In September 1995, more than 47,000 rights advocates, foreign dignitaries, and civil society representatives came to Beijing, China for the Fourth World Conference on Women.
The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, produced at the end of the conference, identified 12 strategic objectives for women’s empowerment, ranging from the impact of conflict on women to the participation of women in decision-making processes.
In the twenty years since the Fourth World Conference on Women, now referred to simply as “Beijing,” women have remained on the front lines of the struggle for rights around the world. Women human rights defenders fight not only for their own rights to education, health care, justice, freedom of expression and assembly, but for the rights of their communities. As a direct result of their work, many are persecuted, threatened, beaten, detained, imprisoned, harassed, and killed.
On the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women,
Front Line Defenders is highlighting 12 women fighting for each of the 12 goals established in the Beijing platform for action two decades ago.
Some of the women on this list were defending their communities decades before dignitaries gathered in Beijing to discuss gender equality — others were born the year of the conference. Regardless of age, nationality, and rights they defend, these 12 women human rights defenders share a refusal to quit in the face of highly gendered harassment, violence, and persecution.
Read about each woman and the role she plays in advancing the Beijing declaration. Share her photo. Join her campaign.
Help protect one and empower a thousand.
1. Women and Poverty
Tep Vanny, Cambodia
Tep Vanny is a young and passionate land rights activist and human rights defender, who is fighting against corruption and social injustice in Cambodia. In 2008 the authorities started evicting people from the area near Boeung Kak Lake, in Phnom Penh, where Vanny and her family were living. A company, owned by a senator from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and a Chinese corporation, obtained a licence to fill the lake with sand and build on it.
The government gave the community who was living there two options: they could either accept compensation or they could relocate 25 kilometres away, far from the place where they were working and from all the amenities. Since 2008, almost 20,000 people have been forcefully evicted from the Boeung Kak Lake area and many of them have lost their jobs as a consequence of the forced displacement.
“What motivates me is the injustice, to be strong for my community. But it’s not justice only for my community. It’s for everyone, every community affected by development. I want to show that everyone needs to understand their rights so that the government has to take notice.”
Tep Vanny is one of the women who refused to accept the forced relocation program. She started leading demonstrations, bringing thousands of people to the streets. As a result of her peaceful activities, she was detained five times by the police and assaulted by security forces. Her husband, who was working in the public sector, lost his job. In November 2014 Tep Vanny was arrested and sentenced to one year in prison, and in August 2015 she was released. Read more about her case here.
Tweet: Stop targeting anti-poverty activist & woman human rights defender Tep Vanny #Cambodia #WHRD https://medium.com/@FrontLineDefenders/beijing-platform-for-action-b6f4403c42f4 … https://flic.kr/p/z2pkJu
2. Education and training of women
Po Po, Burma
Yadanar Su Po Paing, better known as Po Po, is a 20-year-old human rights defender and student activist. She is a member of All Burma Federation of Student Union (ABFSU), an organisation that has led the protests against the National Education Bill. Student activists claim it restricts academic freedom and marginalizes ethnic languages and cultures in university curricula.
Po Po has been one of the leaders of the student protest. On April 8 2015, she was arrested from her home and imprisoned near Rangoon. She was accused of having participated in an unlawful assembly and rioting, along with other fellow students. Last July, a court in Rangoon released her on bail.
Tweet: Support student & woman human rights defender Po Po #Burma #WHRD https://medium.com/@FrontLineDefenders/beijing-platform-for-action-b6f4403c42f4 … https://flic.kr/p/z4GTWi
3. Women and health
Morena Herrera, El Salvador
Morena Herrera is a political activist and a sexual and reproductive rights campaigner from El Salvador, a country with one of the toughest anti-abortion laws in the world. In Herrera’s country, women are never allowed to have an abortion - not even in cases of rape, when their life is in danger or when the foetus is severely deformed. Those who suffer miscarriages or stillbirths risk being accused of intentionally inducing an abortion and can be charged with aggravated murder, facing up to 50 years in jail.
“People say we are committing a crime by raising awareness, supporting women and advocating on their behalf and we respond by saying we are fighting to change an unfair law. That can’t be illegal. We don’t accept that.”
Herrera leads the Citizen’s Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion, a collective organisation fighting for reproductive rights. The human rights defender helps women who have been denied a fair trial and, because of her work, Herrera and her organisation have received direct threats and intimidation.
Tweet: Stop persecuting reproductive & women’s rights defender Morena Herrera #ElSalvador #WHRD https://medium.com/@FrontLineDefenders/beijing-platform-for-action-b6f4403c42f4 … https://flic.kr/p/z3G9ns
4. Violence Against Women
Gladys Lanza Ochoa, Honduras
Gladys Lanza Ochoa is a 73-year-old human rights defender from Honduras. In the 1960s, when Honduras was under a military dictatorship, she started working for social justice, labour and human rights. She became a leading voice in the trade union sector. She then began focusing on women’s rights and in 2002 she became the coordinator of Movimiento de Mujeres por la Paz Visitación Padilla, an organisation that brings together women from all over Honduras to address gender violence, women’s participation in public life, democracy and human rights.
Lanza Ochoa and other members of Visitación Padilla regularly endure threats, surveillance and other acts of intimidation including police and judicial harassment. In March 2015 Lanza Ochoa was sentenced to 18-months’ imprisonment, when Juan Carlos Reyes, a government official, accused her of defamation and slander after she assisted a woman who claimed she was sexually harassed by Reyes.
Tweet: 73 yrs old, defending women’s rights in #Honduras. Stop persecuting Gladys Lanza Ochoa #WHRD https://medium.com/@FrontLineDefenders/beijing-platform-for-action-b6f4403c42f4 … https://flic.kr/p/yMciyD
5. Women and Armed Conflict
Soni Sori, India
Soni Sori is a human rights defender working in Chhattisgarh, in central India, where the long-term conflict between Maoist rebels and government security forces has greatly affected the indigenous communities. Sori advocates for the rights of indigenous peoples in India, with a focus on women’s rights.
Together with her cousin, journalist Ms Lingaram Kodopi, she has uncovered human rights violations committed by both sides of the conflict. Because of her work, she has been targeted by the local authorities and she has received direct threats. In 2011 she was imprisoned on trumped-up charges and accused of being involved in attacks against the police. In prison, she repeatedly suffered torture and sexual harassment.
“It isn’t my suffering alone — in this jail, there are 50 women who are in deep trouble. Like me, they were hunted and brought here, and then charged in false cases.”
She was released in 2014 and faces continued harassment and intimidation by the police. In 2015, Sori became the target of an ongoing slander campaign led by the Inspector General of the Police of Bastar region, Mr Kalluri, following a press conference in which she drew attention to an alleged arbitrary killing by the police. For speaking out against police violence, she received direct threats from the Inspector General.
Tweet: Stop the persecution of woman human rights defender @soni_sori in #India https://medium.com/@FrontLineDefenders/beijing-platform-for-action-b6f4403c42f4 … https://flic.kr/p/z3G9BA #WHRD #beijing20
6. Women and the Economy
Elena Urlaeva, Uzbekistan
Elena Urlaeva is a human rights defender from Uzbekistan, who has revealed a widespread and systematic state policy of forcing citizens to weed cotton fields in several regions of the country. She is a member of the Human Rights Defenders Alliance of Uzbekistan and has organised several public demonstrations for the right to freedom of association and assembly.
On 19 September, police arrested Urlaeva along with her husband, her 11-year-old son, and one of her friends, while they were visiting a farm and speaking with women who had been forcedly recruited by the district authorities to pick cotton. At the police station, Urlaeva and her family were searched and interrogated.
In addition to repeated arrests and detentions, Urlaeva and her family have suffered physical attacks as a result of her peaceful and legitimate human rights work. In April 2009, an unknown man assaulted her five-year-old son, hitting him with a baton on the head. In 2001, after defending the rights of individuals who lost their homes due to a road-building project, Urlaeva was detained and forcibly committed to a psychiatric hospital. For months she was given psychiatric treatment and forced to take strong psychiatric drugs without her consent. In 2015, police detained and subjected her to cruel and degrading abuse, including body cavity search and x-rays.
Tweet: Arrested for defending women’s economic rights: Elena Urlaeva, #Uzbekistan https://medium.com/@FrontLineDefenders/beijing-platform-for-action-b6f4403c42f4 … https://flic.kr/p/z3G9Ns #WHRD #beijing20
7. Women in Power and Decision-making
Leyla Yunus, Azerbaijan
Leyla Yunus is a human rights defender from Azerbaijan, who is currently in jail because of her peaceful work. Before being arrested, she was working on a project documenting abuses and torture suffered by political prisoners in Azerbaijan. Since 1995 Ms Yunus has been the Director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy (IPD), an organisation promoting the rule of law and involved in conflict resolution and peace-building between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Because of her work, she has faced judicial harassment and intimidation. In April 2014, Azeri security forces arrested Ms Yunus and her husband Arif Yunus, raided their home and froze their bank account. The couple have been charged with large-scale fraud, forgery, tax evasion and illegal entrepreneurship. Their physical and psychological health has been rapidly deteriorating in jail, but authorities have refused to release them or provide adequate medical treatment. In August 2015, a Baku court sentenced Leyla to eight and a half years in prison.
Tweet: Jailed 8.5 years after documenting torture. Free #LeylaYunus in #Azerbaijan https://medium.com/@FrontLineDefenders/beijing-platform-for-action-b6f4403c42f4 … https://flic.kr/p/yMciwp #WHRD #beijing20
8. Mechanisms for women’s advancement
Deon Haywood,United States of America
Deon Haywood is the Director of Women With A Vision, a New Orleans-based social justice community organisation, that since 1991 has been working to transform the policies that hinder health, well-being and economic self-sufficiency of marginalized communities. In particular WWAV works with women and communities affected by sex workers rights, drug policy reforms, HIV-AIDS and reproductive justice issues.
“When people come together and reflect on the issues that make them marginalised, they begin a first step to changing their relationship with the world.”
In 2009, Haywood oversaw the launch of WWAV’s NO Justice Project, a campaign to combat the sentencing of women and trans people arrested for street-based sex work under Louisiana’s 203-yr-old “crime against nature” felony-level law. As a result of this campaign, in 2012 the law was ruled unconstitutional.
Haywood and her organisation have come under attack for their advocacy work. In May 2012, the offices were broken into and set on fire. The worst damage was concentrated in the community organising and outreach office where all the resources used to educate women and communities of colour within Louisiana and elsewhere were stored. Despite evidence to suggest that it was an intentional and targeted attack, the police closed the file without informing the organisation, and no one was ever brought to justice.
Tweet: I stand with #WHRD Deon Haywood @WWAVinc for reproductive justice in the #US https://medium.com/@FrontLineDefenders/beijing-platform-for-action-b6f4403c42f4 … https://flic.kr/p/yMciBV #beijing20
9. Human Rights of Women
Tilder Kumichii Ndichia– Cameroon
Tilder Kumichii Ndichia is a human rights defender from Cameroon. Growing up in a deeply patriarchal environment, she was forced to marry when she was very young. By the age of 24, she was already a widow. When her husband died, she struggled to support herself and her four children. She now works to support other women living in similar situations and to help them protect their own rights.
“One of the biggest problems I have is how to translate the African and UN human rights standards into local realities. Many people don’t see themselves in these documents, it is not personalised. There is a need to simplify, localise and domesticate these instruments so that it touches the daily realities of the people.”
Kumichii Ndichia is the programme coordinator at Gender Empowerment and Development. She lobbies for a national gender policy, conducts human rights education programmes in schools and denounces cases of domestic violence and sexual harassment. She is also a member of the National Human Rights Commission and the President of a working group on the situation of human rights defenders. Because of her work, she has faced intimidation and threats from anonymous individuals and members of her community.
Tweet: Stop the threats against woman human rights defender Tilder K. Ndichia #Cameroon https://medium.com/@FrontLineDefenders/beijing-platform-for-action-b6f4403c42f4 https://flic.kr/p/yM6GHY #beijing20
10. Women’s Access to Media and Communications Technologies
Mahienour El Massry, Egypt
Mahienour El-Massry is an Egyptian human rights defender, lawyer and blogger who uses online forums and social media to document and denounce human rights violations in her country. She has worked to promote judicial independence, raise awareness on political prisoners’ rights, help Syrian refugees and defend workers’ rights.
On 31 May 2015, she was convicted on fabricated charges after being accused of breaking into the El-Raml police station in Alexandria and physically attacking police officers. The Court sentenced her to 15-months’ imprisonment and, on 20 September 2015, rejected an appeal for her release.
In May 2014, El-Massry was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and a 50,000 Egyptian Pound fine (€5000) after attending a demonstration during the murder trial of Khaled Said, who had been beaten to death by police — an incident that became a spark for the 2011 Tahrir Revolution. She was released in September 2014, but was arrested again this year, for her role in another protest.
In prison, El-Massry hasn’t stopped writing:
“The jail ward is a small society. I feel that I am among my family–they all advise me to focus on my future prospects when I get out. I tell them that the people deserve better, and that we have not yet attained justice, and that we will keep trying to build a better society.”
Tweet: Free writer and woman human rights defender @Mahienour El-Massry #Egypt https://medium.com/@FrontLineDefenders/beijing-platform-for-action-b6f4403c42f4 … https://flic.kr/p/z5v2o6 #beijing20 #WHRD
11. Women and the Environment
Wendy Mutegi, Kenya
Wendy Wanja Mutegi is a human rights lawyer and community organiser from Kenya. She currently chairs the Law and Social Development Trust (LASODET), an organisation dedicated to the defence of indigenous and environmental rights in Kenya. Since 2010, Mutegi and her organisation have worked with a community group from Chuka, in eastern Kenya, to fight against illegal logging activities and reclaim their land rights.
Because of her work, Mutegi has been subjected to intimidation and harassment. In September 2014, she was followed and confronted by three unidentified men, who threatened her to kill her if she did not withdraw the court case she was fighting on behalf of 3000 members of the Chuka community.
Tweet: I stand with environmental & women’s rights defender Wendy Mutegi #Kenya https://medium.com/@FrontLineDefenders/beijing-platform-for-action-b6f4403c42f4 … https://flic.kr/p/z5wgnM #beijing20 #WHRD
12. Rights of the Girl-child
Atena Daemi, Iran
Atena Daemi is a children’s and human rights defender from Iran. She has advocated for the rights of children, campaigned against capital punishment in Iran and led peaceful protests for women’s rights.
In October 2014 she was arrested and held for months in pre-trial detention.
In detention, she was subjected to torture, handcuffed to a medical table — as a result, she contracted a skin disease and weakened eyesight, and reportedly suffered a heart attacked following harsh treatment she endured pressure she was subjected in Sadeghiyeh Clinic.
On 14 May 2015 the Revolutionary Court of Tehran sentenced her to fourteen years’ imprisonment.
Charges against Daemi include propaganda against the State, unlawful assembly, blasphemy and insulting the Supreme Leader of Iran. She was prosecuted because she held demonstrations in support of the children of Kobane in Syria, because she listened to Iranian rapper Shahin Najafi’s protest songs, and because she shared posts on Facebook against the death penalty in her country — all activities that the Revolutionary Court considers acts of rebellion against the regime.
Tweet: Free children’s rights defender @AtenaDaemi, 14yr prison sentence in #Iran https://medium.com/@FrontLineDefenders/beijing-platform-for-action-b6f4403c42f4 … https://flic.kr/p/yM7g8f #beijing20 #WHRD
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