Participants: Inter-American Commission
Rights of Women, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights


The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) emphasized the importance of improving women’s economic and social rights in Central America by holding a hearing during the 140th session of hearings. Unlike most thematic hearings, the hearing on discrimination against women’s economic and social rights was brought by the Commission itself, rather than by a petitioner. The hearing brought together specialists in the field of women’s rights, to provide an academic perspective to the Commission of the differences between men and women in regards to their economic, social, and political rights. The Commissioners present during the hearing included Rodrigo Escobar Gil and Luz Patricia Mejía, in her position as Special Rapporteur of Women´s Rights. Commissioner Dinah Shelton presided over the hearing.

Commissioner Mejía indicated that the hearing was called ex oficio by the IACHR due to a special project carried out by the Rapporteurship on Women’s Rights on discrimination against women in the exercise of economic, social, and cultural rights. The IACHR invited the following specialists from the field to listen to their views on the various aspects of women’s rights: Cecilia Estrada, Executive Director the Institute of Integral Women’s Formation of Bolivia); Maria Jose Chamorro, Gender Specialist of the International Labour Organization (ILO); and Nicolás Espejo, Senior Consultant to UNICEF. The variety of topics presented by the specialists provided insight into some of the most pressing topics to be addressed by the IACHR in their work on this topic.

Estrada discussed the expanding codification of women’s rights to non-discrimination in the national constitutions of Central American countries. Many of the legal changes that have been made in these countries focus on ensuring equality between men and women in terms of their economic and property rights. Estrada stressed that the ability to enter into economic agreements is a critical step towards improving women’s rights in general. Throughout Central America, states have made progress for women on issues such as property ownership for indigenous women, recognition of domestic work by housewives as an economic activity, ensuring nondiscrimination in distribution of inheritance, and the right of land ownership specifically in Bolivia.

Estrada’s presentation not only recognized the progress made in advancing women’s rights, but also pointed to areas where improvements are still needed. Although women are gaining rights on paper, much still needs to be done to eliminate social prejudices towards women, which hinders their ability to exercise these rights.

Espejo presented before the Commission information on the right to education for girls in Caribbean countries. He stressed that indigenous girls, girls with special abilities, and girls of Afro-descent are frequently unable to gain access to education. Espejo brought to the Commission’s attention the differences between the skills taught to boys and girls and the impact this has on a girl’s access to work, as well as the norms of public schools regarding sexual education and teenage pregnancy. Espejo also emphasized that in Caribbean countries, although girls frequently out-perform boys in school, there is a much higher dropout rate for young girls, mainly because they become pregnant while still in school. Espejo requested the Commission to consider the differences in academic performance and retention between girls and boys in primary schools, and to look to those Caribbean countries that provide greater equality between the sexes for guidance as to what can be done differently to improve gender equality in the rest of the Caribbean countries.

Chamorro discussed equality and non-discrimination of women in the right to work, which is enshrined in several international declarations, such as the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man and the American Convention on Human Rights, which have been ratified by most countries in the region. Chamorro mentioned current challenges, such as discrimination in the place of employment, legal protection of the right to work during maternity, and protection against sexual harassment.

After the presentations, the Commissioners questioned the specialists on their respective topics, touching on issues, such as the legal restrictions on women’s right to work, the differences between the minimum age limit to work for boys and girls, and labor harassment whereby employers threaten women with termination if they fail to meet a certain work output.  The Commissioners and specialists agreed that the extreme importance of these topics warrant further investigation and analysis. The Commission has taken on special projects and reports in the past specifically addressing women’s rights such as The Right of Women in Haiti to be Free from Violence and Discrimination, Access to Justice for Women Victims of Violence in the Americas and the Report of the IACHR on the Status of Women in the Americas 1998. This hearing provided information to the commission to help establish a roadmap of issues to address in working to ensure the equality of women in Central America.