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OAS Roundtable Discusses the Implementation of Women's Rights

  March 1, 2013

The Organization of American States (OAS) today hosted the 49th OAS Policy Roundtable on "The Rights of Women: From Law to Practice," which discussed the progress made in legal frameworks and the challenges that persist in the implementation of the human rights of women in the region.

The Secretary General of the OAS, José Miguel Insulza, recalled that the Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM) of the OAS is celebrating 85 years since its founding, and that it is the "only hemispheric policy forum for the rights of women and gender equality." The OAS leader highlighted the importance of the topic of discussion of the Roundtable, and warned that "the gap between the formal recognition of rights in legal systems and the direct and indirect discrimination against women is still a major concern."

Among the challenges in the field, the leader of the hemispheric organization mentioned the political representation of women. On this issue, he noted his belief that "the only way to achieve real equality is through affirmative action laws" that are accompanied by effective implementation in reality. "It is no longer enough to simply proclaim these laws, because there is always some excuse or another for not having enough female candidates in various elections and the numbers are not good," he added.

The Secretary General added that "there is no democratic society when all citizens do not exercise the same rights; that is the opposite of democracy." "A society which, in practice, denies rights to certain individuals because of their status, their gender or their race, certainly is not a sufficiently democratic society. Therefore, our obligation is to ensure that these rights exist not only in law but also in practice," he said.

The CIM President and Minister for the Status of Women in Costa Rica, Maureen Clarke, opened the session by saying that "in general terms, formal discrimination against women by social institutions in the Americas is low. With some exceptions women have civil rights, hereditary rights to own land and other property, the right to open bank accounts, to leave our homes without being accompanied by a man, to go to school and to enter the labor market." However, she said that "we cannot ignore the informal discrimination in our societies, which still limits the full citizenship of women." "For the majority of women in the region, existing international and national legislation and constitutional guarantees of equality have not yet been translated into reality," she said.

The Costa Rican Minister said that the Roundtable held today at OAS headquarters in Washington, DC, "is one of several that the CIM will hold in the course of this year in order to share information, best practices, and other reflections on opportunities and challenges in the implementation of national and international legal frameworks on women's rights, and to identify concrete public policies to advance in the exercise of these rights for all the women in the hemisphere."

The CIM Vice President and Minister for the Status of Women and Women's Rights in Haiti, Maire Yanick Mézile, focused her address on the development of these policies in her country, and said that her Ministry "is responsible for preparing and organizing the implementation of policies promoting equality and women's rights." In particular, she emphasized that the Ministry has "given systematic attention to the problem of violence against women and girls, which is one of the main obstacles to the enjoyment and exercise by women of their fundamental rights."

Among the major developments in her country, Minister Mézile stressed that "the amended Constitution has enshrined the principle of a participation quota of at least 30 percent of women in all spheres of national life, especially in public institutions," which has resulted in an actual representation, currently, of 44 percent of the staff of the executive branch. In her conclusion, she said that despite the challenges, "Haiti is on the right track in regard to the realization of women's rights and equality between women and men."

The discussion panel consisted of Tracy Robinson, Commissioner and Rapporteur on the Rights of Women of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR); Teresa Incháustegui, of the Legal Research Institute of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM); and Katherine Romero, Senior Attorney for the human rights organization Women's Link; and was moderated by Luz Patricia Mejía, OAS Coordinator of the Follow-Up Mechanism to the Convention of Belém do Pará.

In her presentation, Commissioner Robinson emphasized that, although the panel was focused on moving beyond the legal framework for the practice of the rights of women, “law reform is key, and is not a finished agenda; it remains an unfinished agenda in relation to women’s equality." As for the practice of the rights of women, she identified two important areas: the capacity and willingness of institutions to transform the status and situation of women, a space in which Robinson sees great progress; and the attitude and ideologies of people, where the persistence of stereotypes is still a problem.

For her part, Teresa Incháustegui said that "the law is a limiting parameter, but norms are social facts," she said, adding that efforts should focus on closing the gap between laws and reality. The Mexican politician and academic pointed to the need for "a new step in the issue of public policy," making it easier to denounce of violence and sexual assault as well as making it easier to protect women. "Reducing impunity is fundamental," she continued, "because that is the sign that the law is truly a limit."

The Senior Attorney for Women's Link, Katherine Romero, said she represented part of "a new generation of women who continue to believe that women are still struggling for the right to have rights." She talked about the experience of her organization in legal cases involving women rights in the region and identified three existing challenges: countries that criminalize abortion, the criminalization of women using reproductive health services, and the persecution of defenders of the sexual and reproductive rights of women in some countries in the region.

After a session of questions and answers, the closing words of the Roundtable were made by the Executive Secretary of the CIM, Carmen Moreno, who said that the debate "shows the pending agenda" of the organization. She said that in the CIM "we will continue to expand the spectrum, the stage, the knowledge, and make visible the issue" of women's rights.

"Little by little, women’s concerns are becoming law," said the Executive Secretary, who gave as an example of the latest developments the reauthorization in the United States this week of the Violence Against Women Act, which provides funds for the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, imposes automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted, and allows civil redress in cases prosecutors chose to leave unprosecuted. Ambassador Moreno closed her speech by thanking the panelists for their input and discussion, which "enrich the dialogue on the Inter-American agenda."

A gallery of photos of the event is available here.

The video of the event is available here.

The B-roll of the event will be available here.

The audio of the event is available here.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at

Reference: E-071/13