Women Human Rights Defenders


Explicit death threats against women human rights defenders are the principal form of violence in the region. UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, 2011

The insecurity and backlash that women face around the world transcend national boundaries and test the limits of established NGO and civil society responses prompting a demand for fresh alternatives and stronger, more agile alliances and strategic action. States can no longer be relied upon to protect citizens; transnational, non-state actors are exerting increased but often behind-the-scenes influence; and violence is perpetuated by widespread impunity.

Growing levels of influence by organized crime and other non-state actors, along with devastating economic policies have deepened the global crisis, leaving women activists largely unprotected and constantly under threat. State institutions would rather invest in militarization and wartime policies than harness the political will to defend women’s rights. Not only are women activists victims of slander and backlash from outside perpetrators, but also suffer violence from within their own communities and movements. Doubly at risk, their protection is particularly complex.


Despite the risks, women have mobilized around the world, leading struggles against impunity and repression. Suffering threats, intimidation and even death in reprisal for their work, these women activists, many of whom have never identified themselves as human rights defenders, continue to fight on the frontlines of social justice, democracy and rights battles. Women defenders span all levels of activism, joined together by their mutual concerns for justice. They are diverse, from community leaders, teachers, mothers, union members and LGBTI activists who defend social and economic rights to indigenous women, feminists, lawyers, journalists, and academics to advance political and civil rights.

Courageous Responses to a Growing Crisis in Mesoamerica

As levels of violence in Mexico and Central American continue to escalate, women’s rights and freedoms are under threat and, as result, women fighting for justice face serious dangers. Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico top the list of reported cases of violence against women, journalists and activists. For instance, Honduras is now the murder capital of the world, where approximately one woman is killed every day. As a response to this crisis, JASS is a founding member of the Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative (IMD). We currently manage the coordinating team, collaborating with 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),

In the face of these mounting risks, the Initiative seeks to provide alternatives to protect and keep women free from violence, enabling them to continue their human rights work. JASS facilitates dialogue, joint action and capacity building among diverse women activists; we publicize their contributions to human rights, support strategy development for protection and self-care, and mobilize resources for their work.

The increasingly dangerous violent reality that is plaguing our countries demands more than ever, new resources, strategies and alliances to guarantee the security and self-care of women defenders and their activism. ~ Orfe Castillo Osorio, Mexico

Read more about JASS Mesoamerica’s Solidarity and Action program with women defenders.

International Solidarity & Action for Protection

JASS MESOAMERICA HONDURASDrawing on its international network, JASS leverages connections with governments, media and allied organizations to amplify calls for action and redress. We reinforce alliance-building and research efforts to expose violations, advance women’s analysis and share strategies and lessons with other activists from around the world. Providing ongoing solidarity through permanent political accompaniment, JASS supports women and their organizations as they defend their human rights. 

We promote solidarity at both regional and international levels to:

  • Respond to urgent situations that place the safety and livelihood of activists and  women human rights defenders at risk;
  • Accompany and acknowledge women’s movements and struggles that are strengthened by regional and international action;
  • Promote dialogue on self-care as a condition for sustainability of women’s struggles for justice and equality; and
  • Provide a gender analysis of the situation and of violence facing women defenders.

As of 2012, JASS’ program with women human rights defenders is largely being driven by the work of JASS Mesoamerica. However, interest in this work is evident throughout the organization. For example, JASS Southern Africa has begun discussions on how to integrate heart-mind-body strategies into a women human rights defenders approach to support safety, wellbeing and self-care.