Today, we celebrate International Women Human Rights Defenders Day. On 29th November each year, civil society pays tribute to the inspiring and courageous Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) who are at the forefront of the fight for social and environmental justice around the world.
Civil society is under serious attack in 109 countries and two billion people live in countries with closed, repressed or obstructed civic spaces. 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 colleagues, women human rights defenders face gendered and sexualised attacks from both state and non-state actors, as well as from within their own movements. Such attacks include sexualised smear campaigns, the questioning of their roles as wives and mothers, sexual assault and rape, and the targeting of their children, as well as their roles as community leaders, decision-makers and key actors in the human rights movement being rendered invisible.
The impacts of the threats HRDs face transcend their work, rippling out to create fear and anxiety in their daily lives, for their families and within their communities. Trauma, chronic stress and burnout are very real risks in such circumstances, and the gendered and sexualised attacks that WHRDs face place additional psychological and emotional burdens on them. While mental health issues are concerns in themselves, poor wellbeing harms the sustainability and efficacy of human rights movements, since HRDs who are burned out or experiencing depression and anxiety are likely to be less effective in their individual and collective work.
On the occasion of International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, Open Briefing is announcing new wellbeing support for WHRDs threatened because of their work and gender. Funded by the Evans Cornish Foundation, we will shortly be launching a project to pilot a free remote counselling service for WHRDs. Initially available in English and then Spanish, we will provide targeted WHRDs with a tailored wellbeing action plan and six sessions of specialist counselling.
We will expand the scope and scale of this pilot as further funding allows. If you would like to support this vital initiative, please consider making a donation or contact us to discuss grant funding.