Honoring Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE): A 2021 Recipient of the Don & Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award

At the heart of human rights work lies a strong commitment to justice and an ability collaborate with community partners – two qualities which Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE) champions. WAVE has been a long-time partner of The Advocates for Human Rights. A network based in Vienna, Austria, WAVE is dedicated to uplifting and protecting the rights of women and children. Together, the two organizations have worked on global initiatives to protect women’s rights. Stephanie Futter-Orel – Executive Manager of the WAVE Network and expert on the prevention of gender-based violence – and Marcella Pirrone –WAVE President and women’s rights lawyer – are two staunch women’s rights defenders from WAVE who have been integral to the partnership between WAVE and The Advocates. Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to speak with these two women and learn more about their collaboration with The Advocates and impact that their work at WAVE has had on the state of women’s rights in Europe.

WAVE is a feminist network comprised of 160 member organizations in 46 different European countries. WAVE works to tackle and prevent violence against women and children through advocating for better legislation and providing their partner organizations with the resources to do the same. Futter-Orel notes, “[t] here is a lot of good theory out there, but the practice is often the problem…Our member organizations learn about good practices from other countries.” WAVE members include non-governmental organization networks, survivors, and academics – all of whom work together to protect the human rights of women and children. The organizations within the WAVE network provide a combination of counseling and legal support. Futter-Orel describes the impact of WAVE’s work:

[WAVE] provides holistic support. All of our members provide very targeted and specialized support to women. [This] in effect, leads to [these] women being able to exit either a violent relationship or other forms of violence … up to eight times quicker than if they just engaged with a generic victim support service or state agency. A lot of the women that our members work with would not approach government services like the police or social services.

WAVE Project Highlights

Every two years, WAVE publishes a Country Report, which provides an overview and assessment of specialist support services for women in four key areas: women’s shelters, national helplines, women’s centers, and specialist support services for survivors of sexualized violence. The data collected through the Country Report identifies the gaps in resources and serves as a tool to increase awareness and lobby for increased services. The most recent WAVE Country Report is from 2019, and WAVE’s next report will be finished by the end of 2021. This country report is particularly important with respect to countries that have signed and or ratified the Istanbul Convention. The Istanbul Convention, also known as the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, is an international treaty dedicated to preventing violence against women. WAVE President Marcella Pirrone noted during a conference in Berlin, celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Istanbul Convention, that the “Istanbul Convention is an important instrument to defend women’s human rights, which sets gold standards in preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.” Futter-Orel contends that “[t]he problem is … particularly for those countries where the Istanbul Convention has been signed and ratified, their governments say that they have great services and great funding … [but, in reality,] that is often not the case.” The WAVE Country Report provides a grass roots perspective on the progress of the services in these countries. Futter-Orel further notes, “during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, women’s specialist services were often the ones who continued their service provision, and even expanded it to providing food and other basic supplies, where many government organisations were unable to provide any services or only to a very reduced degree. These women’s organisations did this, without any additional funding and even with less funding than prior to the pandemic, often relying on volunteers.”

            Another WAVE initiative is CYBERSAFE – a partnership project that developed and promote an innovative experiential educational prevention programme – the CYBERSAFE Toolkit – that includes playful online tools to address the issue of online violence against women and girls among young people (13–16 years old) in a classroom setting. CYBERSAFE promotes healthy relationships and gender equality online.

Partnership between WAVE and The Advocates

Pirrone and Futter-Orel proudly spoke of the joint mission and passion between WAVE and The Advocates. “Meeting The Advocates was very inspiring because I could immediately recognize [their] commitment and strong motivations. I could recognize this sisterhood base which we can build on in terms of having the same goals and passions about women’s human rights,” Pirrone noted. “There is also an enriching perspective to have a dedicated human rights network that comes from a different context outside of Europe but works with us in Europe and has expertise in Europe” Futter-Orel added. Pirrone and Futter-Orel spoke highly of the impact that The Advocates’ research has had on WAVE’s advocacy work. “Rarely is research so targeted to our sector as theirs. The Advocates for Human Rights fill a very crucial gap in research… They provide tailor made support” Futter-Orel noted. They attribute this successful research to The Advocates’ ability to have such strong support from pro bono lawyers and researchers. The remarkable WAVE representatives spoke fondly of the way that The Advocates were able to bring different, yet informed, perspectives to human rights conflicts, calling it a “rich exchange between different cultures and political situations.” Futter-Orel remarked on the power of the partnership between WAVE and The Advocates:

Increasingly the world is becoming more interconnected and violence against women cannot be [solely addressed through] resources on local or even regional levels. But it needs a global collaboration. We can learn as regions from one another. Every region has some strong practices – good and promising practices ¬¬– which could be replicated in other regions. We should not be constantly re-inventing the wheel. We can really strengthen each other.

Women’s Program Director Rosalyn Park spoke warmly about WAVE and the partnership, as well: “WAVE is a unique network that unites women’s human rights organizations from across multiple countries that are facing different challenges. Yet, thanks to WAVE’s work, these women’s human rights defenders come together, stronger together. The impact of WAVE is tremendous – they build capacity of human rights activists, increase public awareness of violence against women, and disseminate cutting-edge information on women’s human rights. I regularly use WAVE’s resources as a source of reliable, up-to-date information in our work. I’m so grateful for our partnership over the years.”

WAVE’s enthusiasm and passion for justice is infectious and has been a source of inspiration for The Advocates. Thank you, WAVE, for all the tremendous work that you do. It is with great honor that The Advocates presents to you the 2021 Don & Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award.


Please join us on Thursday, June 24 for the Human Rights Awards Dinner to Celebrate WAVE and all of our 2021 award recipients. RSVP on our website to receive access information. 

By Jenna Schulman, Advocates for Human Rights intern and student at the University of Pennsylvania 

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