Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative (IM-Defensoras)


The Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative was launched in 2010 in order to develop a comprehensive and regionally-relevant response to increased violence against women human rights defenders. The Initiative is dedicated to strengthening and mobilizing women defenders from distinct social movements and organizations for recognition, enhanced impact and protection in a volatile context. Through an innovative approach that places gender at the heart of protection, the Initiative has been built from the bottom up by convening and organizing a wide range of women defenders from across Mexico and Central America, including those most vulnerable to violence such as rural and indigenous women defending land rights and environmental justice, lesbian and transgender activists, and feminists advocating for an end to violence.

Founded and led by a political alliance between JASS Mesoamerica, La Colectiva Feminista para el Desarrollo Local (El Salvador), AWID, Consorcio para el Diálogo Parlamentario y la Equidad, Oaxaca (México), Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala, (UDEFEGUA) and the Central American Women’s Fund (FCAM), the Initiative benefits from an unusual blend of experience, expertise, geographic scope and relationships. The Initiative’s programs are mainly carried out through National Networks in El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Guatemala. They combine training, self-care, research, social media activism, urgent action and human rights advocacy to raise awareness about the important but often invisible leadership role played by women defenders in the advancement of human rights.

IMD has involved hundreds of women human rights defenders, movements and organizations in shaping and advancing a women-led, cross-movement human rights agenda with several concrete results and accomplishments in three years. Prior to engaging with the Initiative, most women activists would not have called themselves ‘human rights defenders’ and many were skeptical about human rights as a set of ‘failed promises’. While often working in isolation or facing social stigma for speaking out, the act of claiming the title of 'women human rights defender' has helped them to acknowledge the risks they face because of their work in promoting human rights and to take measures to protect themselves. Through the training and information that the Initiative provides, women defenders have learned how to access national, regional, and international human rights tools and mechanisms that explicitly support human rights defenders, and that can provide emergency protection and funds to women activists. So far, the Initiative has:

  • Established a methodology and registry to gather data on attacks and threats against women human rights defenders, the first of its kind in the world;
  • Produced 2 regional reports mapping trends and perpetrators which have made the Initiative a go-to source for regional media, the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders (who used the data in her 2011 report) and utilized by the Inter-American Commision on Human Rights, Amnesty International, Protection International, Peace Brigades International, etc;
  • Contributed to the passage in 2013 of a UN Resolution on the Protection of Women Human Rights Defenders by the 3rd Committee of the UN General Assembly;
  • Directly trained and organized over 380 activists, leaders and journalists in risk prevention, human rights mechanisms, self-care and other strategies; these women have, in turn, trained their organizations and communities reaching 1000s of other activists and movements;  
  • Handled 112 cases where a woman human rights defender was at risk and needed services, including relocation for her and her family;
  • Created 4 national defensoras’ networks in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador which operate as the first line of prevention and protection, ensuring ongoing communication among diverse defenders and protection for those under threat;   
  • Mobilized the resources of regional and international organizations—including JASS, UDEFEGUA, Colectiva Feminista, Consorcio-Oaxaca, AWID and the Central American Women’s Fund which make up the core partnership—and combined that with more than 2 million dollars in financial support to build and sustain these growing efforts;  
  • Innovated a movement-building and feminist approach to protection and risk prevention that relies on a mix of awareness-raising, claiming of the mantle of human rights defender for visibility, network-building, and human rights strategies in a context where fragile states are unable and unwilling to be accountable.