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The Belém do Pará Convention at 30: Understanding the impact on women’s rights in the Americas

Governments, civil society, and other international actors are gathering in Chile in the Conference of States Parties of the Convention this week to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Belém do Pará Convention.  The groundbreaking treaty was the world’s first to recognize violence against women as a systemic issue and to define the duties of States in terms of prevention, support, and punishment. 

How do international treaties impact the rights of women and girls at a national level? 

International law is most often in the form of a treaty. Treaties – written agreements between States – are critical to international law because they are binding on the governments who sign and ratify them. When a country ratifies a treaty, it is obligated to abide by the requirements of that treaty. 

International human rights treaties can be a catalyst for the adoption of comprehensive national laws, in this case addressing various forms of violence and discrimination against women, as well as public awareness and education programs, the creation of State institutions, funding,  specialist services, strengthened legal frameworks and judicial systems, as well as setting new human rights standards.

Most international and regional treaties have a committee of human rights experts that measures how well countries are living up to their obligations. We engage with these committees as part of our ongoing efforts to hold governments accountable for protecting and promoting women’s rights. 

How has the Belém do Pará Convention impacted national laws and policies on violence against women across Latin America and the Caribbean? 

The Convention spurred the adoption of new laws across much of the region. These include laws that specifically target domestic violence, sexual violence,  and other forms of gender-based violence. Here are some examples of laws implemented in the last two decades that reflect the principles and obligations set out in the Belém do Pará Convention, focusing on the protection and promotion of women’s rights in the face of violence:

  • Argentina: Comprehensive Law for the Protection of Women (Law 26.485 of 2009): This law covers preventive measures, sanctions, and eradicating violence against women, addressing various forms of violence comprehensively.
  • Brazil: Maria da Penha Law (Law No. 11.340/2006): Named after a survivor of domestic violence, this law was enacted to prevent and punish domestic and family violence against women. It is considered one of the region’s most advanced laws on this matter.
  • Chile: Law 20.066 on Intra-Family Violence (2005): Establishes mechanisms to prevent and sanction violence within the family, including gender-based violence. It also protects girls who experience intra-family violence.
  • Colombia: Law 1257 of 2008: Aimed at raising awareness, preventing, and punishing all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls. It also modifies the Penal Code and other provisions to enhance protection and access to justice for women victims of violence
  • Mexico: General Law on Women’s Access to a Life Free from Violence (2007): Defines violence against women and sets guidelines to prevent, address, and eradicate violence against women in both private and public spheres. 
  • Peru: Law 30364 – Law to Prevent, Punish and Eradicate Violence against Women and Family Members (2015): Provides a legal framework for the protection and assistance of women and family members who suffer violence.

The Convention has also spurred the establishment of institutions responsible for the implementation of policies aimed at combating violence against women. This includes the creation of Ministries of Women and Ministries of Equity, with designated budget allocations for programs against gender-based violence.

Driving public awareness and education campaigns to change attitudes 

The Convention has spurred educational campaigns aimed at changing societal attitudes towards gender-based violence. These efforts seek to dismantle harmful stereotypes and promote gender equality. The role of the States in dismantling harmful stereotypes has been reinforced by rulings from the Inter-American Court, such as in the case of Brisa de Angulo vs. Bolivia.

Implementing specialized services for survivors of sexual violence 

Following the guidelines of the Convention, several countries in the region have implemented specialized services for survivors of violence. This includes the creation of shelters, crisis centers, and counseling services, which are crucial for the support and rehabilitation of survivors. Many countries have also established specialized units within police forces and the judiciary to handle cases of gender-based violence more effectively.

Reforming legal frameworks and judicial processes

The Convention has prompted reforms in the judicial process to make it more accessible and responsive to the needs of women experiencing violence. This includes establishing procedures that protect survivors’ privacy and dignity during legal proceedings.

Sparking new human rights standards

The case of María da Penha vs Brazil in the Inter-American System was emblematic and crucial in promoting the Belém do Pará Convention. It highlighted the severity and prevalence of violence against women, the intensity and brutality of the violence involved, and the impunity surrounding the case. This significant case gave its name to Brazil’s current domestic violence law. It spurred the development of specific regulations for the prevention and response to violence against women and girls throughout our region.

Protecting children’s rights

Another achievement relates to the protection of children. While the Belém do Pará Convention focuses on violence against women, it has also served as a tool for protecting children whose mothers are victims of violence and has laid the foundation for the creation of laws that protect children’s rights.

Despite three decades of progress in establishing standards and procedures to combat violence against women, 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.  

Want to learn more about laws and policies surrounding sexual violence in the region? Explore our 2021 report, Failure To Protect: How Discriminatory Sexual Violence Laws And Practices Are Hurting Women, Girls, And Adolescents In The Americas,