The SRFOE calls on States to guarantee freedom of expression as a fundamental right for gender equality and the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against women

November 25, 2023

Washington D.C. - In the framework of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (SRFOE) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) warns about the persistence of structural obstacles and discriminatory practices that severely limit women's exercise of the right to freedom of expression. The SRFOE calls upon the States and invites the Inter-American society to strengthen the civic space and to guarantee the right to freedom of expression of women as a fundamental measure for the full enjoyment of their rights and participation in the affairs of public life, as well as a tool for empowerment to live a life free of violence and gender discrimination.

The IACHR and its SRFOE have observed differentiated affectations of violence against women who seek to participate in public life, which in addition to gender-based stigmatization, included acts of intimidation, harassment, physical and verbal aggression, as well as online attacks and cases of sexual violence. This pattern of violence extends to women journalists, human rights defenders, activists, artists, academics, and all those who actively participate in public and political life. In particular, the SRFOE regrets that, in some cases, the judicialization of speeches of women who denounce violence against women is activated by justice operators.

In this regard, this Office reiterates the importance of States adopting positive measures in relation to the right to freedom of expression and citizen participation of groups historically excluded from public debate, such as women. Likewise, the SRFOE emphasizes that the Inter-American System grants reinforced protection to those speeches that express constitutive elements of the personal identity or dignity of those who express themselves. Therefore, the speech of women who denounce violence because of their status as women or of a sexual nature are speeches that, although historically silenced, should be especially protected according to a democratic society.

As noted in the Joint Declaration of Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression and Gender Justice, when women report sexual and gender-based violence, "States must ensure that such expression enjoys special protection, as restricting such expression can hinder the eradication of violence against women. States are called upon to decriminalize all defamation and libel actions, and enact comprehensive legislation to discourage vexatious or frivolous defamation cases and strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) that seek to intimidate and silence women and remove them from public participation."

Likewise, the SRFOE calls attention to the stigmatizing discourse and comments promoted by the highest State authorities that have the potential to create a permissive atmosphere for the generation of violence against women, and to minimize and make invisible the structural situation of violence and discrimination they face. The IACHR has held that such comments and accusations send a social message of tolerance to violence, in addition to generating "feelings of insecurity and distrust on the part of women towards the authorities, thus hindering access to protection and justice mechanisms".

In this context, the SRFOE recalls that public officials have a position as guarantors of the fundamental rights of individuals and, therefore, their statements cannot disregard these rights or constitute forms of direct or indirect interference or harmful pressure on the rights of those who seek to contribute to public deliberation through the expression and dissemination of their thoughts. Speeches that perpetuate gender-based discriminatory sociocultural patterns have a greater impact when they come from public sector authorities, and place potential victims in a situation of greater vulnerability.

In relation to women journalists, this Office has reiterated on numerous occasions that States must publicly recognize that the gender-based discrimination and violence faced by women journalists constitute attacks on freedom of expression. Respectful discourse by the authorities on gender issues is one of the most effective preventive measures to avoid future acts of violence against women.

Finally, in this context, the Special Rapporteur also recognizes the importance of the transformative role played by the press "in dismantling gender stereotypes and opposing gender prejudice and violence against women. The press and the media, as the privileged channel for public debate, can contribute to raising society's awareness of the existence or prevalence of discriminatory stereotypes and to ensuring the defense of human rights. In this regard, as indicated in the report "Women Journalists and Newsrooms: Advances, Challenges and Recommendations to Prevent Violence and Combat Discrimination", the media are called upon to voluntarily adopt measures to prevent the content they publish from being permissive or justifying violence or encouraging intolerance. They are also called upon to ensure the safety of their workers by adopting policies and processes to address sexual and gender-based violence and harassment in both the external and internal work environment.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to stimulate the hemispheric defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression, considering its fundamental role in the consolidation and development of the democratic system. The IACHR is a principal and autonomous organ of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate arises from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights.

No. R275/23

5:58 AM