defend the human rights of women and girls or work for other human rights and social justice causes.  Some work in organisations while some work alone, some work very locally whereas others advocate at national and international levels. 

Our network is made up of WHRDs from across the world, working primarily in Muslim contexts (Muslim-majority countries or Muslim communities).  They work on a diverse range of issues but a lot of them are operating in contexts marred by fundamentalisms, poverty and economic inequality, and instability, militarism, and war. 

Threats to WHRDs

Despite WHRDs’ work being increasingly recognised at the international level, WHRDs continue to face threats, violence, stigma, and discrimination for their work. 

In the same way as their male counterparts they face backlash as a result of challenging the establishment.  However, they also face gender-specific problems because their political activity and leadership challenges societal gender roles. 

WHRDs face threats to themselves and their loved ones (on and offline, and often with sexual dimensions). They are subject to verbal harassment and slander which often takes the form of attacks on their moral, sexual, and/or religious reputations. They face physical attacks and even murders and assassinations.  Women living in societies where conservative and religious authorities hold a lot of power and laws are inspired by religion, those in militarised contexts, and those working on particularly taboo topics tend to face most risks.

Threats and discrimination towards WHRDs come from varied sources: governments, police and military, political parties, corporations, non-state militias, and from members of the general public and even family members. Religious conservatives and fundamentalists often attack WHRD:  they accusethem of being foreign collaborators, betrayers of their culture, bad women, and blasphemers, apostates, or non-believers, and subject them to political persecution, arrest, extreme punitive measures and even killing.  However, counter-terrorism measures can also affect WHRDs negatively, as they are being used to close civil society space and crack down on legitimate political dissent in various countries.

Our work on WHRD Issues

As a network, we connect WHRDs (and women generally) living and working in difficult contexts, to break their isolation and draw strength and strategies from one another.  We conduct capacity-building initiatives such as workshops, mentoring, and supporting community-based projects.  These activities strengthen WHRDs’ abilities to mobilise others and to advocate for new laws or legal reforms and better policies on women and gender.  They give the tools to practice self-care, to diminish and handle risks, and make their activism more sustainable.  We helped establish the WHRD International Coalition (WHRDIC) and continue to participate in its activities.

Through our networkers, WLUML is able to document threats and attacks on WHRDs. We use our website as a place to record and monitor attacks on WHRDs and, along with social media, to mobilise public support for WHRDs at risk through urgent calls to action.