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This is a presentation on and discussion of the international protection mechanisms available to support the safety and well-being of women human rights defenders – how to access them and put them into practical use.


Presentation and group exercise

Required materials

Flipchart paper and marker pens; handouts.

Key explanation points

Internal protection: the first line of protection and support for any civil society organisation is always internal – that is, within your own organisations, movements, communities and family. You are the best people to assess what you need and to devise strategies for yourself.

External protection: the next line of support should be the international community. There are three main types of organisation/institution that can support you.

International partners/donors: The first type is your existing partners and donors. Some donors have special security response funds set aside specifically to support their partners (such as the American Jewish World Service in the United States and ICCO (an inter-church organisation for development cooperation) in the Netherlands). Most donors, though, would be responsive to supporting their partners’ security if they received a specific request. In addition, you should regularly:

  • include line items for security and sustainability (including training, retreats, health care, pensions) in the budgets that you submit to your donors;
  • ask for separate contingency funds (or an internal rapid-response fund) to react to unexpected security and/or health crises; and
  • maintain a dialogue with funders on their security concerns and challenges – the better informed funders are about the situation, the more responsive they can be in a crisis.

International organisations supporting human rights defenders: the second line of protection comes from an array of international organisations with a mandate to protect and support civil society organisations. These organisations offer a variety of services, ranging from advocacy, lobbying, capacity-building and training to fellowships and grants for protection.

Within this group of organisations, there are a number that provide rapid-response grants to individuals and organisations facing security challenges. A list of some of these organisations you can find here.

Each organisation has its own particular funding criteria and possibilities, so it is best to contact them directly with questions about whether a situation matches their criteria before applying for a grant.

Support for civil society actors working in the field of freedom of expression (with the media as journalists, freelance reporters, camera operators, photojournalists and writers) tends to be more widely available – there are several additional networks that are not listed here. However, it is important to note that these organisations can have a more flexible view of what constitutes a ‘journalist’ than expected – for example, bloggers or civil society activists who also publish reports and articles can be included.

The third line of protection involves using existing International Protection Mechanisms as practical tools to report threats and to seek support27 Several examples of protection mechanisms are provided here.

Facilitation notes

  • Although this is a presentation, it should quickly turn into a dialogue with participants, who should add resources and supportive organisations to the list.
  • The system of organisations, mechanisms and institutions that support human rights defenders will change and develop over time – the information included above should serve as a starting point for discussions, and facilitators should update information as well as ensure that it is relevant to participants’ regional context.
  • Copy or summarise Chapter 9 of Claiming Rights, Claiming Justice – a useful handout.
  • In addition, refer to the excellent website on the human rights defenders mechanisms for updated information on protection mechanisms within inter-governmental organisations: 


For a detailed explanation of some of these mechanisms see Chapter 9 of Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) (2007) Claiming Rights, Claiming Justice: A Guidebook on Women Human Rights Defenders, APWLD, Chiangmai.

Also see: