Statement of WHRD IC on the report of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice

Our own Harvard fellow, Naureen Shameem delivered a statement on behalf of the WHRD-IC at the 23rd Regular Session of Human Rights Council.

The Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRD IC) is a resource and advocacy network for the protection and support of women human rights defenders worldwide. WLUML is one of its coalition members.

Our own Harvard fellow, Naureen Shameem delivered the following statement on behalf of the WHRD-IC at the 23rd Regular Session of Human Rights Council.

As women human rights defenders - members of the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition  -  we welcome the working group’s report on women’s equal, full and effective participation in political and public life.

Women defenders work at local and global levels across the world to advance human rights.   They are frequently committed to raising and sustaining attention on human rights issues commonly deprioritized and ignored, including women’s and sexual rights.  Working for the respect for human rights for all within communities can be met with fierce resistance. 

Patriarchy informs the political, social and economic contexts in which women claim and defend their rights, and manifests itself structurally and in practice.   Justified in the name of culture, tradition or religion, women are frequently denied basic freedoms including those of expression, of association and assembly, and of movement.  Creating an environment for women to fully and effectively participate in public and political life to advance human rights, means addressing structural violence and discrimination.

We echo the Working Group’s analysis that political transition can provide opportunities for women in political and public life, but can also produce risks and backlash.  During these periods non-state actors can gain ground in roles that threaten women defenders – for example those with fundamentalist agendas that threaten the drive for equality.   During periods of transition, women propose new means to organize, ensure good governance and the respect of rights.  However they are frequently then not recognized in -  or are indeed excluded from  - formal political processes, such as elections. Women’s equal and full participation in political processes and institutions  including during transition, is key to ensuring the respect of human rights and an end of conflict in the long term.

By propelling human rights concerns into the public sphere women defenders can themselves become targets.   Women defenders are frequently stigmatized;  accused of being a destabilizing influence bringing shame to their families,  and of challenging the mores that supposedly hold society together.   Coalition members have documented attacks – including rape - against women human rights defenders exercising their right to peaceful assembly.  Violations committed against women defenders by state and non-state actors are frequently rendered invisible or their significance minimized.  Furthermore, taboos around gender-specific violations , such as sexual violence, create a dual stigmatisation which adversely affects women defenders’ ability to seek justice and protection.

We take this opportunity to recall the panel held on the protection needs of women human rights defenders in 2012 as part of the Annual Full Day Discussion on Women’s Human Rights.   

To create and sustain an environment where women can claim and defend rights, States must:_

  • Publically recognize the crucial, legitimate role played by women human rights defenders in upholding human rights and the rule of law.
  • Effectively challenge structural discrimination and violence including including by strengthening legal protections against gender-based discrimination and amending laws and policies which operate, directly or indirectly, as barriers to women’s equality.
  • Ensure effective gender specific protection for women against rights violations, including when perpetrated by non state actors


We urge the Human Rights Council to continue to focus specific attention on the work of women human rights defenders and their protection, including during their engagement with the Council itself. For more information, please click here.