Civil society and civic space are under serious threat from attacks, harassment and censorship. Civic actors, such as journalists, human rights defenders and protest leaders, are most likely to bear the brunt of the assault on fundamental freedoms, and women, in particular, are disproportionately affected.
In addition to the threats experienced by their male colleagues, women human rights defenders (WHRDs) face gendered and sexualised attacks from both state and non-state actors. Such attacks include sexualised smear campaigns; the questioning of their roles as wives and mothers; sexual assault and rape; the targeting of their children; and their roles as community leaders, decision-makers and key actors in the human rights movement being rendered invisible.
Trauma, chronic stress and burnout are very real risks in such circumstances, and the gendered and sexualised attacks that WHRDs face place additional psychological burdens on them. In a 2017 study, 86% of human rights defenders at risk expressed concern about their mental and emotional wellbeing. In fact, HRDs were as concerned about this as they were about their physical security and digital security.
In response, Open Briefing is launching a new initiative to provide wellbeing support to at-risk WHRDs from Latin America, where four of the five deadliest countries for human rights defenders are found. The packages consist of 7.5 hours of support per beneficiary, made up of:
- Six one-hour remote counselling sessions in Spanish with our psychologist.
- A written Personal Wellbeing Action Plan.
- Onwards referral to peer support, online resources and local assistance.
During the pilot project, we will support 14 individuals referred from our network who meet all of the following criteria:
- Women HRDs, including women of transgender experience.
- Experiencing stress or trauma through being targeted because of their work for social or environmental justice.
- Living and working in Latin America and with Spanish as a first language.
- Unable to access appropriate support from other sources.
As funding allows, we will open the project up to referrals and self-referrals, extend the support to all HRDs facing gender-based threats, and add counselling in English and Portuguese so that we can cover the whole of the Latin America and the Caribbean region.