Women human rights defenders: indispensable in resolution of war and conflict

Hrystyna Kit has dedicated her life to fight gender-based violence in Ukraine. Then came Russia's full-scale invasion. The only thing she could do was to keep fighting.

#16 days of activism

  • “16 days of activism against gender-based violence” is an annual international campaign to promote women’s human rights, and increase awareness about the devastating impact on gender based violence on women and girls. It kicks off on the International day to eliminate violence against women 25 November, and ends on the Human Rights day 10 December.
  • One of the campaign days is the International day of women human rights defenders on 29 November. This day is established to point to both the indispensable role of women in human rights and democracy building, as well as the problems Women human rights defenders are faced with.
  • Do you want to know more about 16 days of activism? https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/unite/16-days-of-activism

This year, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee uses the campaign 16 days of activism against gender-based violence to promote the work of some of the women human rights defenders that amaze us, and who have found their own way of making the world more equal, one person at the time.

Lawyer and founder of JurFem

Hrystyna Kit is a Ukranian jurist, attorney, and a co-founder of JurFem (Women Lawyers Association), a broad national network of female lawyers. She lives and works in the West-Ukrainian city of Lviv. Since its founding in 2017, JurFem was providing legal aid for all forms of gender-based violence and discrimination, winning landmark cases in the European Court of Human rights, advocating for ratification of Istanbul convention, while at the same time helping legislators implement provisions from the convention in the existing body of laws.

After the full-scale Russian invasion in February, JurFem was first to create a pro bono legal aid hotline to help victims of the conflict who encountered sexual violence, rape, sexual harassment. In the tumultuous time of active war, Hrystyna had both to lead her organisation, assist colleagues who fled their homes, help the survivors, as well as continue her tireless fight for a more equal and just Ukraine.

“It’s not only about law the law, it’s about something bigger”

Though conflict adds new challenges to women’s rights protection, Hrystyna’s work has been resonating for a long time. Already as university freshman she started volunteering at an NGO working with victims of domestic violence.

“It was important for me to communicate directly with the survivors, because I lived through a situation of domestic violence, and I am also a survivor.”

Hrystyna is acutely aware of her role, not only as a lawyer, but also as advocate for a broader change in the society when it concerns dealing with gender-based violence. Ukraine is still a country where the structural violence is displayed by the countless stereotypes assigned to women based on patriarchal standards. Working with these cases is difficult, both due to lack of good practices and judgmental attitudes that prevent survivors from seeking help.

“Many lawyers in Ukraine don’t understand why survivors from gender-based violence don’t want to cooperate with the police”, she says.

The landmark ratification of Istanbul convention in summer 2022, which JurFem fiercely advocated for many years, opens new avenues for women’s rights defenders in Ukraine. Yet, according to Hrystyna, its not only about the law itself, but also how it is implemented and practiced. Her ultimate goal is to create those good practices, and to show the women that they can be open about the abuse, without being judged by lawyers, police officers, prosecutors, or society as a whole.

“By sharing my knowledge, I don’t help one, but many”

Although being in the forefront of social justice movements that have benefited everyone, JurFem and Hrystyna’s work does not always receive the deserved attention. Moreover, the lawyers and women defenders often find themselves on the receiving end of threats and attacks. Hrystyna sees the lack of society’s awareness about the work they do as one of the main challenges and aims to communicate more and better in the future. “We work hard, but sometimes we don’t have time to explain our work to our society. It is a big task to be a women human rights defenders, we need to make people understand it.” “Our work needs to be useful for society, if they don’t understand then they won’t use”

Hrystyna sees closer contact with the human rights and women’s movement in Ukraine, and abroad as a way of connecting and learning from each other. “It’s important that women human rights defenders across the globe communicate with each other because I believe that when we share our problems, it is easier for us to get good protection mechanisms and practices. Now, many Ukrainian women are living in other countries and needing this legal help from there”.

Hrystyna’s point is reccognized by significant human rights resolutions. One of them is the landmark Security Council resolution on Women, peace and Security, Resolution 1325, which underlines that human rights defenders like her are pivotal to resolving war and conflict. And the UN General Assembly have also adopted Resolution 68.181 urging that women human rights defenders gain the necessary protection they need, connected to the additional risk they face in comparison with other human rights defenders.

Hrystyna has no doubt that women should be occupying more leadership positions. Women can have a different take on problems, which means they may resolve conflicts differently, observed Hrystyna. She is especially passionate about involving and educating youth, simultaneously to opening for new generations’ voices.

“We organize summer school for young women lawyers and try to cooperate with them. We believe that if young women share information with other young women, they will understand it better. In JurFem we have 10 women and 5 of them were part of our summer school. My colleagues can grow with me, and I grow with them.”

All photos by: JurFem

For more information, please contact:


Olya Shamshur Flydal

Senior AdviserEmail: [email protected]Phone: +47 97 73 53 43
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Mina Wikshåland Skouen

Senior Adviser Equal RightsEmail: [email protected]Phone: +47 90 82 50 76
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Lasse Thomassen

Senior AdviserEmail: [email protected]Phone: +47 947 945 61
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Sara Machado

Advocacy and Communications AdviserEmail: [email protected]Phone: +47 453 80 822Twitter: @machadosara_
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