Committee on Elimination of Discrimination
1 October 2012
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon met with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to discuss the situation of the rights of women in Chile and Togo. The reports of the two countries will be reviewed by the Committee this week.
Representatives of NGOs in Chile delivered oral reports that raised concerns about institutional violence against students in Chile, including sexual violence by State actors, and cases of indigenous women and women deprived of their liberty. Other issues included inadequate sexual education programmes for teenagers, teenage pregnancy and abortion inequality between rich and poor women and the estimated 160,000 illegal abortions conducted every year in Chile, and discrimination faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.
Speakers from NGOs in Togo described problems women faced in that country, including access to maternal and infant healthcare, which was hindered by several factors including socio-cultural reasons, and a very worrying scale of violence in all forms against women and girls that included rape, incest and early marriage. Penal code reform and improved access to healthcare for women were vital. Discrimination faced by rural women, such as access to food and land ownership, was also raised.
A representative of the National Human Rights Institute of Chile said that over the last years Chile had struggled to move forward with gender equality and the lack of statistics was a major challenge to that. The State struggled especially with poverty in rural zones, ethnicity and age, as well as sexual identity. Real opportunities for women were very limited. Other issues of concern included the marital property regime, equal political representation for women, the pay gap, teenage pregnancy, abortion, and rising domestic violence levels.
Speaking during the discussion were representatives from Corporacion Humanas, Feminist Articulation for the Right to Choose, on behalf of 14 organizations from the women’s movement, Organization for the Dignity and Diversity of Transsexuals, CEDAW-Platform-TOGO, Fiat International and the National Human Rights Institute of Chile.
When the Committee reconvenes in public on Tuesday, 2 October at 10 a.m., it will begin its consideration of the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Chile (CEDAW/C/CHL/5-6). The report of Togo will be reviewed on Thursday 4 October.
Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations
A speaker for Corporacion Humanas, speaking on behalf of several other non-governmental organizations, denounced institutional violence against students in Chile, and cases of indigenous women and women deprived of their liberty. The speaker raised cases of sexual violence perpetrated by State agents against girls who were exercising their right to protest. The low participation of women in public life and the precarious situation of women in the paid labour force, who had little security and often suffered poor pay and working conditions, were also raised, as was discrimination faced through the pension system which led to women receiving pensions that were 30 per cent smaller than men’s. It was urgent that Chile ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention.
Feminist Articulation for the Right To Choose, speaking on behalf of a coalition of 14 organizations from the women’s movement, said 2011 was marked by the rise of the specific demands of the Chilean social movements, in which a student movement was able to unify protest against the system, which met a Government response of violence and repression, such as the use of the anti-terrorism act and the use of sexual violence by police against female students. The coalition of organizations spoke about the under-representation of lesbians in society, and also about teenage pregnancy, which was a persistent problem aggravated by the 40,000 adolescents who became pregnant each year, 80 per cent of whom dropped out of school. Sexual education programmes did not have a common secular line, extolled abstinence and chastity as prevention methods, and taught stereotypical gender roles. Punitive legislation on abortion persisted, which created an inequality between wealthy women who could pay for safety and dignity, and poor women who could not pay for an abortion: 159,650 abortions took place in Chile every year.
The Organization for the Dignity and Diversity of Transsexuals took the floor and spoke about key challenges facing transsexuals in Chile. The anti-discrimination law passed earlier this year did not meet basic international standards because it did not address direct and indirect discrimination but only arbitrary discrimination, and did not provide more affirmative action. Only one form of family was recognized in Chile: that of a man and a woman married by the church, said the speaker, describing the case of Karen Atala, a woman who had custody of her daughters removed from her by the Supreme Court because it was argued that as a lesbian she could not be a good mother.
A representative of CEDAW-Platform-TOGO spoke about the legal framework to protect women from discrimination, violence against women, women’s access to healthcare and the situation of women with disabilities. Togo’s non-ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention hindered an individual’s recourse to justice, the speaker said. The ratification of the man’s status as the sole head of a family and the legalization of polygamy were other issues of concern. The scale of violence in all forms against women and girls was very worrying as it included rape, harassment, physical, moral and psychological violence, at home, at work and in public domains. Housewives were silently subject to rape, financial deprivation and insults. Cases of incest, the rape of girls and underage marriages continued to be a serious concern. Health centres were under-resourced, particularly with respect to maternal and infant healthcare. Pregnant women were not inclined to seek pre-natal care because of distance, cost and socio-cultural aspects. Reluctance on the part of husbands hindered pregnant wives from getting an HIV AIDS test, which exacerbated mother-to-infant HIV transmission. The organization urged the Committee to make various recommendations to Chile including modification of its legislation, combating gender-based violence, acceleration of penal code reform, improve access to healthcare for women and girls and improve access for women with disabilities.
A representative of FIAN International spoke specifically about the case of a village in the south of Togo called Gnita where women suffered from various types of discrimination, mostly in terms of access to food, and access to land. Women had the main responsibility of caring for their family, and when their husbands lost arable land, the women had to migrate to cities to find work in order to meet the needs of their families. Once in the city women faced terrible living and working conditions, a risk of violence and disease, and disrupted family situations. Women lacked access to training for income-generating activities, to healthcare, to literacy, information in terms of reproductive health, high quality maternity care.
Questions by Committee Members
An Expert asked about the impact civil society had in drafting and applying laws in Chile, and whether there was a National Women’s Institute active in promoting the family as the fundamental nucleus of society. Where had the figures for the number of women who had abortions came from, another Expert asked, also wondering whether there was any data on the numbers of women who died as a result of abortion in Chile. Could the data on femicide figures be elaborated? Why was there an inconsistency of data between Government and non-governmental organization statistics?
An Expert asked about police training to combat violence against women in Togo, as well as awareness-raising – what was the main reason for that issue? She also asked about the comment that socio-cultural barriers prevented women from accessing pre-natal health care: could the delegation please explain? An Expert said she was struck by the slow pace of change in Togo, and the fact that many projects had been in the pipeline for years but had yet to lead to anything. Would penal code reform in Togo lead to substantial improvements for women? Also, United Nations Development Programme was active in Togo – in the opinion of the organizations did the presence of the United Nations on the ground lead to improvements for women?
Response by non-governmental organizations
Representatives of organizations took the floor to respond to questions posed by the Committee on Chile. One representative spoke about the usefulness of an anti-discrimination law, or lack thereof, and explained how sensitive its drafting was as one word could change the State Constitution.
The law on femicide dated back to 1980 but was restricted because it fell under an inter-family law which only prohibited violence against women – and indeed all family members – in a domestic context, a speaker said. The law was insufficient because it did not include cases of women who were murdered by their husband or spouse. The murder of a woman in public life, or in the street, murders of lesbian women and so on were not covered by the law.
Another speaker elaborated on the anti-terrorism bill, which was adopted under the previous dictatorship, saying it was too broad and not compatible with modern-day international law on such bills. It was used in a discriminatory fashion, particularly against social protests of indigenous peoples.
Given that in Chile all abortion was illegal, even in cases where the mother’s life was endangered, there were no precise figures available, but there were reliable estimates, such as the estimate of almost 160,000 abortions per year. A woman who had an abortion faced up to five years in prison, but only poor women faced that risk because they could not afford to pay for a safe abortion by a doctor and instead had an unsafe ‘back-street’ procedure which often led to them having to go to an emergency room at a hospital, and thus face prosecution.
Answering questions on Togo, representatives began by asking the Committee to recommend that the State party not only start training police on women’s issues but also public workers. Factors that prevented women accessing healthcare did include socio-cultural factors which took different forms: for example a person could not eat a certain food which would actually be helpful and nutritious for a pregnant woman, or could not access a type of therapy that could help in pregnancy. Women with disabilities faced challenges accessing maternal healthcare as well, and midwives and other medical staff needed to be trained in their special needs. Pre-natal care was a luxury in Togo and the maternal mortality rate for women was very high. Hospitals lacked not only equipment and medicines, but also trained staff.
Regarding penal reform in Togo, a delegate said that women often did not have the courage to bring a case to court, and even if they did, they often could not afford to costs of a legal process. Violence against women must be taken into account in the new penal code.
Statement by the National Human Rights Institute of Chile
A representative of the National Human Rights Institute of Chile said that over the last years Chile had struggled to move forward with gender equality and the lack of statistics was a major challenge to that. The State struggled especially with poverty in rural zones, ethnicity and age, as well as sexual identity. Real opportunities for women were very limited. An issue of concern included the reform of the marital property regime which would give women full capacity to manage assets resulting from their marriage and help promote their equality. Special measures to speed up de facto equality were long overdue, and there was currently a draft law before the parliament which would give equal political representation to women as men. A draft law sought equal pay in the world of work, although the salary gap was currently reported to be 17 per cent between men and women. Participation of women in the workforce had increased in recent years, however 64 per cent of society believed that if women tried to enforce their labour rights they would lose their jobs. Furthermore nearly half of women workers worked for themselves, and often part-time and in poorly-skilled jobs.
Another issue was teenage pregnancy, the majority of those cases came from the poorest sectors of society and the poorest rural areas, and 80 per cent of teenage mothers dropped out of school. Abortion was forbidden in Chile despite recommendations by various international bodies including the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Several draft laws had been submitted to Parliament in a bit legalize abortion for special cases: when a woman’s life was in danger or in cases of serious defects in a foetus, but so far those drafts had not progressed to the stage of a parliamentary debate. The representative spoke about a move to protect women and girls from trafficking, with new legislation being passed. One in three women were reported to have experienced violence in their homes and levels of domestic violence had significantly increased in recent years. However, access to justice was still a primary problem in terms of women’s access to human rights and there was a continual pattern of suspended sentences for perpetrators, even those guilty of femicide. Other problems raised included increasing cases of police violence, and the speaker said that police behavioural protocols needed reform.
Questions by Committee Members
An Expert asked the representative of the National Human Rights Institute of Chile about cases of forced sterilization and about the status of the Institute.
Response by National Human Rights Institution
A few years ago civil society members documented cases of forced sterilization, but there had been no further complaints since then. However there had been a push to give pregnant women more information, and there had been cases where consent for sterilization had been ‘dragged out’ of women, although it was difficult to say more at this time.
The Institute currently enjoyed legal but not constitutional independence, and had been criticized because the President had made an appointment to it. The Institute suffered from a serious lack of funds that it should be awarded by law.