General: On International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, we remember the women who are being persecuted across the Gulf and Neighbouring countries


On International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, 29 November, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) pays tribute to all the women who are being persecuted for defending women’s rights. We honour the brave women in Saudi Arabia and Iran who have loudly resisted the societal constrictions imposed on women’s decisions and their ability to choose what they can do or wear, or where they can travel.

We will continue to try to free the women human rights defenders (WHRDs) who have been detained for speaking out about human rights violations across the region, including Atena Daemi, Nargess Mohammadi and Nasrin Sotoudeh, among the many Iranian women persecuted or jailed for long sentences for defending women’s rights; Razan Zaitouneh and Samira Khalil, kidnapped almost five years ago by armed groups in Syria; and the many women’s rights defenders who continue to be held in Saudi Arabia for insisting on their right to live free of the guardianship system, or even simply to drive, including Loujain Al-Hathloul, Dr. Eman Al-NafjanAziza Al-YousefHatoon Al-Fassi, Samar Badawi and Nassima Al-Sadah.

We demand justice for Ebtisam Al-Saegh, sexually assaulted while in jail in Bahrain, and then jailed again for reporting the assault and refusing to be silent. And we won’t forget Dr. Su’ad Al-Ali, assassinated in Basra, Iraq on 25 September 2018. 

To mark the day, a group of UN human rights experts said, “The current global context of unchecked authoritarianism as well as the rise of populism, of corporate power and of fundamentalist groups are contributing towards closing the space for civil society.” They noted that “women human rights defenders face additional barriers of economic and structural discrimination and unique challenges driven by deep-rooted discrimination against women and stereotypes entrenched in patriarchal societies related to gender and sexuality.”

Despite the risks, the UN experts noted that “Women human rights defenders lead movements that have swept the globe calling for gender equality and an end to gender-based violence against women. They have flooded the streets, the airwaves, and the internet with their energy and their testimonials, bringing to light truths that are too often buried in darkness.”

GCHR echoes the recommendations of the UN experts, who called on States to fulfil their commitment to enable the work of women human rights defenders, proclaimed in the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and UN General Assembly resolution 68/181 on protecting women human rights defenders including through:

  1. public recognition, by the highest State authorities, of the importance and legitimacy of the work of women human rights defenders, and a commitment that no violence or threats against them will be tolerated;
  2. repeal of any State legislation or elimination of any measures intended to penalize or obstruct the work of defenders;
  3. strengthening of State institutions responsible for safeguarding the work of defenders;
  4. investigating and punishing any form of violence or threat against defenders, including in relation to reprisals for engaging with the United Nations System, and;
  5. due diligence of States in protecting women human rights defenders that are threatened by non-state actors.

The UN experts who signed the appeal are Agnès Callemard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Dubravka Šimonovic, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; members of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.