Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women meets with non-governmental organizations

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination
Against Women

13 February 2012

Hears Statements from Non-Governmental Organizations on the Rights of Women in Brazil, Congo, Grenada and Norway

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon met with non-governmental organizations to discuss the situation of the rights of women in Congo, Grenada, Norway, Algeria, Jordan and Zimbabwe. The reports of the six countries will be reviewed by the Committee this week.
Representatives of non-governmental organizations in Brazil raised issues of equal pay for men and women, the difficulty women from ethnic minorities faced in accessing education, low quality maternity care, discrimination against women with disabilities. They also spoke widely about the high abortion rate in Brazil, and related issues of threats to women’s right to reproductive health.
A representative of a non-governmental organization in Congo raised issues affecting widows, the under-representative of women in political life, the prevalence of female genital mutilation and polygamy and high rates of infanticide.

A spokesperson for a non-governmental organizations in Grenada spoke about discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation and unfavourable legal processes for women victims of violence in court proceedings. She also raised problems of gender-based violence and an increase in prostitution and pregnancy out of wedlock among rural women.

Representatives of non-governmental organizations from Norway spoke about inequalities still facing women in the country, despite its long tradition of being a champion on gender equality and women’s empowerment. The main areas of inequality in Norway were towards women with disabilities, transgendered and lesbian women, violence against women and inequalities in employment.

Elisabeth Haugseth, Norwegian Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombud, addressed the Committee at length, outlining the main gaps in the overall gender equality policy of Norway. The Ombud was seriously concerned about the government’s failure to address harmful gender stereotypes, about intersectional discrimination, marginalization of women’s organizations and legal protection from discrimination.

Speaking during the discussion were representatives from Brazilian Feminist Network for Women's Health, Sexual and Reproductive Rights, CLADEM – Brazil, Centre for Reproductive Rights, Network of Latin American organizations for persons with disabilities, National Human Rights Committee of Women of the Congo, Grenada Bar Association, Forum for Women and Development (FOKUS), Shelter Movement in Norway and MiRA Resource Centre for Black, Immigrant and Refugee Women.

The Committee will next meet in public at 10 a.m. on Tuesday 14 February to begin consideration of the sixth periodic report of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (CEDAW/C/COG/6).

Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations

Brazil

A representative of the Brazilian Feminist Network for Women's Health, Sexual and Reproductive Rights noted that over one million illegal abortions still took place in Brazil each year, with dramatic consequences in terms of morbidity and even mortality. The representative spoke about the obstacles health professionals put in place to prevent women’s right to free abortion. Conservative movements were currently lobbying Parliament to challenge the right to abortion, which would deny the sexual autonomy of women, as well as their right to reproductive health. Reform of the Penal Code was an opportunity for the Brazilian Government to work towards full compliance with the law, concluded the representative.

A representative of CLADEM - Brazil regretted that women still lacked equal pay on the labour market. The representative also noted that women from ethnic minority groups had great difficulty in accessing education. The speaker deplored the high rate of domestic violence in Brazil, as evidenced by the tragic death on February 2, of federal prosecutor Ms Moreira de Melo, who was beaten to death by her husband.

A representative of the Center for Reproductive Rights welcomed the recent decision by the Committee in respect of Alyne da Silva Pimentel case against the State of Brazil, on the death of a young woman as a result of poor quality maternal care she received. The Committee's decision confirming the obligation of the State to improve maternal health care and not to ignore, thereby marginalized sectors of the population, was real progress, said the representative, as well as the granting of compensation to the victim's family.

The representative of the Network of Latin American organizations for persons with disabilities lamented that women with disabilities in Brazil received lower wages than other workers, and they were still not able to fully exercise their right to have a family. The representative also regretted that the statistics and government policies did not reflect the situation of women with disabilities who were victims of violence both at work and at home. Economic, social and cultural rights of women with disabilities were routinely abused, said the representative.

Questions from Committee Members

Committee members focused on the transitional measures concerning the protection of the right to health of women belonging to minorities, and on access to abortion.

Response from non-governmental organizations

A representative spoke about the proposal of giving unborn children rights. That proposal had caused great controversy in Brazil, especially through women’s and feminist networks, and marked a deep setback for women in the country. The Committee was urged to carefully examine the proposal to prevent it happening, especially as Brazil had great influence on global trends and policies.

Congo

A representative of the National Human Rights Committee of Women of the Congo (CONADF) spoke about the poor situation of widows in the country, and said that those women were deprived of a pension and marital benefits, and were often abandoned by their husband's family to raise children on their own. The representative urged adoption of legislation that provided widows with the right to inherit marital assets and to receive a pension. The representative also said it was necessary that the Congo increased numbers of women candidates in parliamentary and local elections and adopted a policy of parity in positions of decision making. The representative was also concerned about the prevalence of female genital mutilation in parts of Congo and polygamy, and said that the latter issue increased transmission of HIV AIDS in particular. The speaker also advocated opening of shelters for women and young mothers, to address the problem of infanticide.

Questions from Committee Members

An expert of the Committee wanted to know the extent to which free antiretroviral drugs were actually available for HIV AIDS sufferers living in rural areas. Other questions focused on the evolution of maternal mortality in the Congo, the reasons for the infanticide and high death rate of newborns and the legal provisions on the fight against female genital mutilation. Other experts asked about violence towards women and girls as a result of the recent conflict in Congo, and impunity for the culprits of sexual and other types of violence inflicted on women and girls. What support had been provided to victims, especially women disabled as a result of the conflict? The expert also spoke about the under-representative of women in political life.

Response from non-governmental organizations

In response to a question about infanticide, a representative said that babies were thrown into septic tanks or left in rubbish tips, but there were awareness-raising campaigns. Measures to prevent domestic violence had not really had much impact. There were no laws on polygamy in Congo, but women have been fighting the practice. Anti-retroviral drugs were provided free of charge in the capital city.

Grenada

The representative of the Grenada Bar Association said that his Government had not fulfilled its obligations under the Convention, especially as its provisions were not included in the Constitution. The representative regretted especially the silence of the basic charter with regard to the prohibition of discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation or adoption of temporary special measures of "affirmative action". Criminal proceedings in Grenada were unfavourable for women victims of assault or sexual or domestic violence, and often infringed on their rights.

Another representative noted that women of Grenada were very vulnerable to gender-based violence, the impact of which was very strong in the country. The Domestic Statistics Department indicate that domestic violence was particularly prevalent amongst poorer families. Rural women were victims of more than one true feminization of poverty, a phenomenon that explained an increase in prostitution and pregnancy out of wedlock.

Questions from Committee Members

An expert of the Committee asked about how much the Grenadian authorities consulted with civil society. The representative of the members of the Bar Association was asked to advise on the progress of draft legislation on sexual discrimination in the workplace. An expert also asked about an increase in HIV AIDS infections in Grenada, and about when Grenada may ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention.

Response from non-governmental organizations

A representative said that draft legislation on sexual discrimination in the workplace had been on the table since the 1980s, despite work on the issue by non-governmental organizations. There was a clear reluctance to pass that legislation. The age of consent for girls was raised to 16 and young males could be charged for having sex with underage girls. No correlation had been made between rates of rape and HIV infections, but in 2011 there had been zero infections for women and 18 for men.

Norway

A speaker for the Forum for Women and Development (FOKUS), a Norwegian umbrella organization representing 73 women’s organizations and women’s caucuses, said that Norway had a long tradition of being a champion on gender equality and women’s empowerment. Compared to many other countries around the world, Norway had come a long way in eliminating discrimination against women, but at the same time the system gave an illusion of having achieved more than it really had, and women in Norway still faced a large number of inequalities. The main areas of inequality in Norway were towards women with disabilities, transgendered and lesbian women, violence against women and inequalities in employment.

A representative of the Shelter Movement in Norway told the Committee that one in ten women had been raped, and 20 per cent have experienced attempted rape. Only 10 per cent of reported rapes resulted in a court conviction. Since the year 2000 almost 100 women have been murdered by their partner or ex-partner. Almost 60 per cent of women in Norwegian shelters were women with a minority background, who often remained in a violent marriage for fear of losing their residence permit if they sought a divorce. Overall, the non-governmental organizations were concerned about the anti-feminist backlash in the work against violence against women, and demanded a huge lift in the preventative work.

A spokesperson for the MiRA Resource Centre for Black, Immigrant and Refugee Women said that regarding women and work, 43 per cent of the female labour force worked part-time, many involuntarily or without permanent contracts, and the majority were women with a minority background. In January 2012 the Norwegian Institute for social research found that if a person had a non-Norwegian name they were 25 per cent less likely to be called for a job interview. The organization also spoke about limited training opportunities for newly arrived immigrants who were refugees.

Questions by Committee Members

An expert asked about the rights of minority women in Norway, and for more information on shelters and assault centres for women victims. The expert also asked whether there had been a study on the impact of women working part-time, and whether part-time work was linked to childcare, pregnancy and maternity leave. A Committee member asked about the concrete effects of the law criminalizing the clients of prostitutes. She also wanted to know the reasons for the failure of the policy of gender neutrality.

Responses from non-governmental organizations

Concerning the gender-neutral backlash in Norway, a representative told the Committee that a 2010 law to provide shelters for men and children, as well as women. Consequently shelters for men had been developed without any consideration of needs – those shelters stood empty while women victims of violence or drug addiction or other afflictions were homeless and went without help. There were 23 assault centres in Norway connected to hospital emergency rooms, which gave medical assistance and also collected evidence of criminal acts such as rape and domestic violence. Another speaker said that minority women were very politically active, especially as the political parties practiced an informal quota system, which meant that if they had one woman from a minority background in a senior position it was difficult for other women to come in. There was currently no woman from a minority background in the Norwegian parliament or holding a senior position in the Government.

Special Statement to the Committee from Norwegian Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombud

ELISABETH HAUGSETH, Norwegian Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombud, addressed the Committee on behalf of her organization and said that although Norway was generally seen as a gender equal society, discrimination against women and girls still prevailed, and that she would list some of the gaps in the overall gender equality policy of Norway. First, the Ombud was seriously concerned about the government’s failure to address harmful gender stereotypes in public policies, programmes and institutional frameworks. The Ombud was concerned that women in Norway who experienced intersectional discrimination, based on factors such as ethnicity, religion, age, disability, class and sexual orientation, did not necessarily benefit from measures to promote gender equality. For example, reports of sexual abuse of women with intellectual disabilities were sometimes given low priority by the police and their cases dropped. Shelters for battered women were often not adequately equipped for women with disabilities, neither physical nor psychological, or for women with drug and substance addiction.

Two explicit weaknesses in the duel gender equality strategy were the weak administrative structure, and in follow-up of gender impact assessments and budgeting. The Ombud was concerned about the marginalization of women’s organizations and a more top-down development of gender equality policies, and strongly recommended that the Government enabled the real participation of civil society. Finally Ms. Haugseth outlined concerns about legal protection against discrimination, particularly in addressing violence against women and intersectional and multiple discrimination and recommended that the Government ensured a true low threshold system for handling cases of sexual harassment.

Comments by Committee Members

Experts responded to Ms. Haugseth’s report with comments and questions. They spoke about the rights of asylum seekers and refugees coming to Norway, namely victims of trafficking, forced labour, violence and refugees from conflict situations. There was a lack of coordination, and even healthcare and social services provision for victims of trafficking and other violations of rights. An expert noted that there was a tendency in Norway to see violence against women as a problem within immigrant communities, which led focus away from everyday domestic violence that all women in Norway were subject to. That was damaging stereotypical thinking. Another expert raised equality in the work placed in Norway, and asked how the relevant laws could be made more specific, particularly in response to stereotypes.

Concluding Remarks

SILVIA PIMENTEL, Chairperson of the Committee, thanked all participants in today’s meeting for making the journey to address the Committee, and for their contributions.

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