Assistant Secretary General Speech


November 2, 2015 - Washington, DC

November 2nd marks the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, a date that serves to remind States of the importance of adopting measures to guarantee freedom of expression, and the importance for democracy of having free and transparent media highly committed with human rights.

Today we will not only refer to violations of this important right, since the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH), Edison Lanza, is joining us in the first panel. We will mainly refer to the theme that brings us together today, which is using communication as a promoter of gender equality. This means using communication from a different view, not as a commodity, but rather as a citizen’s right that allows men and women to take a plural and inclusive look at reality; treating all people in an equal and non-discriminatory way, regardless of their gender identity and sexual orientation.

Media has an important social role to play in the promotion of women’s rights, feminine and feminized identities, and in portraying women in a respectful, broad and varied manner, presenting them at all levels of hierarchy and responsibility, eliminating sexist stereotypes that disqualify or hide their leadership in all decision-making spaces. Media has the obligation to address women’s rights violations in a respectful and serious manner- in particular violence against women and femicide- and not to undermine, trivialize or sensationalized these cases. Furthermore, media must incorporate women at all levels in media and communication organizations and agencies- women currently occupy barely over 20% of decision-making positions.

Today we still face significant barriers to a gender transformative communication:

- Women are unlikely to be allowed to determine the news content- including which news should be published and how specific topics should be addressed- in particular, topics related to women’s rights and gender equality
- Careers in journalism, communication and other relevant subjects do not include gender training or media treatment of issues such as violence against women;
- In general, despite the commitments adopted by the States Parties to the Belem do Para Convention and other instruments, there are no clear guidelines and budget allocations to guide media coverage on violence against women or to use media as a tool in the fight against this problem and;
- Gender is rarely contemplated in communication codes of conduct, guidelines and rules–journalism and advertising;
- In most countries, communication from a gender approach is neither monitored nor assessed in a systematic way, this undermines the ability to design public policies and proper guidelines.

Practicing communication that promotes gender equality broadens our views and contributes to a more democratic communication. It implies visualizing reality and deconstructing media speech that exacerbate subordination, exploitation and discrimination against women and those people discriminated against their gender identity and sexual orientation.

Twenty years ago, through the Fourth World Conference on Woman Declaration and Platform of Action celebrated in Beijing in 1995, Governments committed to adopt measures to foster a balanced, non-stereotyped image of women and to refrain from presenting women as inferior beings and exploiting them as sexual objects.

In ratifying the Belem do Para Convention, States Parties agreed to undertake measures to prevent, punish and eradicate violence against women and to encourage the communications media to develop appropriate media guidelines in order to contribute to the eradication of violence against women in all its forms, and to enhance respect for the dignity of women.

The Declaration of Pachuca "Strengthening efforts to prevent violence against women", emanated from the Hemispheric Forum Belem do Para +20 (May, 2014), highlights the importance of fostering the elimination of gender stereotypes and sexist, discriminatory images and messages in communications media. It also emphasizes the importance of respecting freedom of expression and promoting gender-sensitive and discrimination-free communication.

Building equality should be everybody’s daily work. Helping to expand the multiplicity of voices and views of our peoples are tasks for all to undertake. In facing this challenge, the OAS, through the Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM) and the Press Department, commits to a plural and diverse communication that allows expanding and protecting the rights of citizens so that the motto “More rights for more people” turns into reality. We will start from transforming the sexist, exclusive and discriminatory language that has been naturalized in our region. This will be our first contribution.

In addition to education, communication that promotes gender equality is one of the world’s cornerstones. We want to build this cornerstone with our creativity from a human rights and justice perspective. We have to be firm in our conviction that femicide should not be treated as a joke, that we do not need to portray women in bikinis to advertise cars, beer or any other product, that women are more than housewives and consumers of beauty products, that men do not need to use their strength and authoritarianism to solve any situation and that they can live their lives in an affective and emotional way.

To achieve equality, goal number 5 of the new 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, we need to strengthen and replicate inclusive communication practices and initiatives- like the panelists joining us today are doing- from their different spheres, government, civil society, media, international organizations and academia, who are contributing to democratize communication and turn it into a right.