to Health and Reproductive Health (Article 11, American Declaration; Articles 5
and 26, American Convention; Articles 4 and 5, Convention of Belém do Pará)
Based on the information forwarded by the States, it can be seen that in
general integral health care for women depends primarily on the organization and
structure of adequate services, which are implemented as a result of regulations
and programs set up for this purpose. Second,
the right to health also depends on whether women are familiar with the laws
which protect this right and regulate medical health service.
The reproductive health of women should occupy a place of importance with
respect to legislative initiatives and national and provincial health programs.
Some countries have reported on the regulation of family planning
services granting individuals or couples the option of using and selecting
methods. This is the case, for
instance, of the 1984 Resolution issued by the Ministry of Health in Colombia.
Also, Colombia's Law 100 of 1993 provides for free, mandatory, and
universal family planning in basic health services. In Argentina, the Ministry of Health and Social Action
offers a program on responsible procreation and its aim is to provide
information on this right in order to make a responsible decision on having
children and to provide advice to the public and families on this subject
although there are not yet any regulations governing the use of methods and the
provision of these services.
In the responses forwarded by some States, the serious difficulties
facing women's health care in the public sector were described.
These problems are attributable to the lack of resources, the absence of
norms with respect to reproductive health, the precariousness of service
delivery, and a lack of professional personnel and essential supplies.
PRINCIPLE OF EQUALITY AND NONDISCRIMINATION IN LABOR LAW (Articles 2 and 14,
American Declaration; Articles 1 and 26, American Convention; Article 5,
Convention of Belém do Pará)
In general, the principle of equality and nondiscrimination is
established in labor legislation throughout the region, and any type of
differentiation against workers for any reason, including gender, is forbidden
to prevent arbitrary discrimination. For
instance, in Argentina, law 20,744 establishes the principle of equality
and nondiscrimination. The Equal
Opportunity Plan for Women (1993) initiated by the executive branch, pushed for
passage of law 24,465 to encourage employers to hire women and law 24,576 on
equal opportunity between workers of both sexes.
In Bolivia, work performed by women is regulated by the 1939 Labor
Act and by the General Labor Act that updates some norms
. In Canada, the
Employment Equity Act came into effect in 1996, modifying the previous labor law
regime, and amplifying its coverage to include the federal public service, and
companies regulated by and doing business with the State. In Panama, many laws that established differences
based on gender according to the activity or position were declared
unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1994 for adversely affecting a woman's
freedom to practice a profession. In
Paraguay, the Labor Code specifically provides for equality in explicit
regulations. In Uruguay, law
16,045 provides for penalties in cases of labor discrimination.
Serious problems continue to exist, however, in the way these regulations
are applied in actual fact, which results, inter alia, in significant
differences in income between men and women in the majority of the countries of
the region. An illustration of this
is the case of Costa Rica, which reports in the questionnaire that in
1990 the average monthly salary of women was 82% of that of men.
In rural areas, 60% of women earn less than the minimum wage and 34% just
one half that amount. In Brazil,
income earned by women is equivalent to 54% of that received by men.
In Uruguay, women earn 75% of the income received by men.
An essential subject that is being considered in draft legislation
submitted in some countries has to do with labor regulations in which women and
minors are classified together. For
instance, in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Costa Rica, regulations
of this kind are being abolished or amended.
TO EDUCATION (Article 12, American Declaration; Articles 1 and 26, American
Several countries have adopted standards to establish explicitly the
principle of equality between men and women in education.
In Argentina, the Federal Education Act (law 24,195) promotes
equal opportunity and the need to overcome discrimination in teaching materials. The National Program for the Promotion of Equal Opportunities
for Women in Education, implemented by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and
Education, was created in 1990. In Bolivia,
gender perspective has been incorporated into the national education system for
primary education. In Colombia,
in 1992, the Office of the Presidential Advisor for Women, Youth, and the
Family, together with the Ministry of Education, initiated a series of
activities to promote equal opportunities between the genders in education,
including research on the production of school textbooks from the perspective of
equity in gender relations. In Costa
Rica, the Social Equality Promotion Act for Women (1990) forbids educational
institutions from "using pedagogical content, methods, and instruments that
assign roles to men and women in society, that are at variance with social
equality and the complementarity of each gender or maintain women in a
subordinate position". In Ecuador,
a series of programs have been initiated since 1990 to promote integrated
education that includes the rights of women, in order to modify cultural
patterns that discriminate against women. Activities
are being undertaken to incorporate gender perspective into curriculum reform.
In Guatemala, the Ministry of Education, through the National
Textbook Commission, has established general guidelines for eliminating the use
of sexual stereotypes in the education system, and has ordered that textbooks be
revised to include gender perspective.
These initiatives undoubtedly reflect policies designed to surmount
prejudices ingrained from cultural tradition, by providing women with an
opportunity to learn what their rights are and how to defend them.
The Commission values the cooperation shown by the States of the
Hemisphere in responding to the questionnaire, and which demonstrates their
commitment to achieving the ideals of juridical equality and nondiscrimination
towards women. As noted in this
report, many States have added women's rights to the national agenda, creating
new institutions, plans and specific policies, legal mechanisms of affirmative
action in political participation and, in general, significant advances in
promoting and protecting women's rights. There
is a growing perception in the region that effective democracy calls for greater
participation by women in decision making and that access to the public life of
a nation is not achieved solely through the nondiscriminatory exercise of the
right to vote.
Despite the undoubted progress reported by the countries, serious
problems persist in the region. Women
have not yet achieved full juridical equality in every country in the region.
Discrimination de jure is a flagrant violation of the international
commitments freely assumed by the States and, although formal equality does not
guarantee the elimination of instances of discrimination, recognizing it makes
it possible to encourage transformations in society, thereby enhancing the
authority of this right. According
to the information received, certain countries possess, in greater or lesser
measure, laws that restrict and/or discriminate against the civil rights of
women in marriage with respect to the administration of assets of each spouse or
other types of assets; in representation of the conjugal home or head of
household; in the exercise of parental authority; in establishing the conjugal
domicile, or the possibility of remarriage; in the need for express or tacit
authorization of the husband to work and open a business; or in the right to
ownership of property.
The preamble to Convention of Belém do Pará states that "violence
against women constitutes a violation of their human rights and fundamental
freedoms, and impairs or nullifies the observance, enjoyment and exercise of
such rights and freedoms." Article
2 of the same Convention adds that "Violence against women shall be
understood to include physical, sexual, and psychological violence that is
perpetrated or tolerated by the State or its agents regardless of where it
occurs". The State has the
obligation, therefore, in accordance with this international instrument and
Article 1.1 of the American Convention--and the rights established therein--to
act with due diligence to prevent violations of human rights and to take
remedial action whenever violations do occur.
This implies that, even in the case of conduct not originally
attributable to the State, a violation of these rights may entail responsibility
on the part of the State "not because of the act itself, but of the lack of
due diligence to prevent the violation or to respond to it as the Convention
requires." (I.A.Ct.H.R., Case
of Velásquez Rodríguez, judgment of July 29, 1988, Ser. C. No. 4, paragraph
At the meeting of experts on the Status of Women in the Americas on
November 7, 1997, organized by the Special Rapporteur of the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights, dealing with the problem of violence against women
was identified as a priority. Although
this problem, given its magnitude and seriousness, has led to the creation of
institutions, mechanisms, and various legislative initiatives, norms that
violate the guarantee of equality before the law and due process continue to
exist. In many criminal codes, values such as honor, social decency,
virginity, chastity, and good morals prevail over values such as the mental and
physical integrity of the woman and her sexual liberty, thereby impeding the due
protection under the law of victims of such crimes, or compelling them to prove
that they resisted in the case of the crime of rape, or subjecting them to
interminable procedures that perpetuate victimization.
The Commission wishes to draw the State's attention to the fact that the
situations such as those described in which women who are the victims of
violence are left unprotected still exist because of a lack of adequate
legislation or because the legislation in force is not observed.
In many countries, women who are the victims of family violence cannot
rely on appropriate criminal laws since domestic violence is not considered a
crime, or else the complaints are unsuccessful, with the process generally
ending with the aggressor being set free. There
are situations in which women victims of sexual violence do not have access to
civil action for damages since the dignity of the individual is considered a
juridical interest not susceptible to inclusion as a pecuniary interest.
Apparently, in this latter case, the damage is viewed as having an
abstract element with a moral component "the dignity of the victim",
without also taking into account that the individual's mental and physical
integrity has been harmed or affected as well as her freedom and privacy.
In addition, the concept of moral damages is covered in other areas of
the criminal code and is susceptible to restitution through civil action.
The Commission wishes to recall that Article 7.g of the Convention of
Belém do Pará establishes that the States must "establish the necessary
legal and administrative mechanisms to ensure that women subjected to violence
have effective access to restitution, reparations or other just and effective
remedies." Equally important
is the fact woman campesinos, minors, and indigenous women are
particularly vulnerable to situations in which they are left unprotected and
exposed since they have fewer means of defence.
On the question of persecution and sexual harassment, the information
received by the Commission showed that only in exceptional circumstances is such
behavior regulated in the domestic legislation of the States, with its being
restricted in one case to the public sector and in another to labor legislation.
Many countries report, however, on the presence of draft legislation to
eventually incorporate sexual harassment into national legislation.
The responses to the Commission's questionnaire reveal that although
women account for over one half of the population in the hemisphere, this is not
reflected in decision making levels in the political, social, economic, and
In their reports, the States refer to serious problems in terms of
material resources, a situation that undermines the protection of rights
relating to health, employment, and education.
The Commission is aware of the problem of resources but is not convinced
that the rights of women have been adequately considered in the establishment of
national priorities and the assignment of resources.
The Commission has been able to confirm the existence of valuable
education programs that include gender perspective aimed at overcoming social
and cultural traditions that continue to circumscribe equal opportunities for
women. The Commission considers
programs of this kind essential for heightening awareness in the region of the
rights of women and for ensuring that such rights can be exercised.
According to the responses forwarded by the States on health and
reproductive health, the Commission was able to confirm serious deficiencies in
statistics, generally owing to a lack of resources and suitable infrastructure.
The Commission is able to verify serious problems of access to basic
information, proper health and social care, as pointed out in superb reports
prepared by the Pan American Health Organization on violence and health
, as well as studies undertaken by the World Bank
, and the Inter-American Development Bank
on domestic violence and health.
These international organizations undertook major initiatives and
strategies to prevent, reduce, and raise the visibility of violence against
In the area of labor legislation, most States in the region have laws of varying legal rank that prohibit discrimination in the work place. However, there are sharp disparities in the compensation levels of men and women for the same work. In some situations, women are assimilated with minors, a situation which in itself constitutes a violation of the principle of nondiscrimination and recognition of juridical personality.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights adopts the following
recommendations presented by the Special Rapporteur:
measures within the Commission
Rapporteurship on Women Rights should be transformed into a Working Group on the
Rights of Women, coordinated by a Commissioner and comprising experts appointed
by the Commission. This is of
special importance, inter alia, in order to achieve greater participation
of civil society, and given the present composition of the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights. The
Working Group will formulate recommendations to the Commission on how the case
system and internationally protected rights may be made more accessible to women
(i.e. training, materials, and internships).
The Working Group will submit to the Commission draft reports on issues
with which it has been entrusted by the Commission, acting within the scope of
its Convention and Regulation-based attributes.
The first report will center on violence against women in the hemisphere
and the Inter-American System for Protection of Human Rights.
This report will propose inter alia measures to the Commission
that will make it possible to protect women more effectively against violence.
Commission will establish a Voluntary Fund on Women's Rights.
The exclusive purpose of this fund will be to obtain material resources
so that the Commission can perform the functions entrusted to it under the OAS
Charter, the American Convention, the American Declaration, and the Convention
of Belém do Pará. This includes carrying out or providing support for training
on its case system and women's rights, conducting studies, and preparing
Commission within its powers will take steps to stress still further the
promotion and protection of women's rights, and to this end will:
full coverage to women rights in reports on its in loco visits.
governments and nongovernmental organizations to participate, as amicus curiae,
in specific cases before the Commission and the Inter-American Court of Human
Rights to enrich the decision-making process of these bodies.
the context of its activities of supervision and its case system, cooperate with
international agencies and bodies involved in promoting and protecting women's
rights and within the OAS with the other bodies, entities, and instances of
coordination concerned with the progress of women's rights.
in the Hemisphere
States are urged, in accordance with the international obligations they have
freely assumed, to take such steps forthwith as are necessary to fulfill their
commitment to abolish all laws that discriminate against women, so that by the
year 2000 at the latest such inequality will be eliminated and the full capacity
of women in all areas of life will be recognized.
The Commission proposes that the continent of the Americas commence the
twenty-first century "Without Discrimination Against Women", this
being understood to mean:
any distinction, exclusion, or restriction made on the basis of sex which
has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment
or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of
equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the
political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.
1 of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination Against Women). To
this end, the Commission urges the States to undertake a broad review of their
legislation in order to identify provisions establishing distinctions,
exclusions, or restrictions on the basis of sex, that have the purpose or effect
of preventing recognition or exercise of human rights by women, and to amend
such laws or abolish them.
OAS member States that have not yet done so should ratify the regional human
rights instruments, and in particular, the Inter-American Convention on the
Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence Against Women as a
demonstration of their commitment to observing and protecting the human rights
of women who are the victims of violence
to the States on specific rights
States need to fulfill Articles 1, 3, and 24 of the American Convention, and
Articles 2 and 17 of the American Declaration, which establish the right to
equality before the law and recognition of juridical personality and civil
rights of women. This includes
recognizing equal rights for women in and outside of marriage, their right to
dispose of their own assets and equality in parental authority.
Furthermore, in accordance with Articles 20 and 24 of the American
Declaration and Article 23 of the American Convention, the Commission urges the
States to continue and expand measures to encourage participation by women in
decision-making in the public sphere, including positive measures.
As well, the Commission urges that they assure that women have
appropriate representation at all levels of government, at the local,
provincial, state and national levels; develop strategies to increase the
integration of women in political parties; and take further steps to fully
incorporate the sectors of civil society, including those that represent the
interests of women, in the process of developing and implementing policies and
States must eliminate the serious restrictions placed on women as a result of
the conferral of conjugal representation or head of household status on the
husband, and the limitation of the role of women to the domestic sphere.
These restrictions include: the
authority of the husband to prevent his wife from exercising a profession or
trade, or operating a business, when that is considered to be harmful to the
interests and care of the children and other domestic obligations; the
designation of the husband as administrator of conjugal assets; and the
conferral of parental authority upon the husband/father.
Moreover, the duty to recognize children born outside of marriage must be
binding for a man as well as for a woman.
Commission urges the States, in accordance with Articles 1 and 11 of the
American Declaration, Articles 4 and 5 of the American Convention, and Article 7
of the Convention of Belém do Pará, to adopt suitable legislation on violence
against women, ensuring that violence, intrafamilial or domestic violence, or
that is either caused or tolerated by agents of the State, is duly investigated,
tried before a court, and punished. The response capacity of the public and private sectors in
training law enforcement and judicial personnel needs to be strengthened in
order to provide proper treatment for the causes and effects of violence.
Lastly, the States need to fully implement the programs and laws on
domestic violence that already exist, which for lack of insufficient resources
frequently have yet to be initiated or are only partially implemented.
the right to health of women, the States need to adopt measures to keep proper
statistical data and to have the necessary resources in order to ensure plans
and programs that allow women to fully exercise this important right.
Recognizing the growing participation by women in the labor market and in
national economies, and that disparities in the remuneration levels of men and
women for the same work persist, the Commission urges the States to take such
additional steps as are necessary to correct the disparities in income between
men and women possessing equal qualifications and performing the same tasks; to
ensure equal employment opportunities for women and men; to review legislation
and judicial resources to ensure that the reproductive functions of women are
not transformed into a cause for discrimination in the hiring, placement,
promotion, or firing of women; and to prevent, punish, and eradicate sexual
harassment in the work place.
Commission urges the States to amend criminal codes that declare rapists who
marry their victims free of any responsibility or penalty; to ensure that women
who are detained are treated with respect for their dignity, that their cases
are processed swiftly before a judicial authority and subject to judicial
supervision, that they have quick access to legal assistance and medical care,
and that inspections of women detained are conducted with the proper guarantees
and care; that sexual crimes classified until now as crimes against decency and
good morals be classified as crimes against personal integrity, liberty and
privacy. It is further recommended
that conduct not covered in certain criminal codes, such as incest, be defined
as a crime; that the definition of rape be broadened to include situations not
traditionally considered as such, that because of new modalities are by their
nature a violation of personal integrity and the freedom and privacy of women;
and that any mention of the concept of decency, honor, and related notions, be
eliminated as extenuating circumstances. The
Commission urges the States to ensure that those women most vulnerable, women
campesinos, young girls, and indigenous women have due access to the mechanisms
afforded by the legal system.
The Commission endorses General Recommendation 19 of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) adopted in 1992 through which it is affirmed that violence against women constitutes a violation of human rights, stressing that the States may be liable for private acts if they fail to act with due diligence to prevent violations of rights, or to investigate and punish acts of violence, or fail to provide measures of reparation or compensation (E/CN.4/1996/53, 5 February 1996, Commission on Human Rights, p.10, paragraph 34). In keeping with the criterion set out by the CEDAW, the Commission recommends that the States revise and amend domestic legislation for the purpose of reflecting the progress achieved in international law with respect to the rights of women, punishing conduct that has not yet been defined as a crime such as sexual harassment, amending procedures in the investigation stage that are discriminatory and/or prejudicial because the victim is a woman engaging in "immoral conduct" and to investigate and punish cases of domestic violence with due diligence through prompt and simple judicial remedies.
Work performed by women is regulated together with work performed by minors,
with both groups being subject to the same restrictions in terms of tasks and
schedules. Draft labor law
reforms are now being proposed by the Directorate of Gender Affairs.
However, illiteracy is still perceived as a problem that persists in high
proportions affecting mainly women, in countries such as Bolivia, Guatemala,
Report entitled "Advances in the Eradication of Violence against
Women," 1997, PAHO, Washington, D.C.
Research project initiated in 1996 "Critical Path of Women
Affected by Intrafamily Violence," under way in seven countries in
Central America. Publication "Violence against Women and Children:
Analysis and Proposals from the Perspective of Public Health", Women,
Health, and Development Program, 1993, PAHO.
World Bank Discussion Paper 255, "Violence Against Women:
The Hidden Health Burden," L. Heise, J. Pitanguy, and A. Germain,
1994, Washington, D.C.
Seminar "Domestic Violence in Latin America and the Caribbean, Program
and Policies, ATN 5657, Unit for Women in Development, Inter-American
Development Bank, 1997, Washington, D.C.
 . At the writing of this report, Antigua and Barbuda, Canada, Cuba, Grenada, Jamaica, Mexico, Suriname, and the United States had not yet ratified that Convention.