Mesoamerican Registry of Attacks against Women Defenders: 2023 - Preliminary annual data

6,214 attacks against at least 1,188 women defenders and 73 organizations1

  • In 2023, we registered 6,214 attacks against at least 1,1882 women human rights defenders and 73 organizations or groups in El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua.

  • 2,087 of these attacks were personal, affecting 397 women defenders. The most common among these attacks were harassment (14%); psychological, physical or verbal violence (12%); threats (7%); and surveillance, monitoring and stalking of woman defenders’ day-to-day lives (7%). Importantly, in 10% of the cases, people close to the women defenders were also attacked. Among the people close to women defenders who were also attacked, one in three (31%) were their children.

  • 3,828 attacks were collective, affecting at least 875 women defenders. At the regional level, collective attacks account for 62% of all attacks, this percentage varies by country, ranging from 81% in Honduras to 37% in Nicaragua. These attacks frequently involve psychological, physical or verbal violence (17%); harassment (14%); and threats (8%).

  • 299 attacks against 73 organizations or groups of women human rights defenders. Among these, the most frequent were smear campaigns against the organization or its members (9%); harassment (9%); and spreading fake news about the organizational team’s actions (8%).

  • We identified a 13% increase in the total number of attacks registered in 2023 compared to 2022. This is explained by the increase in collective attacks, which grew from 2,683 in 2022 to 3,828 in 2023. The greatest share of this change is found in Honduras, where this type of attack tripled compared to the previous year.

March, the most dangerous month for women defenders.

Following the trend from previous years, March continued to be the month with the most attacks against Mesoamerican women defenders. In March 2023, the majority of attacks were perpetrated against groups of women defenders during collective actions (69%) as part of the mobilizations commemorating 8 March, International Women’s Day. Mexico stands out in particular, where attacks in the month of March account for 24% of all attacks perpetrated in 2023.

How do they attack us?

  • They kill us: Ten sister defenders were killed in Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador in 2023, among them three trans women who defended the right to transgress the gender order and three women defenders who searched for family members in different states across Mexico. Forty-seven other sister defenders were the target of assassination attempts, which, fortunately, were not successful. Femicides and transfemicides of women defenders are generally the last attack, the culmination of a series of repeated acts of violence committed with impunity in order to silence us. We name each one of our sisters, so that their memory and the dignity of their struggles may prevail:

  • Seeking to exhaust us, instill fear in us and stop our struggles, our attackers systematically use a broad range of attacks. These regularly involve constant harassment (856) and surveillance (364), as well as threats (471) and different expressions of violence such as psychological (398), physical (283) and verbal (213) violence.

In 2023, we also identified three types of attacks that have become particularly relevant, because of the increase in their frequency and because of their impact on the women defenders targeted and their surroundings.

  • Forced displacement: In 2023, we documented 240 attacks related to forced displacements – 4 times more than in 2022. The women defenders forcefully displaced are primarily from Honduras (168) and Nicaragua (69). The internal and external displacements were preceded by a series of attacks that forced women defenders to leave their communities. These attacks seek not only to stop their defense work in the territories but also to punish them in an effort to destroy their life projects and weaken their support networks. They also send a message spreading fear among women and communities, thus inhibiting human rights defense.

  • Criminalization: Regionally, we registered 130 launches of legal cases and 116 arbitrary detentions. In total, we documented 47 detentions in Mexico, 37 in Honduras, 30 in Nicaragua and 2 in El Salvador. More than half of the arbitrary detentions in Mexico (24) took place in March, the vast majority within the context of demonstrations to commemorate 8 March. In 2023, we also identified a set of attacks aimed at socially discrediting women defenders, as a first step in a long process of criminalization; most striking among these are spreading fake news (238) and smear campaigns (200).

  • Digital violence: In 2023, we documented 1,222 digital attacks against women defenders and their organizations or groups, accounting for 20% of the total number of registered attacks. Digital attacks are part of the continuum of violence that women defenders experience, and they are generally linked with other attacks in the physical sphere. The majority of these attacks were perpetrated against women defenders individually (61.8%). Standing out among the digital attacks are 159 attacks linked to spreading fake news or manipulated information regarding women defenders or organizations in order to socially discredit them; 152 attacks involving questioning or challenging women defenders’ leadership, credibility, professionalism or morality; 105 smear campaigns; 102 cases of online harassment; 90 cases of cyber-stalking or cyber-bullying; and 72 threats.

Who attacks us?

In line with the historical trend in our registry, the State was once again our main assailant in 2023. Almost half of the attacks registered this year (47.8%) were perpetrated by State actors: local, state or federal/national public authorities (23.5%); police agents (23.1%); or the armed forces (1.2%). However, we know that the authorities often attack us to protect private actors and interests. Additionally, one in four perpetrators (25.4%) were unknown persons – physical (11.6%) and digital (13.7%).

A look at the countries

El Salvador

  • In 2023, we documented 188 attacks on women defenders and organizations or groups that defend human rights in El Salvador.

  • This year was marked by the government’s continued authoritarian drift with erosion of the independence of state powers, consolidation of the absence of guarantees for human rights defense and restriction of fundamental freedoms (freedoms of expression, movement, assembly and association). All of this was the result of the security policies imposed by Nayib Bukele, who was reelected in February 2024 as president of the country. The state of emergency installed on 27 March 2022 continues to this day, with the continued militarization of the territory by the army and the police and the massive detention of people suspected of belonging to or collaborating with gangs – a discourse that has served to cover up the criminalization of people identified as opponents of the government. At the start of 2023, we raised alarm about the instrumentalization of the judicial system to discredit and criminalize community leaders and environmental defenders from Santa Marta, a community that has held strong in the struggle against mining extractivism and the vindication of historical memory. Later on, in May, we also alerted about the arbitrary detention of Vidalina Morales’ son, a woman defender who is an environmentalist and leader of the Association for Social and Economic Development (ADES for its acronym in Spanish) in Santa Marta.

  • Women defenders of sexual and reproductive rights in El Salvador were the group of defenders against whom we registered the most attacks (62%), followed by women defenders of the right to information and the freedom of expression (12%). Most of these incidents were registered in March (62%), linked to attacks from anti-rights groups in the context of the hearing about the Beatriz Case at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which took place on 22 and 23 March 2023.

  • In a context where the government controls and surveils the digital space, we identified that 78.7% of attacks against women defenders took place online: social media, e-mail, web site and calls or messages to cell phones. The majority of these attacks seek to stigmatize human rights defense: we registered 38 attacks linked to smear campaigns, 28 instances of spreading fake news or manipulated information regarding women defenders and 21 instances of questioning or challenging the women defenders’ ethics or morality. The perpetrators of these attacks were often unknown online users (22%). However, we also identified among the perpetrators high-level public officials and communications media aligned with the president and the government’s party, who are tasked with defaming and criminalizing human rights defense through public speeches and social media.


  • In 2023, we documented 2,694 attacks against women defenders and organizations and groups defending human rights in Honduras.

  • The government has maintained a state of emergency since 6 December 2022, justified as a response to an uptick in cases of extortion, contract killings and kidnappings. In practice, it has become a permanent security policy. This has entailed the suspension of the rights to liberty and freedom of movement, as well as the possibility of detention or searches based solely on suspicion. These measures stigmatize working class sectors, and they dehumanize and result in the loss of rights for any person accused of being a member of, or close to the gangs. Meanwhile, the security forces are granted broad power and impunity to act arbitrarily against those who resist the interests of landowners, companies, extractive projects and other de facto powers.

  • In this context, we saw a 125% increase in attacks during 2023 compared to 2022. This is a result of the intensification of land conflicts since the creation of the Commission on Agrarian Security and Access to Land, which has legitimized mass evictions and uses the law to criminalize those who fight for land, favoring oil and sugar companies and the land-owning sectors. Thus, most of these attacks are collective (81%), perpetrated in disputed territories on the northern coast (66%) and directed against those who defend land, territory and natural resources (76%). Importantly, we documented 28 evictions in which women defenders and entire families lost their livelihood projects.

  • The main types of attacks documented against women defenders in Honduras are: harassment (512); psychological, verbal or physical violence (426); threats – which tend to be death threats (267); and surveillance, monitoring and stalking of their day-to-day lives (196). We are also alarmed by the increase in collective forced displacements, which increased from 19 in 2022 to 169 in 2023. These were internal displacements within the country linked to evictions, such as those perpetrated against members of Las Galileas peasant women’s network or Agua Blanca Sur peasant group. These groups also experienced systematic attacks aimed at criminalizing the defense of their right to land: harassment, threats, property damage, smear campaigns, spreading fake news and arbitrary detentions for their alleged crime of usurpation of land.

  • We also identified the continuous nature of the attacks against the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH for its acronym in Spanish). We highlight the attacks committed against OFRANEH’s coordinator Miriam Miranda – spreading fake news and threats on her life – as well as serious attacks against their communities, such as the fires in their healing centers and in their resistance camps.


  • In 2023, we documented 1,824 attacks on women human rights defenders and organizations in Mexico. More than half of these attacks (1,011) were collective attacks. We also registered a 45% increase in attacks against organizations or groups, compared to 2022; the majority of these attacks were perpetrated against collectives of women searching for disappeared persons. The states where the majority of these attacks took place were Yucatan (10%), Puebla (9%), Jalisco (7%), Queretaro (6%) and Michoacan (6%). Given its population size, Mexico City is also one of the places with the highest number of attacks (14%).

  • In line with the previous year’s trend, 33% of the attacks were perpetrated against women journalists and defenders of the right to information and freedom of expression (30% in 2022). Attacks against women defenders of truth, justice and reparations continued to grow, both in percentage and in severity (21%). Among these, we must highlight the femicide of three women defenders who searched for disappeared persons; attempted femicide; the tracking, threats and surveillance of three searching mothers; and attacks by state police during demonstrations by those who demand that disappeared persons be found alive. Compared with the previous year, there was also a 20% increase in attacks against women defenders of land, territory and natural resources. We documented 349 attacks against this group of women defenders, accounting for 19% of the total number of women attacked in the country throughout the year. These women defenders often confront the powerful economic interests behind extractive or infrastructure projects. Some of the recorded attacks were linked to the resistance against the Mayan train megaproject, the mega pig farm in Yucatan, the inter-oceanic corridor in Oaxaca, the Bonafont Company’s water exploitation in Puebla and various real estate projects throughout the country.

  • Meanwhile, the number of digital attacks against women defenders (446) in Mexico increased by 41% in 2023 compared to 2022. The most frequent types of digital attacks were restrictions or attacks for communicating and/or receiving information (56); challenging or questioning women defenders’ leadership, credibility, professionalism or morality (55); and threats (54). For example, in April 2023, we documented digital attacks such as the hacking of and threats to communications media that promote women’s rights perpetrated by anti-rights groups.


  • In 2023, we registered 1,508 attacks against Nicaraguan women defenders, organizations and groups that defend human rights. Compared to 2022, we identified a significant decrease in institutional attacks, since the majoring of organizations defending rights were illegally shut down in the earlier year. In a context of absolute closure of all spaces for participation and human rights defense, the attacks in 2023 focused on personal (58%) and collective attacks (37%) against women defenders who are political prisoners, their family members and persons who were exiled. The majority of attacks were perpetrated against those who defend women’s right to political participation (34%); feminist defenders who defend a broad diversity of women’s rights (22%); and victims, family members of victims or people who accompany the search for truth, justice and reparations in situations of serious human rights violations.

  • At the beginning of 2023, we documented 49 attacks related to banishment, revoking the citizenship or residence permit of women defenders. These occurred in the context of the 9 February release of 222 political prisoners and the subsequent accusation, revoking of nationality and confiscation of assets of another 94 people – including 23 women human rights defenders, journalists and activists. Starting in May, arbitrary detentions and the absence of legal protection for women defenders continued, including arrests without warrants and express trials held via video calls at night and/or without the accused being transferred to the Judicial Complex, without the right to select their defense and on charges of “conspiracy against national integrity and propagation of false news”.

  • In relation of the criminalization processes against women defenders in Nicaragua, we documented the following types of attacks: 30 arbitrary detentions; 28 forced disappearances due to concealment of whereabouts after arbitrary detentions; 44 launches of legal proceedings; and 42 attacks involving lack of legal protection due to arbitrary acts committed by the authorities. Of the women defenders who were detained, 13 remain as political prisoners as of the date of publishing this report. Meanwhile, others were released and forced to remain in their homes and report periodically to the police to sign in, thus finding themselves in a situation of de facto civil death as they are not allowed to work or move freely. In addition, we documented the alarming situation of women political prisoners, who face torture (4 documented cases) and cruel, inhuman and/or degrading treatment (40 documented cases), as well as the denial of daily access to a courtyard, sunshine, drinking water and high-quality professional medical assistance. In the last quarter of the year, family members expressed concern about the physical and emotional exhaustion of the women defenders, as well as the harm caused to the family environment by their deprivation of liberty: deterioration of the economic situation in their households, emotional impacts on their children and the risk and vulnerability due to the regular surveillance.

  • In many situations, Nicaraguan women defenders have been forced to leave the country due to the violence they face, leaving behind their families, communities and collectives. We registered 69 personal forced displacements in 2023, marking it as the year with the highest number of displacements of women defenders since the start of the governmental repression in 2018.

  • Finally, it is relevant to highlight that 33.6% of the attacks registered in Nicaragua in 2023 took place in the digital sphere. We identified an increase in online attacks against feminist women defenders who had participated in the Sandinista revolution during the 1980s. These attacks – perpetrated by online users aligned with the ultra-right – frequently involve spreading fake news and verbal violence with misogynist expressions that mention the women defenders’ sexual orientation, age or physical appearance.

  1. All the figures presented in this report are preliminary, based on data gathered in March 2024. We are constantly documenting and validating information on new attacks against women defenders, so the figures may shift slightly in the future. ↩︎︎
  2. Total number of women defenders: To avoid double counting, the total number of women defenders attacked excludes multiple attacks, counting women defenders who faced both personal and collective attacks only once (84 women defenders were attacked both personally and as part of a collective in 2023). This number also excludes unidentified women defenders who were part of a collective attacked. ↩︎︎
  3. See Rebeldes y persistentes. Informe de la realidad de las defensoras en Honduras 2023. [The 2023 report on women defenders in Honduras, in Spanish] National Network of WHRDs in Honduras (RNDDH for its acronym in Spanish) ↩︎︎

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