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Women human rights defenders are targeted twice over, Türk says
29 November 2023


The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is an annual international campaign that starts on 25 November, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and runs until 10 December, Human Rights Day. This symbolic period highlights the urgent need for action to eradicate gender-based violence against women and girls in all their diversity. Originally created in 1991 by activists, it continues to be coordinated each year by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership.

The UN supports this civil society-led campaign through the United Nations Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women Campaign (UNiTE) since 2008. The UNiTE campaign utilises the colour orange to represent a brighter future, free from violence against women and girls, as a unifying theme running through all its global activities.

Every year, the 16 Days of Activism and UNITE campaign focuses on a specific theme. In 2023, the theme is “UNITE! Invest to prevent violence against women and girls” – calling governments, development actors, civil society, women’s organizations, young people, the private sector, the media and the entire UN system to join forces, step up and support the financing of different prevention strategies to stop violence from occurring in the first place.

Since 2022, 29 November marks the International Day for Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRD) which our Office also celebrates as part of the 16 Days. It helps shed light on the specific grounds on which women human rights defenders are subjected to violence. Indeed, although restrictions of and attacks on civic space affect all defenders, WHRDs are specifically targeted and face additional and specific obstacles, risks, violations and impacts, due to the work they do, the causes they defend and because of their gender.

Through its monitoring and advocacy mandate to promote and protect the enjoyment and full realisation of all human rights, our Office integrates a human rights-based and victim-centered approach to gender-based violence. Every year, we work alongside and support the media to promote the 16 Days and UNiTE campaigns, including on social media, and organise awareness-raising activities for both the general public and target groups.

Join the global movement with the #NoExcuse campaign calling for urgent investments to prevent gender-based violence.

High Commissioner’s Engagement

On 24 November 2023, in a special episode of “Dignity, freedom and justice for all” podcast marking the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism, High Commissioner Volker Türk took part in a conversation with feminist, activist and human rights defender, Ms. Kamala Chandrakirana. They discussed concrete grassroots actions being taken on the issue of gender-based violence and why women’s and girls’ rights are human rights. Listen to the podcast episode on Podbean.

In commemoration of the International Day for Women Human Rights Defenders on 29 November 2023, the High Commissioner issued a video statement in which he highlighted the higher bounty paid by women human rights defenders, who are often seen as defying social or religious norms and threatening social structures and attacked by government and non-state actors, both offline and online. The written statement is available here.


Regional Office for Central America

On 27 November, the Regional Office together with UNDP, UNAIDS and RedTraSex organized a webinar to discuss the recent position paper of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls (WGDAW) on “Eliminating discrimination against sex workers and securing their human rights.” The webinar aimed to discuss the human rights situation of women sexual workers, who are especially exposed to stigma, discrimination, violence and in some instances, subjected to the application of criminal laws. Two experts of the WGDAW were featured among the speakers.

Regional Office for Eastern Africa

On 24 November, OHCHR and UN Women organised together a virtual multi-stakeholder roundtable on the progress and opportunities for prevention of violence against women and girls in the East and Southern African Region. The event aimed to mobilise member states from the region to allocate resources within national budgets to prevent such violence.

On 29 November 2023, OHCHR in collaboration with the Ethiopian Women Human Rights Defenders Network (EWHRDN) and its Secretariat the Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders Centre (EHRDC) organised a commemorative event in celebration of the International Day for Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRD). Aiming to acknowledge the contribution of WHRDs to the promotion and protection of women’s human rights and gender equality, the event brought together 43 WHRDs (42 women and 1 man) from various backgrounds and with diverse thematic experiences from different areas in Ethiopia. As part of the celebration, participants reflected and discussed in a panel on the challenges and specific protection risks that WHRDs are facing, and how they can strengthen linkages and synergies amongst themselves for better protection, stronger solidarity and collaboration.

From 29 November to 2 December, our Office supported and participated in the Regional Female Lawyers and Human Rights Defenders Conference on “Law, inclusion and social justice: strategies for building resilient communities” organized by the Zanzibar Female Lawyers Association in partnership with the Ministry of State, President’s Office, Constitution, Legal Affairs, Civil Services and Good Governance of Tanzania. The event celebrated ZAFELA’s Anniversary 20th during the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.

On 1st December 2023, OHCHR participated in a session on “Human Rights 75 Celebration, looking back and ahead” to commemorate 75 years of human rights achievements, taking a moment to reflect on the strides made towards ensuring justice for women and the girl child. Participants delved into the past challenges, celebrated the victories, and engaged in a forward-looking discussion to reinforce their commitment to advancing the rights and legal protections for women and girls.

Bosnia and Herzegovina Office

On 7 December 2023, OHCHR and UN Women hosted a dialogue with women human rights defenders to mark the 16 Days, the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the 30th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration. The purpose of the event was to demonstrate and strengthen support to women human rights defenders working in the Republika Srpska entity, and to increase knowledge about and accessibility to international human rights mechanisms.

Cambodia Office

To mark the 16 Days of Activism, OHCHR disseminated through the UN Country Team social networks, under the banner of #HR75, a video statement featuring the Representative and representatives of EU countries.

Central African Republic Office

On 6-7 December 2023, OHCHR dedicated two activities over the course of two days to focus on women and girls in rural areas. In this regard, they launched a sensitization program to raise awareness and stimulate discussions on gender-based violence and hosted an inter-generational dialogue intended to facilitate meaningful exchanges between different age groups, while emphasizing the importance of mutual understanding and communication.

El Salvador Office

OHCHR disseminated two brochures and radio spots on prevention of gender-based violence across the country, products that our Office elaborated jointly with the Ombudsman’s Office (PDDH).

Our Office also promoted the 2023 Orange the World Campaign, together with the Inter-Agency Group on gender and women’s empowerment and UN Women Regional Office.

Ethiopia Office

In November 2023, members of the Donor Group for Gender Equality in Ethiopia, including OHCHR, issued a joint statement on the issue of gender equality in Ethiopia. In the statement, the Group commended the government of Ethiopia’s first comprehensive national gender-based violence prevention and response policy while highlighting the need for more evidence-based and coordinated efforts across the board to address gender-based violence, in partnership with women rights organisations and civil society organisations.

Guatemala Office, which participates in the Gender Accreditation Programme

Our office launched its third edition of the social media campaign “Cambia la historia,” together with the Embassy of Canada, to raise awareness on violence against women and measures to address it.

Yemen Office

On 25 November 2023, OHCHR published an animated video about personal accountability for words amounting to gender-based violence, which was disseminated on social media.

HQ Geneva Office

On 29 November 2023, OHCHR in collaboration with UN Women and the Compact on Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action, convened a commemorative virtual event on the occasion of the International Day for Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs). The event’s objective was to make visible, recognize and support the work of WHRDs in various conflict-affected settings, building on the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders’ recent report “Pathways to peace: women human rights defenders in conflict, post-conflict and crisis-affected settings.” It featured the experiences of WHRDs from South Sudan, Myanmar, Palestine and Ukraine.

On 4 December 2023, OHCHR organised jointly with the Global Observatory for Gender Equality & Sport, UN Women, UNAIDS and UNESCO an event to highlight the power of collective and united action to eliminate gender-based violence in and through physical education, physical activity and sport (PEPAS).

On 5 and 8 December 2023, the Women’s Human Rights and Gender section contributed to a series of online UNFPA discussions among UNFPA’s country offices and States’ representatives on the implementation of the recent HRC resolutions on “Child, early and forced marriage,” “Violence against women and girls in criminal justice detention,” and “Preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights.” The Section shared highlights on the political commitments made by States in the resolutions, the specific mandate/ask to OHCHR and how UNFPA can collaborate with OHCHR in carrying out such mandate.

International Gender Champions (IGC)

Among the International Gender Champions, the Global Survivors Fund launched an online campaign and released an article.

In the Hague, the Government of Canada hosted Miriam Toews, author of Women Talking during the 16 Days.

The UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) prepared a social media campaign on the role of disarmament and arms control in preventing gender-based violence, using the hashtag #NoExcuse and posting serval messages per day on X/Twitter and LinkedIn. UNODA also published an interview with their Champion.

On 5 December 2023, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) published a new Policy on Gender-based Crimes to provide clarity and direction and allow them to fully consider gender-based crimes across all situations and throughout all stages of their work.

UN mechanisms

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) issued two News Releases as part of the 16 Days of Activism campaign:

  • On 24 November 2023, the CEDAW Committee found that Korea had failed to protect three Filipino women who were forced into prostitution by failing to identify and protect them as trafficking victims and not ensuring full access to justice and adequate remedy.
  • On 30 November 2023, the CEDAW Committee welcomed Argentina’s friendly settlement with a survivor of domestic violence, demonstrating the efforts to recognise, repair and prevent acts of violence and gender-based discrimination.

On 24 November 2023, Special Procedures mandate-holders issued a joint statement led by the Special Rapporteur on Violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences, calling on the international community to “walk the talk” on the safety and security of women and girls in times of armed conflict.

OHCHR, together with members of the EDVAW Platform and seven other UN entities, signed the Interagency UNiTE Statement 2023 as a call to action for increased investment on prevention of gender-based violence against women and girls.


Launch by High Commissioner


Sabah Al Hallak on the dependence of peace on women’s inclusion

Amber Heard on no longer accepting silence & injustice

Marie Laguerre on the #noustoutesharcelement movement against sexual violence

Alyssa Milano on the #MeToo movement and the need for women to keep raising their voices