The Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative was launched in 2010 in order to develop a comprehensive and regionally-relevant response to increased violence against women human rights defenders. The Initiative is dedicated to strengthening and mobilizing women defenders from distinct social movements and organizations for recognition, enhanced impact and protection in a volatile context. Through an innovative approach that places gender at the heart of protection, the Initiative has been built from the bottom up by convening and organizing a wide range of women defenders from across Mexico and Central America, including those most vulnerable to violence such as rural and indigenous women defending land rights and environmental justice, lesbian and transgender activists, and feminists advocating for an end to violence.
Founded and led by a political alliance between JASS Mesoamerica, La Colectiva Feminista para el Desarrollo Local (El Salvador), AWID, Consorcio para el Diálogo Parlamentario y la Equidad, Oaxaca (México), Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala, (UDEFEGUA) and the Central American Women’s Fund (FCAM), the Initiative benefits from an unusual blend of experience, expertise, geographic scope and relationships. The Initiative’s programs are mainly carried out through National Networks in El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Guatemala. They combine training, self-care, research, social media activism, urgent action and human rights advocacy to raise awareness about the important but often invisible leadership role played by women defenders in the advancement of human rights.
IMD has involved hundreds of women human rights defenders, movements and organizations in shaping and advancing a women-led, cross-movement human rights agenda with several concrete results and accomplishments in three years. Prior to engaging with the Initiative, most women activists would not have called themselves ‘human rights defenders’ and many were skeptical about human rights as a set of ‘failed promises’. While often working in isolation or facing social stigma for speaking out, the act of claiming the title of 'women human rights defender' has helped them to acknowledge the risks they face because of their work in promoting human rights and to take measures to protect themselves. Through the training and information that the Initiative provides, women defenders have learned how to access national, regional, and international human rights tools and mechanisms that explicitly support human rights defenders, and that can provide emergency protection and funds to women activists. So far, the Initiative has: