General: New report calls for preventative measures to protect women human rights defenders in the Middle East and North Africa


Tangible preventative protection mechanisms are needed for women human rights defenders (WHRDs) in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) , says a new report, “Before It’s Too Late,” released by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) on 26 October at an event at the United Nations (UN) in New York. The report, based on interviews with WHRDs working on the region as well as research and analysis, is supported by CIVICUS and contributions were made by GCHR’s partner feminist and women's organisations.

The report is dedicated “To all the women who have been targeted and killed because they dared to stand on the frontlines of the struggle for change and human rights. To all the unnamed and faceless women who struggled and died without the recognition they deserve.”

“For too long, we've been reacting to violations against WHRDs; and it's about time we develop a preventative approach that is international and implementable,” said Maryam Al-Khawaja, GCHR Co-Director and Co-Author of the report. “The Norwegian Government took one of the first steps when they tabled and passed the resolution on the protection of WHRDs, but much remains to be done. We are hoping to collectively take this report, which is only phase one, and develop it further with representatives from different circles and backgrounds.”

The report notes that, “Amidst global political, economic and social upheaval, new emerging war zones, unresolved past conflicts, rising senses of fundamentalism and nationalism in the wake of such conflicts, and an increasingly politically conservative West, the context for human rights advocacy in the MENA region could not be more volatile. WHRDs are at the forefront of this struggle to defend human rights across the world. In recent years we have witnessed an escalation of attacks particularly against WHRDs, who are at an increased risk of gender-based threats, violence, and killings.”

The report examines, among other challenges to WHRDs, displacement: political exile and forced migration, financial restrictions that come with exile, physical threats and online tarnishing.

Among the recommendations, the report calls on the UN to “build and cultivate a secure, protected environment for WHRDs and their work: focusing on the creation, the tangible implementation and ensuring sustainability of said preventative and protections mechanisms, specifically tailored for WHRDs.” There is an extensive list of recommendations for the UN, UN member states, civil society and donors.

The report is being launched at 1:30pm EST in New York at UN headquarters in conference room 7. At the event, speakers include primary researcher and co-author of the report, Keshia Pendigrast, Semanur Karaman of AWID, Yemeni WHRD and journalist Nawal Al-Maghafi, and, via Skype, Mozn Hassan of Nazra for Feminist Studies and Sara Aboughazal of the Regional Coalition of WHRDs in the MENA. The event is moderated by GCHR’s Co-Director Maryam Al-Khawaja.

It will be livestreamed.

The report is the first phase of a larger project that aims to build a holistic strategy with tangible mechanisms and tools for preventative protection of WHRDs around the world. For more information, please contact Maryam Al-Khawaja and Weaam Youssef at and

Read the full report “Before It is Too Late” online in English HERE. The report is also available in Arabic.