The Inter-American Commission’s strategy in addressing gender-related issues is based on its mandate to promote and protect human rights in the Americas. In line with the principles of equality and nondiscrimination, which are basic pillars of the inter-American system’s instruments, the IACHR has identified the protection of the rights of women as a priority objective for the region.

As a result, in 1994 the IACHR created the Office of the Rapporteur on the Rights of Women with the initial task of analyzing the extent to which laws and practices involving women’s rights in the OAS Member States comply with the general obligations set forth in regional human rights instruments such as the American Convention on Human Rights, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women or Convention of Belem do Pará.

The priority the Commission and its Office of the Rapporteur give to the protection of women’s rights reflects the importance of this subject to the OAS Member States themselves, as is evident in the level of ratification of these instruments. Likewise, the obligations of equality and nondiscrimination set forth in these instruments serve as guiding principles for the selection of issues addressed by the Office of the Rapporteur. In addition, the Office of the Rapporteur has placed special emphasis on the need to eliminate violence against women, itself a manifestation of gender-based discrimination, as recognized in the Convention of Belem do Pará.

Although the monitoring of States’ obligations with respect to the rights of women has always been grounded in the principles of equality and nondiscrimination, the mandate of the Office of the Rapporteur has varied over the years. Its current mandate focuses special attention on the obstacles that keep women from being able to freely and fully exercise their fundamental rights, and promotes a comprehensive vision of how to realize those rights. Along these lines, the Office of the Rapporteur has undertaken initiatives to address the problem of discrimination against women in the exercise not only of their civil and political rights, but also of their economic, social, and cultural rights.

The Office of the Rapporteur is headed by a Commissioner named by the plenary of the Commission. The current Rapporteur, Commissioner Luz Patricia Mejía, was appointed by the Commission in March 2008. Previous Rapporteurs on the Rights of Women have included Commissioner Víctor E. Abramovich (2006-2008), Commissioner Susana Villarán (2003-2006), and Marta Altolaguirre (2000-2003). The first Rapporteur, Commissioner Claudio Grossman, was designated by the Commission in 1994 and led the Office of the Rapporteur until 2000. (See Composition)

Since its creation, the Office of the Rapporteur has supported the Commission during country visits in the investigation of issues that affect the rights of women, and has worked with the Commission in preparing special reports on the rights of women. The Office of the Rapporteur has played a vital role in drafting and publishing IACHR studies on subjects involving women’s rights and in helping to investigate the situation of women in specific countries of the region, through onsite visits and country reports. In such reports, the IACHR has made recommendations to assist the Member States in eliminating discrimination and violence against women, both in law and in practice, as well as in developing public policies and strategies for the advancement of women in the Americas.

The Office of the Rapporteur has also helped to promote the mechanisms that the inter-American system provides to protect the rights of women. In this sphere, the Office of the Rapporteur advises in the handling of precautionary measures and individual complaints involving violations of women’s rights, and assists in the preparation of reports on cases involving the rights of women and in the development of a new jurisprudence with a gender perspective.