To mark International
Women Human Rights Defender Day (29 November) and International Human Rights
Day (10 December), the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition is
introducing its new publication, “Gendering
Documentation: A Manual For and About Women Human Rights Defenders”.
The manual is available here and on the website of
the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition: www.defendingwomen-defendingrights.org
Women human rights defenders (WHRDs) around the world are fighting for
freedom, justice and fairness. We are connected to many political movements,
including, but certainly not limited to, working for the rights of women. We
are engaged in strategic and creative political and social struggle. As
defenders, we face bodily harm and threats, social condemnation and legal
restrictions on our organizing. We are targeted for who we are and for what we
Yet, the experiences of
women human rights defenders often go unnoticed, partly because of the very
systems of inequity we are challenging.
In both the global North and South, many with political, religious, military,
familial and community authority try to stop our activism – and to keep us from
making claims through sharing narratives about our experiences and ideas.
Gendering Documentation: A Manual For and About Women Human Rights Defenders challenges this
About the manual
A Manual For and About Women Human Rights Defenders
is designed for use by those who document and research already and those who
want to in the future. It highlights,
celebrates and encourages documentation as a politically motivated telling of
women human rights defenders’ narratives. It helps readers to understand
the circumstances and realities of WHRDs all over the world, from not being taken
seriously as human rights activists, to the use of the ubiquitous tactic of
physical and sexual assault to punish WHRDs’ activism.
This pioneering project
rests in the ideas that WHRDs work with bravery and resilience, and that
documentation of our experiences of both abuses and activism is critically
important. For many, documentation is a courageous
act of resistance.
The manual proposes a series of guiding questions that can be used by
individuals or organizations to record violations against WHRDs, to promote
discussion and to guide decision-making about using documentation for strategic
advocacy. It rests on the idea that these kinds of questions, among others, add
nuance that is commonly lost in discussions about women human rights defenders
What the manual does
Gendering Documentation: A Manual For and About Women Human Rights Defenders goes beyond traditional
human rights documentation guides to provide a unique tool for capturing the
specific nature of contexts facing, advocacy of and violations against WHRDs. It explores abuses related to gender, their gendered consequences, the
many purposes of documenting WHRDs’ lives, various forms of WHRD advocacy with
documentation, and steps to take to create documentation processes and products
that are both gender-sensitive and gender-responsive.
With specific attention to the predominant contexts that shape WHRDs’
lives, the manual argues that violations against WHRDs are not “gender-less”,
nor are our decisions about our activism.
This publication is
dedicated to Sunila Abeysekera, a Sri Lankan feminist and human rights activist
who helped launch this project within the International Women Human Rights Defenders
International Coalition. In addition, it is inspired by the thousands of women human
rights defenders across the globe who take risks every day to fight for
Edited by Cynthia
Rothschild, with contributions from the Documentation Working Group and present
and past members of the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition.
Chapter 1 serves as an overview and offers an introduction to critical issues
about Women Human Rights Defenders and the Manual; it gives an analytical
synopsis and discusses purposes, objectives, approaches, and terminology, among
Chapter 2 focuses on what documentation is, what its many purposes could be and
the reasons it is important to document experiences of WHRDs. From preserving
memory to seeking to address systemic discrimination that enables violations
against women human rights defenders, documentation is a critical step in
advancing the protection and promotion of women human rights defenders and our
Chapter 3 focuses on what should be documented, with a focus on “context” and “environment”.
It is divided into two parts. Part 1 (“Gender and Critical Issues”) discusses foundational
issues related to gender including documenting the range of “common” violations
against women human rights defenders. Part 2 (“Context and Environment”) focuses
on the contexts and environments (and the nexus across these) that enable violations
to take place and shape WHRDs’ activism. This section emphasizes gender inequality,
patriarchy and heteronormativity, militarism and conflict, fundamentalisms, globalisation
and neo-liberal policy and crises of democracy and governance – all of which are
analytical pillars of the Women Human Rights Defender International Coalition.
Chapter 4 provides a practical tool for documenting violations against women
human rights defenders including preparation, the process of documentation, and
the follow-up to documentation. It poses questions to guide this process. It
applies and interweaves a feminist methodology to documentation to ensure as
much as is possible that the act of documenting is an empowering experience for
women human rights defenders.
Chapter 5 outlines different uses of documentation, including for various
advocacy sites. It is also divided into two parts. Part 1 (“Advocacy for social
change, protection, justice and accountability”) discusses several strategies
and some of the ways people have used documentation for protection and
promotion of the rights of WHRDs at the local, national, regional and
international levels. Part 2 (“More formal advocacy”) offers basic information and
starting points for more formal WHRD advocacy using documentation at intergovernmental
levels, including at the United Nations.
Chapter 6 provides a brief overview of digital security. While all forms of
security are of utmost importance to WHRDs, this chapter emphasizes some of the
ways WHRDs are at risk in using the internet and new media, and offers some
specific ideas about protecting ourselves and our documentation.
The main annex of the manual lists WHRD resources, including various
publications from WHRD International Coalition members.
is a member of the Women Human Rights Defenders International
Coalition (WHRD IC), a resource and advocacy network for the
protection and support of women human rights defenders (WHRDs) worldwide. WHRDs
are women active in human rights defense who are targeted for who they are as
well as those active in the defense of women’s rights who are targeted for what
they do. This includes human rights activists who are women, as well as other
activists (whether male, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex) who
also defend the rights of women and sexual rights.