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"Women Human Rights Defenders in Asia: Fighting for Freedom & Democracy
NGO CSW 65 Event

March 17, 2021

On March 17, 2021, during the first week of the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW65),  Human Rights Now-NY hosted an online event titled "Women Human Rights Defenders in Asia: Fighting for Freedom & Democracy." 

This event aimed to highlight the activities of women human rights defenders (WHRDs) in the Asia region and the challenges they face. Due to their work, they are susceptible to discrimination and violence, and often become the target of intimidation and reprisals by authorities.


The event featured several prominent WHRDs across Asia who have risked their lives to defend freedom and democracy, the very foundation of human rights and gender equality. Speakers highlighted the importance of empowering women, girls and youth in order to build a society where full participation in public life is guaranteed to all.


Dr. Alice Nah

Dr Alice Nah is a Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Applied Human Rights, University of York, UK, where she conducts research on the security and protection of human rights defenders at risk. Her recent book, Protecting Human Rights Defenders at Risk, proposes ways in the which the protection of defenders should be reimagined and practiced. She is the Chair of the Board of Protection International. 


Dr. Tomoko Ako

Tomoko Ako is Professor of Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Tokyo. Her research interests include empowerment of socially vulnerable people such as migrant workers, HIV/AIDS positives, women, elderly people and children, with a particular focus on China. She has conducted research on migrant workers of new generation, HIV/AIDS victims who contracted the virus through blood selling and transfusion, building of social capital in rural development, and so on.


Recently she has been involved in research projects on civil society and social media, in China and Hong Kong, and has interviewed a wide range of public intellectuals, human rights lawyers, and journalists.

Her recent publications include,  Criminal Justice, Law Education, Legal Awareness in East Asia (Gendai jinbunsha, 2019), and Where is Hong Kong heading for? (Jigu, 2020).

Gulalai Ismail

Gulalai Ismail is a founder of Aware Girls. She is an exiled human rights activist who escaped an enormous dragnet and made it to the United States in 2019 after she was put on a State kill List due to her work on women's rights and countering and preventing violent extremism. 

Saba Ismail

Saba Ismail is a co-founder of Aware Girls. She is a feminist, peace activist and is working for the empowerment of young women. At the age of 15, with other young women fellows, she co-founded “Aware Girls”; a young-women-led organization working for empowering young women by strengthening the leadership capacity of young women enabling them to work for social change and women empowerment, and advocate for equal access of women to health, education, governance, political participation, and other social services. 

Wai Wai Nu

Wai Wai Nu is the founder and Executive Director of the Women’s Peace Network in Burma. Due to her father’s activities as a member of the parliament, she was arrested at the age of 18 and had been detained for seven years as a political prisoner. Since her release, she has been active in promoting democracy, advocating for human rights and organizing opportunities to build bridges between people from different ethnicities in Myanmar.


She has received numerous awards for her contribution to building an inclusive future for Myanmar, including the N-Peace Awards (2014), Democracy Courage Tributes (2015), World Movement for Democracy (2015), the Hillary Rodham Clinton Award (2018), and Impact Hero (2019). She has been named as a Next Generation Leader, Time Magazine (2017); one of the “100 Top Women,” BBC (2014); 100 inspiring women, Salt Magazine (2017); and 100 World Thinkers, Foreign Policy Magazine (2015); and among Women of the Year, Financial Times (2017).


She is a graduate of the University of Yangon in Burma (LL.B.) and University of Berkeley (LL.M) and served as a visiting scholar with the University of Michigan, and Columbia University. She was also a Draper Hills Summer Fellow at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, Stanford University.

Kazuko Ito 

Since 1994, Ms. Kazuko Ito has been active as a Tokyo-based human rights lawyer dedicated to women’s and children’s rights, criminal justice/death penalty and public interest litigation in Japan as well as critical of human rights issues around the world. In 2004-2005, she researched international human rights law as a Hauser research fellow at NYU School of Law. In 2005, she worked for several human rights organizations including the Center for Constitutional Rights in NY.


In 2006, Kazuko Ito established Human Rights Now (HRN), the first international human rights NGO based in Japan, and since then she has served as its Secretary General. She also serves as a gender equality committee of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations. She has published several books on human rights issues in Japanese.

Women Human Rights Defenders

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