International Day for Women Human Rights Defenders


Courageous women human rights defenders have helped shape a freer and more equal world.

They have challenged the centuries-old patriarchy, discrimination and inequality that have long shrouded the lives of women and girls.

And beyond this, throughout history, women human rights defenders have been at the forefront of social justice movements. They all inspired us in our formative years.

From those marching against apartheid in South Africa to the young indigenous girls engaged in the protection of natural resources. We are witnessing the courageous women and girls in Afghanistan and in the Islamic Republic of Iran who are demanding an end to systematic discrimination against them as well as socio, economic and legal reforms to ensure their rights and justice.

Their efforts have and continue to contribute to more equal and thriving societies for all.

However, human rights, women’s rights and gender equality are increasingly under threat.

We are seeing the resurgence of conservative narratives that relegate a woman’s role to family and procreation, and a rise in persecution based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Authoritarian, patriarchal and misogynistic narratives that reward toxic masculinity and legitimise sexism are on the rise.

Women human rights defenders are bearing the brunt of these developments.

We need to provide them with support and show a united front to stop this backlash.

First, by using positive and inclusive narratives to demonstrate that gender equality means a better world for everyone. It has been shown, time and again, that when girls and women have equal access to education and employment opportunities, all of society benefits. Businesses with more than 30 per cent women in top leadership roles outperform businesses with only men in leadership. 1 When women and girls have autonomy and agency and can make decisions about their own bodies – free from violence and coercion – they are empowered to reach their full potential.

Second, we must stand together against anti-rights and anti-gender narratives. We must address gender equality holistically, recognising the interdependence and indivisibility of women’s human rights.

Third, we need to see and treat people as individuals. This means taking into account the richness of every person’s experience and walking the talk on “intersectionality” in our work and in our interactions with partners.

Finally, it is essential to enable women human rights defenders in all their diversity to participate in decision-making by providing them with adequate support – politically, publicly and financially. This is a task for governments but also all of us in the international community.

As co-chair of the Generation Equality Action Coalition on Feminist Movements and Leadership, my Office looks forward to accelerating efforts towards gender equality and the full realisation of the rights of women and girls.

The need for solidarity within and across the movement for gender equality has never been stronger.

Let’s unite in this effort.

1 McKinsey research that shows companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the bottom, while companies with more than 30% female executives were more likely to outperform companies that don’t, according to research from academics from the Universities of Glasgow and Leicester.

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