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Gendering Documentation: A Manual for and about Women Human Rights Defenders

"Don't treat me according to my appearance only; treat me like a human being". Credit: Front Line Defenders

To mark InternationalWomen Human Rights Defender Day (29 November) and International Human RightsDay (10 December), the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition isintroducing its new publication, “GenderingDocumentation: A Manual For and About Women Human Rights Defenders”.

The manual is available here and on the website ofthe Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition:

Women human rights defenders (WHRDs) around the world are fighting forfreedom, justice and fairness. We are connected to many political movements,including, but certainly not limited to, working for the rights of women. Weare engaged in strategic and creative political and social struggle. Asdefenders, we face bodily harm and threats, social condemnation and legalrestrictions on our organizing. We are targeted for who we are and for what wedo.

Yet, the experiences ofwomen human rights defenders often go unnoticed, partly because of the verysystems 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 frommaking claims through sharing narratives about our experiences and ideas.

Gendering Documentation: A Manual For and About Women Human Rights Defenders challenges thissilence.

About the manual

Gendering Documentation:A Manual For and About Women Human Rights Defendersis designed for use by those who document and research already and those whowant to in the future. It highlights,celebrates and encourages documentation as a politically motivated telling ofwomen human rights defenders’ narratives. It helps readers to understandthe circumstances and realities of WHRDs all over the world, from not being takenseriously as human rights activists, to the use of the ubiquitous tactic ofphysical and sexual assault to punish WHRDs’ activism.

This pioneering projectrests in the ideas that WHRDs work with bravery and resilience, and thatdocumentation of our experiences of both abuses and activism is criticallyimportant. For many, documentation is a courageousact of resistance.

The manual proposes a series of guiding questions that can be used byindividuals or organizations to record violations against WHRDs, to promotediscussion and to guide decision-making about using documentation for strategicadvocacy. It rests on the idea that these kinds of questions, among others, addnuance 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 traditionalhuman rights documentation guides to provide a unique tool for capturing thespecific nature of contexts facing, advocacy of and violations against WHRDs. It explores abuses related to gender, their gendered consequences, themany purposes of documenting WHRDs’ lives, various forms of WHRD advocacy withdocumentation, and steps to take to create documentation processes and productsthat 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 isdedicated to Sunila Abeysekera, a Sri Lankan feminist and human rights activistwho helped launch this project within the International Women Human Rights DefendersInternational Coalition. In addition, it is inspired by the thousands of women humanrights defenders across the globe who take risks every day to fight forjustice.

Edited by CynthiaRothschild, with contributions from the Documentation Working Group and presentand past members of the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition.

Chapter Outline:

Chapter 1 serves as an overview and offers an introduction to critical issuesabout Women Human Rights Defenders and the Manual; it gives an analyticalsynopsis and discusses purposes, objectives, approaches, and terminology, amongother topics.

Chapter 2 focuses on what documentation is, what its many purposes could be andthe reasons it is important to document experiences of WHRDs. From preservingmemory to seeking to address systemic discrimination that enables violationsagainst women human rights defenders, documentation is a critical step inadvancing the protection and promotion of women human rights defenders and ouractivism.

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 foundationalissues related to gender including documenting the range of “common” violationsagainst women human rights defenders. Part 2 (“Context and Environment”) focuseson the contexts and environments (and the nexus across these) that enable violationsto take place and shape WHRDs’ activism. This section emphasizes gender inequality,patriarchy and heteronormativity, militarism and conflict, fundamentalisms, globalisationand neo-liberal policy and crises of democracy and governance – all of which areanalytical pillars of the Women Human Rights Defender International Coalition.

Chapter 4 provides a practical tool for documenting violations against womenhuman rights defenders including preparation, the process of documentation, andthe follow-up to documentation. It poses questions to guide this process. Itapplies and interweaves a feminist methodology to documentation to ensure asmuch as is possible that the act of documenting is an empowering experience forwomen human rights defenders.

Chapter 5 outlines different uses of documentation, including for variousadvocacy sites. It is also divided into two parts. Part 1 (“Advocacy for socialchange, protection, justice and accountability”) discusses several strategiesand some of the ways people have used documentation for protection andpromotion of the rights of WHRDs at the local, national, regional andinternational levels. Part 2 (“More formal advocacy”) offers basic information andstarting points for more formal WHRD advocacy using documentation at intergovernmentallevels, including at the United Nations.

Chapter 6 provides a brief overview of digital security. While all forms ofsecurity are of utmost importance to WHRDs, this chapter emphasizes some of theways WHRDs are at risk in using the internet and new media, and offers somespecific ideas about protecting ourselves and our documentation.

The main annex of the manual lists WHRD resources, including variouspublications from WHRD International Coalition members.


OMCTis a member of the Women Human Rights Defenders InternationalCoalition (WHRD IC), a resource and advocacy network for theprotection and support of women human rights defenders (WHRDs) worldwide. WHRDsare women active in human rights defense who are targeted for who they are aswell as those active in the defense of women’s rights who are targeted for whatthey do. This includes human rights activists who are women, as well as otheractivists (whether male, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex) whoalso defend the rights of women and sexual rights.

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