This Human Rights Day, as we bear witness to an epidemic of human rights atrocities across the globe, let us also celebrate the human rights defenders who continue to speak out and push forward to advance human rights for all.

We need to celebrate and amplify the voices of the bold young climate activists who have come to Dubai for this year’s COP28 and have refused to be silenced, as they tell the world of their loss of land, livelihoods, health, and entire futures to the ravages of global capitalism. We must console and stand with the women in southern Israel who, together with family members and advocates, have come forward to demand accountability for the sexual assaults they suffered at the hands of Hamas on October 7. And we must be grateful and grieve for the hundreds of brave journalists and humanitarian workers in Gaza have risked and too often lost their and their families’ very lives, as they continue to draw attention to the agonizing humanitarian crisis there and meet the spiraling needs of the suffering local population.

All these courageous human rights champions call upon each one of us to do our utmost to protect and defend the fundamental rights not only of those closest to us, but of our sisters and brothers everywhere.

Human Rights Day also marks the last of the #16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, a campaign launched more than 30 years ago by women activists that has become a global platform for advocacy and collective action aimed at finally putting a stop to violence against women and girls.

WomenStrong partners from Asia to Africa to the Americas have embraced this opportunity.

Whether by building awareness through local community sensitization sessions, as Mali Health, in Bamako, Action for Development Uganda, in Kampala, and Copper Rose Zambia, in Lusaka, have done, or by working in tandem with the Government of Malawi to disseminate the government’s new male engagement policy among Blantyre area stakeholders, as Girls Empowerment Network (GENET) – Malawi has done in the communities where GENET works, our women-led partners have been wholly engaged. 

Here are a few more examples:

  • Our Indian partner, Society for Labour and Development (SLD), in Delhi, has created a clear and  appealing #16Days toolkit to help educate their audiences, consisting mostly of women workers, regarding the importance of #16Days. SLD has created safe spaces for women and girls to congregate and has offered “myth-busting sessions” where women can share their stories in person and then disseminate them through social media.
  • Back in the sub-Saharan region, the Girls’ Clubs organized by our Zimbabwean partner The Girls’ Legacy are leading a series of dialogues with parents and community leaders on the drivers and harms of child marriage, with the ambitious goal of persuading their national Parliament to adopt and ratify the model legislation promoted by Southern African Development Community (SADC) to prohibit child marriage under Zimbabwean law. 
The Girls’ Legacy Director Judith Chiyangwa welcomes participants to a Girls’ Clubs dialogue led by the girls and young women themselves.

Even where good law exists, though, freedom from violence is far from guaranteed. Montserrat Alvarado, Executive Director of WomenStrong’s Salvadoran partner Mujeres Transformando, emphasized this point last week during a UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women forum in Nairobi, where she spoke frankly about the challenges involved in applying and enforcing national laws against violence, in order to protect the lives and wellbeing of women and girls.

Mujeres Transformando’s Executive Director Montserrat Alvarado (pictured second from left with microphone), at the Core-Regional Exchange organized by the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women in Nairobi

Many WomenStrong partners, in the Philippines, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Madagascar, Uganda, and Rwanda, commemorated the #16Days of Activism by creating and disseminating social media campaigns full of colorful graphics, important testimonials bearing witness to experiences of gender-based violence, and public service messages to help young people develop and navigate healthy relationships and safe sex. 

In most of these countries, these are not easy topics; and yet these fierce advocates for women’s rights and human rights continue undaunted, year after year and day by day.

As we reflect on the meaning of this Human Rights Day, and enter this often touted “season of brotherly love,” let us heed the powerful call of these frontline women’s rights defenders by joining and supporting them in calling, this time, for sisterly love, and with it, for justice, and for lasting, sustainable peace.

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