Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights is a global women’s fund that protects, strengthens and sustains women and transgender human rights defenders at critical moments. We intervene quickly when activists are poised to make great gains or face serious threats to their lives and work. We use online, text and mobile funding applications to respond to requests from women’s human rights defenders within 72 hours and have funds on the ground within 1-7 days.

Urgent Action Fund builds the resilience of women’s rights and movements in three ways:

Our Mission

What are “women’s human rights defenders”?

Urgent Action Fund supports women’s human rights defenders (or WHRDs) throughout the world. This term “human rights defender” is used by the United Nations and many international organizations to recognize and protect activists who take on some of the most challenging issues in their communities and countries.

According to the United Nations, a human rights defender is someone who acts “to address any human right (or rights) on behalf of individuals or groups. Human rights defenders seek the promotion and protection of civil and political rights as well as the promotion, protection and realization of economic, social and cultural rights.” 

The United Nations provided human rights defenders with international recognition and protection through the passage of the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (commonly known as the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders). The UN General Assembly adopted this document in December 1998 after 14 years of negotiation.

While the United States projects a pro-human rights image to the world, the U.S. often fails to advocate for human rights defenders when they are working in countries with substantial energy resources or that are of geopolitical or military importance to the U.S.

In addition to the challenges human rights defenders face, women’s human rights defenders often face serious backlash not only from government authorities, but also from within their own communities, because they are transgressing traditional gender norms. Furthermore, funding is not prioritized for women’s human rights defenders. Both Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights, and the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRDIC), were founded to provide support and advocacy for women’s human rights defenders. WHRDIC writes: “Those advocating for women’s human rights – no matter what gender or sexual orientation they claim – are in fact human rights defenders. Their gender or the nature of their work has made them the subject of attacks, requiring gender-sensitive mechanisms for their protection and support.”

Urgent Action Fund partners with women’s movements worldwide to support women’s human rights defenders striving to create cultures of justice, equality and peace. 

Values and Change

We are led by activists, rooted in feminism, and strengthened through solidarity. We believe that the best way to support activists seeking to effect systemic change is to adopt a flexible, adaptive grantmaking approach that supports the creativity and vision of grassroots leaders and a diversity of tactics. This is because grassroots activists are constantly devising new methods for creating change. Flexible grantmaking allows activists to innovate and respond to unanticipated situations as they arise.

Within this flexible framework, what then are the ingredients of systemic change? First, we believe that grassroots leadership and community action are crucial. Urgent Action Fund supports long-term change efforts by supporting the vision, creativity, and agency of local activists – and not telling them what they should be doing.

Second, we believe that women have a unique contribution to make. The link between women and peace-building is well known but poorly supported. Women are often excluded from peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction processes. Urgent Action Fund supports women as agents of change in their communities.

Third, it is critical to recognize that changing oppressive systems often results in violent backlash. As one of our grantees and advisors, Almut Rochowanski, said: “Women fighting for women’s rights challenge the underpinnings of patriarchal society – and that elicits a violent reaction. If you want social change, you have to have security. UAF understands this, that investing in activists’ security is not only a moral imperative – it is critical to social change… And it’s also a good investment! These women have built networks and knowledge; they’ve raised money to continue the work. If their work falls apart because of a security threat, you lose all that. But if you make a small investment in security, you keep all of these assets, all the potential, all the momentum.” Urgent Action Fund provides Protection & Security grants to women’s human rights activists.

Fourth, funders, politicians, and policymakers play an important role in systemic change. Therefore, Urgent Action Fund leverages the power we have as a funder to advocate on behalf of our grantees with larger foundations and in political and policy circles.

And finally, we believe funders must see ourselves as part of movements for change, and hold ourselves accountable accordingly. Funders, then, have an opportunity to play a role in shifting the power dynamics between funder and grantee and between the global north and global south. This includes everything from how, where, and from whom we raise money, down to the daily interactions we have with activists and our donors. Urgent Action Fund trusts activists on the ground to identify effective strategies that we are committed to financially supporting and advocating for. We respect their knowledge, and honor their autonomy and dignity in all that we do. As Rauda Morcos, a Palestinian queer activist who lives in Israel, told us, “Urgent Action Fund listens, communicates, and adapts to the needs of activists. When you speak with UAF, you’re speaking at eye level: activist to activist.”

Our values and concept of change are inextricably intertwined, and all of our programming flows from this source.