In celebration of Human Rights Day, PBI is pleased to share an innovative new set of tools for Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs). These tools were developed over the course of a three-year EU project which aims to help Mexican WHRDs strengthen their capacities in areas crucial to their work, and later trialled with WHRDs in other countries with a view to adapting them to different political and cultural contexts for use by WHRDs worldwide.

The project addresses needs discussed at the Women Human Rights Defenders strategic conference held by PBI in 2012, which identified an ‘integrated approach to protection’ as best practice when working with WHRDs. This includes, in addition to physical accompaniment, attention to well-being, economic security, family security and support networks, as well as empowerment through capacity building. The approach seeks to address the particular challenges faced by WHRDs who, as well as suffering many of the same risks as their male counterparts, also face additional threats and obstacles that result from the stigma many cultures place on women who speak out to challenge the status quo. These may include the use and threat of sexual violence, harassment and verbal abuse focused on their gender, and threats directed towards their children and families.

The tools are designed to promote the concept of integral protection by focusing not only on the physical security of WHRDS, but also seeking to change the circumstances which put them at risk. They consist of a training platform, a publication Empoderadas (‘Empowered’) and an online toolkit.

Online training platform

“The protection of defenders involves not only material things - security cameras, bodyguards, patrols. These are important, but we also have to address the various issues underlying the attacks on women human rights defenders.” Atziri Ávila – National Network for WHRDs in Mexico

This platform aims to contribute to WHRDs' security, optimise the impact of their work and increase their capacity for action. The concept of integral protection and security is explored through on-line courses, face-to-face workshops, and roundtables in which participants can convey their protection needs to the diplomatic corps. The courses are designed to build defenders’ skills in advocacy and campaigning, awareness of national, regional and international protection mechanisms, and tools for reporting and documenting violations. They are highly interactive, providing a space to analyse, compare and combine theoretical knowledge and practical experience, based on the experiences and ideas of all participants.

The first roundtable took place on 22 September in Mexico City, following a workshop on Integral Protection for WHRDs held the previous day. 21 Mexican WHRDs met with 14 representatives of the diplomatic corps in Mexico to reflect on the implementation of the EU Guidelines on human rights defenders and on the prevention of violence against women.

Empoderadas ('Empowered')

“Many women need to be listened to as they come from a world that doesn’t hear them and doesn’t see them… They are victims, because there’s an abuse of power, but we shouldn’t victimise them. They are colleagues who can be empowered, and they are bearers of rights.” – Yésica Sánchez

This publication is currently in Spanish only but will also be translated into English. Empoderadas reflects the experiences and ideas of WHRDs on the subject of integral protection. It has 3 main components:

·         A compilation of the life stories of 29 Mexican WHRDs, including the impact their human rights work has had on their professional and personal lives;

·         A report of the training platform's course for 2015, gathering together the participants' reflexions, and

·         The recommendations they, along with members of Mexican WHRD networks, shared with the diplomatic corps in Mexico on the issue of integral protection.

Empoderadas seeks to demonstrate the importance of life experiences when identifying the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges faced by WHRDs. It also aims to highlight areas where the various actors, including the diplomatic corps, could actively promote a holistic approach when providing support for WHRDs. The ultimate objective of the publication is to promote the concept of integral protection among decision-makers, so that they afford it greater strategic importance when analysing WHRDs' needs and allocating resources for their protection.

Online toolkit

“It is also important to build capacity so that as WHRDs we can, individually and collectively, generate our own protection, safety, self-care and networking strategies in order to strengthen our struggles” – Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders

This toolkit is intended as an easy, accessible guide to on-line resources for Latin American WHRDs. It is particularly aimed at those working on land and environmental rights, in recognition of the particular threats they can face - confronting powerful economic interests while often working in isolated rural areas.

It seeks to promote the idea of integral protection among the WHRDs themselves, by including not only resources on physical security, but also on a range of other areas that WHRDs have identified as no less important for their work, such as fundraising, advocacy and health and self-care. It includes links to publications providing advice and to websites of relevant organisations. While it is freely available online, it has also been integrated into the training platform.

It has been funded through a generous grant by the Evan Cornish Foundation. A leaflet providing details of the toolkit is available [here].