Press Release

On International Women's Day, the IACHR calls on states to adopt comprehensive protection measures against gender-based violence based on an intersectional approach

March 6, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - Within the framework of International Women's Day, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) calls on States of the region to continue advancing the adoption of comprehensive protection measures for women based on an intersectional approach, taking into account the contexts and conditions that enhance violence and discrimination against them. To that end, it urges countries to implement measures aimed at preventing, punishing and eradicating violence and discrimination against women that take into account inequality in power relations between men and women.

The IACHR takes note of these and other initiatives undertaken by States across the region that represent advances in the area of comprehensive protection of women's rights. These efforts include public policies, judicial decisions, legislation and other regulations that seek to incorporate a gender perspective aimed at (a) guaranteeing women access to justice and health ; (b) affirmative measures focused on correcting historical discrimination in political life; and (c) prioritizing cultural change by adopting education measures. In that regard, the Commission has been aware of the efforts made in Peru, Chile and Argentina to regulate and punish street harassment at the national level. The IACHR recognizes that Peru has been the first country in Latin America to criminalize street harassment through Law No. 30,314. Similarly, the Commission notes the amendment of article 494 of the Criminal Code in Chile in 2019, which served to criminalize sexual harassment in public spaces, as well as the introduction in 2019 in Argentina of a street harassment (Law No. 26,485 - Integral Protection of Women in Argentina).

Despite the progress made by some of the States in the region, the Inter-American Commission notes with concern the persistence of violence and discrimination against women that manifest in different ways. Indeed, women continue to be victims of murder, disappearance, human trafficking, sexual violence, discrimination and harassment, early pregnancy and child marriage. The IACHR emphasizes that such violence and discrimination against women is aggravated, in particular, by multiple factors, such as ethnic-racial origin, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration status, gender expression, disability, for being girls or older women, or exercising the defense of human rights, territory and environment. In addition to this, the persistence of serious obstacles in the administration of justice systems prevents them from having timely access to restoration, repair and comprehensive protection measures.

In addition, the Commission notes the existence of different obstacles that affect the exercise of women's political rights, starting with the prevalence of discriminatory gender stereotypes that confine them to the domestic sphere while ignoring their fundamental role in representative participation. In that context, those women who are actively involved in the political life of their countries face numerous forms of violence that restrict and inhibit their participation, including acts such as the burning of election campaign materials, harassment and pressures to resign their positions; dissemination of stereotypes and discriminatory prejudices in the media, especially gender-based harassment attacks; as well as threats of sexual violence and death and even murders. In this regard, the IACHR welcomes the reforms to eight articles of the Constitution of Mexico, aimed at guaranteeing equality between men and women in access to political representation positions in the country. Similarly, the Commission highlights the new rules introduced from amendments to the Ecuadorian Democracy Code in 2020, which, beyond establishing gender equality in applications, includes a clause that sanctions gender-based political violence. In addition, the IACHR welcomes the approval of the bill by the Congress of Chile that ensures gender parity in the constituent body that could be created after the plebiscite to be held in April.

In that sense, the IACHR draws attention to a growing trend of stereotypical speeches delivered by high public authorities, which blame women for the abuses that they suffer as victims. Likewise, the Commission reminds officials with political responsibilities that they have particular obligations when speaking about women and must, by any means, combat gender violence.

Within the framework of the International Day, the Commission also highlights the life experience of women with disabilities, who often suffer from violation of their autonomy and mobility, as they are exposed to a greater risk, inside and outside their homes, of violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, abuse or exploitation. Similarly, older women suffer from neglect or neglect and domestic violence practiced by intimate partners or close family members, including acts of physical, emotional violence and control behaviors. In that particular, the IACHR highlights Judgment T-573-16, of the Constitutional Court of Colombia, which in 2018 considered that in no circumstance, one can make decisions that replace the consent of women with disabilities regarding their sexual and reproductive rights.

On the other hand, the Commission notes that patterns of violence based on gender are often aggravated by the ethnic-racial origin of the victims within the context of severe socio-economic marginalization. In that sense, the IACHR calls attention to the racial stereotypes that generate the objectification, sexualization and inferiorization of Afro-descendant women as a result of historical processes of slavery, colonialism, exploitation and social exclusion. These practices are reflected in the high rates of femicides; sexual violence as a systemic social practice and in obstetric violence. In this regard, the Commission highlights the Comprehensive Plan to guarantee women a life free of violence in Colombia, which highlights gender-based violence against Afro-descendant women and calls on other States in the region to adopt measures that tend to elimination of violence and discrimination against women of African descent.

The Commission emphasizes that gender-based violence severely affects the integral development of girls and adolescents and has a significant impact in reducing and affecting their opportunities for personal, educational, professional development, and in their ability to make important decisions about their lives. Violence reproduces cycles of poverty and exclusion of girls and adolescents by subjecting them from an early age to socio-cultural patterns of discrimination and stereotypical roles of women. These generate physical and psychological damage and prevent the free exercise of their human rights and capacity to realize their full potential and develop their skills.

Regarding indigenous women, the Commission observes that the lack of harmonization between state laws and measures and the ancestral practices of indigenous peoples has generated physical, psychological, spiritual, sexual and economic damage to indigenous women. In particular, the IACHR highlights the processes of forced cultural assimilation that they suffer; exploitation or enslavement to perform domestic chores, even from an early age; the criminalization of social protest for the defense of land territories, and the environment; forced sterilization programs and practices, among others. On this subject, the IACHR takes note of the Law of the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples of Mexico, of 2018, which enshrines the duty of guaranteeing, promoting and implementing measures and actions for the recognition, respect and exercise of rights, and the integral development of indigenous women.

On the other hand, the IACHR continues to identify profound challenges related to women in the context of migration, forced displacement and emergency situations. The Commission recognizes that women and girls suffer, in the different scenarios of human mobility, greater risks and specific violations of rights, and that such violence occurs both in the origin, where one frequently finds the cause of displacement, as well as in transit and destination countries. The IACHR has collected information about the disproportionate impact of natural disasters, armed conflicts and other destabilization processes that generate human mobility processes on women and the additional challenges they suffer before being able to receive assistance and accompaniment.

In these contexts, women are left in extremely vulnerable conditions to be subject to threats and extortion, particularly when they do not have the necessary economic resources or regular immigration status in the country of destination. In the same vein, women and girls are overrepresented among victims of human trafficking, harassment, labor and sexual exploitation, as well as find more barriers to access to essential services such as health, education and effective access to their economic, social and cultural rights.

The Commission also emphasizes that lesbian, bisexual, trans and intersex women suffer multiple acts of discrimination and violence based on their gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and / or expression, and sexual characteristics. The IACHR notes that lesbian women often suffer acts of violence aimed at modifying or punishing them for their sexual orientation. The Commission notes that women who identify or are perceived as lesbians are exposed to cultural messages that invoke fear. In the case of bisexual women, the IACHR reaffirms that they are subjected to invisibility, which in turn often leads to acts of violence and discrimination being tolerated or perpetrated with impunity. In this regard, the IACHR reminds States that, collecting disaggregated and updated data, facilitates a comprehensive analysis of the phenomenon of gender-based violence, based on additional violation factors that enhance or particularize the risks they face from violence.

On the other hand, the IACHR emphasizes that trans women, from an early age, are subject to a cycle of violence, discrimination and criminalization, which places them in situations of vulnerability in different areas of daily life; particularly, considering that, due to the absence of legislation and gender identity policies in many States of the region, these persons cannot carry identification documents that conform to their own gender identity and expression. In this regard, the IACHR reiterates that States must guarantee the social inclusion of trans women, as well as people of diverse gender, including access to health services with a gender perspective.

All this, together with the situation of women's material impoverishment, the worsening of their living conditions, is aggravated by the alarming rate of femicides registered by ECLAC in the region, particularly in El Salvador, Honduras, Bolivia, Guatemala and Dominican Republic in 2018. In that context, the Commission affirms that this phenomenon is not about isolated acts of violence, but rather that they start from a social culture of negative stereotypes and that seek to make women inferior. In this regard, the IACHR positively highlights the ruling of the Supreme Court of Peru in the framework of Popular Action N. 23822, which guaranteed gender education in the country's school curricula, as well as the promulgation of Law 27,499, known as the Micaela Law, which made the training on gender of the officials of the State of Argentina mandatory.

Moreover, the president of the Inter-American Commission, Commissioner Joel Hernandez has stressed the importance of gender equality, observing that “since 2018, the IACHR is mostly formed by women. This constitutes an unprecedented step forward in the representation of women in positions of the highest level in the regional human rights protection system, which is crucial for the strengthening and consolidation of the right to gender equality in the region".

Finally, the IACHR calls on the countries of the region to move forward with educational projects that take into account the gender perspective, as well as the promotion of training events for people who exercise public functions within the State institutions. In the opinion of the Rapporteur for the Rights of Women, Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay, “this measure plays a fundamental role in the cultural change of the whole society towards a reality that involves all people, including children and men, in the guarantee and respect for the rights of women, which facilitates a more egalitarian environment and free of all forms of violence against them”. Finally, the IACHR urges the States of the region to move forward decisively in the implementation of measures aimed at preventing, punishing and eradicating violence and discrimination against women, with full respect for their sexual and reproductive rights.

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 and to defend 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. 051/20