Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women meets with Non-Governmental Organizations

Committee on Elimination
of Discrimination Against Women

11 October 2010

Discusses the Situation of the Rights of Women in the Czech Republic, Malta and Uganda

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 the Czech Republic, Malta and Uganda.

Representatives of non-governmental organizations in Malta noted that school hours were very short in the country so women who did not work part time found it very difficult to hold full-time positions, so one parent had to quit their job or there had to be significant help from grandparents or other family members. There were only two schools that offered afterschool care for kids out of 67 school districts. The Government did not seem to realize how the school hours affected a woman’s ability to work.

Representatives of non-governmental organizations from the Czech Republic said the State did not have sufficient policies in place to address issues concerning the Roma community. A 2007 court ruling found that Roma children had been discriminated against in schools by being placed in schools for children with learning disabilities. That verdict had not been implemented and while cosmetic changes had been made there had been no real attempt to integrate Roma children into schools. When the previous Minister of Human Rights was in office, he made equality of the Roma a centrepiece of his tenure, but he was removed from that position.

Speakers from non-governmental organizations in Uganda informed the Committee that the needs of elderly women were not being addressed sufficiently in that country and they requested more assistance from the Government to do research into pilot programmes focused on eradicating poverty among the elderly as well as protecting elderly women against violence. There were reports of elderly women being killed because they were accused of being witches and they were vulnerable to harassment or other violence.

Speaking during the discussion were representatives from the Malta Confederation of Women’s Organization, the Maltese Gay Rights Movement, Action for Development, the National Association of Women in Uganda, Freedom and Roan Uganda, Centre for Reproductive Rights, PLAN Finland, Human Rights Watch, the Czech Women’s Lobby, and the League of Human Rights.

As part of its work, the Committee invites non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions to provide information and documentation relevant to the Committee’s activities. This is the second of two meetings the Committee has held with civil society groups this session; the first meeting took place on 4 October when the Committee heard relevant information pertaining to the rights of women in Burkina Faso and Tunisia.

When the Committee reconvenes at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 12 October, it is scheduled to begin consideration of the fourth periodic report of Malta (CEDAW/C/MLT/4).

Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations

Malta

A Representative of the Malta Confederation of Women’s Organizations said that Malta had ratified the CEDAW Convention in 1991 but it had still not transposed its provisions into domestic law. There were a number of issues affecting the situation of women, including their presence in the labour market and in the political and public life, domestic violence and discrimination. In the last 10 years, the increase in the presence of women on the labour market had been insignificant.

Another Representative of the same non-governmental organization observed that Malta was the only European Union country which had not nominated a woman to the European parliament in the last European elections. Nothing had been done in Malta to increase the participation of women in the decision-making processes. In Malta, domestic violence cases continued to be treated in courts without taking into account the needs of the victims, including that a woman had to leave her home after confronting an aggressive partner. The law did not force the aggressive partner to leave the house unless the case of domestic violence was reported and hospitals did not report cases of domestic violence that they treated.

A Representative of Maltese Gay Rights Movement denounced discrimination and violence against women in Malta based on their sexual orientation. In Malta, the treatment of women in light of their sexual orientation was affected by cultural and religious beliefs. She denounced the obstacles such women faced when seeking employment, which forced some to seek work as prostitutes.

A Committee Expert asked the non-governmental organizations about their opinion on Malta’s reservation to the CEDAW Convention on the issue of abortions.

An Expert asked about the reasons behind the Maltese Government’s reticence in adopting interim measures to ensure the participation of women in political and public life.

A Representative of a non-governmental organization said that Maltese law prohibited abortions and that was why the country placed a reservation on article 16 of the Convention. The Maltese constitution provided for the possibility to take interim measures to stop discrimination, but the Maltese Government remained hesitant about taking such measures because of the lack of consensus within Maltese society on the need for such measures.

Uganda

A Representative of Action for Development underlined that concerning the adoption of specific laws affecting the situation of women in Uganda, progress was very slow. She stressed that sexual harassment was frequent in training or work places.

A Representative of the Uganda Reach the Aged Association/National Association of Women Organization in Uganda drew attention to the situation of elderly women in Uganda, stating that 93 per cent of elderly women lived in the rural areas of the country. The social protection of elderly women had become problematic, especially since 2.1 million orphans and other vulnerable children were being cared for by elderly women.

A Representative of Freedom and Roan Uganda observed that transsexual women and lesbians were not consulted in the process of preparing the report of Uganda. Transsexual women and lesbians were rejected by schools and by their families. She hoped the Ugandan Government would oppose the draft anti-homosexual law of 2009.

A Representative of the Centre for Reproductive Rights drew attention to the prevalence in Uganda of abortions practiced under unsafe conditions, as well as the lack of post-abortion care. In this context, Uganda would not meet the Millennium Development Goal concerning maternal morbidity and mortality because 297,000 women had abortions every year and 1,200 women died following such procedures under unsafe conditions, usually from complications which could be avoided. The laws and policies on abortions remained restrictive and unclear.

A Representative of PLAN Finland said that according to the law in force in Uganda, education was a right for boys and girls at all levels, but in practice, school drop outs were more frequent among girls than among boys. The Ugandan Government should take measures to fight sexual violence against girls in school. In Uganda, the rate of adolescent pregnancy was 34 per cent and it was even higher among uneducated adolescents. In this context, the Government had to adopt laws and policies against early marriages.

A Representative of Human Rights Watch drew the attention of the Committee to violence against women with disabilities in the north of Uganda. The Government did not follow up cases of sexual violence against women, especially particularly vulnerable women like women with disabilities.

Czech Republic

A Representative of Czech Women’s Lobby raised the issue of women’s participation in political and public life and in decision making processes, especially deploring the under-representation of women in the Czech Government and parliament. There was no woman in the Czech Government. Also of particular concern was the situation of women in the labour market, and the situation of migrant women and of minority women.

A Representative of League of Human Rights/Persefona drew attention to problems that women faced concerning access to adequate care, especially women who decided to have their babies outside of hospitals. She also deplored that because of the absence of an adequate definition in Czech law, many cases of domestic violence were not considered as such.

A Representative of European Roma Rights Centre recalled that the Czech Government had been called upon to take measures to compensate female Roma victims who had been sterilized against their will, but that this problem remained unresolved.

Questions by Committee Members on Malta

A Committee Member asked what childcare was available in the country, especially for working women and single mothers. Also, were there any mechanisms to protect migrant women from abuse and exploitation?

An Expert asked about abortion in Malta and the fact that it was illegal and considered by many to be a sin. Had any non-governmental organizations working on reproductive rights been threatened?

Responses by the Non-governmental Organizations of Malta

School hours were very short in Malta so if women did not work part time there was very little chance to work full time unless a parent stopped working or there was significant help from grandparents or other family members. There were only two schools that offered afterschool care for kids out of 67 school districts. The Government did not seem to realize how the school hours affected a woman’s ability to work. Childcare was a little better, but the biggest problem was afterschool care.

In terms of abuse of migrant women, there were many non-governmental organizations working on issues surrounding migrant workers. There was not a great deal of data on migrants, but from their work on the ground, non-governmental organizations knew that human trafficking remained a serious problem in Malta. If an asylum seeker’s application was rejected they had no rights and they often ended up in vulnerable situations, the women in particular, who were often forced to turn to prostitution.

Abortion was illegal in Malta and not only considered a sin, but it was considered murder. The anti-abortion voice was vociferous and very strong.

Questions by Committee Members on the Czech Republic

Non-governmental organizations from the Czech Republic were asked about the status of human trafficking in the country and what was being done to combat this. On the question of the Roma, how was the Government facilitating the integration of this population and did women from this community face any additional discrimination?

A Committee Expert asked about enforced sterilization of Roma women and the fact that they could not seek redress in the courts due to the statute of limitations. Could more information be provided on cases that had been filed in domestic courts and whether any such cases had been brought to the international level, such as the European level?

Regarding family planning and health, women in rural areas faced difficulties in access to hospitals in order to give birth. Were there any proposals to integrate midwives into the public health system to address this problem?

In terms of maternity care, it was noted that for women who wished to give birth at home, there was a lack of provision of services. What were the reasons behind women not wanting to deliver in the hospital in the first place? Also, why did the Government not recognize midwives? Was it because they wanted everyone to use hospitals or were there other reasons?

Responses by the Non-governmental Organizations of the Czech Republic

Concerning human trafficking, a non-governmental organization representative said there was no national action plan concerning human trafficking and there was not much cooperation on the international level in this regard.

In terms of the office of the Minister of Gender Equality, this position was cancelled after the last election so there was no longer a Minister of Gender Equality and the office that dealt with these issues only had four employees with no real power so there was really no office that was addressing gender rights or human rights.

On the issue of the Roma, the Czech Republic did not have sufficient policies in place to address concerns surrounding this community according to a non-governmental organization representative. A 2007 court ruling found that Roma children had been discriminated against in schools, but that verdict had not been implemented and while cosmetic changes had been made there had been no real attempt to integrate Roma children into schools. When the previous Minister of Human Rights was in office, he made equality of the Roma a centrepiece of his tenure, but he was removed from that position. Numerous opinion polls had shown that anti-Roma sentiment was very high in Czech society and Roma women experienced multiple discriminations, first as women, but also as Roma. The non-governmental organization representative was not sure why the optional protocol on the Convention had not been cited in court cases in the Czech Republic, although one explanation could be that there was a desire among prosecutors for these cases to go up to the European Union courts.

In terms of why women preferred not to have their children in hospitals, many women did not like that there was not a great deal of informed consent in hospitals so they did not want to deliver their children there. The State should deal with those issues rather than refusing to provide care to women. There were also requirements for midwives, such as having to perform under the supervision of a doctor, and this was the opposite of what women wanted. The medical sector was dominated by men and most of the doctors in hospitals were men, while the majority of midwives were women so there was also a power dynamic at play.

Questions by Committee Members on Uganda

An Expert noted that 93 per cent of the elderly population lived in rural areas and a large number of orphans were being taken care of by these older people, very few of whom had pensions. How was the Government addressing poverty among older people, especially older women? Was there a special mechanism to address access to healthcare, transportation and various other needs of elderly women? Were there any mechanisms in place to protect elderly women from abuse and exploitation?

In terms of the marriage and divorce bill, an Expert asked about the reasoning behind having separate laws to deal with Muslim marriages while there were other laws to deal with Christian, Hindu and Baha’i marriages. What did this mean in terms of how they were handled, who had jurisdiction and the actual laws? What was the current regime on marital property and would it change in the future marriage and divorce laws that would hopefully be promulgated soon?

Responses by the Non-governmental Organizations of Uganda

According to a representative from one of the non-governmental organizations, one of the reasons it had taken so long to pass a marriage and divorce law was patriarchy and social views. The majority of men felt women should not benefit from marriage. There was also the issue of different sets of regulations governing Christians and Muslims. In this bill, issues like marital property, child care and others would be addressed. Would there be two sets of regulations for Muslims and Christians? Yes, and that was how it should be.

In terms of a sexual harassment act, a non-governmental organization representative said that it was important to have a sexual harassment act first and foremost and then it could be applied to various areas such as employment and education. The marriage and divorce bill was divided into two laws for political reasons, so that there could be two laws for Christians and Muslims. The marriage and divorce law that was currently in place was an old one that was handed down from the British and had a number of discriminatory provisions against women in marriage such as a lack of property rights.

Another issue that was raised was that there were only male judges to adjudicate issues pertaining to women. It was also noted that the needs of elderly women were not being addressed sufficiently and non-governmental organizations requested more assistance from the Government to do research into pilot programmes focused on eradicating poverty among the elderly as well as protecting elderly women against violence. There were reports of elderly women being killed because they were accused of being witches and they were vulnerable to harassment or other violence.

 

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For use of information media; not an official record