Defending the Defenders: Recap of CSW Event on Women Human Rights Defenders

| March 13, 2019

For the next two weeks, the 63rd Commission on the Status of Women will take place in New York City. People who work with the United Nations gather from all over the world to dialogue about women-related issues such as abortion, human trafficking, sexual and reproductive education, domestic violence and sexism in the workplace.

As I attend this conference over the next few days, I will highlight some of the popular or controversial issues and look at why these particular topics are so vital to international dialogue.


“War was built without women, but peace has been built with women.” ~ Panel Member Diana María Salcedo Lopez

The value of those who defend human rights has been a common theme throughout the first few days of the CSW conference. Whether through healthcare, safety or education, marginalized and persecuted people need others to speak up on their behalf.

During the panel discussion “Can There Be Peace and Security Without Women Human Rights Defenders?”, the need for women human rights defenders—and the protection of those defenders—was brought to light. Four women from four vastly different countries and backgrounds formed the panel on this subject.

First the panel addressed the desperate need for women human rights defenders. Journalist and documentary maker Safa Al Ahmad from Saudi Arabia spoke about her personal experience working with women who actively endeavored to deescalate conflicts and high-risk situations. This is especially key in countries who deal with internal turmoil, she said.

This grassroots movement of women confronting conflict and oppression highlights the need for negotiation in the midst of war and violence, and women human rights defenders can help to provide that negotiation.

The four panel members cited statistics about women human rights defenders, told stories about some of these women and looked with hope to the future. They hope to soon see more women rise to positions of power and negotiate peace from within the government as well as individually.

However, because these women human rights defenders work in such high-risk areas, they also deal with threats of violence. According to panelist Gistam Sakaeva, many women human rights defenders are subject to honor killings, forced marriages, domestic violence and other violations of human rights.

These women are admirable and committed to important work, yet they are still dependent on international community to provide solidarity and help keep them safe. Though these women are the defenders of the helpless, sometimes they themselves need a helping hand.

No one should feel that they are fighting alone.