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The 52nd session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women came to a close on 27 July, after three weeks of reviewing reports submitted by State parties on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The Committee adopted observations and recommendations with regard to the eight countries under consideration, including the Bahamas, Bulgaria, Guyana, Indonesia, Jamaica, Mexico, New Zealand and Samoa. Through constructive dialogues and discussions, as well as informal meetings and lunchtime briefings with NGOs, national human rights institutions and other stakeholders, the session allowed State parties to monitor, evaluate, and address the disparities faced by women within their countries and across the globe. In particular, the States under consideration explained the legislative, judicial, administrative and other measures that they have adopted to implement the CEDAW Convention and to advance gender equality and women’s rights. Most countries started by presenting some of the specific challenges they were facing, ranging from their geographical, religious and cultural characteristics and their regional and post-colonial history to high unemployment levels, rising crime and socio-economic woes arising from the global financial crisis and natural disasters. Nevertheless, all State parties reaffirmed their commitment to the Convention.
Countries under review
The first country that presented its report was Guyana. Jennifer Webster, Minister of Human Services and Social Security of Guyana, commended her country’s commitment to international human rights law, explaining that since its last revision, Guyana had acceded to two of the Optional Protocols on the Convention of the Rights of the Child, ratified the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. In addition, the country is currently considering acceding to the Optional Protocol to CEDAW. In terms of national development, Ms. Webster said her country had made substantial efforts to: become a low-carbon economy; make progress in financial management and economic stability; diversify its productive base; remain steadfast in using a pro-poor growth strategy to eradicate poverty; and create an enabling environment for investment and expansion, especially in the social sector. Moreover, Guyana is undertaking various legislative reforms and actively promoting equal access to education, including through a universal uniform allowance to permit children from poor and vulnerable households to attend school (from nursery to secondary levels). Progress was made in terms of eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary education; involving a greater number of women in the economy and labour market; as well as in terms of housing, security of tenure, and female representation in Parliament. Combating domestic violence and sexual offences has become a national priority, as is the implementation of the country’s Persons with Disabilities Act 2010; and of the National Plan of Action in response to the trafficking in persons, Ms. Webster explained.
Indonesia has also continued strengthening its legislative and policy frameworks in the field of human rights with a significant impact on women’s rights, said Linda Amalia Sari, Minister of Women Empowerment and Child Protection in Indonesia. The country has adopted and enacted a law on the eradication of human trafficking (2007), on the elimination of racial and ethnic discrimination (2008), on health (2009), and on general election (2012) and political parties (2011). The latter two aim to strengthen gender equality in politics. The country has ratified various UN Conventions and Protocols; is preparing to ratify the Optional Protocol to CEDAW; and is in the process of drafting a Bill on Gender Equality. Since 2011, Indonesia has started implementing – in various ministries – a regulation on gender responsive planning and budgeting to support gender mainstreaming and equality in national development. The country further aims to empower women by providing programmes and schemes that support their advancement, such as the “Desa PRIMA” programme which teaches women advocacy and practical skills to boost their economic power. Other schemes and programmes involve community empowerment, micro-credit to develop micro and small enterprises; health insurance, direct cash transfers, rice for the poor, etcetera. Ms. Sari continued by explaining her government’s commitment to facilitate seminars, workshops and other training session for governmental officials, policy-makers, legal drafters, and law enforcement officials in order to increase their capacity in formulating gender-responsive strategies, policies, and laws. She concluded by drawing attention to progress made in terms of political participation, trafficking, health, education and migrant workers.
Ambassador Stephan Tafrov, Permanent Representative of Bulgaria to the United Nations in New York, explained his country’s efforts to integrate a gender dimension into national policies and practices, including through new legislation and new structures. The country adopted, for example, a Law on Protection against Discrimination (2004), and a Law on Protection against Domestic Violence (2005; amended in 2009-2010) and since 2002, trafficking in human beings has become a criminal offense. More recent developments included the adoption of the National Strategy for Roma Integration (2012-2020) – which focuses in particular on the prevention of discrimination against Roma people, including Roma women; as well as amendments to the Penal Code (to include hate speech and crimes) and to the Judiciary System Act. New legislation was approved on the creation of a special criminal court system to deal with organized crime, including the trafficking in persons, and the country recently acceded to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, and the Convention on the Reduction of Statelesssness. Mr. Tafrov further referred to the institutional infrastructure put in place to support the elaboration and implementation of governmental policy on gender equality and non-discrimination; and highlighted some results of its Strategy for Promotion of Gender Equality 2008-2015, which has improved the situation of women in various areas of social and political life.
Sandrea Falconer, Senator and Minister with Responsibility for Information of the Office of the Prime Minister of Jamaica, in a similar vein, drew attention to her country’s efforts to implement laws, policies and programmes that aim to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment. She proudly presented the progress in political leadership with the position of Prime Minister being filled by a woman since 2006. She hailed the National Policy for Gender Equality (2011), which promotes greater gender equality at the highest levels of the decision-making processes by requiring that at least 30% of the members of public boards, commissions and the Senate, should be women. To counterbalance the negative effects of the global economic downturn, Jamaica has expanded the benefits of its social safety net programmes, increased the provision of universal health care, and removed tuition fees in schools up to secondary level. The country is making strides in terms of gender equality at the tertiary level, and aims to redouble its efforts to advance gender equality in the labour market. Ms. Falconer further raised the country’s concern with violence against women, trafficking in persons and the sexual exploitation and harassment of women and girls, and highlighted some of the initiatives taken to address these issues. The country also developed a Gender Sector Plan as part of its vision for 2030 to become “the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.”
Before referring to Mexico’s achievements in terms of CEDAW implementation, María del Rocío García Gaytán, President of the National Institute of Women, said the country welcomed the work of the CEDAW Committee and was looking forward to receiving its recommendations, so that Mexico could improve its protection mechanisms for women’s rights. She highlighted Mexico’s constitutional human rights reform of 2011, which was part of the country’s “juridical revolution.” The country had also recently made considerable progress in terms of criminalizing “femicide,” which is the killing of a woman because of her gender. Moreover, Mexico had continued strengthening its efforts to fight gender-based discrimination, empower women, and improve their access to health care (including pre- and post-natal care). Ms. García Gaytán also explained that the country was the first Latin-American country that studied the contribution of women’s unremunerated work in the home to the national economy. The study found that it was comparable to almost 23% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 77% of all the non-paid work within the country. This information will be crucial for further policy-making, Ms. García Gaytán underlined. She continued by elaborating on many other advancements made within the county, but concluded by drawing attention to some of Mexico’s greatest internal challenges, including the actual implementation of existing laws at different levels; the efficient coordination and monitoring of different government actors and resources; the ongoing classification of femicide within the various federal entities; the development of a model to address violence against women and children, with a special focus on indigenous women; and the reform of labour laws.
New Zealand’s Women’s Affairs Minister Jo Goodhew hailed her country’s strong statutory framework giving men and women full and equal rights. Although all women are considered the same, she noted that “indigenous women, Pacific women, Asian women, women with disabilities, and migrant women may have unique challenges and contributions and may require targeted approaches to ensure they have equal opportunity” within the country’s borders. Interestingly enough, the country does not have a formal written constitution that incorporates CEDAW provisions, but rather a range of legislation: New Zealand’s Bill of Rights Act, the Human Rights Act and the Equal Pay Act. Despite many changes in legislation and the introduction of new policies, Ms. Goodhew explained that the country needed a sharper focus to create greater economic independence for women, more women in leadership roles and increased safety from violence. She commended progress in terms of women’s participation in public and political life, as well as in access to education, employment, health, and social sector services.
Strengthening the legal and policy framework, institutional reform, enhanced collaboration and creating an enabling environment were some of the key strategies undertaken by Samoa to ensure progress in terms of gender equality and the advancement of the rights of women and girls. Samoa’s Associate Minister for Women, Community and Social Development, explained the country’s ongoing efforts to ratify a Crimes Bill, a Family Safety Bill, and the Labour and Employment Bill. These Bills would – when passed – turn marital rape into an offence, allow for legal abortion if it is to preserve the life of the mother, criminalize prostitution and the soliciting of prostitution, penalize smuggling and trafficking in people, address sexual harassment, improve labour conditions for all women, and provide six weeks of maternity leave for women in the private sector, among others. Also in terms of promoting women’s political and public participation, the country is currently working to amend its Constitution, but similarly to the above-mentioned Bills, its approval is a long term process. The country aims to have a minimum of 10% of its seats in parliament reserved for women, which marks a considerable achievement for Samoa, but falls far short from the 30% CEDAW target.
Finally, Melanie Griffin, Minister of Social Services of the Bahamas, who is also responsible for the Bureau of Women’s Affairs, announced that the Bahamas had made several strides in the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment. For example, the country is in the final stages of reviewing its draft National Gender Policy, which should guide the country in terms of gender equality. A Constitutional Review Commission is revisiting the country’s national Constitution in order to make it more in line with CEDAW and other international instruments and to remove discriminatory provisions against women. In addition, it is expected to upgrade the Bureau of Women’s Affairs into a Department, which would not only broaden its scope and reach, but the budgetary and human resources at its service. The Bahamas has strengthened its Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act, as well as efforts to address the trafficking of persons, child protection, and disability issues. Moreover, the country has drafted a National Five Year Strategic Plan on Domestic Violence (currently under review); and has launched various campaigns to educate the public, especially women and young girls, on gender issues and in overcoming gender stereotyping.
The Committee’s concerns
After each country introduced its submitted report and presented the main findings, the Committee members generally welcomed the countries’ efforts, shared concerns and raised critical questions. In the case of Bulgaria, for example, the Committee members called for an explanation on the lack of “promulgation” of the Convention and the fact that the Convention’s status seemed “legally binding but not domestically applicable.” Other concerns were related to the country’s insufficient use of temporary special measures to overcome the disadvantages faced by women – such as additional resource allocation, preferential treatment, and quota systems; which became visible, among others, in the declining number of women in Parliament; and the limited role of women in diplomacy. Questions were raised in terms of the weak position and protection of Roma women; ongoing patriarchy and gender stereotyping; and the criminalization (or lack thereof) of domestic violence and marital rape. The ineffectiveness of efforts to end the trafficking of women and girls was regretted.
The latter was also the case for Mexico and Jamaica. Although Committee members were pleased with all the progress made in Mexico, they remained concerned with the high levels of trafficking of women in the country, particularly by organized criminal groups. In their opinion, Mexico was insufficiently able to prevent such trafficking, and gender-based violence. They also recommended Jamaica to intensify anti-trafficking efforts, as it was considered a “source, transfer and destination country” for sexual labour and exploitation.
For the Bahamas, concerns expressed by Committee members addressed the country’s Constitution, which lacked an explicit definition and prohibition of both direct and indirect discrimination against women in relevant legislation, and its reservation towards some CEDAW articles. Similarly to the case of Bulgaria, Committee members asked questions about the fact that marital rape was not being criminalized; the lack of temporary special measures to combat persisting barriers in women’s advancement; and ongoing gender stereotyping. The security of Bahamian women, as well as of undocumented women migrants, was another area of concern.
Committee members were less positive about progress made in Indonesia, as the country, in their view, did not provide sufficient evidence of concrete progress. Moreover, the fact that the country continued to allow traditional customs such as female genital mutilation, as well as archaic practices such as stoning and caning, polygamy, child marriages, and gender stereotyping, was more or less disapproved.
For Guyana, as well as Samoa, Committee members raised concerns about women’s limited access to justice and the nations’ slow and step-by-step reform processes, while they questioned Samoa on its restricting legislation, which prohibits women from participating in elections.
Concern was voiced to New Zealand on the status of Māori women and their access to services and benefits, and the protection of their rights. Despite New Zealand’s commendable efforts to promote gender equality, Committee members disapproved that the country had settled with a 25% representation of women in private sector leadership.
Closing the meeting, the Chair of the Committee Silvia Pimentel, provided a short overview of the main elements of the 52nd session. She highlighted the 30th anniversary of the Committee and the commemorative event held on 9 July, featuring an interactive panel discussion on “Focusing on Women’s Political Participation and Leadership – In Pursuit of Equality.” Click here for more information on this event.
Violet Awori, Rapporteur and Committee member from Kenya presented the draft report of the Working Group of the Whole, which features among others the Committee’s work on the implementation of article 21 and article 22 of the CEDAW Convention. The draft report also includes decisions with regard to the Committee’s work, the ways and means to expedite it. For example, the Committee discussed ways to simplify its reporting procedures and established two Working Groups to look into the issues of (1) climate change and natural disasters, and (2) the right to education. It further provides a provisional agenda for the 53rd session, to be held on 1-19 October 2012 in Geneva.
For more information on the 52nd session, click here.
Read also the press releases provided by the UN Department for Public Information (DPI):
• Bahamas Reports ‘Steady Progress’ in Improving Situation of Women in Appearance before Anti-Discrimination Committee;
• Samoa Meeting Obligations while Balancing Position of Women with Gradual Advances in Political Participation, Delegation Tells Anti-Discrimination Committee;
• New Zealand Continues to Uphold Proud Pioneering Record on Women’s Empowerment,Delegation TellS Anti-Discrimination Committee;
• Mexico Gaining Ground in Efforts to End ’Femicide’, Other Violence against Women, Delegation Tells Anti-Discrimination Committee;
• Making Great Strides, Jamaica Broke ‘Glass Ceiling’ by Electing Women to Prime Minister’s Office, Other Senior Posts, Anti-Discrimination Committee Hears; • Adoption of Gender-Equality Strategy, Domestic Violence Laws Led to Women’s Improved Status, Bulgarian Delegation Tells Anti-Discrimination Committee;
• Stronger Legislative, Policy Frameworks Have Led to Progress in Promoting, Protecting Indonesian Women’s Rights, Anti-Discrimination Committee Told;
• Despite Reduced Foreign Aid, Women’s Empowerment Rooted Firmly in National Policies, Delegation of Guyana Tells Anti-Discrimination Committee.