Nº 45/06





The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights considers the level of violence and discrimination suffered by women in the region, and the obstacles they face in gaining access to justice, to be matters of grave concern.  The IACHR has observed the alarming, ongoing prevalence of different forms of discrimination and physical, psychological, and sexual violence against women of different races, ethnicities, ages, and socio-economic standing; the proliferation of the public and private scenarios in which these acts occur; and the social and political contexts in which they abound.  This state of affairs is exacerbated by the obstacles women face in acceding to effective and appropriate remedies, which not only add to the victims’ sense of insecurity, defenselessness, and distrust of the administration of justice but also create a climate of impunity which perpetuates violence against women.


Despite formal and legal recognition by states that violence against women constitutes a challenge of the first order, there is a huge discrepancy between the incidence and gravity of the problem, on the one hand, and the quality of the response proffered by those states. The IACHR acknowledges the efforts states have made to adopt a legal and political framework to address violence against women, but there is nevertheless a considerable gap between the formal availability of these remedies and effective implementation.


IACHR to publish reports on women’s rights


Given its deep concern regarding this issue, the Commission has worked on and will continue to prepare reports on the situation of women’s rights. The IACHR will shortly be publishing two such reports. One puts forward specific recommendations regarding public policies that states could adopt to improve women’s access to justice. The other analyzes the impact of armed conflict on Colombian women and discusses how the parties to the conflict employ various forms of physical, psychological, and sexual violence to “harm the enemy,” either by dehumanizing the victim, attacking his or her family, and/or sowing terror in his or her community, in order to gain control over territory and resources. The report contains recommendations for designing a comprehensive state policy that takes into account the manifestations of discrimination and violence that affect women and are aggravated by armed conflict, the idea being to make headway in diagnosis, prevention, and in the response to these problems and to move toward inclusion of the specific needs of women on the public agenda.


Record attention to this issue at the 126th regular session


The IACHR’s concern with this issue was reflected during its last regular session, which included a record number of hearings and working meetings on the protection of women’s rights. Thus, hearings were held on the situation of violence against women in the Dominican Republic, on trends in judicial interpretation of women’s rights, on the overall plight of women in Ciudad Juárez (Chihuahua, Mexico), on indigenous women, and women deprived of their freedom in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. The particularly dire situation of these two groups – indigenous women and women deprived of their freedom – is a cause of great concern to the Commission.


Discrimination, in its various different guises, does not always affect all women to the same degree. There are women who are particularly exposed to violation of their rights, such as indigenous women, who face several forms of discrimination from the day they are born, which increases their vulnerability and risk of being abused on several grounds. In the hearing on this issue, the IACHR received information regarding the aggravated impact of the dual discrimination suffered by these women. In Mexico, for example, it was alleged that the shortcomings in health care have a particularly pernicious effect on indigenous women, and cases of forced sterilization were described. In the case of Argentina, the emphasis was on lack of access to education, the failure to adapt education to the culture concerned, and the need for bilingual inter-cultural education in the country. As for Canada, attention was drawn to examples of de jure and de facto discrimination against indigenous women. In the case of Colombia, the focus was on the particularly critical situation of indigenous women who, in the context of armed conflict, are subjected to multiple forms of discrimination and violence because of their race, ethnicity, or the mere fact of being women.


In the hearing on women prisoners in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay, the IACHR received information on discriminatory practices against women in prisons, the deficiencies of the heath care provided in prisons, the barriers preventing access to training, education, and labor, and the various forms of violence against women, including the ways in which they are prevented from denouncing the abuses suffered at the hands of wardens and fellow female inmates.


On the other hand, the IACHR was pleased to note examples of progress cited at the working meetings.  One notable example was the major progress achieved with implementation of the friendly settlement agreement reached between the Government of Mexico and the representatives of the victims in the Paulina Ramírez Jacinto petition, in which the petitioners argued that 13-year-old Paulina Ramírez was prevented from exercising her right to a legal abortion because she and her mother were the victims of intimidation and delaying tactics on the part of state agents.


The IACHR will continue its close monitoring of trends with respect to women’s rights in the region and of implementation of the measures adopted by states to ensure that women are able to enjoy the full exercise of all their rights in the Americas.


Washington, D.C., November 15, 2006