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The Belém do Pará Convention at 30: Five things you should know

1. What is the Belém do Pará Convention? 

The Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women, also known as the Belém do Pará Convention was adopted on June 9, 1994. The Belém do Pará Convention marked a regional milestone by publicly addressing the violence and discrimination that women had been experiencing in private and family spaces.  It defined violence against women as any act or conduct, based on gender, that causes death or physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, whether in the public or private spheres.

This pioneering legally binding instrument within the Inter-American System was the world’s first to recognize violence against women as a violation of human rights and as a systemic issue and to define the “due diligence” duties of States in terms of prevention, investigation, support, and punishment.

2. What does the Belém do Pará Convention say about violence against women?

Through the Belém do Pará Convention, the States Parties agreed that violence against women:

  • “…constitutes a violation of their human rights and fundamental freedoms, and impairs or nullifies the observance, enjoyment, and exercise of such rights and freedoms”
  • “…is an offense against human dignity and a manifestation of the historically unequal power relations between women and men”
  • “…pervades every sector of society regardless of class, race or ethnic group, income, culture, level of education, age or religion and strikes at its very foundations”

By recognizing violence against women as a violation of human rights and establishing a normative framework for addressing the violence and discrimination women and girls endure, this Convention signaled the beginning of a decisive change process in terms of legal and policy reforms.

3. Which States have ratified the Belém do Pará Convention? 

The Belém do Pará Convention has been ratified by 32 of the 34 full Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS). 

The only States with full membership in the OAS that have not ratified the Convention are Canada and the United States. Consequently, women and girls in these countries are less protected from violence and have less recourse when their rights are violated. 

States that are parties to the Convention are obligated to take specific actions to prevent, investigate, and punish violence against women. This includes developing legal frameworks, educational programs to combat stereotypes, and offering specialized services for victims. Ten years after its adoption, in 2004, the Convention also established the MESECVI (Follow-Up Mechanism to the Belém do Pará Convention). This system facilitates technical cooperation and exchanges among State Parties, a Committee of Experts, and civil society, to monitor the fulfillment of treaty obligations and issue regular evaluations and recommendations.

4. How does the Belém do Pará Convention protect women and girls? 

From the feminist movement’s perspective, the Belém do Pará Convention has been and continues to be a fundamental tool in urging States to create more effective laws, and implement them in a non-discriminatory way; to establish robust institutions like Ministries of Women; and to develop public policies aimed at combating the pervasive issue of violence against women.

This international instrument has been a crucial tool in strengthening civil society’s role in litigation, enabling civil society organizations and the feminist movement to influence the creation of national laws on violence against women, and in shaping public policies.  It has also helped ensure specialized services for survivors, stronger legal frameworks, and new human rights standards.  Indeed, the impact of the Convention can be seen across the region. 

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5. What more needs to be done to protect the rights of women and girls to live free from violence?

Universal ratification of the Belém do Pará Convention is key to protecting the rights of women and girls. We will continue to advocate for Canada and the United States to ratify the convention, to ensure women and girls across North America are protected from violence and have recourse when their rights are violated.

Despite three decades of progress in establishing standards and procedures to combat violence against women, recent statistics remain alarming:

More efforts are needed to address the heightened vulnerability to violence experienced by racially marginalized women, lesbian women, women living in poverty, women with disabilities, and migrant women, among other groups.

For the potential of the Belém do Pará Convention to be realized,  States across the region must invest in ending violence against women through good laws, effective implementation, and ensuring an intersectional approach.

Equality Now works with partners in the Americas and around the world to end sexual violence. Following the release of our 2021 report, Failure To Protect: How Discriminatory Sexual Violence Laws And Practices Are Hurting Women, Girls, And Adolescents In The Americas, we have continued to work in partnership with organizations across Latin America and in the United States to reform sexual violence laws and improve their implementation to ensure access to justice for survivors of sexual violence.  

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