women human rights defenders


  • ‘Against hopelessness, we need to work not to lose the very small windows of freedom that we can find under this dictatorship’

    CIVICUS speaks to an Iranian woman human rights defender about the causes and significance of the recent protests in Iran, as well as the prospects for change in a country with a closed civic space and a theocratic government that maintains a firm grip on power. She asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.


  • 16 Days of Activism - Women in Solidarity during COVID-19

    16 Days of Activism, running annually from 25 November to 10 December, comes at the end of a year that saw a global pandemic affect families, economies, and every aspect of society worldwide. All around the globe, women stepped up when governments and businesses failed to act. After a tough year, this 16 Days global civil society alliance CIVICUS is celebrating the inspiring stories of women: activists involved in protest, women human rights defenders behind bars, and women’s organisations across the globe working to mitigate rising levels of gender based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.


  • 36 States stand with Saudi women human rights defenders

    Human Rights Council Stands with Saudi Women Human Rights Defenders

    Since early 2018, tens of women human rights defenders have been detained in Saudi Arabia for their human rights work. Last week, a cross-regional group of 36 States, including all EU Member States, called for the release of detained women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia. This statement sent a strong message to the Saudi authorities that the Council will hold it accountable for human rights violations. The joint statement at the Council comes at a critical time as the Saudi Public Prosecution announced last week that some of the defenders will be referred to trial. 

    During the interactive dialogue held last week with the UN High Commissioner at the Human Rights Council, 36 States*, led by Iceland, called on Saudi Arabia to release women human rights defenders who are detained for exercising their fundamental freedoms. States also condemned the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and demanded that those responsible be held accountable.

    International Service for Human Rights, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Women’s March Global, CIVICUS and Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain - have been advocating for the immediate and unconditional release of Saudi women human rights defenders. Ahead of the 40th session of the Council, over 50 NGOs called on UN Member States to adopt a resolution at the Council calling explicitly for the immediate and unconditional release of the detained Saudi women human rights defenders and establishing a monitoring mechanism over the human rights violations in the country.

    Salma El Hosseiny, ISHR’s Human Rights Council Advocate welcomed the leadership of Iceland for this landmark statement and criticised other states who didn’t join; and said that “this was the first time ever States at the Council collectively condemned human rights violations committed inside Saudi Arabia, a country that has until now escaped Council scrutiny despite being a Council member with an appalling human rights record. The Saudi authorities, as Council members, now have an opportunity to engage constructively with the Council and immediately release the defenders. States should follow up on the joint statement by presenting a resolution at the June session if inadequate progress has been made.” said El Hosseiny. 

    "We appreciate last week’s joint statement, a one of a kind initiative that followed tireless advocacy efforts by members of the Free Saudi Women Coalition. It's heartening to see this resolution calling for the release of ten prominent women human rights defenders, some of whom were subjected to severe torture and ill-treatment. Yet, we shouldn't forget that there are many more in prison who can't be named out of fear for potential reprisals to them and their families. Some family members have been targeted already. We will continue to work and advocate to ensure that all defenders are free from prison and retaliation and that their perpetrators are held accountable," said Weaam Youssef, WHRDs Programme Coordinator of the GCHR.

     “We welcome this joint statement from members states at the UNHRC,” said Masana Ndinga-Kanga MENA Advocacy Lead at CIVICUS. “We see this as the first step of a much more rigorous process of accountability for complete impunity towards human rights defenders. More needs to be done to protect civil society in Saudi Arabia.” Saudi Arabia is rated closed on the CIVICUS Monitor.

    "This is a very big step for the 36 member states who have come forward to take - yet we are disappointed that more have not followed" said Uma Mishra-Newbery, Executive Director at Women's March Global. "This step shows that while progress is being made and the work of our coalition is making a difference, more work still needs to be done in holding Saudi Arabia accountable. We are concerned with every passing day at the safety of these activists and hope that member states will continue to keep pressure on Saudi Arabia."

    "We welcome the joint statement on Saudi Arabia and calling attention to the country's systematic rights abuses. We remain concerned over the ongoing detentions of women rights defenders, journalists, and other peaceful critics of the government. We call on Saudi Arabia to release all prisoners of conscience to undertake serious and good faith steps to bring its domestic laws into line with international standards, in particular the country's overly broad counter-terror law." Tyler Pry, Advocacy Officer, ADHRB.

    The joint statement called for the release of Loujain Al-Hathloul, Aziza Al-Yousef, Eman Al-Nafjan, Nouf Abdelaziz, Hatoon Al-Fassi, Samar Badawi, Nassima Al-Sadah, Mohammed Al-Bajadi, Amal Al-Harbi and Shadan Al-Anezi. Some of the women have been subject to electrocution, flogging, sexual harassment and other forms of torture.

    Saudi Arabia has silenced women human rights defenders for decades and those named above are not the only ones in prison, they are just emblematic cases. The decision by the Saudi government to allow women to drive is only a cosmetic change that fails to address the root causes of discrimination against women: the male guardianship system. 

    * The States who signed the joint statement are: Iceland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, Belgium, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Finland, Germany, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Estonia, Czech Republic, Croatia, Denmark, Norway, Latvia, Montenegro, Malta, Slovakia, Liechtenstein, Italy, Bulgaria, France, Romania, Greece, Cyprus, Hungary, Poland, and Monaco.

    Read the joint statement here.


  • Activists Fuel Global Movement to Fight Violence Against Women

    By Aarti Narsee, civic space researcher at CIVICUS

    This year marks 30 years of fighting to live free of gender-based violence through the 16 Days of Activism campaign, which commences every November 25 on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Since 1991, organizations and countries around the globe have come together to call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls. However, the numbers paint a disturbing picture on the situation for women and girls around the world, with UN Women estimating that one in three women aged 15 years and older have faced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner, nonpartner, or both at least once in their lifetime. This does not account for the other forms of violence that women and girls face, such as being denied reproductive choice, being subjected to violence on online platforms, or being denied the right to education or work.

    Read on:  Women's Media Center 


  • Afghanistan: Grave violations to civic freedoms and ongoing impunity show need for robust international mechanism

    Statement at the 51st Session of the UN Human Rights Council 

    Interactive Dialogue on the Special Rapporteur’s report on Afghanistan

    Delivered by Horia Mosadiq

    CIVICUS and the Safety and Risk Mitigation Organization thank the Special Rapporteur for his first report. The gravity of the situation cannot be overstated.

    Since the Taliban takeover, escalating restrictions on fundamental freedoms in the country have exacerbated the danger facing human rights defenders. They live in a climate of fear, facing harassment, threats and violence. Those who have criticised the regime have been arbitrarily arrested and detained. Women human rights defenders have been abducted by the Taliban with impunity.

    Crackdowns against protesters continue without accountability. Thousands of people, especially women, who took to the streets across the country to protest against the Taliban were subjected to excessive force, gunfire and beatings by the Taliban authorities, leading to deaths and injuries of peaceful protesters.

    There have been countless raids of civil society offices, often to intimidate, and some groups have had their bank accounts frozen. The dissolution of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission this year symbolises the complete disintegration of accountability mechanisms in the country.

    While grave violations continue and impunity remains rampant, we call on States to urgently take steps to create a more robust international accountability mechanism to complement the work of the Special Rapporteur.

    We further call on States to provide Afghan human rights defenders with financial, diplomatic and political support, including by issuing humanitarian visas and funding resettlement programmes, and to apply pressure on the Taliban to create a safer space for human rights defenders in Afghanistan.

    We thank you.

    Civic space in Afghanistan is rated "Repressed" by the CIVICUS Monitor.


  • Bin the Travel Ban: Lift undue restrictions on Mozn Hassan and Egyptian civil society’s right to freedom of association

    Mozn Hassan is a courageous feminist and a human rights defender who protested with her fellow citizens to overthrow President Hosni Mubarak, calling for a new era of freedom and democracy in Egypt. Her struggle for equal rights for women during and after the Egyptian revolution, through her organisation Nazra for Feminist Studies, earned her the 2016 Right Livelihood Award. But she’s unlikely to receive this prestigious award because of a travel ban imposed on her by the Egyptian authorities.

    Mozn’s travel ban is the latest in a series of measures taken against her and other prominent leaders of Egyptian civil society under the ambit of the infamous Case 173 of 2011, commonly known as the “NGO Foreign Funding case”.

    In March 2016, Mozn Hassan was summoned to appear before a judge investigating the “NGO Foreign Funding” case soon after her participation at the UN Commission on the Status of Women. On June 27, 2016, she was prevented by the airport authorities in Cairo - acting on the instructions of the investigating judge and the Prosecutor General - from participating in the Women Human Rights Defenders Regional Coalition for the Middle East and North Africa meeting held in Lebanon.


  • Call to action to protect the democratic transition and human rights in Sudan

    A military coup targeting the civilian government in Sudan took place on Monday 25 October 2021. The African Union suspendedSudan’s membership. The Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Mr. Moussa Faki Mahamat made a statement noting that the deeply concerning events occurring in Sudan have resulted in the arrest of the Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdock, who was releasedon October 26, and other civilian officials. The total number of arrests made during the coup in unknown, but it is believed all cabinet ministers have been arrested and are being subjected to torture or at severe risk of torture. Mr. Moussa Faki Mahamat calls for “the immediate resumption of consultations between civilians and [the] military” and “the release of all arrested political leaders”.

    At the international level, the United Nations Special Envoy for the Sudan and South Sudan and United Nations Security Council must take urgent action to protect Sudan’s transition to democracy and the human rights situation in the country following the second military coup in so many months which targeted the civilian government today.

    The UN High Commissioner strongly condemnedthe military coup in Sudan and the declaration of a nationwide state of emergency, the suspension of key articles of the Constitutional Document and the governing bodies, deplored the reported arrest of the Prime Minister, several Ministers, leaders of the Forces of the Freedom and Change and other civil society representatives, and call for their immediate release, and reminded the military and security forces to refrain from unnecessary and disproportionate use of force, to respect people’s freedom of expression, as well as the right of peaceful assembly.

    It is crucial that women’s rights and the situation of women human rights defenders (WHRDs) is addressed in the international community’s response to the coup as their position is particularly worrisome and today’s events have only exacerbated their already vulnerable position. This comes as militarisation of the State and violence against protestors remain some of the biggest threats to women’s rights in Sudan.

    Civil and political rights were once again violated as peaceful protesters were met with violence including live ammunition, resulting in at least five confirmed deaths and hundreds being injured. Rapid Security Forces (RSF) stormed medical centers that were providing medical care to the injured. A number of activists and protesters were arrested in several cities. Residential areas were also attacked by weapons. Further the majority of means of communication in the country have been cut off including phone lines and internet connection. Blanket internet shutdowns contravene international law. On October 26, Internet and mobile services were briefly restored for a few hours, they must be immediately restored

    We call on all States at the Human Rights Council to consider urgent action, such as convening a Special Session, to ensure respect for human rights and the rule of law. In addition, the upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Sudan on 3 November presents one opportunity for States to bring to the fore these issues and call on the required urgent action. We urge all States to make statements during Sudan’s UPR condemning the coup and supporting the civilian-led democratic transition, and make recommendations relating to[1]:

    • reform of the military and security forces
    • accountability for violence against protesters
    • access to justice for women
    • legal reforms combatting violence and discrimination against women
    • ensuring gender equality
    • ratification of international and regional instruments
    • women, peace and security
    • guaranteeing freedom of expression and assembly
    • the protection of women human rights defenders.

    Read also here a statement by the MENA Women Human Rights Defenders Coalition.




    • Sudan Women’s Rights Action
    • Regional Coalition for Women Human Rights Defenders in the Middle East and North Africa
    • International Service for Human Rights
    • Global Fund for Women
    • Inter Pares, Canada
    • Canada for Africa Group
    • Rights for Peace Foundation
    • Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan
    • Vital Voices, USA
    • Equality Fund, Canada
    • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
    • CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation


    • Susan Bazilli, Director of International Women’s Rights Project
    • Karen Breeck MD
    • Carole Doucet, Gender/ Women, Peace and Security Expert Adviser
    • Georgina Bencsik, Advisor, Consultant and Strategist
    • Monique Cuillerier (WPSN-C)


    Civic space in Sudan in rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor 

    [1] In March 2021 Sudan Women Rights Action, Nora Centre for Combating Sexual Violence, ISHR and the Regional Coalition for Women Human Rights Defenders in the Middle East and North Africa made a joint submission to the UPR of Sudan. Read here a summary of the recommendations to Sudan on women’s rights and women human rights defenders and the full joint submission to the UPR of Sudan.


  • Campaign to Whitewash Saudi Arabia’s Image Does Little for Women in the Kingdom

    By Uma Mishra-Newbery, Interim Executive Director of Women’s March Global, which is a founding member of the Free Saudi Women Coalition & Kristina Stockwood works with the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)

    This article was facilitated by CIVICUS as part of a series on the current state of civil society organisations (CSOs)

    Amid a high-profile public relations campaign to convince the world just how much the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is modernising – highlighted in last year’s lifting of the ban on women driving – Saudi authorities continue their relentless persecution of women human rights defenders. A trial that has drawn international condemnation and intensified criticism of the country’s human rights record, features nine women who were arrested in 2018 for campaigning for the right to drive and an end to the Kingdom’s male guardianship system.

    Read on: Inter Press Service


  • CIVICUS at the 65th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women

    CIVICUS at UN65 Banner2

    Women civil society leaders, activists, protesters and human right lawyers are central to shaping public life - through campaigns, protests and policy interventions. Across the world, women and girls are at the forefront of mobilising - for equality, meaningful democratic processes, their freedom to express themselves, safer spaces, and a protected environment, to name just a few. The theme of this year’s UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW65), running from 15 to 26 March 2021, is Women in Public Life: Equal Participation in Decision-Making.

    Recognising the important work of women activists worldwide, CIVICUS, working together with members and partners, will:

    • Profile women in mobilisation, protest and civil society, and their role in public life;
    • Make recommendations to multilateral bodies and governments to help realise SDG5 and SDG16 - reflecting and based on women’s lived realities;
    • Renew calls for meaningful participation, resourcing, care work and visibility for women working in civil society.


    Building on our 16 Days of Activism campaign, CIVICUS will showcase inspirational stories, amplify member voices, draw attention to women human rights defenders at risk, and find out more about how Covid-19 is impacting women’s rights to protest.

    We invite you to:

    1. During CSW65, from 15 - 26 March 2021, talk about your work on social media - as a women human rights defender, activist, protester - using any of these hashtags: #Wedefend #SheDefends #CSW65
    2. Follow and tag CIVICUS Alliance (Facebook|Twitter) when posting during CSW65. We will promote and share as many of your activities as we can.
    3. Share stories of arbitrarily detained women human rights defenders as part of our #StandAsMyWitness campaign by filling out this form to share documented cases of currently detained women human rights defenders.
    4. Add your signature to our Global Statement calling for support and protection of women in civil society


    Powerful personal stories from women activists and journalists who are facing online harassment.  CIVICUS has partnered with Global Voices to produce this article series: https://civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/op-eds/4951-harassment-goes-virtual-women-activists-and-journalists-speak

    How Women Human Rights Defenders face greater risks because of their Gender by Masana Ndinga-Kanga http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/05/women-human-rights-defenders-face-greater-risks-gender/\

    REPORT: In Defence of Humanity: Women Human Rights Defenders and the struggle against silencing https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/reports-publications/3791-in-defence-of-humanity-women-human-rights-defenders-and-the-struggle-against-silencing





  • CIVICUS at the UN Commission on the Status of Women


    Together with our members, CIVICUS is participating in the Commission on the Status of Women (11-22 March, UN Headquarters, New York). This is the 63rd session of the global intergovernmental body, which is dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. There are a number of events and advocacy activities taking place during the two week UN meeting. See our programme and learn more about how governments, UN agencies and civil society work together at this annual meeting to advance gender equality,  via our CSW portal


  • CIVICUS calls for urgent investigation into death of woman human rights defender in Kenya

    Global civil society alliance CIVICUS, has called on authorities in Kenya to urgently investigate the death of a woman rights defender.

    The body of activist Caroline Mwatha Ochieng was discovered almost a week after she had been reported missing on 6 February 2019.


  • Civil society presents key takeaways from the 49th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Civil society organisations presented key takeaways of the 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council in a joint statement[1]delivered on 01 April 2022. The statement also draws attention on the missed opportunities to address key issues and situations.


  • Demands to release Mexican land rights campaigner on Indigenous Peoples’ Day

    On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, 9 August, global civil society alliance CIVICUS urges the Mexican authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Indigenous land rights campaigner Kenia Hernandez, and to free all Indigenous activists behind bars for their work protecting and promoting human rights.


  • Emirati Women continue to face Systemic Oppression by Authorities

    Women in the United Arab Emirates continue to face incredible barriers to their rights to civic freedoms by state and non-state actors. Living under the male guardianship system, that grants control over their movement, finances and interactions, these women can face detainment for merely reporting sexual violence in authorities. Because of this already patriarchal system, women human rights defenders face additional barriers in campaigning for their rights – they are frequently targeted and shamed by state and non-state actors (including family, communities and society at large). While imprisoned, women are also subject to torture and violence – but largely erased from the public sphere because of entrenched patriarchy. During CSW63, we highlight the great challenges facing WHRDs in the UAE and ask you to stand with them – calling for greater protections for Emirati women by state actors. The United Arab Emirates is rated ‘closed’ on the CIVICUS Monitor.

    UAE Infographic


  • Free Saudi Activists commemorate 2-Year anniversary of the Saudi government's arrest of women's rights defenders



  • Free Saudi Activists commemorating 2-year anniversary of the Saudi government’s arrest & torture of WHRDs

    On 15 May, Free Saudi Activists, a coalition of women human rights defenders and organisations advocating for the release of women’s rights activists from prison, is hosting a webinar to update the public on the status of those who were arrested two years ago for calling for the dismantling of the male guardianship system and defying the government’s ban on women driving. The arrests involved approximately a dozen women human rights defenders (WHRDs), including Loujain Al-Hathloul, who remains in prison along with other activists. Reports suggest that these WHRDs have been subject to multiple human rights violations under Saudi authority, including electric shocks, flogging, and sexual assault, and have been denied due process.

    In addition to updating the public on the prisoners’ status, webinar panelists will address the state of women’s human rights across Saudi Arabia, as well as the coalition’s campaign progress and future advocacy efforts.  

    What:   Representatives from the Free Saudi Activists Coalition will participate in a 1 hour webinar to commemorate the two-year anniversary of the arrest of women human rights defenders. Panelists will provide an update on the human rights violations suffered by those who remain behind bars in Saudi Arabia, as well as a more comprehensive assessment of the state of women’s human rights in the kingdom. Free Saudi Activists Coalition members will also discuss their campaign efforts to date and their future plans to secure the unconditional release of the Saudi prisoners. The webinar will be followed by a Twitter storm to help raise awareness.

    When:     Friday, May 15th from 3:00pm-4:00pm GMT +2

    Who:   The event is organized by the Free Saudi Activists coalition, which includes Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), CIVICUS, Equality Now, Gulf Centre for Human Rights, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRD) and Women’s March Global. 

    The event will be moderated by:

    UmaMishra-Newbery - Women’s March Global Executive Director 

    Webinar panelists include: 

    Salma El Hosseiny – Programme manager, Human Rights Council, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

    Suad Abu-Dayyeh - Middle East and North Africa Consultant, Equality Now

    Husain Abdulla - Founder and Executive Director, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain 

    Weaam Youssef- Programme Manager, Women Human Rights Defenders Programme, Gulf Centre for Human Rights 

    Masana Ndinga Kanga - Crisis Response Fund and MENA Advocacy Lead, CIVICUS

    Why:   Saudi Arabia has one of the worst international records when it comes to the protection and advancement of women’s human rights. Now more than ever, during the COVID-19 pandemic, those who are arbitrarily detained and at increased risk, must be released - including Saudi activists While Saudi authorities propagate a message of progress on its human rights record, the unlawful arrest and imprisonment of women’s human rights defenders - for peacefully protesting the ban on women driving and calling for the dismantling of the male guardianship system - shows the inherent disconnect between the government’s actions and their alleged push towards respecting its human rights obligations. Continued advocacy by groups like the Free Saudi Activists and coalition members is vital to putting public pressure on Saudi authorities and the international community to hold the government accountable for its actions. 

    How:   Media is invited to attend at any time during the event. 

    Register HERE

    Free Saudi Activists is a coalition of women human rights defenders advocating for the unconditional release of Saudi women’s human rights activists from prison. The coalition includes representatives from the ADHRB, CIVICUS, Equality Now, Gulf Centre for Human Rights, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), WHRD-MENA and Women’s March Global. 

    Website: freesaudiactivists.org


  • Free Saudi Women Coalition Calls for Immediate Release of Saudi Women Activists

    SaudiArabia JointStatement


    • Coalition of global human rights groups launch a campaign for release of all Saudi women activists behind bars
    • At least 12 women human rights defenders arrested in past six months and have had their rights violated for their activism
    • Almost a quarter of a million signatures on a petition calling on the UN to hold Saudi Arabia accountable 
    • More than 170 NGOs have called on the UN to suspend Saudi Arabia's membership of the UN Human Rights Council and hold inquiry into human rights abuses
    • The coalition calls for action including ending arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which has been enabling war in Yemen since 2015  

    On November 29, the world commemorates International Women Human Rights Defenders Day - just 10 days before the 20th Anniversary of the international signing of the Declaration on human rights defenders. On these important milestones, we turn the spotlight on the rights of women human rights defenders and call attention to serious violations of these rights globally but particularly in Saudi Arabia.

    Since May 2018, at least a dozen women’s rights defenders have been arrested and subject to human rights violations for their activism in Saudi Arabia. Recent reports have emerged that some of the detained women activists have been subject to electrocution, flogging, sexual harassment and other forms of torture. Testimonies recount that this abuse has left some of the women unable to walk or stand properly with uncontrolled shaking and marks on their bodies. One of them has attempted suicide multiple times.

    “Since May we have been advocating for the unconditional release of Saudi Women’s Rights Defenders - and to learn of the torture WHRDs are subject to fuels our work even further,” said Uma Mishra-Newbery,Director of Global Community from Women’s March Global.

    A campaign launched by members of the Free Saudi Women Coalition including Women’s March Global and Coalition partners, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), CIVICUS and Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), has been advocating for the immediate and unconditional release of Saudi women human rights defenders.

    More than 240,000 signatures have been collected on Women’s March Global’s Change.org petition calling on the United Nations to hold Saudi Arabia accountable. More than 170 NGOs have called on the United Nations to suspend Saudi Arabia from the UN Human Rights Council and to hold an inquiry into human rights abuses in the country.

    “Among the women’s rights defenders jailed this year in Saudi Arabia are partners and friends. One young woman was kidnapped and brought to Saudi Arabia against her will – just as the authorities had planned with prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi who was murdered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October,” said Khalid Ibrahim, GCHR Executive Director.

    “We can’t forget the brave women’s rights defenders who are at risk of torture and abuse in prison, and we fear greatly for their well-being.”

    Notably, Saudi Arabia has silenced women human rights defenders for decades, and those recently arrested are not the only ones in prison, where other women are serving prison sentences or even facing execution for protesting.

    “Authorities continuously violate rights to peaceful assembly, curb the formation of independent civil society organisations, and restrict freedom of expression for Saudi activists” said Masana Ndinga-Kanga, MENA Advocacy Lead from CIVICUS.

    “The very women at the forefront of campaigning for the right to drive, which was recently granted, have been detained for their calls for an end to the male guardianship system over women,” said Ndinga-Kanga.

    The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in all countries around the globe, has rated civic space – the space for civil society – in Saudi Arabia as “closed”.

    “Women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, in the absence of any independent NGOs, provide a vital lifeline of support for equality and protection from violence for women of their country who are left with blocked access, inadequate resources or ineffective protection from violence of all forms," said a Saudi human rights defender who can’t be named for their own protection.

    The coalition partners have called for international action, including ending arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which is enabling the war in Yemen since 2015. Salma El Hosseiny, ISHR's Human Rights Council Advocate said that UN Human Rights Council members should call for a Special Session on the increasing internal repression by the Saudi authorities against human rights defenders, journalists and other peaceful critics.

    "Silence by the world's top UN human rights body on these egregious violations would only embolden the Saudi authorities to escalate their internal repression and continue to torture defenders, with complete impunity,” said El Hosseiny.

    “Action by the international community will put Saudi Arabia on notice not only that domestic repression is unacceptable, but that its actions in Yemen are unacceptable,” said Husain Abdulla, ADHRBExecutive Director.

    “We call for accountability for those responsible, not only for the arrests of women’s rights defenders, but the millions facing famine in Yemen, and for the kingdom to meet its international treaty obligations.”

    Women’s March Global, GCHR, ISHR, CIVICUS and ADHRB reiterate calls for Saudi Arabia to immediately release all human rights defenders, including women’s rights activists, and end the abuse and torture of women human rights defenders in prison. The Saudi claims that torture is not taking place in prison are not credible and the international community must act immediately to protect these detainees, especially the women who are reportedly being subjected to torture.

    To arrange interviews or for further information or media assistance, please contact:

    For the CIVICUS Press Centre, click here.
    CIVICUS facebook page
    CIVICUS twitter account

    About CIVICUS:

    CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world. Established in 1993 and headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa, CIVICUS has hubs across the globe and more than 4,000 members in more than 175 countries.

    Photo credit: ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2013/Ayene


  • Harassment goes virtual: Women activists and journalists speak out

    Harassment goes virtual series


    Women journalists, feminists, activists, and human rights defenders around the world are facing virtual harassment. In this series, global civil society alliance CIVICUS highlights the gendered nature of virtual harassment through the stories of women working to defend our democratic freedoms. These testimonies are originally published onGlobal Voices through a partnership between CIVICUS and Global Voices.


    Inday Espina VaronaFor this Filipina journalist, every day is a battle with fear

    There has been a relentless crackdown against independent media and journalists. Threats and attacks against journalists, as well as the deployment of armies of trolls and online bots, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, have contributed to self-censorship—this has had a chilling effect within the media industry and among the wider public. In this first part of the series, Filipina journalist Inday Espina-Varona tells her story.

    Evgenija CarlCalled a prostitute by the prime minister, a Slovenian journalist tells her story (Ler em portugues)

    Evgenija Carl is an investigative journalist from Slovenia. After she produced a television report about the opposition SDS party in 2016, a leading politician at the time, Janez Janša, called her a “prostitute” on Twitter. When Janša later became Slovenian prime minister, the online abuse intensified. Read Evgenija Carl's story here.



    Maya El AmmarOnline rape threats connect Lebanese activist to ‘thousands of other women’ facing abuse (باللغة العربية)

    Since October 2019, anti-government protests known as the “October Revolution” have erupted across Lebanon. Protesters have called for the removal of the government and raised concerns about corruption, poor public services, and a lack of trust in the ruling class. Protests have been met with unprecedented violence from security forces. Feminists have been at the forefront of the revolution and have stepped up to provide assistance in the aftermath of the explosion. In the third part of this series,Maya El Ammar, a Lebanese feminist writer, activist and communications professional, tells herstory and the online abuse she continues to face. 


    Chantal MutamurizaPersonal attacks follow Burundi human rights defender into exile in Uganda (Lire en français)

    Under the regime of President Évariste Ndayishimiye, journalists and rights defenders continue to face challenges. The arrest of political activists and the recent public announcement of the sentencing of 34 exiled people—including journalists and human rights defenders—to life imprisonment illustrate the obstacles to free expression in the country. Chantal Mutamuriza, a feminist, human rights defender, and founder of the Light For All NGO, tells us her story of the continuous online harassment she faces day in and day out.


    Weaam YoussefIntimidation, censorship, and defamation in the virtual sphere

    In Syria, hundreds of thousands of people have died since 2011. Numerous human rights violations have taken place during the Syrian crisis - arbitrary detentions, torture, assassination of journalists, and the violent repression of protests, make Syria one of the most volatile countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Originally from Syria, Weaam Youssef is Programme Manager for Women Human Rights Defenders for the Gulf Region and Neighboring Countries. This is the story of Weaam.


    Lindsey Kukunda GV 768x786Herself a victim of cyberbullying, Lindsey Kukunda fights online violence against women in Uganda

    More than half of Ugandan women experience physical violence, while one in five is subjected to sexual violence; many also face psychological abuse, forced and early marriage, and female genital mutilation. In 2014, Uganda introduced a law against pornography that has been used to target and prosecute women, especially women whose nude photos have been shared online without their consent. Lindsey Kukunda is a feminist, writer, and human rights defender. She is also the managing director of Her Empire, a feminist organization that runs two programmes: Not Your Body and The Mentor’s Network. Lindsey tells us her story



  • In Defence of Humanity: Women Human Rights Defenders and the struggle against silencing

    WHRDs PolicyBriefIn recent years, combined with existing threats, the rise of right-wing and nationalist populism across the world has led to an increasing number of governments implementing repressive measures against the space for civil society (civic space), particularly affecting women human rights defenders (WHRDs). The increasingly restricted space for WHRDs presents an urgent threat, not only to women-led organisations, but to all efforts campaigning for women’s rights, gender equality and the rights of all people. In spite of these restrictions, WHRDs have campaigned boldly in the face of mounting opposition: movements such as #MeToo #MenAreTrash, #FreeSaudiWomen, #NiUnaMenos, #NotYourAsianSideKick and #AbortoLegalYa show how countless women are working to advance systemic change for equality and justice. More WHRDs across the world are working collectively to challenge structural injustices and promote the realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Their power has been in the collective, despite constant attempts at silencing them. Furthermore, there have been WHRDs recognized for their invaluable contributions to opening civic space and protecting human rights in India, Poland, and Ireland. In the United States, WHRDs have won awards for the environmental activism, and in Iraq for their work in calling for greater accountability for sexual violence during war time.

    This policy brief responds to this context and highlights how the participation of WHRDs in defending and strengthening the protection of human rights is critical for transforming traditional gender roles, embedded social norms and patriarchal power structures. WHRDs are leading actions to advance sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR), socioeconomic justice, labour rights and environmental rights. Moreover, WHRDs work to ensure that women are included in political and economic decision-making processes, making clear the disproportionate effects that socioeconomic inequalities have on women and gender non-conforming people.

    Download the Report


  • India: Two more women activists arrested as crackdown on protesters continue

    Human Rights Defenders Alert – India and global civil society alliance CIVICUS call for the immediate release of two women activists who were arrested last week for their involvement in mass protests against the discriminatory citizenship law. These arrests highlight the escalating crackdown on dissent by the Indian authorities.


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