The purpose of this publication is to introduce the Report on the Status of Women in the Americas, which was adopted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on March 6, 1998. This report analyzes the compliance of OAS member states with the international obligations set forth in the regional human rights treaties and declarations as these apply to the rights of women. The information upon which this analysis is based was obtained through the use of a questionnaire, approved by the Commission, which was sent to OAS member states and nongovernmental organizations, requesting information on the application of international rights from a gender perspective. The questionnaire was the result of a process of consultation with experts, gender advocates, and government representatives.
I wish to sincerely thank the OAS member states and NGOs that answered these questionnaires: 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 and the non-governmental organizations Instituto de Estudios de la Mujer "Norma Virginia Guirola de Herrera" ("CEMUJER") of El Salvador and the Centro de Estudios de la Mujer-Honduras ("CEM-H"). Their thoroughness and candor in responding to the questions allowed us to create a more accurate picture of women"s rights in the Americas as they stand today, as well as to develop the approach to be followed to better channel our efforts in the area of women's rights.
Their answers show an encouraging movement within states to place women's rights on the social agenda and to institute reforms aimed at advancing the legal, social, political, and economic status of women. This process is a reflection of the strength of women's organizations and human rights groups, the strength and depth of the democratic movements of the region, the rejection of dictatorship, and the conviction that democracy and its triumph in the region ultimately require full compliance with women's rights. Notwithstanding the advances that are taking place in the region, however, serious problems remain. As this report shows, de jure discrimination continues to exist in some countries, especially with respect to family matters, administration of property, and the penal system. Even when no de jure discrimination is present, actual practices reveal that important women's rights are denied. This is true in almost every societal realm and in virtually every country in the region. Poverty and armed conflict have a disproportionate negative effect on women. In addition, women belonging to indigenous groups and ethnic minorities are the subject of further grave violations resulting from their specific situation.
In this report, the Commission has adopted recommendations and decisions for the member states of the OAS and for its own role in the promotion and protection of the human rights of women. The main thrust of the Commission's recommendations is to bring domestic laws into compliance with international human rights obligations with respect to gender equality. The Commission calls upon all member states to take all steps required to stop de jure discrimination immediately, and at the same time to continue to develop and strengthen legislation and processes designed to eliminate all forms of de facto gender discrimination and to achieve full equality. The Commission itself will promote the use of its case system as a vehicle to address domestic violence, a widespread practice affecting the most fundamental human rights and democratic values.
This report would not have been possible without the help of many persons. In particular, I would like to recognize Elizabeth Abi-Mershed, Principal Specialist at the Commission, and Laura Langberg, Project Consultant, for the support and interest they offered in the production of this report. I would also like to thank again the numerous individuals, including government representatives and members of civil society, who cooperated with us in the preparation of this report.
The Commission will continue to contribute to the process of achieving full compliance with gender rights in the framework of its competence, and to offer its assistance to the valuable initiatives taken by states, other OAS organs and national groups.