[PRESS RELEASE] Attacks against women defenders on the rise: another Mesoamerican epidemic

  • Attacks against women human rights defenders doubled in 2017-2018 as compared to 2015-2016.

  • Data comes from the registry system of the Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders, the only one as of now that documents attacks against women defenders in the region.

Preliminary data from the report by the Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders not only indicates that attacks against women defenders have doubled between 2015 and 2018, but that this continuous violence increase seems to have set a trend.

The study reveals that between 2017 and 2018 alone, at least 3305 women defenders were attacked by multiple actors, the State being the main assailant in each case: Mesoamerican government officials perpetrated 7 out of every 10 attacks against women defenders. Furthermore, 1 out of every 4 attacks took place against groups of women defenders at mobilizations in defense of rights, protest and resistance.


To be a woman defender is to experience other forms of violence 

Data also reveals that 3 out of every 5 women defenders have been repeatedly attacked; they experience agressions because they are women and because they are defenders. They are victims of disparagement; sexual violence; violence by their partner and/or other family members; violence for altering the established social order (family traditional values); re-victimization; torture; cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; murder; intimidation; psychological harassment; slander; selective targeting; and smear campaigns.

Out of all the women defenders attacked, 275 have been granted precautionary measures, which means that governments have not fulfilled their obligation to guarantee effective protection. Many of those attacked were unable to continue their struggle: Between 2017 and 2018 alone, 65 women defenders were murdered and 27 were the targets of attempted murder.


Women criminalized for defending rights

For the first time, preliminary data from the report on attacks contains information on the criminalization of women defenders, using as a reference point the IACHR definition of human rights defense criminalization: “[…] the manipulation of the punitive power of the State by state and non-state actors for the purpose of controlling, punishing or impeding the exercise of the right to defend human rights.”

We discovered that 1 out of every 10 women defenders attacked, was criminalized. As many as 40% of these criminalized defenders were between 26 and 35 years old.  Most criminalization perpetrators were provincial, state, and area authorities, followed by police agents, private businesses, military forces and others.


Networks save lives

The report points out that women defenders of land and territory; truth, justice and reparations and the right to defend rights have suffered the harshest attacks. The most frequent are attacks against their physical and mental integrity and reputation.

Data reveals that the tendency to attack groups (collectives) of women defenders and organizations is linked to the repression of the freedom of civil protest, and in this context, women attacked are usually young defenders. In response, we reiterate that we must continue to work on protection in our networks and collectives.

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