To mark March 8, International Women’s
Day, the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and
Equality) wishes to highlight the fundamental role played by women human rights
defenders in Latin America and the Caribbean. In a region where rates of sexual
and gender-based violence against women are extremely high and multiple forms
of discrimination are entrenched, women human rights defenders are key in the
fight for the defense of women’s human rights. Likewise, they are at the
vanguard of promoting and protecting the rights of others.
Although the vast majority of countries
in Latin America and the Caribbean have ratified the Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW),
women in the region continue to suffer inequalities that negatively impact
their full enjoyment of human rights. According to the Economic Commission for
Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), more than 3,800 women in 33 countries
in the region were murdered because of their gender in 2019.
This violence stems from structural inequalities which profoundly affect all
women, but especially women members of historically marginalized groups like
Afro-descendants and the LGBTI community. For example, according to the Network
of Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean, and Diaspora Women, Afro-descendant
women are victims of multiple forms of violence, which is often racialized.
Likewise, the current discourse on gender ideology in the region, driven by in
large part by conservative religious groups, has led to more discrimination
against lesbian, bi-sexual, and trans women, as well as more hate crimes and
murders. Finally, poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean, as in other
regions in the world, has a feminine face, as women are less likely to have
access to higher education and work outside of the home than their male
counterparts. When women do work outside of the home, they are paid, on
average, 17% less than men.
All of these factors make the work of women human rights defenders of utmost
importance. But, they are also facing some grave challenges.
In Colombia, where the post-Peace Accord
reality for human rights defenders is startlingly alarming due to the high rate
of murders of defenders and impunity for those murders, women human rights
defenders are among the most vulnerable. As the Office of the United Nations
High Commissioner for Human Rights recently documented, the number of women
human rights defenders killed in Colombia in 2019 increased by 50% over the
Afro-descendant and rural women defenders are at generally greater risk, just
as they suffer greater vulnerabilities in terms of overall enjoyment of their
In Cuba, independent women activists are
facing an increase in repression and de facto house arrests, as well as
reprisals and threats against themselves and their family members. Travel
restrictions arbitrarily imposed by the Cuban government routinely prevent
independent activists from participating in advocacy activities outside of the
island and the application of these against women continues to grow.
Furthermore, Cuban women are clamoring for an Integral Law against Gender
Violence – a proposal which has been rejected by the National Assembly – and
they continue to face difficulties in accessing decent, well-paying jobs.
In Nicaragua, the crisis that began in
April 2018 has had a profound impact on women. Women human rights defenders,
such as the Mothers of April, have played an important role in the opposition
movement, as many have lost their children to the violence of the crisis. There
has also been an overall increase in violence against women and femicides, as a
result of the crisis. Furthermore, women in Nicaragua also face
disproportionate economic consequences due to the crisis, as many have been
left as heads of households, with male family members killed, imprisoned, or
fired from their jobs because of their political ties.
In Brazil, the situation of violence
against women is extremely concerning, especially against Afro-descendant and
trans women. Our partners have documented that in the first two months of the
year 38 trans women have been killed in the country.
This high level of violence makes the work of women human rights defenders –
especially those working on behalf of diverse communities of women – all the
more difficult and important.
Race and Equality calls on all Latin
American and Caribbean States to honor the human rights commitments they have
made under CEDAW and other applicable international human rights treaties, to
respect and protect the rights of women. We likewise reiterate our support for
women human rights defenders, especially those of our partner organizations and
in the countries where we work, who so courageously and tirelessly fight to
promote and defend the rights of women and others in the region on a daily
basis. We thank you and assure you that you are not alone in your work towards
a safer, more just, and equitable society for all.
 OHCHR. Status
of Ratification Interactive Dashboard: CEDAW, https://indicators.ohchr.org/ (last accessed Mar. 4, 2020).
 ECLAC. Measuring femicide: challenges and efforts to bolster the
process in Latin America and the Caribbean, Nov. 2019, available at: https://oig.cepal.org/sites/default/files/femicide_web.pdf.
 UN News. More
women in Latin America are working, but gender gap persists, new UN figures
show, Oct. 28, 2019, available at: https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/10/1050121.
 UN News. Colombia:
‘Staggering number’ of human rights defenders killed in 2019, Jan. 14,
2020, available at: https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/01/1055272.
 See www.antrabrasil.org.