Celebrating Women’s History Month

March 29, 2024

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Lab is highlighting a 2022 post by Sheridan Leinbach spotlighting four women human rights defenders.

Human rights defenders are people who promote human rights through nonviolent actions, individually and collectively with others. Defenders highlight injustices and empower victims. They use information to strategically change attitudes and to advocate for inclusive policies and practices that protect the rights and dignity of themselves and others.


By Sheridan Leinbach, ’24

Greta Thunberg on stage during Fridays For Future at Medborgarplatsen in Stockholm on 14 February 2020.

“Greta Thunberg in 2020,” by Frankie Fouganthin via Wikimedia Commons

Greta Thunberg

Greta Thunberg is a powerful Swedish climate and environmental activist. Thunberg believes that climate change is the most pressing issue of our time, and it is inherently linked to other challenges facing our generation. Thunberg is critical of government leaders and their lack of action on climate, advocating for stricter legislation and greater compliance with international climate agreements like the Paris Accords and UN adopted standards. She is also working to stop government subsidization of and investment in fossil fuels, advocating instead for government investment and research into sustainable technologies and restoring the natural world.

Thunberg’s activism began with her family taking simple steps to reduce their own carbon footprint. She first captured global media attention when photographs of her sitting outside the Swedish Parliament holding a “School Strike for Climate Sign” went viral. She gained publicity both for her youth (she was 15 years old) and for her effectiveness as a blunt messenger for climate rights. Thunberg mobilized others and her 3-week protest has transformed into a youth-led global climate movement, Fridays for Future.

Thunberg has spoken at the 2018 and 2019 UN Climate Action Summits, advocating for a more environmentally friendly future, reminding nations of agreements and treaties, and proposing international environmental legislation. She has collected multiple awards and accreditation including Time’s Person of the Year in 2019, Time’s 100 Most Influential People, the honorary Fellowship of the Royal Scottish Geography Society, and was nominated for the Nobel Prize three times.

Due in large part to the activism of the world’s youth, including activists like Thunberg, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed its first resolution recognizing access to a safe and healthy environment as a universal right in October 2021. The text directly credits the effort of 1,100 civil society, child, youth and indigenous people’s organizations. Greta Thunberg is a human rights defender who has inspired and mobilized thousands of others to defend environmental and climate rights.


Dolores Huerta

“Dolores Huerta,” by Tom Hilton via Wikimedia Commons

Dolores Huerta

Dolores Huerta is an American labor leader and civil rights advocate. At her core she believes in and fights for every individual’s basic human rights. She advocates for minority and immigrant farmer’s rights to jobs and safe working conditions, government protection, and access to medical care.

Huerta co-founded the Community Service Organization and the National Farm Workers Association, later transformed into the United Agricultural Workers Association Committee. Dolores Huerta, on behalf of the National Farm Workers Association, was the first to successfully bargain with the agriculture enterprise.

She organized the 1970s Delano Grape Strike, which is considered one of the most successful boycott’s in United States history. It led to 26 grape growers, 35 percent of the industry, signing union contracts.

Dolores Huerta’s advocacy, leadership, and resistance has resulted in her receiving the Presidential Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1990, the United Nations established the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their Families (CRMW), but the work to protect migrant worker rights continues and Huerta remains at the forefront of defending worker’s human rights and advocating for the most vulnerable. The Dolores Huerta Foundation connects community-based organizing to state and national movements to register and educate voters; advocate for education reform; bring infrastructure improvements to low-income communities; advocate for LGBT equality; and develop strong leaders.


Stacey Abrams 

Stacey Abrams close up against black background

“Stacey Abrams,” by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons

Stacey Abrams is an American politician and voting rights advocate. Abrams believes that every person has a right to participate in their government, should have equal access to the ballot, and the ability to be heard by their elected officials. Abrams is an advocate for a variety of rights. She is a vocal supporter of Women’s reproductive rights. She fights to make raising a family more accessible, promotes civil rights, promotes equal and equitable education, supports government investment in renewable energy sources, and promotes equal voting rights.

In 2018, Abrams founded Fair Fight Action, an organization focused on voting rights. It promotes fair elections, voter education, and increased voter participation. The organization is fighting back against voter suppression efforts, and helping to shine a light on current and past voter suppression, particularly efforts to disenfranchise voters of color and young voters. Her activism encouraged thousands of Georgians to register to vote for the first time, and led to a substantially increased voter turnout for the 2020 Presidential election.

Outlined in Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, voting is one of the most basic and sacred human rights a person holds. Because of her dedicated work on upholding and promoting equality, voter participation, and fair elections, Stacy Abrams is a human rights defender.


Aman Al-Hassan* and the women White Helmets

Aman Al-Hassan, A Syrian teacher and mother of four, was one of the first female volunteers in the Syrian Civil Defence Forces – also known as the White Helmets. The White Helmets are a volunteer corps who have responded to the absence of core government services by becoming first responders to save civilian lives in the Syrian civil war. By 2020, the Syrian Civil Defence has more than 4,300 volunteers including more than 450 women. These women, along with other White Helmet volunteers, run into the destruction and rubble to find and save survivors – their motto is, “to save one life is to save all of humanity.” They hope to promote peace, the ending of the war, and a more democratic future. Yet their primary goal remains not governance, but in saving people’s lives and rehabilitating people.

Through their tireless efforts, the women of the White Helmets have rescued hundreds along with their male volunteers, as well as outlined the needs of women and expanded the organization’s services as a result. In addition to search and rescue missions, the women have also established and staff trauma care, counseling, community education, first aid workshops, medical care facilities, and maternal health clinics. These female White Helmet Volunteers are showing that women are equal in capabilities and should be provided equal access to opportunity and protection.

Al-Hassan, and other women of the White Helmets, are human rights defenders. They are supporting resistance through non-violent actions while defending core principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the right to life, the right to freedom, and the right to equal treatment and protection under the law regardless of gender. Every day these women go out and risk their lives to help others. Their courage and dedication is what makes them not only human rights defenders, but also heroes.

*Name has been changed for security reasons.

Learn more about women human rights defenders in our gallery of defenders.   

Sheridan Leinbach is a political science and history major with a concentration in public policy and service from the Gerald R. Ford Institute for Public Service. Active in numerous campus organizations, Leinbach is passionate about promoting democracy and human rights. The views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily represent those of Albion College.