The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights appointed Member Dean Claudio Grossman Special Rapporteur on women's rights during its 85th period of sessions, with a mandate to analyze and report on the extent to which member state legislation and practices which affect the rights of women comply with the obligations established in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the American Convention on Human Rights. These instruments provide broad guarantees of equality and freedom from discrimination to all individuals, as do the constitutions of the member states. However, as the member states have recognized, and the Commission has become increasingly aware, discriminatory legislation and practices persist which prevent women from fully exercising the rights to which they are entitled.

The Special Rapporteur presented his report to the Commission, which approved it on March 6, 1998, during its 98th period of sessions. This report, elaborated with information sent by states, individuals, and other actors from civil society, was approved in its final version during the Commission's 100th period of sessions. It begins with an orientation on the institutional and legal framework of the inter-American human rights system and how its mechanisms may be utilized to address deficiencies at the national level which impede the ability of women to exercise their rights. The report then explains the methodology of the Rapporteur=s study and analysis, and sets forth initial findings derived from the information gathered on a core set of issues, including: institutional and legal guarantees at the national level; the question of juridical capacity; the right to take part in the public affairs and service of one's country; the right to life, physical integrity, and to be free from violence; and the right to equal protection and to be free from discrimination.

The report concludes by setting forth the recommendations of the Commission aimed at: remedying instances of de facto and de jure discrimination which impede the ability of women to fully exercise their rights; addressing the consequences of such discrimination; and developing further initiatives in pursuit of these objectives within the regional system. Chief among these are recommendations that member states immediately initiate action to identify and reform legislation and practices which have the purpose or effect of discriminating on the basis of gender in order that all such instances are eliminated prior to the year 2000. Further, it is crucial that member states evaluate the legal recourses provided under domestic law in order to develop and reinforce their capacity to provide available and effective remedies to women who have been subjected to gender discrimination. The report recommends that the Commission focus its work with respect to the rights of women in particular on the question of violence against women and the inter-American human rights system.

Beyond the present report and recommendations, this initiative was designed to raise awareness of the approaches to promoting and protecting women's rights that exist in the inter-American sphere, and to further develop working links between relevant state and non-state actors and the Commission.

The Commission wishes to recognize the contribution of Argentina, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Guyana, Jamaica, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Mexico, the United States, Uruguay and Venezuela, as well as the nongovernmental organizations: Instituto de Estudios de la Mujer "Norma Virginia Guirola de Herrera" CEMUJER (El Salvador) and the Centro de Estudios de la Mujer - Honduras CEM-H (based in Tegucigalpa), in providing substantive responses to the project questionnaire upon which this report is based. The Commission appreciates the interest and collaboration received from these States and organizations, from the experts with whom the Rapporteur has consulted, and from other entities of the system, such as the Inter-American Commission of Women and the Pan-American Health Organization, and understands it to be a reflection of the region-wide priority that has been accorded to advancing the status of women.

The human rights obligations assumed by states as a result of membership in the Organization of American States provide a basis for action at the national level. In a democratic system, responsibility for guaranteeing the protection of individual rights necessarily rests first and foremost at the domestic level. The Commission's appointment of a Special Rapporteur, his analysis of national law and practice, and the recommendations issued represent a focused effort to build on and reinforce initiatives at the national level, and to work with member state governments and civil society in enhancing the situation of women's rights in the Americas. The Rapporteur extends his appreciation to Elizabeth A. H. Abi-Mershed, Senior Specialist, and Laura Langberg, Project Consultant, for their assistance in preparing this report.

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