Portraits of Strength: Women Defending Human Rights 2020

Human Rights House Foundation’s 2020 “Portraits of Strength” photography exhibition honours and celebrates eight independent women human rights defenders from the network of Human Rights Houses. It highlights the vital role that women play locally, nationally and internationally in protecting and advancing human rights.



Women human rights defenders work to protect and advance freedoms, while facing discrimination and stereotypes, based on their gender,  about their role and participation in society. In civil society, women often face additional threats, violations, and abuse – from smear campaigns to sexual and gender-based violence.

In Autumn 2019, Human Rights House Foundation launched its second “Portraits of Strength” photography competition, aiming to highlight the crucial work of women human rights defenders and to shed light on the unique challenges that they face. In 2020, the photographs will be launched as an exhibition.

The photographs were taken by local female photographers and portray and share the stories of strong, inspirational and determined defenders from around the network of Human Rights Houses.

It was inspiring and uplifting to see photographs of such a variety of brave women human rights defenders fighting for their causes across so many countries, each expertly captured by a local female photographer.

Jury joint statement, “Portraits of Strength”

The first exhibition was held at the Human Rights Human Wrongs international documentary film festival in Oslo from 24-29 February 2020.



Human Rights House Foundation’s “Portraits of Strength” photography exhibition honours and celebrates eight independent women human rights defenders from the network of Human Rights Houses. The photographs in this exhibition were taken by local female photographers. The photographs can be downloaded from HRHF’s photo archive.

The Women Human Rights Defenders portrayed are: Gohar Shahnazaryan (Human Rights House Yerevan); Shahla Humbatova (Human Rights House Azerbaijan); Alena Maslyukova (Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House); Yulia Krasilnykova (Educational Human Rights House Chernihiv); Sonja Toskovic (Human Rights House Belgrade); Olga Skrypnyk (Human Rights House Crimea); Nora Sveaass (Human Rights House Oslo); and Baia Pataraia (Human Rights House Tbilisi).

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Past exhibitions

HUMAN International Documentary Festival

24 February – 1 March

Cinemateket, Oslo, Norway

Portraits of Strength: Women Defending Human Rights was exhibited for the first time in the last week of February during the HUMAN International Documentary Festival at Cinemateket in Oslo.




The winning photograph

Baia Pataraia (Human Rights House Tbilisi) photographed by Salome Sagaradze, winning photo in the 2020 “Portraits of Strength” photography competition.

While there were several very good contenders, the winning photograph stood out among good company, and truly captivated our attention.

Jury joint statement, “Portraits of Strength”

On Friday, 17 January 2020, the competition’s jury unanimously chose Salome Sagaradze’s photograph of Baia Pataraia of Human Rights House Tbilisi.

Behind the camera

Giving an insight into her process, photographer Salome Sagaradze said of the photograph, “Baia’s goal is somewhere in the future. In this picture, you can see her looking there, to this future, where she is headed consciously. That is what I wanted to capture that day at the protest.”

Their statement continued: “The winning portrait of Baia Pataraia by Salome Sagaradze stood out with its strong visual language portraying a woman human rights defender in action during a demonstration.”

“Baia Pataraia, whose poise, presence and defiant gaze into the camera, immediately captures your attention. She is the embodiment of feminism, strength, confidence and determination.”

“This powerful presence, along with absolutely magical lighting which backlights hair with an almost halo-like effect, lends itself to a composition that is reminiscent of classical paintings. There is a lasting quality to this image, a feeling of eternity. All of the great images in history have an air of intrigue – an atmosphere that this photograph has no shortage of.”

“The photograph has a documentary quality, there are imperfections in the composition, but these imperfections communicate the credibility and the reality of the situation that the photograph takes place.”

“Taken during a moment in time in Georgia where protesters have been seriously injured, some losing eyes due to rubber bullets being used against them, Salome Sagaradze has captured an important moment in history. At this particular protest, water cannons were used against the crowd. The protests, the smoke, the people, this photograph is an action-reportage and a portrait combine into one. In this setting, both women, Baia Pataraia and photographer Salome Sagaradze, were under pressures of this environment, both at risk for doing their job.”

About the competition


The winning photographer will receive a prize of 1000 EUR. The winning Human Rights House will be invited to propose a follow-up photo project highlighting a human rights issue in the country, with the aim of exhibiting the project at home and abroad. The House should seek to work with the winning photographer once again on the project. The project will be supported up to 2000 EUR.


  • • Portraits should portray women human rights defenders, as courageous, strong, and inspirational.
  • • Each Human Rights House must commission and collaborate with a female professional photographer.
  • • Photographs can be taken either in studio or in the field.
  • • Each Human Rights House may submit a single entry in full colour or black and white.
  • • Submissions should be high-resolution files in TIFF format.
  • • HRHF only will accept minimal photo editing including cropping, colour correction, contrast and very light retouch. Heavily retouched photographs will be disqualified. HRHF may ask to see RAW/original files.
  • • Watermarks and other overlays are unacceptable. These entries will be disqualified.
  • • Images may be subject to cropping by HRHF for promotional purposes and/or uniformity in presentation.

History of the competition

A landmark UN resolution in 2013 (General Assembly resolution 68/181), acknowledged these serious challenges women human rights defenders face, and urged far greater efforts to protect and empower them.

In the following year, marking the International Day for Women Human Rights Defenders on 29 November 2014, HRHF launched the first “Portraits of Strength” competition on women human rights defenders representing several Human Rights Houses.

The exhibition created from the photographs of the competition were used to lift and celebrate the work of these courageous and determined women, as well as highlighting the challenges that they face.