Press Release

IACHR Urges States to Adopt Measures to Protect the Rights of Afro-Descendent Women

March 21, 2016

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Washington, D.C. – In commemoration of the International Day on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, March 21st, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights urges States to adopt affirmative action measures and comprehensive state policies to eradicate structural racial discrimination.  In this sense, the Commission urges that States address by concrete means the situation of afro-descendent women, due to the multiple forms of discrimination they have suffered historically and still suffer on the basis of their sex, race, and other factors.  

The IACHR expresses its concern over the situation of structural inequality the afro-descendent population faces in the hemisphere, due to the persistence of norms and institutional practices which challenge the full exercise of their basic political, economic, social, and cultural rights.  The IACHR has highlighted that the overrepresentation of ethno-racial groups in the population most affected by poverty in the vast majority of countries in the region, the precariousness of the indicators relative to the basic conditions of dignified life such as the elevated rates of infant mortality, reduced life expectancy, lower income levels and the occupational level in comparison to the rest of the population reveals a situation of systemic discrimination. 

In this context, the situation of Afro-descendent women, adolescents and girls in the hemisphere is alarming.  Afro-descendent women are among the most marginalized social groups in the region, their possibilities to access education, forms of employment, and health services are limited, and they face numerous obstacles to access the needed services in the realm of sexual and reproductive rights.  Many women who are Afro-descendent perform domestic duties, without social security benefits, and face challenges to obtain work permits, in particular, migrant women.  Additionally, the IACHR has corroborated that Afro-descendent women, in comparison to the rest of women, are notoriously underrepresented in decision-making and political participation spaces.  Afro-descendent women are also particularly affected by armed and land-related conflicts, including the problem of forced displacement, and the lack of an adequate respect to their right to a prior, free, and informed consultation.  They also constitute a high percentage of women heads of household in contexts of displacement and armed conflict.   

The Commission also highlights how Afro-descendent women suffer the burden of violence in a very particular way. The Commission observes that one of the main challenges faced by Afro-descendent women is the institutional violence they suffer by public and judicial authorities who fail to understand their worldview, traditions and culture.  The institutional violence is also directed towards organizations which work in the defense of the rights of Afro-descendent women.   

The IACHR Rapporteur on Afro-descendent Persons and Racial Discrimination, Margarette May Macaulay, has indicated that “The duties to prevent and respond to violence against Afro-descendent women are reinforced for women who are deprived of liberty, in conditions of detention, and under police custody.”  In this sense, she also expressed that “These situations increase their risk to suffer forms of physical, psychological and sexual violence, threatening their right to personal integrity and their life, among other human rights.” 

In the framework of the International Decade for People of African Descent, the IACHR calls States to undertake efforts to strengthen social programs which establish positive measures to remedy the persistent effects of the racial discrimination which has occurred in the past and contemporary forms of exclusion.  The adoption of special measures is essential to reduce the disparities in the exercise of human rights by Afro-descendent persons and communities.  It is also paramount that States adopt policies to reflect the needs of Afro-descendent women and girls and facilitate spaces where they can participate in the design of legislation, programs, and services pertinent to their lives and realities.  The IACHR also recalls the duty of States to act with due diligence to prevent, investigate and sanction all forms of violence against Afro-descendent women and girls.  The IACHR also urges States to create favorable conditions for the exercise of the rights of Afro-descendent women and to eradicate the continuous and destructive effect of the problem of poverty, including more opportunities for education, and decent and quality employment. 

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 040/16