On November 29, International Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRD) Day, the United States commemorates the work of women human rights defenders: all women and girls who work for human rights, all people who defend the rights of women and girls, and all people who defend the rights to be free from discrimination and violence on the basis of gender and sexuality. The work of these brave individuals is integral to a vibrant civil society, a prosperous economy, and a secure world.
Human rights defenders routinely face threats and violence, and women human rights defenders often face unique gender-specific challenges. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the numbers of killings and attacks against women human rights defenders are on the rise, with 10 killed in 2018, 16 in 2019, and over 40 in 2020. Women human rights defenders are targeted for gender-based discrimination; in-person and online harassment; reputational slander; so-called “virginity” tests; threats against family members; violence, including sexual assault, in detention; and more as they advocate for justice, human dignity, and accountability. This group of defenders also faces intersectional discrimination and abuse that may be based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, sex characteristics, religion, level of ability, or membership in other underserved communities. WHRD Day falls during the annual international campaign of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. The United States stands firm in its commitment to ending all forms of gender-based violence, including violence against women human rights defenders.
As stated in the U.S. National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality released on October 22, this Administration is prioritizing respect for human rights and the full participation of women and girls in all their diversity. We will work with partners and allies to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, and increase the representation of women in democratic and justice systems around the world, including by addressing systemic barriers against women in politics and public life.
The United States salutes women human rights defenders and the critical role they play in securing universal and equal access to the full human rights and fundamental freedoms of all persons.