Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women hears from NGOs on situation in Algeria, Jordan and Zimbabwe

20 February 2012

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 Algeria, Jordan and Zimbabwe. The reports of these three countries will be reviewed by the Committee this week.

Representatives of non-governmental organizations in Algeria said that the critical issues facing women and girls in this country were the law and practice on divorce and inheritance, which needed to be revised in order to ensure more equality for women, equal rights in the workplace, polygamy, and violence against women. Algerian law did not provide a clear definition of rape which made it difficult for women to report the act and seek protection by the police.

Speakers from non-governmental organizations in Jordan told the Committee that the main issues were incorporation of the Convention into domestic law and insufficient participation of women in the political life and that violence against women continued to be a serious threat to women’s safety and well being. Discriminatory laws against women were also of concern and representatives called on the Government of Jordan to develop a clear definition of discrimination, which would speed up the elimination of discriminatory laws.

In Zimbabwe, the main issues of concern were insufficient grounds for non-discrimination in the Constitution, and the lack of a clear definition of discrimination and equality. Lesbian and gay women suffered violence and denial of their rights and access to basic services. Enactment of the Domestic Violence Act was a positive development in the country, but the State failed to allocate adequate resources to fund the national gender machinery and to build a sufficient number of shelters to provide safe space to women fleeing domestic violence.
Speaking during the discussion were representatives of Rassemblement Contre la Hogra et pour les Droits des Algériennes RACHDA, Information and Documentation Centre for the Rights of Women and Children, Coalition for Equality Without Reservation, Association Culturelle AMUSNAW, Arab Women’s Organization and Jordanian Women’s Union, Zimbabwe Women Lawyer’s Association, Research and Advocacy Unit and Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 21 February when it will consider the combined second to fifth periodic reports of Zimbabwe (CEDAW/C/ZWE/Q/2-5).
Statements by Non-governmental Organizations

Algeria

Rassemblement Contre la Hogra et pour les Droits des Algériennes RACHDA hoped that the right to equality would finally be reached in Algeria, particularly in the field of employment in domestic work. Unemployment rates in the country were on the increase. Women did not have access to property and reproductive rights, despite a policy on free access to abortion which was still determined by uneven geographic distribution and marital status. Free sexual orientation was not recognized and same sex relations were criminalized. Sex education was practically absent and was not included in education programmes in the country.

Information and Documentation Centre for the Rights of Women and Children congratulated Algeria on recent legislative revision and constitutional reform that increased the participation of women in politics and reinforced their rights. The first issue that still needed to be addressed was withdrawing the reservation on article 2 of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Algeria was called upon to withdraw the institution of marital guardianship and to revise the law and practice on divorce and inheritance to ensure more equality for women. The Centre urged the Committee to look at the issue of discrimination in pensions whereby a widow would lose the right to pension if she remarried while a widower would keep his pension.

Coalition for Equality Without Reservation called on Algeria to allow lawyers to defend women on the basis of equality and justice. Many discriminatory discourses in the country were undertaken by religious institutions and it was important for this to stop. Religious laws and customs prohibited women to choose their place of living or to study. Algeria was called upon to lift its reservation on article 2 of the Convention.

Association Culturelle AMUSNAW focused on the reservations of Algeria to articles of the Convention and said those reservations had rendered the meaning of the Convention insignificant. This was the case for the Family and Marriage Law, which put women in a position inferior to men. On violence against women, the non-governmental organization said that women were victims of domestic violence and sexual harassment. There was no clear definition of rape in the Algerian law which made it difficult for women to report the act and seek protection by the police.

Jordan

Arab Women’s Organization and Jordanian Women’s Union said that although the Convention was ratified by the Government, nothing had been done on its incorporation, which seriously impeded its implementation. Discriminatory laws against women were of concern and the representative called on the Government of Jordan to develop a clear definition of discrimination, which would speed up the elimination of discriminatory laws. Violence against women continued to be a serious threat to women’s safety and well being. The Family Violence Law did not contain a definition of violence against women or domestic violence and did not expressly decriminalize them. Women were not sufficiently represented in the political life, and the quota of only 10 per cent of women in the Parliament did not guarantee sufficient attention on discriminatory laws and practices and women’s rights.

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe Women Lawyer’s Association said the grounds for non-discrimination that the Constitution of Zimbabwe set out were inadequate. The Constitution also did not give definition of concepts of discrimination and equality, thus leaving it open to various subjective interpretations impacting negatively on women’s rights. In light of the ongoing constitutional reform, a clear definition of discrimination should be included and it should be far reaching, comprehensive and acknowledge that all persons were equal before the law.

Research and Advocacy Unit recognized the positive development of the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act which had provided a framework for addressing violence in the private sphere, and added that insufficient resources were provided for its implementation. There were only four formal shelters in the whole country to cater for thousands of victims that sought their services every year. The State should allocate adequate resources to the national gender machinery and should build more shelters to provide a safe space to women fleeing domestic violence.

Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe said that Zimbabwean lesbian and gay women were subjected to various forms of violence perpetrated by both State and non-state actors. Women were unable to report cases of violence to law enforcement fearing further violence and stigma. Many were denied rights and access to services, based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Zimbabwe should take positive measures to ensure the elimination of all forms of violence against women and to recognize all women as equal with no restrictions.

Questions by Experts

Algeria

An Expert asked whether domestic workers enjoyed a guaranteed minimum salary and for further information on the pay gap between men and women. On polygamy, which was still practiced in Algeria, the Expert asked about the role of the court in defining if a man’s request for another marriage was justified. On gender violence, were there observatory forums and ways of monitoring this violence, including compiling data of gender-based violence?

Jordan

Experts asked about the marriage of girls under the age of 18 and about the content of legal provisions on sexual harassment. Did the Government establish a timeframe to bring into practice forced sterilization of mentally ill women? On domestication of the Convention, an Expert asked if it was necessary to enact a special law to incorporate the Convention in domestic law. On family code issues, were there more Personal Status Laws in accordance with religion, ethnicity, etc. Were there any discussions in Jordan concerning the lifting of the remaining reservations on the Convention?

Zimbabwe

An Expert asked about the role of non-governmental organizations in the constitutional reform process and how it was used for lobbying on the inclusion of a definition of discrimination as laid down in article 1 of the Convention. On violence against women, an Expert asked about the attitude of the Government and whether there was a calendar for the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act. What concerns could the Committee raise with the Government on the issue of various forms of marriage of girls? Who were perpetrators and who were victims of politically motivated violence? An Expert asked non-governmental organizations to elaborate on conditions in shelters, particularly in terms of security.

Responses by Non-governmental Organizations

Algeria

The non-governmental organizations said the principle of equality was included in all the texts and laws which governed public space and women benefitted in the same way as men. Employers had an obligation to register their employee in the social security system and workers had to ensure it happened. On the issue of guardianship of children, the maternal line had been favoured, but since the 2005 amendment, the father was given the same right to request custody. On polygamy, a speaker said that this was a practice that was destructive for the family environment and added that a husband could take a second wife only if the first wife could not have children. There were two observatories on violence and discrimination against women, one on violence and sexual harassment in the workplace and one on domestic violence which looked into what was happening inside homes.

Jordan

Jordan had been one of the first countries to ratify the Convention, but till now many laws remained discriminatory for women, non-governmental organizations said. An amendment of the election law was needed to ensure a greater participation of women in political life and particularly in the Parliament. Current laws gave more value to participation by men and this needed to be corrected. More pressure needed to be put on the Government to proceed with the reform of the Constitution in a way to guarantee full equality to all. On early marriages, there were restrictions on marrying young girls but those were not implemented. Judges usually would not ask the young girl if she wanted to enter into a marriage. The Personal Status Code for Muslims was applied in matter of family, marriage and divorce, while another Personal Status Code for non-Muslims was applied for Christians, Jews and others. Women with disabilities continued to face major discrimination and were deprived of full range of their rights. Forced sterilizations were implemented on women with disabilities to prevent them from falling pregnant as a result of rape for example.

Zimbabwe

Responding to Experts’ questions, the representatives of non-governmental organizations said that constitutional reform was a three-party process in which Parliamentary representatives negotiated the reform, theoretically with the participation of civil society. In reality, the direct participation of non-governmental organizations was limited but this still should not prevent the creation of a women’s front that would propose the revision to the Constitution and put a pressure on the Government, particularly to include women in all relevant articles of the Constitution. On violence against women, there was a political will to address this issue, but resources were unfortunately limited to fund initiatives. On various forms of marriage, men were using and abusing those forms and the problem was guaranteeing the rights of all involved once a marriage came to an end.

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