Washington DC, March 8, 2023.- The struggle for women’s rights has had diverse scenarios throughout history. Since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights -which celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2023- international human rights law has positioned itself as a key space to make women’s demands visible and to follow up on the commitments made by States in this area.
As we commemorate International Women’s Day once again this year, the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) wishes to draw attention to two important mechanisms for the protection of women’s rights, with the aim of contributing to their appropriation by civil society organizations in order to strengthen and make the struggle for women’s rights more effective.
These are the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women (Convention of Belém Do Pará). Currently, both conventions represent an important frame of reference for civil society organizations working in the promotion and defense of women’s rights.
It was adopted in 1979 by Resolution 34/180 of the United Nations General Assembly and to date has been ratified by 189 States. In the Americas, all countries -except the United States- have ratified it. This Convention establishes two fundamental concepts: equality between the sexes and non-discrimination against women. One of its peculiarities is that the Convention created its own review body, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women or CEDAW Committee.
The CEDAW Committee is composed of 23 independent experts. One of its missions is to examine compliance with the principles set forth in the Convention. To this end, one of its tools is the submission of Periodic Reports to be made by the States to the Committee every 4 or 5 years. The Committee examines the report submitted by the State in public meetings and makes concluding observations with its concerns and recommendations.
It is important to note that civil society organizations can submit parallel reports to those submitted by the States, therefore, their contributions can be taken into account by the CEDAW Committee when making its concluding observations and recommendations. In February 2022, Peru was evaluated by the Committee and in this process a coalition of civil society organizations, of which Race and Equality was part, presented its own report and made recommendations to the State with a focus on lesbian women.
Another mechanism through which the CEDAW Committee operates is the issuance of General Recommendations in which it elaborates the criteria to be taken into account by the States Parties to comply with the Convention and make a better interpretation of its articles. For example, through these recommendations the Committee can specify issues that are not in the Convention or make reference to new issues that are linked to the articles in order to determine its position.
The Committee may also consider and receive individual complaints and communications on a particular situation of a person or organization claiming to be a victim of a violation by a State Party. However, in order to do so, the State Party must be a Party to the Optional Protocol to CEDAW, which must have recognized the competence of the Committee at the time of ratification of the Protocol.
Belém Do Pará Convention
The Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women, better known as the Belém Do Pará Convention, was adopted by the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1994 during the twenty-fourth regular session of the General Assembly, held in Belém Do Pará, Brazil. To date, it has been ratified by 32 of the 35 OAS Member States.
It has the particularity of being the first international treaty on violence against women that affirms that such violence constitutes a violation of human rights. It also establishes for the first time the development of mechanisms for the protection and defense of women’s human rights in the fight to eliminate violence against their physical, sexual and psychological integrity, both in the public and private spheres.
In 2004, the Follow-up Mechanism of the Belém Do Pará Convention (MISECVI) was created for the multilateral, systematic and permanent evaluation of the Convention. This Mechanism is made up of a Committee of Experts who evaluate compliance with the Convention in the region, and has a technical body, the CEVI, which is responsible for analyzing and evaluating the process of implementation of the Convention in the States Party through a series of functions, including the formulation of recommendations.
Unlike the CEDAW Committee, this Committee does not evaluate individual complaints. However, victims of violations of the rights established therein may file a petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and, eventually, the Inter-American Court will determine whether there has been a violation of rights.
At Race and Equality, we believe that international mechanisms such as CEDAW and the Belém Do Pará Convention represent accessible and effective tools for the defense and protection of women’s rights, so this March 8th we reaffirm our commitment to continue promoting them and bringing local civil society organizations closer to these tools. We also call on the States Parties to effectively implement these Conventions, and on those that have not ratified them, to once and for all assume the commitment to ensure the rights and well-being of women in accordance with these international principles.