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Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, A/HRC/31/55, 1 February 2016

III. Conceptualizing protection practices

A. Background

27. Some activists face greater and more specific risks than others (see A/HRC/16/44, A/HRC/19/55 and A/70/217, paras. 61-77). Defenders who challenge social and cultural norms, do not fit stereotypes and prescribed roles, or who challenge power structures in society – such as defenders of sexual orientation and gender identity rights, women defenders, and defenders working on the rights of minorities and indigenous people – are often stigmatized and subjected to threats and attacks from members of society because of who they are or what they do. Defenders in conflict zones and in occupied territories are also more vulnerable to continuous insecurity and threats. Protection practices must therefore be gender-sensitive and suited to the specific needs and situations of such defenders at risk.

C. Defining protection practices

38. Gender influences the way that defenders experience risks and threats. Discrimination on the basis of gender is linked to other factors, such as ethnicity, religion, class, age, health or sexual orientation.[7] The intersection of these factors produces different vulnerabilities for women. For this reason, it is critical for gender analysis to adopt an intersectionality lens, examining how the combination of such factors has an impact on the rights and security of women defenders.

IV. Strengthening the resources and capacities of defenders

A. Fostering a culture of “holistic security” among defenders

48. As mentioned above, experiences of violence, risk and security are often gender-based. Women human rights defenders report how they suffer more from verbal abuse, sexual violence and rape; how gender stereotypes are used to delegitimize their work; and how other factors, such as ethnicity, age, class and sexual orientation, exacerbate the discrimination they face.[9] They emphasize the need for gender-sensitive protection measures that focus on holistic security.

C. Building and supporting networks among defenders and their supporters

63. Some defenders work on issues that are political, culturally and socially sensitive – issues that other defenders within the same sociopolitical milieu might not support instinctively. Women defenders and defenders who work on sexual orientation and gender identity rights, for example, often struggle to have their rights recognized in certain contexts. It is important for defenders within the same context to understand and support one another, even if they focus on different rights.

D. Protecting and supporting defenders, including in emergencies

70. In some countries, civil society organizations have established monitoring programmes that document and verify information on attacks against defenders, identifying patterns of violations and abuses. They maintain databases on defenders, monitoring the risks that they face.[15] They make visible the situation of defenders at risk in particular contexts, pressuring States to be accountable for their protection. Gender analysis should be integrated into human rights monitoring programmes, in particular, from the perspective of intersectionality. This would ensure that the specific experiences of women and transgender persons are, along with those of men, understood and incorporated into the design of protection measures.

V. Fostering an enabling environment for defenders

A. Building support for human rights and the work of defenders

         1. Human rights awareness

80. The media can also, however, reproduce and reinforce patterns of inequality and marginalization; for example, women defenders and LGBTI activists are sometimes targeted in social media smear campaigns and vilified by mainstream media outlets. Some good practices within the media to combat this phenomenon include proactive training about defenders at higher risk and emerging rights, as well as stronger support within media outlets for defenders and those working on these issues. Women defenders have noted a strong correlation between media outlets hiring and supporting women journalists and improved coverage of women’s rights.

Link to full text of the report: Report-SRHRD-2016-eng

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. 7. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, general recommendation No. 28, para. 18.
  2. 9. See Immaculada Barcia, Our Right to Safety: Women Human Rights Defenders’ Holistic Approach to Protection, Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (Toronto, Association for Women’s Rights in Development, 2014).
  3. 15. For example, see Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Initiative, Violence against women human rights defenders, report 2012-2014, and the reports of the Observatory on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.