Americas (North, Central, South)
Publication details: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Case No. 11.625;19 January 2001
About this resource:
Ms Maria Eugenia Morales de Sierra was a married woman living in Guatemala, a mother, a working professional and the owner of property jointly acquired with her husband. Together with the Center for Justice and International Law, Ms Morales de Sierra challenged various provisions of the Guatemalan Civil Code, arguing that their differential treatment of husbands and wives, and of married and single women, violated various rights guaranteed by the American Convention on Human Rights. According to those provisions, a married woman was not allowed by law to represent the marital union; administer (deal with) marital property; represent the children or administer their property; and could only work outside the home with her husband’s permission and if it did not prejudice her role as mother and homemaker.
The Constitutional Court of Guatemala said that the provisions were constitutional as they provided judicial certainty on the allocation of roles in marriage. So, Ms Morales de Sierra took her case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Commission found that the provisions violated several articles of the American Convention on Human Rights, including the right to be equally protected by the law (Article 24); to equality and balanced responsibilities in marriage (Article 17); and the right to privacy (Article 11).
The Commission also referred to similar protections under a number of other regional and international treaties and instruments. Since the decision, Guatemala has made some reforms to its civil code, making it possible for women to be heads of household and not require permission to work.
This case represents a significant step towards the equal treatment of, and elimination of discrimination towards, women in Latin America.
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