Violence in the Americas - A Regional Analysis
Including a Review of the Implementation of the
Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment
and Eradication of Violence Against Women
The Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Sanction and Elimination of Violence against Women was drafted by the Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM). After a consultation process carried out by CIM with the governments of the region, the Convention was adopted in June 1994, at the twenty-fourth regular session of the General Assembly of the OAS, held in Belém do Pará, Brazil. It was immediately ratified by the governments of the member states and entered into force on March 5, 1995.
The coming into force of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women (Convention of Belém do Pará) marked an important moment in the continued efforts to affirm and protect women’s human rights and denounce violence against women as a human rights violation. Many initiatives to prevent, punish, and eradicate violence against women have preceded the adoption of the Convention. The Convention, however, was unique in clearly delineating the State’s obligations to protect women’s right to a life without violence.
The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action adopted in 1995 also contained a clear call to action and as well as the elements of a strategy to abolish violence against women. In countries where the ratification of the Convention and the adoption of the Platform for Action were taken seriously, these two events marked the beginning of a crucial but difficult process of change. As the year 2000 was approaching, it became clear that change could not simply be assumed to take place and that the time had come to examine what was being accomplished and how successful the adopted strategies were proving to be in eradicating violence against women.
For its part, the United Nations General Assembly launched and completed a review of the progress achieved in pursuing the objectives and implementing the strategies contained in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. As a result, the General Assembly, at its twenty-third special session entitled Women 2000: gender, equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century, last June, identified further actions and initiatives that must be taken to implement the Declaration and Platform for Action.
In February 2000, in preparation for the special session of the UN General Assembly, the eighth session of the regional conference of women in Latin America and the Caribbean, held in Lima, Peru, adopted the Lima Consensus. The Consensus reiterated the need to take more decisive and sustained action to prevent all forms of violence against women. It recognized that, "in spite of the apparent and real advances made by women and girls in Latin America and the Caribbean, the fundamental structure of gender relations remains disadvantageous to the majority of girls and women". The member states represented at that regional meeting undertook, among other things, to promote the effective implementation of the Belém do Pará Convention and to "guarantee the protection of women’s human rights, including sexual and reproductive rights, and address violations of these rights with particular attention to all forms of gender-based violence and its root causes, including the reproduction of a culture of violence".
At the same time as the "Beijing +5" review process was taking place, a distinct process was being envisaged in relation to the implementation of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women. The Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM) of the Organization of American States sought and received the financial assistance of the USAID to review national programs to prevent, punish and eradicate violence against women in the Americas. To conduct the review, the Commission enlisted the collaboration of the International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy (ICCLR, in Vancouver, Canada) and the United Nations Latin American Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (ILANUD, in San José, Costa Rica). The two international institutes are members of the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme’s Network of Institutes and have been involved extensively in this particular area of research.
The review conducted by the three organizations began in December 1999 and is nearing completion. Its main objectives are to:
The review aims to offer a greater understanding of the progress accomplished to date in implementing the Convention, the obstacles encountered, and the work that remains to be done. The analysis therefore focuses on: (1) the nature and perceived efficiency of implementation mechanisms and programs adopted by various countries of the Americas; (2) the specific measures adopted in these countries and their perceived or known impact; and (3) the difficulties and obstacles encountered in implementing these measures.
Article 7 of the Convention articulates the obligations of States Parties with respect to their role in the protection of women’s rights to a life without violence. Specific obligations are listed flowing from the States Parties’ formal undertakings to refrain from committing acts of violence against women, demonstrate due diligence in preventing, investigating and punishing violence against women, to reform existing laws, policies and administrative practices contributing to violence against women, and to ensure that women victims have access to restitution, reparations or other forms of just and effective remedies. The Convention also specifies, in its Article 8, that a number of other programs and measures must be adopted to promote public education and awareness, to mobilize communities in the fight against violence against women and to offer specialized services and assistance to women victims.
The review described here focuses on the implementation of the measures and dispositions described in Articles 7 and 8 of the Convention. It also considers the efforts that are being deployed to take special account, as required by Article 9 of the Convention, of the vulnerability of women to violence by reason of, among others, their age, race, ethnic background, status as immigrants, socio-economic position, or disabilities.
The concept of "due diligence" is the criterion against which States Parties have agreed that their efforts to prevent, investigate and impose penalties for violence against women should be judged (Article 7 (b)). To implement the criterion of "due diligence" for the purpose of the review, the researchers looked for other agreed upon statements on the nature of the measures to be taken by "diligent" member states to prevent and eradicate violence against women. The Beijing Platform for Action provided some guidance. However, the most directly useful statement about the specific measures to be taken or at least considered as part of the Sates Parties’ duty of "due diligence" was found in a resolution of United Nations General Assembly (UN G.A. res. 52/86, 12 December 1997). The resolution contains an annex entitled Model Strategies and Practical Measures on the Elimination of Violence against Women in the Fields of Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice.
These Model Strategies flow from the Beijing Platform for Action. Their main focus is to ensure that justice systems and prevention efforts provide a "fair treatment" response to all incidents of violence against women. They aim to provide de facto as well as de jure equality between women and men. They are relevant to all aspects of the justice system, from community-based prevention efforts, to law enforcement, courts, sentencing, and corrections. They are also relevant to several other strategic objectives relating to the education, public awareness and the mobilization of communities and the media to fully participate in efforts to eradicate violence against women.
The present review was facilitated by the development and use of a grid relating each one of the undertakings of States Parties to the Convention, as specified in its Articles 7, 8 and 9, to the specific measures described in the Model Strategies.
Basis of the Review
Firstly, the review is based, in part, on an analysis of the replies received from member states to a questionnaire sent to them by the Commission in April of this year. The questionnaire is appended to this report. Member states were asked to respond to the questionnaire by the beginning of June. Some member states found it difficult to reply to the questionnaire within the period of time suggested. Some of them were in the process of completing their response to the United Nations questionnaire on the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action or were otherwise busy preparing for the special session of the United Nations General Assembly on Women 2000: gender, equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century.
In total, 16 member states replied to the CIM’s request for information. They were: Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Jamaica, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Suriname. In the case of Uruguay, a respondent from the Comisión Nacional de Mujeres Uruguayas de Seguimiento de los Compromisos de Beijing referred the researchers to the information contained in a detailed study recently conducted in that country by Graciela Dufau. That information was supplemented by an examination of some of the available literature on existing programs in the United States of America.
Secondly, the review is also based on field studies conducted in selected countries of the Americas using consultations and interviews with representatives from national agencies, government and non-governmental organizations, as well as from academia. The time frame within which the present review was conducted as well as the limited resources at its disposal precluded the conduct of field studies in every country of the region.
The following is a list of the field studies conducted as part of the present project:
(by Leila Linhares Barsted and Jacqueline Hermann)
Programas Nacionales para Prevenir, Sancionar y Erradicar la Violencia Contra la Mujer en Chile (by Lorena Fries and Paula Salvo).
Programas Nacionales para Prevenir, Sancionar y Erradicar la Violencia Contra la Mujer en Costa Rica (by Ivannia Monge).
Programas Nacionales para Prevenir, Sancionar y Erradicar la Violencia Contra la Mujer en Ecuador (by Rocío Salgado).
Programas Nacionales para Prevenir, Sancionar y Erradicar la Violencia Contra la Mujer en El Salvador (by Yolanda Guirola).
Programas Nacionales para Prevenir, Sancionar y Erradicar la Violencia Contra la Mujer en Guatemala (by Carmen Lopez de Caceres and Lucrecia Lopez Lopez).
Programas Nacionales para Prevenir, Sancionar y Erradicar la Violencia Contra la Mujer en Honduras (by Lolis María Salas Montes).
Programas Nacionales para Prevenir, Sancionar y Erradicar la Violencia Contra la Mujer en México (by Teresa Ulloa Ziáurriz, Mónica del Val Locht, and Jorge González Santana).
Programas Nacionales para Prevenir, Sancionar y Erradicar la Violencia Contra la Mujer en Panamá (by Rosina M. Pérez Bermudez).
Programas Nacionales para Prevenir, Sancionar y Erradicar la Violencia Contra la Mujer en Paraguay (by: Line Bareiro, María Molinas, and Marilut Lluis O’Hara).
Programas Nacionales para Prevenir, Sancionar y Erradicar la Violencia Contra la Mujer en Perú (by Marcela Huaita).
National Programs to Prevent, Punish and Eradicate Violence Against Women in Canada (by Eileen Skinnider, Vivienne Chin and Yvon Dandurand).
National Programs to Prevent, Punish and Eradicate Violence Against Women in nine Caribbean Countries: Antigua & Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Grenada, Jamaica, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent & the Grenadines, and Trinidad & Tobago (by Vivienne Chin and Yvon Dandurand).
The reports mentioned above may be obtained from the CIM in the language in which they were originally produced.
The information collection phase of this project was completed in August 2000. Since then two sub-regional analyses have been completed, one for Mexico and Central America and one for South America. The latter is being reviewed by a Group of Experts in Montevideo. A final report on the review with a synthesis of the information collected will be available in January 2001.
The table reproduced below shows which countries were covered during the present project and through what means. Some countries replied to the questionnaire but were not the object of a field study. Others were included in a study, but did not reply to the questionnaire. The amount, the level of detail and the quality of the information that was gathered by resorting to the two concurrent processes varied from country to country. Nevertheless, an effort was made to preserve the richness of some of the information collected by producing a number of country-specific and sub-regional reports. As for the final report on the overall review, it focuses, as might be expected, on general trends and on the main lessons learned so far in attempting to implement the Convention.
Countries Covered by the Review
(*) See study conducted Graciela Dufau.
It was always understood that the review would only be as complete as would be permitted by the information already available in each country. Collection of new data from primary sources could not be contemplated as part of the present project. However, it soon became apparent that a significant obstacle not only to the conduct of the present study, but also to the implementation of the Convention itself, was and continues to be the lack of reliable and systematically collected information on both the prevalence of violence against women and the nature and impact of current social and institutional responses to the problem.
The present review may fill some of these information gaps. It will hopefully help member states as well as relevant organizations, community leaders and concerned individuals to learn from the experience accumulated over the last several years in attempting to eradicate violence against women in the Americas. Ultimately, all of them should feel prompted to renew their commitment to achieve the objective pursued by the Convention, the eradication of violence against women.
The following attempts to briefly summarize the most important findings of the review.
Eradication of Violence Against Women
Significant progress has clearly been achieved throughout the region in terms of promoting an understanding of violence against women as a violation of human rights. The existence of the Convention in itself as well as its dissemination within the region has contributed to this renewed awareness. There is a better acceptance of the fact that violence against women and girls, whether occurring in public or in private, is a human rights violation. The idea nevertheless continues to meet strong resistance, much of it expressed only covertly or disguised as a form cynical pragmatism.
The ultimate objective, the eradication of violence against women, was sometimes forgotten. In general, it has been widely recognized that some of the most crucial changes required to achieve this objective, including significant changes in attitudes, beliefs and traditions, would take a long time to take effect. This is perhaps why, once some institutional processes had been put in place, there emerged a tendency to learn to "cope" with the problem and perhaps even to "tolerate" it, as opposed to any renewed determination to eliminate it altogether.
The drive which once existed to bring about meaningful change appears to have been somewhat eroded. Whether this is because, as some respondents suggested, women have lowered their expectations of government institutions, or because they have relaxed their vigilance, it seems that in some countries the pressure that was once exerted on governments to live up to their human rights commitments and in particular to their commitment to protect the rights of women to a life without violence has been relaxed and in many cases replaced by process.
The issue of accountability is an important one at all levels. The obligations of the State and its various institutions to prevent, punish or otherwise respond to violence against women have been clearly defined by international law in general, by the Convention, and often also by national laws. Whether and how these obligations are effectively fulfilled is an entirely different matter. National or local mechanisms to monitor the actions of these institutions and evaluate their progress and success in eradicating violence against women rarely exist. When they exist, they rarely have the authority or the resources to accomplish their task effectively.
In many countries, the ratification of the Convention represented a high point in the efforts of women of that country to compel the State to recognize its responsibilities with respect to the right of women to a life without violence. In some cases, the effort required to bring about that level of official recognition seemed to have exhausted the energy of the groups involved. In other cases, it provided a fresh impetus for concrete action.
The above observations point to the need to invent new ways to sustain and enhance the efforts that have been made so far, to consolidate the gains that were achieved, and to hold accountable those who have been entrusted with the responsibility of implementing the required institutional mechanisms accountable.
Ways to develop or renew societal commitment to the goal of eradicating violence against women must be explored. In that regard, many respondents have also expressed a concern that a new generation of young women was perhaps less actively committed to the objective of eliminating violence against women or too quick to assume that the problem has already been addressed.
The question is whether women and girls are less vulnerable, less exposed to incidents of gender-based violence than they were before. Are they less often victimized? Is their ability to live a life free of violence significantly enhanced as a result of measures that have been taken since the adoption of the Convention? The unfortunate reality, however, is that sound information does not exist in most countries which would allow us to measure the change. All that can be said, on the basis of the little information that exists, is that it is very unlikely that significant progress has in fact been achieved in the last five years in terms of the amount of victimization that has taken place or the number of women who have been affected.
If the institutional, attitudinal and programmatic changes that were contemplated by the Convention have indeed been implemented, they have, in most countries, yet to yield concrete results in terms of reducing violence against women.
Many countries have taken formal actions, including declarations, legislation and constitutional amendments, to symbolically reaffirm the right of women to a life without violence. Effective action against violence against women has been formally identified as a priority by most countries of the Americas. However, the depth of the actual commitments that lays behind these formal declarations is not always easily ascertainable and is certainly subject to fluctuation as governments and their priorities change. In some cases, that commitment has been translated into action, but in several others it has not. In many countries, the task of promoting and implementing the necessary reforms has been largely left to non-governmental agencies which often have not had the needed resources. Several countries have been either unable or unwilling to devote the necessary human and financial resources to the cause.
In terms of the immediate impact of the ratification of the Convention by various member states, it became clear during the review that some countries of the region have treated the ratification of the Convention as a "destination" and not as a "point of departure". In several cases, no sustained or concerted attempt has been made to actually implement the Convention after its ratification.
National initiatives against gender-based violence have tended to focus on policy and law reform, frequently without sufficient means devoted to the implementation of these reforms. Too many initiatives seem to have been content to offer formal legal protection to women without providing them with the genuine means to access that protection. Finally, in the majority of countries reviewed, the Convention itself was poorly communicated to the population and remained rather unknown by those who would normally be expected to participate fully in its implementation.
The implementation of the programs and measures called for by the Convention has met with considerable difficulties throughout the region. It is probably fair to say that the full implementation of the Convention has not yet been achieved in any one of the countries reviewed. Each country has had to face specific difficulties relating to its own politics and circumstances, its economy and level of development, it legal system and traditions, the size and diversity of its population, and its geography. There is however an emerging pattern of obstacles which have clearly diminished the efforts of many States Parties to live up to their commitments under the Convention.
Some of the obstacles that have been encountered and are detailed in the review include:
Some amount of political instability has weakened the efforts of States Parties to proceed with the reforms they had undertaken to achieve. Political leadership has sometimes been missing or has not been consistently offered. Several proposed reforms have died a "natural death" for lack of effective political leadership and political will to pursue them.
Mechanisms set in place for the implementation of the Convention
Most countries of the region have given themselves a mechanism (national machinery) for the advancement of women. In some cases the mechanism is part of the government itself, while in others the responsibility has been given to a non-governmental organization. In most instances, these mechanisms have played a crucial role in the implementation of the Convention and in promoting various measures to prevent and eradicate violence against women. In several countries the national machinery for the advancement of women has been transformed progressively into a mechanism to promote gender equality and to respond to gender issues. In some cases, this and other structural changes have been perceived as disruptive. In many other cases, these and other recent changes have served to strengthen existing mechanisms, integrate them better into the overall governance mechanisms, and render them more effective.
The review reveals that not all mechanisms have enjoyed the same success. The resources at the disposal of these mechanisms, the quality of the leadership on which they have relied, the strength of their links with various government institutions, the breadth of the support from the community, their ability to effectively mobilize people and resources have all played a role in determining the impact they have had on the attitudes, laws, policies and practices which exist in their country. What has also made a difference, it seems, is whether or not they were able to formulate and rally wide support around a comprehensive plan of action dealing specifically with violence against women. The practice of creating focal points within government agencies and departments has apparently been particularly successful in promoting change, instituting viable partnerships and mobilizing different sectors to contribute to the national effort. Finally, at the sub-regional level, some linkages have been established between these national mechanisms to facilitate the exchange of information and resources.
Better and more effective use of new electronic communication means must be made to foster cooperation between countries and organizations on a regional or sub-regional basis. Obviously, much more remains to be done to realize the full potential of electronic communication and other mass media for mobilizing communities.
Promoting an awareness of the problem and a respect of the right of women to be free from violence
The persistence of traditional and stereotypical roles, often reinforced by institutional structures and by the media, continues to impede progress. In particular, efforts to reduce negative gender stereotyping of women and men should be encouraged. A public debate on the new roles of men and women must be promoted, as encouraged by the Beijing Platform for Action. Evolving stereotypes about the relationship between men and women must receive special attention.
Other observations flowing from the review include:
Community mobilization: raising public awareness of the problem of violence against women
In every country reviewed, there have been numerous efforts to raise public awareness of the issue and to mobilize various elements of the community to work together to find solutions. These efforts have been difficult to sustain. Most of these measures have had a strong focus on physical security of women and freedom from fear of violence. Most efforts have failed to help the population make the links between these issues and other issues of human security which occupy a prominent place among the concerns of the population. Other observations derived from the review include:
Encouraging communication media to contribute to the eradication of violence against women
Enlisting the help and contribution of the media is crucial to the success of efforts to transform deep-seated cultural perceptions and attitudes. Gender stereotyped images continue to proliferate in the media. In comparison to the resources devoted, directly or indirectly, to the perpetuation of such stereotypes, the resources devoted by the communication media to contribute to the eradication of violence against women are pitiful. Significant financial investments are required. Few countries have decided to invest in this way. In most of Latin American and Caribbean countries, there is no special program to involve the media, nor is there a systematic policy on behalf of government to encourage the media to contribute to the objectives pursued by the Convention. Many of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean participated in the UN Inter-Agency Campaign, an advocacy and public awareness campaign against gender violence.
Eliminating legal and customary practices which tolerate or contribute to violence against women
Member states have agreed to take all appropriate measures, including legislative measures, to amend or repeal existing laws and regulations or to modify legal or customary practices which sustain the persistence and tolerance of violence against women. This is an area where there has been, in most countries, an impressive amount of activity. The reviews of laws, codes and procedures can be institutionalized by establishing structures or mechanisms within legislative or administrative bodies. In countries that have national machinery on women’s issues or gender equality, it is often that centre of responsibility which is entrusted with the responsibility of reviewing the laws and promoting reforms from a gender equality perspective.
Legislation and administrative measures to prevent, punish and eradicate violence against women
Efforts have been made throughout the region to ensure that all forms of violence against women are condemned and criminalized. Nevertheless, much more remains to be done. Among the many issues identified in the review are:
Many countries have established family courts to deal with domestic violence. The effectiveness of this approach has not been properly assessed. These courts sometimes also have the authority to deal with litigation so as to reduce the pressure on the women plaintiffs.
Marital rape and violent sexual assaults within the home are not systematically and consistently criminalized throughout the region.
In many instances, sexual assault is still treated as a crime against morality as opposed to a crime of aggression violating the personal integrity of the victim.
Gender specific definitions of rape are still common is legal systems of the region.
The crime of rape, in some countries, is still defined in relation to the reputation of the victim.
In practice the defence of "honour" in cases of rape is still accepted in some countries.
In many countries, sexual harassment and stalking are still not recognized as serious crimes.
Most member states have introduced or amended the criminal law and introduced legislation recognizing domestic violence as a serious crime.
At least two member states have introduced laws to address some traditional practices harmful to women and girls (including female genital mutilation and sexual servitude).
Some member states are beginning to recognize gender-based persecution as a basis for obtaining refugee status.
Many countries have amended their laws to provide for increased penalties for rape and sexual assaults. The actual sentencing patterns following these legislative changes have been rarely monitored.
Many states have introduced new or improved legislation concerning the sexual exploitation of children.
At least one member state has adopted legislation allowing the prosecution of acts of sexual abuse committed abroad.
Evidentiary and procedural reforms have been adopted aimed at encouraging victims of violence against women to come forward.
The progress made in several countries is impeded by the fact that the existing justice system is very poorly resourced, complex, ineffective, already over-burdened. These systems often have very little credibility in the eyes of the population and are often perceived as corrupt. In that context, the ability of these systems to respond to the problem of violence against women is, as best, very limited.
Victims of forced prostitution are rarely protected effectively by the law.
Many states do not yet have legislation addressing the problem of pornography.
Measures to encourage victims to report and seek protection
Women victims of violence continue to be very often stigmatized. Some effective measures have been developed in several countries of the region. However, in most countries the actual protection offered to victims of violence against women is very limited. Crisis intervention lines are frequently available. Safe shelters are also usually identified as one of the first priorities in developing services for victims. Police has established women’s desks at police stations to encourage victims to more readily report incidents of sexual assaults and domestic violence.
There is an increased willingness of women victims of violence to report these incidents and seek the protection of the justice system. In many countries, most victims are still very reluctant to report the incidents of violence to the police. They also frequently withdraw their complaint after initially reporting the incident to the authorities. Insufficient efforts have been devoted to protect victims against undue pressure to withdraw their complaints. Some research suggests that victims of violence may be at greater risk than ever during the criminal justice process.
Insufficient provisions are made in most jurisdictions for the protection of victims and witnesses during the criminal justice process and while appearing in court. Measures to ensure their safety and protect their dignity and their physical and psychological well-being are often lacking. With a few notable exceptions, most countries of the region have little progress to report in terms of specific initiatives to protect child witnesses. In many jurisdictions, issues of privacy and public information have not been successfully addressed. In addition there is a lack of effective measures to protect the identity and privacy of the victims. There are also some unresolved issues in many jurisdictions about the validity of sex offender registries and the value of programs to notify communities of the presence of sex offenders in their area.
Other important administrative measures
The review has revealed how important administrative measures can be in implementing change and obtaining the participation of all relevant sectors in the overall effort to eliminate violence against women. Special inter-agency protocols have been developed, recruitment and training requirements for various categories of officials have been specified, prosecutorial guidelines have been developed as well as clear policies and directives to guide the work of law enforcement officials. Other important measures have included:
Preventing institutional violence against women
One of the first and primary responsibilities of Members States with respect to violence against women is to refrain from engaging in any act of violence against women and to ensure that their authorities, officials, personnel, agents, and institutions act in conformity with that obligation.
In most countries, effective mechanisms do not exist to hold officials accountable for the acts of violence against women in which they are engaged. The conditions of women deprived of their liberty and their vulnerability to gender-based violence at the hands of agents of the Sate has generally not received the attention it deserves.
The number of women in prison is apparently increasing in all countries of the region. Preventing violence against women who are detained must be recognized by all jurisdictions as a matter of urgent priority. Several methods can be used to safeguard detained women including codes of conduct for police and correctional officials, proper staff selection and training, institutional programs designed to increase positive interactions between staff and inmates, internal and independent supervising bodies, and special inquiries. In recent years, some countries have made some progress in improving the conditions of women in detention and in prison. However, looking at the region as a whole, genuine progress in that regard seems to be the exception rather than the rule.
Due diligence in preventing, investigating and punishing violence against women
The review considered how different strategies are being used in different jurisdictions to ensure that existing State agencies demonstrate due diligence in preventing, investigating and punishing violence against women.
Some tangible progress had been realized throughout the region in ensuring that law enforcement officials understand that violence against women is an intolerable violation of human rights regardless of where it occurs. What the implications of this knowledge are for the day-to-day activities of law enforcement agencies is not always made very clear. Given the crucial role of law enforcement and justice officials, several countries have devoted a fair amount of resources to establish gender awareness training for these officials. Efforts have been made to promote changes in the institutional culture of the relevant agencies. However, such efforts to sensitize the police, the prosecutors and the judiciary to concerns about gender equality and violence against women may not have produced all the anticipated results. The effectiveness and focus of these programs probably need to be reconsidered. Although awareness of the issue is crucial, competence does not always necessarily flow from it. There are powerful sub-cultural values within these institutions which must be systematically and systemically addressed.
Generally speaking, existing prevention initiatives are being criticized for failing to address the root causes of violence. Some prevention initiatives focus on the education of children in schools. Some of them place much of their hopes for change in the promotion of human rights in general. Others emphasize development measures and initiatives to promote women’s freedom from want and from economic exploitation. Ultimately, the prevention of violence against women can only be achieved through a holistic approach to all aspects of human and social development.
The important role of health professionals in the prevention of violence against women is increasingly receiving recognition. Some efforts have been directed at developing training programs for health professionals and at specifying their role with respect to the prevention, detection, and reporting of violence against women.
The importance of secondary prevention strategies and of developing programs to deal with perpetrators of violence against women is also increasingly being recognized. In most countries, efforts in that particular direction are still at a very tentative stage of development.
A clear focus must also be maintained on the prevention of various trans-national forms of violence against women. There is a growing recognition throughout the region of the urgent need to adopt effective measures and concerted international action to combat and eliminate all forms of trafficking in women and girls. Comprehensive anti-trafficking strategies must be developed which will include mutual legal and law enforcement assistance between countries, extended protection to victims and witnesses, legislative measures, and effective prevention and public education campaigns.
Providing effective access to justice and services for victims
In every jurisdiction of the region, there remain some serious obstacles to effective access to services for victims of violence against women. Some progress has obviously been achieved in recent years in the provision of services for abused women and children, hotlines, emergency assistance, including legal services, shelters, special health services, or counselling. However, in most countries, the amount of services available bares no relationship to the demand for these services.
Eliminating violence against the girl-child
All member states of the region, except one, have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. All member states of the region have accepted to increase their efforts to prevent and eliminate violence against the girl child, in the form of sexual exploitation and abuse, prostitution, child pornography, trafficking and various harmful traditional practices. There are initiatives to strengthen international cooperation to detect, investigate, prosecute, and punish those responsible for acts involving the sale of children, child prostitution, child pornography, and child sex tourism. As of the 3rd of October, 2000, twelve member states of the region had already signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (New York, 25 May, 2000) (Belize, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Jamaica, Mexico, Paraguay, United States of America, Uruguay, and Venezuela).
Nevertheless, the present review indicates that much more needs to be done, including:
In a significant number of countries of the region programs to implement the Convention, the development of projects and new legislation to respond to the problem of violence against women has been possible through funding and assistance received from the UN Agencies, the IADB, and various national and international development agencies. Without financial and technical assistance resources from outside the country, many states would not have been able to devote any significant resources to respond to the issue.
© 2007 Organization of American States.