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Women Human Rights Defenders stand up for our rights! Why the EU must stand up for them.

This 8 March, IPPF EN would like to celebrate and pay tribute to Women Human Rights Defenders and the vital role they play in protecting and advancing gender equality and women’s rights, in inspiring ...

This 8 March, IPPF EN would like to celebrate and pay tribute to Women Human Rights Defenders and the vital role they play in protecting and advancing gender equality and women’s rights, in inspiring social change and in challenging the status quo.

Women Human Right Defenders (WHRDs) and civil society actors in Europe have been operating for years in increasingly hostile and dangerous environments, where intimidation, smear campaigns and legal proceedings are used against individuals and organisations. Many of our members and partners – in countries including France, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Spain, to name a few – are facing, or have faced, unacceptable forms of violence and harassment at the hands of state and non-state actors.

In 2024 we are bracing for European Parliament elections in which far-right parties are widely expected to increase their influence in political decision-making, reflecting widespread gains in many Member States. The ongoing rise of authoritarian, regressive and misogynistic movements will continue to undermine human rights, democracy and the rule of law. In this context, gender equality, women’s rights, LGBTIQ+ rights and reproductive freedom will face further serious threats. So too will Women Human Rights Defenders and civil society organisations who defend these values.

As the elections approach, IPPF EN is calling on the politicians who will shortly take over leadership of the EU’s political agenda for the next five years to do all they can to build an inclusive feminist Europe that stands up for gender equality and SRHR.

IPPF EN strongly welcomes the recognition in the EU’s recently-adopted Directive on Combatting Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, that Women Human Rights Defenders are particularly impacted by violence, and that targeting a Women Human Rights Defender, in an attempt to silence them and hinder their activism, demonstrates higher culpability and should carry an increased sentence for the perpetrator. 

But much more needs to be done. We need the EU to guarantee an enabling and safe civic space and step up its support to WHRDs and civil society organisations promoting women’s human rights, gender equality, LGBTIQ rights, Roma rights, migrant rights and SRHR. It must do this financially, investing through EU funding instruments, but also politically, by firmly condemning threats and attacks, offering protection, consulting meaningfully with WHRDs and giving visibility to their actions and causes. Together with our civil society partners, we would specifically like to see the EU adopt a Civil Society Strategy and develop a protection mechanism for human rights defenders, that also recognises that reproductive rights defenders are experiencing specific type of attacks, so that all forms of aggressions, threats, smear campaigns and limitations of civic space can be reported and addressed. This should go hand-in-hand with taking all possible measures to enforce respect for the rule of law, democracy and human rights.

This 8 March, IPPF EN calls on the EU to defend and ensure the safety of women and all people standing up for its core values, in particular women’s human rights and gender equality! This is essential to building an inclusive, feminist Europe with greater freedoms for everyone.


Read here stories of brave human rights defenders who have fought for abortion rights, democracy and the rule of law in Poland. The example of Polish activists and social movements who collectively mobilised vast numbers of women and young people to defeat the far-right governing PiS party in the 2023 elections is an inspiration. It also underlines the urgent need for greater EU-level protections for rights defenders.

Read here the EU elections manifesto of Civil Society Europe, endorsed by IPPF EN, which calls inter alia for the creation of an EU mechanism to protect civil society, activists and defenders. 



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