Press Release

On International Women’s Day, the IACHR Calls on States to Promote and Strengthen the Political Participation and Representation of Women in the Americas

March 8, 2019

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Washington, D.C. - On International Women’s Day, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) calls on States to promote and strengthen the political participation of women in the region. The IACHR highlights the need to acknowledge women’s indispensable role to strengthen democracy, to eradicate the violence and discrimination that women continue to face, and to take specific measures to achieve the substantive participation and effective impact of women in all political decision-making spheres. 

The participation and representation of women at all levels of government and of the State are necessary conditions to strengthen democracy, since they promote political pluralism by integrating women’s voices and demands. Women’s participation in powerful, decision-making political positions acts as a multiplier to attain equal rights in all spheres relevant for gender equality, not just politics.

Last year, Barbados elected its first woman prime minister, while Costa Rica’s current vice president is the first Afro-descendant woman to hold that position in Latin  America. In Colombia’s recent election, four out of five presidential tickets included a woman, while the IACHR  also salutes the gender parity attained in the Colombian Cabinet. There was also a historic turnout of women in Mexico’s recent election, which for the first time delivered a Congress whose composition is close to achieving gender parity. In the United States, the 2018 legislative election broke records for the highest number of women candidates to the Senate, the House of Representatives and governor positions in election history, and it also delivered the legislature with the highest number of elected women in the country’s history. Likewise, the Commission has observed positively the progressively increase of female representation in the judicial sector and more particularly, the nomination of women as Chief of Justice in some countries in the Caribbean region.

Despite such achievements, the Commission observes that a significant gap remains between formal recognition of the political rights of women and the extent to which women are truly represented politically in the region. The Commission continues to be told how women face various hurdles to attain positions of power, which leaves them underrepresented in the various spheres of government. The exercise of women’s political rights is clearly affected by the prevalence of discriminatory gender stereotypes that restrict women to the domestic sphere and ignore their essential role in the public sphere.

“Women’s participation in public affairs and equal access to public positions have been recognized as fundamental rights in both the inter-American system and the universal system for the protection of human rights,” stressed the IACHR’s President, Commissioner Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño. “The political participation of women involves both their integration in public positions and the need for women’s priorities to be represented in public agendas. In order to brace women’s empowerment and political leadership, it is essential for it to involve both men and women,” she stressed.

Further, politically committed women face many forms of violence that restrict and inhibit their effective participation in spheres of power, including acts like burning women’s campaign materials; harassing and putting pressure on women for them to give up their positions; judging women based on stereotypical, discriminatory criteria in both traditional and social media; issuing violent messages and threats against those women and their families, including threats to exert sexual violence and death threats; and even murdering such women.  Financial, physical and symbolic violence against women in the region harms their image as effective political leaders and discourages their participation in politics. The IACHR reminds States in the Americas that they have an obligation to investigate and punish with due diligence any assaults, acts of harassment or any other form of violence perpetrated against women who are elected officials, candidates or nominees to hold public office.

“In the Americas, many women are still prevented from fully exercising their political rights on equal terms with men, as a result of stereotypical and discriminatory gender patterns, of structural violence against those women and of unequal power relations between men and women,” said Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay, IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Women. “There is particular concern about the violence and discrimination faced by Afro-descendant and indigenous women and by women who are lesbian, bisexual, transsexual or intersex (LBTI) and are politically committed. All those women have to challenge gender-based stereotypes and also sometimes face racist and homophobic attacks,” said Commissioner Macaulay.

Beyond violent, hostile environments that inhibit women’s participation in politics, the Commission acknowledges that ensuring the quantitative and qualitative representation of women in spheres of power remains a challenge. In order to ensure more significant numbers, the Commission stresses the need to implement temporary special measures, such as gender quotas, public funding for women candidates and efforts to promote women’s political rights. To attain a substantive representation of women, it is crucial for their rights and interests to feature on the national agenda, on legislation, on public policy and on court decisions (beyond getting women involved in public positions).

The Commission calls on States to adopt any measures necessary to ensure that women take part in all political spheres and are represented in those spheres, enforcing equal access to all State institutions and political organizations, and ensuring the full exercise of women’s rights, on equal terms and without violence or discrimination. The IACHR reminds States of the importance of identifying and removing the structural and formal hurdles that hinder women’s access to decision-making positions, in accordance with the applicable inter-American standards.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 061/19