Women's Human Rights

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About the Women's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch     auf Deutsch

What is the Women's Rights Division (WRD)?

    We are a group of women's rights activists who use international human rights law and norms to promote respect for women's rights throughout the world. Through in-country fact-finding and collaboration with local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), we seek to hold governments (and armed opposition groups) accountable for human rights abuses committed against women. We use press attention and advocacy at the local, national, and international levels to stigmatize governments and compel them to abide by international human rights standards. We are one of three thematic divisions of Human Rights Watch (the others are Children's Rights and Arms).

What is your history?

    We began in 1990 as the Women's Rights Project of Human Rights Watch. Our founding executive director was Dorothy Q. Thomas, who headed the division from October 1990 to February 1998 and is currently doing international human rights consulting. Regan E. Ralph was the executive director of the Women's Rights Division from April 1998 to April 2001. After leaving the Women's Rights Division she worked as the vice president for Health and Reproductive Rights at the National Women's Law Center and is currently the director of the Fund for Global Human Rights. The current executive director, LaShawn R. Jefferson, assumed leadership of the division in July 2001, after having spent over seven years with Human Rights Watch as a fellow, researcher, and deputy director. Our staff now includes an executive director, deputy director, researchers for several geographic regions, and administrative staff.

What do you try to achieve?

    As women's rights activists, our work is to improve the responsiveness of the international human rights system to violations that happen exclusively to women or happen to women because they are women. Much of what we do, such as documenting sexual violence in armed conflict, is to highlight the ways in which different types of violence and discrimination against women are in fact human rights abuses and prohibited under international human rights law and international humanitarian law (the laws of war).

Are women's human rights a new concept?

    The concept of women's human rights stems from the long-evolving field of human rights but emerged as a distinct aspect of human rights during the international women's movements of the 1980s. The human rights framework provided a universal legal context within which women activists and academics from around the world could promote and protect women's rights. Women's right to nondiscrimination is most comprehensively set forth in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Why does Human Rights Watch need a separate Women's Rights Division?

    We think that it is important to have a place within Human Rights Watch that is responsible for having and developing women's rights expertise as an independent unit and as a resource for the rest of the institution. We exist, in part, because the staff members in the geographic divisions of Human Rights Watch do not always have women's rights expertise. In addition, having a separate Women's Rights Division ensures a more sustained focus on women's rights throughout the world.

How do you work with the other divisions of Human Rights Watch?

    We work in various ways, such as doing joint fact-finding, publishing, and advocacy. We review other divisions' written work for gender-specific concerns. We do in-house trainings on women's human rights issues. We collaborate on press statements and public letters. We sometimes do joint fund-raising.

What issues do you work on?

    We work on issues relating to a vast array of women's concerns, including women workers, domestic violence, sexual violence, women and HIV/AIDS, women and armed conflict, international justice, trafficking, refugees and internally displaced persons, gender-based asylum claims, women's status in the family, women's legal status, women in state custody, sexual autonomy, and reproductive rights.

How do you prioritize issues?

    Each year, Human Rights Watch engages in a month-long, institution-wide planning process. Each researcher, having consulted with NGOs in the region where she works, and having monitored the situation on the ground all year, brings potential projects to the table, which are discussed by representatives of the whole organization. We also prioritize responding to emergency human rights situations.

How many missions are done each year?

    Generally, each WRD researcher goes on at least one research mission per year, with the plan to release a new report and conduct extensive advocacy as a result of that mission. Additional missions are sometimes needed due to the complexity of some human rights issues.

What kind of advocacy do you do?

    We work at the national, regional, and international levels to set standards, monitor implementation of those standards, and hold states accountable when they fail to promote and protect women's human rights. For example, the Women's Rights Division has been involved in the negotiations for the International Criminal Court; the U.N. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children; and the Optional Protocol to the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. We work with national women's rights organizations to pressure governments to change laws and practices that discriminate against women and to ensure that states respond quickly and appropriately when women are victims of violence or discrimination.

Where do you get your funding?

    We are funded in part by grants from the Dobkin Family Foundation, the Moriah Fund, the Oak Foundation, and many others. We also receive grants from private foundations and individuals that have an interest in promoting international and women's issues.

What kind of staff positions do you have?

    We have full-time paid staff positions and a rotating population of dedicated fellows and interns. We also have a wonderful Advisory Committee that meets regularly to discuss research and advocacy projects with us.

How can I get a job with the Women's Rights Division?

    Human Rights Watch has an extremely competitive and selective hiring process. We look for a combination of demonstrated commitment to human rights, thematic or regional expertise, languages, academic preparation, and other experience in evaluating potential staff members. Becoming an intern or fellow with Human Rights Watch is also a good way for us to get to know you and vice versa. You may also check our web site, under http://www.hrw.org/jobs/, which regularly lists job opportunities.

How can I get in touch with you?

    You can call the Human Rights Watch office in New York at 212-290-4700 or e-mail the Women's Rights Division at wrd@hrw.org.



Women's Rights Division Home Page
Thematic Issues
Women Workers
Domestic Violence
Sexual Violence
Women and Armed Conflict; International Justice
Refugee and Internally Displaced Women; Gender-Based Asylum Claims
Women's Status in the Family and Legal Status
Women in State Custody
Sexual Autonomy
Campaigns and Focus Pages
About the Women's Rights Division
Frequently Asked Questions
Staff Interviews
Advisory Committee
Staff Information

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