March: the most dangerous month for women defenders.

A retrospective analysis of the information documented in our registry of attacks reveals that in recent years, the month of March has marked the highest peak in annual attacks against women defenders. During the months of March in the last four years – from 2020 to 20231 – we documented 2,901 attacks in Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

In a context of growing stigmatization and criminalization of the feminist movement in the region, it is no coincidence that this would take place in “women’s month”, around the commemoration of 8 March, International Women’s Day. This is the time when thousands of women across the region raise our voices on the streets and on social media to continue advancing together to make our rights a reality.

Attacks with marked misogynist components

The main attacks registered at the regional level during the months of March in the period analyzed were: harassment (418); physical, verbal or psychological violence (365); threats (261); restrictions or attacks for communicating or receiving information (170) or for peacefully demonstrating (156); smear campaigns (161); and cyber-bullying (72). We also documented 65 arbitrary arrests; 45 initiations of criminal, prosecutorial or administrative cases or trials that are not supported by facts or that clearly rest on falsehoods; and 58 attacks involving excessive use of force.

In these attacks, we frequently identified elements that show differentiated violence against women defenders because they are women or sex/gender non-conforming persons. These components included different types of sexual violence (harassment, abuse, touching, sexually explicit threats and rape); threats to family members; smear campaigns and ridiculing to discredit our work and leadership; attacks that deny the gender identity of trans women; and the use of misogynist, fat phobic, homophobic and transphobic language.

Targeting feminists and journalists

The majority of the attacks documented during these months of March were perpetrated against feminist activists mobilized for 8 March, especially against groups of women defenders who participated in collective actions (62%). In this context, the greatest number of attacks were against those who defend women’s rights (23%), those who defend the right to information and freedom of expression by conducting journalistic coverage of the protests (20%) and those who defend women’s right to a life free from violence (16%).

States, our main assailants

In line with the trend throughout the rest of the year, State-linked actors perpetrated 45% of all attacks registered in the months of March; of these, 25% were police officers and 20% were public authorities (municipal, state, federal or national). It is important to note that the State’s role as perpetrator reaches 58% when the attacks are committed against collective protest actions that are targets of repression.

Digital space, a territory full of risk

Almost half (44%) of all attacks registered in the months of March were digital (social media, cell phones, e-mail or web sites). Due to the anonymity that social media offers and the increase in our registration of digital attacks, 15% of attacks against organizations of groups of women defenders are perpetrated by unknown online users.

A look at the countries
  • El Salvador, digital violence against feminist defenders. We documented 755 attacks against women human rights defenders in El Salvador during the months of March from 2020 to 2023. The vast majority (94%) are digital attacks, primarily on social media, directed against women who defender women’s rights and sexual and reproductive rights, particularly abortion rights. Standing out among these attacks are: 111 harassments, 77 threats, 75 online hate actions, 61 attacks to discredit women defenders, 34 attacks related to cyber-bullying and 30 attacks inciting violence against victims of collective attacks. It is worth noting that 78% of these attacks were perpetrated collectively against groups of women defenders.

  • Honduras, unceasing violence against those who defend land and territory. In Honduras, attacks against women defenders did not increase significantly in the month of March. Attacks registered on this month between 2020 and 2023 show the continuity of the pattern of attacks against women defenders of land and territory, and their communities. The majority (72%) of these attacks were perpetrated against groups of women defenders or during collective actions. These included 54 harassments, 36 threats, 36 smear campaigns and 24 forced displacements.

  • Mexico, repression to contain the feminist wave on the streets. Between 2020 and 2023, we documented 1,239 attacks against women defenders in Mexico during the months of March. Of these, 66% took place during collective actions, including 201 situations where physical, psychological and verbal violence was used against women defenders; 85 attacks to limit the right to communicate and/or receive information; 51 restrictions, obstructions and/or attacks for peacefully demonstrating; 51 attacks where public authorities used excessive force; and 39 arbitrary arrests. The states where we documented the highest numbers of collective attacks were Guerrero, Mexico City and Michoacan.

  • Nicaragua, five years without being able to demonstrate on 8 March. Due to the repression and absolute prohibition on protest that prevails in Nicaragua, no mass public actions have been held around 8 March since 2018. Therefore, unlike the rest of the countries in the region, where collective attacks have been the most common, of the 500 attacks registered during the months of March between 2020 to 2023, the majority (70%) were directed against women defenders personally. Among the attacks registered, the following stand out: 67 harassments; 44 restrictions on freedom of movement; and 32 cases of surveillance, monitoring and stalking of women defenders’ day-to-day lives. These attacks were primarily perpetrated by police or parapolice forces against women who defend women’s rights and against those defending the rights to political participation and to truth, justice and reparations.

  1. The data from 2023 is preliminary.

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