Report by IM-Defensoras documents 35,000 attacks against women defenders in the region since 2012.

  • 200 women defenders were killed and another 228 survived assassination attempts.

The Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders (IM-Defensoras) is presenting the main findings of the report Data that Hurt Us, Networks that Save Us. 10+ Years of Attacks against Women Human Rights Defenders in Mesoamerica (2012-2023)”. This document, soon to be published in an extended version, brings visibility and offers a feminist and intersectional analysis of the violence that women human rights defenders face in El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua, based on data gathered over ten years through the Mesoamerican Registry of Attacks on Women Defenders. This historical analysis reveals the systematic violence that seeks to silence the voices and weaken the struggles of women and sex-gender dissidences who work for a Mesoamerican region free from exploitation and inequalities.

Data that hurt us

Between 2012 and 2023, IM-Defensoras documented 35,077 attacks against 8,926 women defenders and 956 organizations. In that same period, 200 women defenders were killed and another 228 survived assassination attempts. Forty-five percent of attacks were perpetrated by the State through police agents, authorities from different levels of government, and military forces. Furthermore, the report shows how in most of these attacks, States act to protect the interests of de facto powers such as extractive corporations, organized crime, and fundamentalist anti-rights groups, among others. Far from being a matter of failed States, the report findings show that State authorities and de facto power-holders work hand in hand to repress those who place their interests at risk, and to maintain a system of privilege, accumulation through dispossession, and territorial plunder.

The women defenders most attacked in this period were those who defend the right to truth, justice, and reparations (23%) – like the “searching mothers” in Mexico, members of the Mothers of April Association in Nicaragua, and family members of the girls killed in the massacre at Virgen de la Asuncion children’s home in Guatemala, among others. They are followed by women defenders of land and territory (15.6%), particularly in Honduras where attacks on Garifuna, Lenca, and peasant communities that defend their territories and cosmovisions have been on the rise since the assassination of Berta Caceres in 2016. Those who defend the right to inform and the freedom of expression are also one of the most attacked collectives (14.1%), especially in countries with consolidated authoritarian governments – such as Nicaragua and El Salvador – that have enacted laws limiting and criminalizing these rights, or in contexts like Mexico where powerful media oligopolies coexist with the complicity of and in alliance with local authorities and organized crime.

Harassment, smear campaigns, threats, and criminalization are among the most frequently documented attacks; often, these are repeated and escalate to physical and psychological violence, leading to more vicious attacks such as imprisonment, forced displacement, or murder. According to IM-Defensoras, women human rights defenders are attacked for defending rights and fighting gender inequality. This is a form of patriarchal violence that seeks to make an example of women defenders in order to send an inhibiting message, using gender stereotypes, sexist insults, and sexual violence, and, in 39% of cases, even attacking people in their close circles.

Networks that save us

Despite the violence they face, women defenders, through their struggles and daily human rights work, continue fighting for life and building hope. In order to protect their lives and crucial struggles, IM-Defensoras has dedicated more than 14 years to weaving networks and implementing Feminist Holistic Protection strategies.

IM-Defensoras emerged in 2010 to address the violence women defenders face for defending rights and for being women or persons with diverse sex-gender identities who challenge norms. Today, the initiative brings together nearly 3,000 women defenders and 300 organizations in Mesoamerica. Just between 2018 and 2023, this convergence conducted 19,045 accompaniment actions, contributing to the protection and care of 18,058 women defenders at risk.

The report concludes with a set of demands to enable Mesoamerican women defenders to exercise their right to defend rights with greater security and well-being.


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