Women's human rights defenders
A women's human rights defender is anyone, male or female, who defends women's rights. Due to widespread gender discrimination, women's human rights defenders may face additional pressure for focussing on women.
And if they are female (and most of them are), they also risk punishment from their family, the community and the state for defying social conventions on what is acceptable behaviour for women. Find out more
With this in mind, we campaign for governments to pay special attention to women's human rights defenders and implement practical measures to support them.
Take action: Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA)
Since 2003, members of women's organisation, WOZA, have been harassed and repeatedly arrested while peacefully protesting about the human rights situation in Zimbabwe. Take action now
Women defending human rights
Women all over the world take huge risks to defend the rights of men, women and children. They are professionals, such as doctors and lawyers. They are community activists fighting for basic economic and social rights, such as the right to own land or have clean water, or for the rights of minorities.
They seek to uncover the truth when loved ones are subjected to enforced disappearance. They campaign for education for themselves and their children.
Some fight against restrictions on women's sexual and reproductive rights and for the right to make their own choices and decisions - including if, when and who they will marry, if and when they will have children, and who with.
'I get harassed by police officers, judges and families of the victims. Sometimes I have to leave my house in the middle of the night to retrieve women from police stations. I do this work because what we do is very important. We protect victims of violence from being abused again.' Noor Marjan, Director of the Afghan Women's Skills Development Centre, March 2010
Those opposed to women's rights use a range of methods to intimidate, discourage, and prevent women from organising to defend their human rights.
Attacks on women's human rights defenders can range from harassment and verbal abuse to physical assault, including rape and sexual violence. Serious sexual assaults are often intended to target women's 'honour', to humiliate and discredit them.
Domestic violence is also used to control women and put pressure on them to stop their human rights activism. Family members may claim that their work brings shame on the whole family or community, and so use violence and threats to restore 'honour', often with the support or approval of the authorities.
Social tolerance of violence against women in general often means that attacks on women's human rights defenders are not taken seriously.
Success story: Nine women's rights defenders in Nicaragua
For two and a half years nine Nicaraguan women faced legal proceedings following their involvement in the case of a nine-year-old girl who was raped and made pregnant in 2003, and obtained a legal abortion in Nicaragua.
Amnesty feared that the complaint was brought against the nine in October 2007 because of their human rights work and activism to ensure women and girls had access to safe and effective sexual and reproductive health services.
On 28 April 2010, the investigation into the nine women was closed. This is a major achievement marking an important step forward and a lessening of the intimidation and harassment the women human rights defenders have suffered. However, the way in which the investigation was closed leaves us with grave concerns over the attitude of the Nicaraguan authorities towards defenders of womens rights. Find out more