…over the years, I have come to realize that being a lawyer, journalist, artist or trade unionist can be a job with more risk of physical injury than working in a mine or construction site—if those legal, literary or organizational skills are directed at securing human rights…

Endless methods are applied to attempt dissuading human rights defenders from raising their voice against injustice, discrimination and oppression. These women are not just fighting for their own rights to freedom and equality in dignity and rights, but they are also fighting for me and all women and girls around the world.

If these women put their own safety on the line for all of us, then what are we doing for them? What can we do for them? I believe solidarity is key. When I participated in a panel conversation at the United Nations (UN) in Geneva for Human Rights Day 2013, I met one of my heroines, Pakistani activist Hina Jilani, who mentioned that the life of a human rights defender can be a very lonely and isolated one. Her comment shows the importance of solidarity. That’s the least we can do for our sisters on the frontlines of the struggle for women’s emancipation from discrimination, violence and injustice.

…According to the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition, female activists “face the same types of risks faced by all human rights defenders but because of their gender they are also the target of gender-based violence and gender-specific risks.”

In Iran, for example, women’s rights defenders have faced imprisonment, which may include torture, for crimes as trivial as attending peaceful demonstrations. Nasrin Sotoudeh, an Iranian lawyer and winner of the European Parliament’s 2012 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, was given a sentence of six years for her defense of children facing the death penalty. The charges against her included not wearing a headscarf in a video and “acting against national security,” as well as spreading anti-regime propaganda…

Violence against human rights defenders does not only come from the state, but can also come from the family. Laxmi Bohara, a Nepalese activist, was allegedly murdered by her husband and his mother in 2008. Her husband and his family saw her activism as tantamount to adultery and unsuitable for a “good” Hindu woman. Those of her friends and colleagues who campaigned for justice in her case were themselves targeted with threats and violence.

There is a dizzying amount of evidence for the persecution of female human rights defenders. Wabiwa Kabisuba ran a center for victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She was dragged from her home by eight uniformed men and shot dead. Kabisuba is only one of many women threatened and attacked in the DRC.

Lorena Cabnal was one of many women opposing the exploitation of mineral resources upon land claimed by the indigenous Xinka people of Guatemala, and supporting women’s rights. She has received death threats for her work from 2004.

Hina Jilani, who served as special representative of the UN secretary general on the situation of human rights defenders from 2000-08, is unequivocal about the value of protecting human rights defenders, which she identifies as “central to the promotion of human rights.”

It is in all our interests to take every possible step to reduce the hazards of standing up for the victims of human rights abuses. These courageous and compassionate women are making the world a better place for the coming generations. I acknowledge their sacrifices and contributions for human dignity and equality, and my heart is filled with gratitude and respect for them. I stand in support and solidarity with the very best expression of humanity and courage—these remarkable champions of human rights—I stand with them in respect and solidarity.

*[Joanne Payton assisted with research and rewrites for this article.]

for more of my posts on women human rights defenders, see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/women-human-rights-defenders/