On a shaded blue background, there is a big mobile screen on the left which shows social media icons and chains breaking around it. The bottom right corner has a spiderweb and words are going through the screen in a squiggly wave, such as "harmful stereotypes" :disinformation" and "triggering content". The image has "16 Days of Activism" at the bottom & #DefeatDeceit at the top. On the right, we see a row of people using their digital devices to send & receive information. Yellow leaves on the bottom right.


Archismita Choudhury

Women Human Rights Defenders — which includes queer and non-binary defenders — have been fighting and advocating for environmental and climate justice in a number of ways, supported by strong relationships with their communities and territories.

From a push for policies and laws — both locally and internationally — and direct action (for example: protests and blockades) to research, analysis and cross-movement collaboration, women human rights defenders of environmental justice show exemplary leadership across crucial arenas. This makes them more vulnerable to significant risks to their life and safety — such as instances of actual violence, or relentless threats to their close ones or themselves, and legal harassment by vested interests.

In the online sphere, one such weapon of harassment that ends in real damage is gendered disinformation. Gendered disinformation is a strategy to silence women and queer folks that “uses false or misleading gender and sex-based narratives against women, often with some degree of coordination”, and aims to stop women and queer (human rights defenders) from taking part in digital publics.[1]

This online tool is weaponised against environmental women human rights defenders in multiple ways:

Casting aspersions on integrity: Gendered disinformation may target women human rights defenders of environmental justice by publishing false or misleading information about their personal lives, ethics, or motivations — which is then disseminated through inauthentic coordinated action online. This often includes rumours, fake news, or manipulated images and videos aimed at discrediting them and undermining their credibility as activists.

Exploiting gendered double standards: Women human rights defenders of environmental justice may face sexualised attacks or harassment online. This may include explicit images or messages designed to intimidate or silence them. These attacks not only undermine their dignity and credibility via taking advantage of gendered and sexual double standards, but also aim to deter them from continuing their advocacy and leadership.

Reducing individual credibility via gendered biases: Gendered disinformation often seeks to undermine the authority and expertise of women human rights defenders of environmental justice by portraying them as irrational, emotional, or incompetent. This often leads to their voices being marginalised, perceived as less important, or ignored in environmental discussions or policy-making processes.

Using gendered double standards and biases to silence WHRDs: Gendered disinformation can help exacerbate existing gender (and other forms of) biases to create divisions within activist communities or between women human rights defenders of environmental justice and other stakeholders. It can also lead to targets of these campaigns to bow out of ongoing discussions, which then weakens collective efforts to address environmental issues.

Gendered disinformation can also exploit the vulnerabilities of women human rights defenders in their societal roles and responsibilities, such as caregiving responsibilities or familial and community dependence, to manipulate or coerce WHRDs into silence or compliance.

Real threats of offline violence: Gendered disinformation can also escalate into real-world threats, including legal harassment or physical violence, including death, which pose serious risks to the safety and well-being of women human rights defenders and their families.

Decreasing advocacy support: Gendered disinformation can erode public support for their advocacy and activism via the spread of false information about women human rights defenders of environmental justice, This makes it harder for environmental WHRDs to mobilise critical resources, build partnerships, and create meaningful changes in environmental policies or practices.

It is important to note here that in the process of defending their territories and communities, women human rights defenders of environmental justice face enhanced threats that also attack other parts of their identity — apart from gender — if they are part of historically opressed groups. This means that they face intersectional discrimination and have a heightened vulnerability to attacks of gendered disinformation. [2]
 These added axes may include:

  • Women human rights defenders of racial, ethnic, religious, and other minorities.
  • Disability rights women human rights defenders or disabled women human rights defenders.
  • Queer and other gender-diverse women human rights defenders.
  • Women human rights defenders of sex workers’ rights, as well as informal, domestic and low-wage workers’ rights.
  • Migrant, displaced, refugee, or stateless women human rights defenders and those affected by conflict and occupation.
  • Women human rights defenders deprived of their liberty.
  • Women human rights defenders who are young activists.

Intersecting identities don't just influence the scale or depth of attacks. They also influence social structures and cultural norms that can deter women human rights defenders from accessing services and resources in response to violence.

What women human rights defenders of environmental justice need are enhanced and specific protections that allows them to be able to carry out their work without restriction or fear of reprisal.

Key stakeholders from across the board can support the advocacy of environmental women human rights defenders in multiple ways. States, for example, can do the following:

  • Ensure the meaningful participation of women environmental human rights defenders by eliminating barriers to participation due to gender or other structural elements.
  • Respect, protect and fulfil the rights of women environmental human rights defenders, and provide an enabling environment for the peaceful defence of their lands and territories and the promotion of the right to a healthy environment.
  • If violations, such as those carried out via gendered disinformation, occur, to provide targets with access to effective judicial remedies and reparation.

Here’s what businesses can do, as per the UN Guidance on ensuring respect for human rights defenders:

  • Support human rights defenders and their work, publicly and privately.
  • Develop policies on respect for the rights of human rights defenders.
  • Take into account adverse impacts to human rights defenders as part of their human rights due diligence.
  • Raise awareness and build internal company capacity to strengthen effective due diligence that takes human rights defenders into account.
  • Build and exercise leverage to address impacts of activities on human rights defenders.
  • Ensure equal participation of women environmental human rights defenders in stakeholder engagement or consultation processes.
  • Ensure that free, prior and informed consent, including women and girls, withdraw operations that do not fulfil the requirement.
  • Refrain from attacking, harassing and/or intimidating women environmental human rights defenders including physical attacks, smear campaigns, and gender-based attacks.
  • When redressing harm, businesses must ensure that provisions governing access to justice, remedy and support services are gender-responsive.


The above action points were taken from, or inspired by, the WHRD-IC inputs to UN SR report on ‘Women, Girls And The Right To A Clean, Healthy And Sustainable Environment’ and can be adapted very well to the contexts of gendered disinformation campaigns against women human rights defenders of environmental justice across the world.