(New York, 17 March 2016) “Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) are crucial in achieving the goals laid out in Agenda 2030, and states and the United Nations must take concrete steps to ensure that they are protected and recognised as key stakeholders and partners at all levels in implementing these goals,” said panelists at a high-level UN event yesterday. The event – “Empowering Women by Empowering Women Human Rights Defenders” – took place at the 60th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).

Panelists paid tribute to Berta Caceres, a woman human rights defender from Honduras who was killed in her home on 3 March. Berta’s daughter, Bertha Isabel Zuniga Caceres, spoke on the panel, describing her mother as her greatest inspiration. “The authorities did not protect my mother’s life as they should have,” she said, “and the Honduran government is ignoring the clamour of the world that is calling for justice.”

Opening the event, Ms Tone Skogen, State Secretary, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, “With Agenda 2030, the international community has agreed on what kind of future we want. It’s both a roadmap and a call to action. We all have a role to play and we all need to contribute to ensure that no-one is left behind. Without the tireless and courageous of WHRDs, the ambitions of Agenda 2030 will not be realised.” She drew attention to the 2013 UN General Assembly resolution on WHRDs, and Norway’s commitment to making the protection of HRDs a foreign policy priority.

In her opening remarks, Ambassador Mara Marinaki, EU/European External Action Service (EEAS) Principal Advisor on Gender, stated that the EU is determined more than ever to do more to support and protect all HRDs, especially women. She said, “Activists are the voice of the voiceless. The empowerment of women and girls is at the core of Agenda 2030, not only Goal 5 but across all 17 sustainable development goals.”

The moderator of the event, Richard Bennett, Amnesty International, said, “WHRDs must be recognized as key stakeholders and partners in advancing that important vision and effectively implementing the 2030 Agenda, in particular Goal 5 on gender equality, but also across all other goals of the new development framework.”
WHRDs on the panel highlighted the specific issues faced by defenders in their respective regions and areas of work. Bai Ali Indayla, Secretary-General of KAWAGIB – Alliance for the Advancement of Moro Human Rights in the Philippines, spoke about the challenges faced by WHRDs opposing human rights violations linked to extractive industries. “We are labelled as enemies of the state, and this becomes a reason for the states to target WHRDs. There are extra-judicial killings and the conviction rate for this is 0%. Any goal that the Philippines government signs up for is of no use if the state continues to implement anti-people policies and if it does not protect WHRDs.”

Fatima Outaleb, co-founder of Union de l’Action Feminine (Union of Women’s Action, UAF) in Morocco, paid tribute to friends and colleagues who had been harassed, forced to leave their countries, or killed, because of their work. “We see the brutality of those who oppress us, we have no words for the atrocities happening in our countries. Women are supposed to be present but their voices often don’t count. If we leave women behind, there will be no sustainable solutions,” she said, “But our strength comes from meeting together. We are stronger because we have communities.”

Noelene Nabulivou, of Diverse Voices and Action (DIVA) for Equality, Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), Pacific Partnerships to Strengthen Gender, Climate Change Responses and Sustainable Development (PPGCCSD), and Pacific Feminist SRHR Coalition, said, “Gender equality and women’s human rights is the single major determinant of the success or failure of the Sustainable Development Goals. There are too many people who are suffering because we aren’t able to exercise autonomy and decide what ‘development’ means for us. It is the people who will make social change possible.”

Closing the session, Samira Merai Friaa, Tunisian Minister for Women, Family and Childhood, said, “Women of all ages who defend all human rights play an important role at local, national and international levels. They fight poverty, discrimination, and promote access to justice and democracy. The General Assembly resolution on WHRDs sets clear commitments for states to protect and promote the rights of WHRDs, and we believe that the role of WHRDs in the implementation of Agenda 2030 is vital for achieving the SDGs.”

The WHRD-IC, one of the co-sponsors of the event, said, “This discussion underlines how important it is that states express recognition for WHRDs as legitimate and vital actors, including in the implementation of Agenda 2030. WHRDs play a critical role in advancing not only Goal 5 on gender equality, but also across all other goals of the new development framework, such as ending poverty, protecting the environment, reducing inequalities, and promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development. States must ensure that WHRDs are protected from gender-specific threats, intimidation, and violence they may face due to their work and their challenging of deep-seated patriarchal structures and societal gender norms. States must also, take effective action to investigate and bring to justice those responsible for these violations. Finally, states must enable the work of WHRDs, including by ensuring their meaningful participation in the development and monitoring of relevant policies and programmes, including Agenda 2030, and by creating an environment conducive for WHRDs to carry out their important work free from harassment, intimidation and violence from state and non-state actors.”


The UN General Assembly passed its first resolution on WHRDs in December 2013. Subsequent resolutions passed by the UN Human Rights Council and the General Assembly in 2014 and 2015 specifically referenced the role and the importance of the work of WHRDs, and the need for States to take appropriate, robust and practical steps to protect them and to integrate a gender perspective into their efforts to create a safe and enabling environment for the defence of human rights.

The CSW, meeting from 14-24 March 2016 in New York, is the principle global policy-making body dedicated to gender equality and the advancement of women. The theme of the 60th session is women’s empowerment and its link to sustainable development.

The main outcome document of the CSW is the agreed conclusions on the priority theme. These will contain an assessment of progress, gaps and challenges and provide concrete recommendations for action by Governments, civil society, and other key stakeholders, to be implemented at the international, regional, national and sub-national levels.

In view of the important and legitimate role of WHRDs working on development-related issues, it is critical that the agreed conclusions urge States to facilitate the work of WHRDs, including by ensuring their meaningful participation in the development and monitoring of Agenda 2030 and other policies and programmes. States must create an environment conducive for WHRDs to carry out their important work free from harassment, intimidation and violence from state and non-state actors, and recognise WHRDs as legitimate and vital actors.

Contact: Mari-Claire Price, WHRDIC Secretariat <whrdic@whrdic.org>

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