Women Human Rights Defenders and their protection

Ivan Louis Pinno Aug. 9, 2022

Women, in general, face gendered threats that men do not face to the same extent. When a woman defends human rights, she is vulnerable to all of the general threats that Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) face, as well as specific gendered threats.


A human rights defender (HRD) is someone who works peacefully to promote or protect human rights, either alone or in collaboration with others. An HRD can be anyone, regardless of age, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or profession. Human rights advocacy can be a professional or volunteer endeavor for them. A woman human rights defender (WHRD) is a female human rights defender who works in the defense of women's rights or on gender issues.

Anyone who works to promote or protect human rights through peaceful means, whether paid or not, is an HRD. There are numerous methods for promoting or protecting human rights. Here are a few examples:

  • Collecting evidence to document human rights violations
  • Increasing public awareness of human rights violations (in the media, online, or in their community)
  • Reporting human rights violations to international or regional organizations.
  • Helping survivors of human rights violations (e.g., shelter, legal advice, emotional support).
  • Informing people about their rights and teaching them how to defend them.

HRDs can as well be witnesses who provide information about human rights violations in the courts of law or to human rights organizations. This has them exposed to numerous dangers. Those who violate human rights are usually in positions of power, so they tend to target HRDs, including WHRDs, who threaten their power.

Women, in general, face gendered threats that men do not face to the same extent. When a woman defends human rights, she is vulnerable to all of the general threats that HRDs face, as well as specific gendered threats. The same is true for advocates for sexual minorities rights. They could face;

  • Gender-based violence and sexual abuse
  • Threats to their family members, including children
  • Slander campaigns (online and offline)
  • Discrimination

Human rights defenders were brought together recently by Defend Defenders to discuss the role of Civic Space in promoting human rights in Uganda and how technology can be mediated and solutions circumvented in the promotion of these rights, particularly for women' human rights defenders in Uganda. Civic Space appears to be a broader topic.

However, Article 38 of the Republic of Uganda's 1995 Constitution provides for the fundamental elements of civic space rights. The article guarantees participation in civic space and activities by stating that every Ugandan citizen has the right to participate in government affairs, either individually or through his or her representatives, in accordance with the law. The article also establishes the right of every Ugandan to engage in peaceful activities to influence government policies through civic organizations. The Civic Space includes the following categories: The right of access to information, Freedom of expression, media and digital freedoms, Freedom of peaceful assembly and petition, Freedom of association Non-discrimination and inclusion; and the rule of law.

Civic Space Technology Platforms

Citizens are connected to a variety of actors through civic society, which facilitates civic engagement and participation. It is commonly referred to as the "third space," where citizens with diverse interests can address issues on a single platform.

The technologies include initiatives that contribute to the development of citizens' power to act, facilitate citizen participation, and provide the tools needed to improve governance transparency. Civic technology, when properly leveraged and deployed, has the potential to strengthen democratic processes and promote inclusive decision-making. Furthermore, it can aid in the emergence of strong political leadership based on democratic and human rights principles.

Civic tools and services can only be developed if there is the assurance of adequate citizen protection from abuse, no restrictions on free expression, and some access to online resources and networks. All of these conditions, of course, rely on citizens' ability to optimize their digital skills in order to exercise their rights; this is easier said than done. Civil society continues to operate in difficult, often repressive political environments.

The promise of civic-tech is undermined by increasingly repressive measures and policies aimed at stifling civil society activism by silencing the voices of certain actors. This phenomenon, known as civic space shrinkage, reduces civil society organizations' ability to play their fundamental role as guardians of democracy and promotes alternatives. This restriction on civic space is carried over to the digital space via measures such as internet shutdowns and the presence of structural barriers, such as a lack of access to the internet and smartphones in rural areas.

While civic technology can be used by civil society to engage with institutions such as national parliaments, this is not possible because the majority of the population in many African countries lacks access to the internet or infrastructure and thus cannot participate in politics digitally. Although civic technology in Africa is limited due to limited internet access, it remains the most effective tool for democratic change. It has given citizens more power over political life and has made governments more accessible, efficient, effective, and accountable. Even better, it has promoted inclusive and participatory community governance through the active participation of non-state actors such as civil society organizations. However, the limited civic space in Africa is a barrier to the meteoric rise of civic technology in Africa.