Committee on Elimination of Discrimination
2 October 2012
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Chile on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Introducing the report, Carolina Schmidt Zaldivar, Minister Director of the National Service for Women’s Affairs of Chile, said that the promotion and protection of women’s rights was a fundamental commitment for Chile and a hallmark of its identity as a society. Chile fully integrated the Convention into its domestic legal system in 1989 and made every effort to achieve its full mainstreaming. The National Service for Women’s Affairs played a key role in shaping important policies and programmes in the realm of gender parity and non-discrimination against women, strengthened by the recent entry into force of the Act on Non-Discrimination. There had been advancements in education, and in health, particularly the free universal healthcare plan which prioritized women and provided sex education and free contraceptives.
During the discussion Committee Experts asked questions about legislative reform to protect women from domestic and gender-based violence, women’s participation in public and political life, measures to prevent internal trafficking, discrimination faced by indigenous women, and conservative and traditional stereotypes which discriminated against Chilean women. Abortion, contraception and sex education with the aim of preventing early pregnancies among young girls were also discussed, as were prison conditions for women and the use of temporary special measures, as previously recommended by the Committee.
In concluding remarks, Ms. Zaldivar thanked the Committee for the highly constructive dialogue and said she hoped her delegation had provided a full picture of how Chile was following up on their recommendations and working to bring about true equality between men and women. Social and cultural changes were needed and the Committee’s advice would help with that.
The delegation of Chile consisted of the representatives of the National Service for Women’s Affairs, the Police Protection Unit for the Family, the Department for Legal Reform, the Department for Intersectorial Coordination, the Anti-Violence Programme, the Department for International Relations, the Ministry of the Interior and Public Security, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of National Defence, the Ministry of Social Development, the Ministry of Work and Pensions, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Finance, the National Institute of Human Rights and the Permanent Mission of Chile to the United Nations Office at Geneva,
The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 4 October, when it will consider the combined sixth and seventh periodic report of Togo (CEDAW/C/TGO/6-7).
The combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Chile can be read via the following link: CEDAW/C/CHL/5-6.
Presentation of the Report
CAROLINA SCHMIDT ZALDIVAR, Minister Director of the National Service for Women’s Affairs of Chile, said that the promotion and protection of women’s rights was a fundamental commitment for Chile and a hallmark of its identity as a society. Since signing the Convention in 1980, followed by its ratification and full integration into the domestic legal system in 1989, Chile had made every effort to achieve its full mainstreaming into society. Ms. Zaldivar said that the National Service for Women’s Affairs that she headed, had in its 21 years of uninterrupted existence played a key role in shaping important policies and programmes in the realm of gender parity and non-discrimination against women. The Service was firmly established in 15 regions of Chile and its funding – unlike that of other Ministries – had been increased by 84 per cent between 2006 and 2012. Tools used by the Service included the Council of Ministers on Equal Opportunities which met bi-annually with the President of Chile; the third Plan for Equal Opportunities 2011 to 2020; and the Gender Agenda 2010 to 2014. The recent entry into force of the Act on Non-Discrimination constituted the first complete and specific regulation against any act of arbitrary discrimination.
Advancements in education were as relevant as the challenges, Ms. Zaldivar said, naming specific areas of concern as coverage particularly of pre-school education, drop-out for gender reasons, school curricula and sex education. There were important challenges regarding the special educational needs of rural and indigenous women and girls and pregnant teenagers and adolescent mothers, as reported by the civil society organizations. Positively, since 2008 the number of female college graduates had outnumbered male graduates. In the area of health, the Government focused on life expectancy at birth, maternal mortality and diseases linked to malnutrition. The creation of the Plan for Universal Access and Explicit Guarantees was a huge advance, as it provided free healthcare access for 60 pathologies, within which women were prioritized. Healthcare for HIV positive women and babies was free, and by 2010 the HIV rate in pregnant women had been reduced to 0.05 per cent. The same year new guidelines were issued to healthcare professionals on the right to sexual and reproductive health, which established State policy with regard to improving sex education and ensuring greater availability of the contraceptive pill and free supply of emergency contraceptives; Ms. Zaldivar noted a sharp increase in the distribution of the latter.
Incentive programmes in the field of employment for women remained a priority, as Chile believed that women’s full participation in the workforce contributed to their overall development. Key advances included legislation on the right to equal pay for equivalent work, making harassment in the workplace legally sanctionable, extending the paid maternity leave period for all working women who paid social security contributions to 24 weeks with the possibility of fathers sharing the benefit as paternity leave, and improving the working conditions of female domestic workers and women seasonal farm workers. Additionally, the State provided training for women in non-traditional areas, in particular mining. Measures were also in place to improve women’s access to justice, prevent violence against women, in particular domestic violence and femicide, and to tackle trafficking in persons, particularly with new legislation and the establishment of a shelter for victims and their children. Attempts to increase women’s political participation had been made and there had been some success, particularly by women ministers, parliamentarians and judges, but there was still a long way to go. Other important and vulnerable areas of concern included indigenous, rural, elderly and lesbian and transgender women, women heads of households and women with disabilities.
Questions by the Experts
An Expert welcomed the delegation and commended them on their excellent report. However, her first question was why Chile had not ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention, despite the fact that a delegation from Chile had taken a leadership role in drafting the protocol in New York and had been one of the first countries to sign it: 10 years later it was unbelievable that Chile had not ratified it.
What about women’s representation in public life? Regarding the anti-discrimination law, an Expert asked about the scope of the law. It seemed that its only scope was to create a judicial mechanism to address discrimination that had taken place. The situation and rights of migrants and refugees in Chile was also raised.
The State party had taken solid steps forward in areas of divorce rights, pensions for women and women in the labour force, but key areas included abortion and the lack of legislation criminalizing violence against women, an Expert said. The delegation explained how the Constitution had been changed to protect indigenous populations, but how did that dovetail with anti-terrorism laws, the Expert asked? How was the police force improving its relationship with indigenous peoples?
The Committee’s previous recommendations called for the State party to adopt temporary special measures, an Expert said, particularly in terms of employment and political representation. Unfortunately the report made no reference to how the State party had implemented them, particularly in relation to the Mapuche women who appeared to suffer multiple forms of discrimination: for being Mapuche, for being a woman and for being poor. Their illiteracy rate was 16 per cent, in comparison to five per cent for non-Mapuche women. Had introduction of temporary special measures, such as scholarships for Mapuche women, been considered? Did the anti-discrimination bill create any barriers to the implementation of temporary special measures, including in areas other than the political arena?
Regarding domestic violence, legislation referred to ‘habitual domestic violence’, so could the delegation please define ‘habitual’ in that context? In 50 per cent of femicides that took place in 2011 the victims were already known to the legal system so what went wrong there? What trends had been identified with respect to femicide?
An Expert said she was frankly staggered by the levels of violence against women in Chile. Was there any kind of historical reason for that? The delegation say they ran shelters to house women and their children, who also became victims of domestic violence, but there were so many cases, why did the Government not open shelters to house the violent men, and thus allow the women and their children to stay in the family homes? If the violent men all had to live together in a shelter, they would soon learn to stop being violent.
Chilean society was still very deeply conservative, and stereotypes held women back in traditional family roles. Despite progressive legislation and actions, tackling those gender stereotypes was still a challenge. How were the important measures described today applied in practice? How many fathers had actually attended births or taken paternity leave, or claimed their State-sanctioned parental leave to look after a sick child? The case of Karen Atala, the woman who lost custody of her children because she was a lesbian was particularly worrying – could a mother not be a good mother if she was a lesbian? What did the delegation think about that?
Concerning trafficking, an Expert noted and commended the new law which criminalized all types of trafficking, but said that internal trafficking, which was rampant in Chile, had not yet been included as a crime or given the focus it deserved. Women were trafficked from rural to urban areas, often because of the lack of employment in rural areas. What was the State party doing to rectify that, and to protect such women from becoming trafficking victims?
Response by the Delegation
The lack of women in public life was indeed a big problem in Chile, and not as much headway had been made as hoped, a delegate said. There had been an attempt to install political quotas that was rejected in 2007, and the former President put forward an initiative that was debated for three months but went no where. A recent initiative to bring in quotas for women representatives in primary, local elections, was also recently rejected. The truth was that there was no political will to improve women’s representation in public and political life in Chile and there was a long way to go.
Violence against women was a matter of real concern. The Government had worked together with civil society, with the Carabineros military police and with other stakeholders, in particular to provide training and thus change cultural stereotypes about gender-based violence. Until recently violence against women in the home was considered a private matter, not a State matter, but that was changing. There was a law which impacted upon that crime, which was being updated in order to criminalize domestic violence. Protection measures did help victims but did not guarantee them full protection. The Government wished to make changes to improve that. At least protection measures gave a greater measure of safety than none at all. Of the 73 per cent of women murdered by their partner, 90 per cent had no protection measure in place. A pilot project involved implementing more secure protection measures for victims whose abusive former partners had finished their prison sentence.
Regarding the comment about shelters for women victims that could be better used to house violent men, a delegate said that Chile did have re-education centres for aggressive men and over 1,700 men were currently going re-education. Violence was a cultural phenomenon, and Chile perhaps was a macho, Latin society. However, femicide and rape figures were the second lowest in Latin America and Chile wanted to prioritize tackling the phenomenon.
Concerning the case of Karen Atela, the woman who had custody of her children removed from her because she was a lesbian, there was no question that the case questioned the right to maternity, a delegate said, and it was another example of the need for cultural change and re-thinking within the judiciary. Stereotypes must be changed and training must be given to the judiciary to change their outdated cultural stereotypes.
Regarding the use of anti-terrorism laws, a delegate explained that a terrorist crime was a crime committed in Chile with the aim of creating, amongst the population, pre-meditated plans to attack a particular group or sector of the population. Terrorist crimes could include murder, kidnappings, child kidnappings, sending letter bombs, arson, theft of ships, attempts on the life of international persons, violence against institutions, placing of bombs, and weapons with toxic effects, among others. Since 2006 there had been no sentences against women who had had anti-terror laws applied to them, including women from indigenous communities.
The refuge for victims of trafficking did not distinguish between employment and sexual trafficking cases – both types were covered. A further three refuges were being opened for victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence. The anti-trafficking law 100 per cent covered all of the Palermo Convention on transnational crime, including both domestic and international trafficking. There had been rulings invoking that new law and people had been sentenced for both domestic and international trafficking crimes. The sentence for sexual trafficking had been increased from 3 to 15 years in prison. Detailed information on the reporting, sentencing and support for victims of trafficking crimes could be provided to the Committee.
A representative of the Chilean police force and the Carabineros – the military police of Chile – spoke about the strengthening of cooperation and dialogue between the police and the indigenous communities, an area where there were many protocols and actions. Furthermore actions had been taken to recruit young people from indigenous communities into the police force, and last year alone 17 police officers were recruited to the Carabineros from those communities, which helped strengthen links and understanding between the police force and indigenous communities.
Most immigrants into Chile were women, a delegate said, and the country had a low rate of refusal of visas. Last year 25 per cent of migrants were recognized as refugees. Chile had modernized its immigration laws and taken concrete actions in that area. An expert in the field said those concrete actions included work with civil society on how to better inform migrants about their rights, provision of temporary visas, and regularization. An inter-sectoral Committee had launched a United Nations campaign to provide support for foreign witnesses in cases of trafficking. A new law on migration had improved levels of efficiency in terms of processing refugees. Women migrants had access to all social benefits in full equality with Chilean nationals. A gender perspective ran through all aspects related to migrants in Chile while shelters for women could provide vulnerable women with financial assistance if needed.
Research showed that indigenous women did feel that they were discriminated against in many areas of society and it was important to tackle that by regional coordination, training and awareness-raising. In terms of education, a lot of work had been done on strengthening cultural identity and gender roles, while training was being given to women, as the main concerns of indigenous women were employability and avoiding violence. A particular target group was pre-school children, who were taught about the concept of ‘shared responsibility’ for both genders. Indigenous languages were another priority area, and in particular were taught in pre-schools.
On land ownership, for the Mapuche community property was always given to a male son, which reinforced the gender stereotype and was an example of the patriarchal society in Chile. Over time that was changing thanks to the work of many strong indigenous women, and there had now been some recognition of some land ownership by indigenous women, who had also received grants for education. There were many specific measures targeted at indigenous women to try to correct stereotypes, as it was true that laws did not suffice to bring about cultural change. For example, communication campaigns through the mass media targeted the entire population to try to change stereotypes, while campaigns had also been directed at the business sector. There was still much to be done.
Regarding cooperation with civil society, a new law had been passed on that subject. Practically, the National Service for Women’s Affairs was holding a serious of workshops to consult with non-governmental organizations and civil society, which were very worthwhile, while other bodies involving all stakeholders ensured good cooperation and consultations with all various sectors.
Regarding elderly women, only a very small percentage of women received the same benefits as elderly men, which was something that urgently needed to be changed.
Turning to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, there was legislation to prevent people ‘offending public morals’ which had wrongly been used against them, but rather were aimed at criminals such as paedophiles who may prey on children outside schools.
Specific support was provided to Mapuche women in the form of special education courses and training and strategies to help them find work, such as an employment fair. Other initiatives included a women’s leadership school which targeted certain indigenous communities, a solidarity fund, agricultural investment, social investment, children’s scholarships and an inter-cultural hospital.
Returning to ways of increasing women’s participation in public life, a delegate said that initiatives in the public sector had led to improvements, although it was difficult to reach the private sector. Education was a major factor, but on its own was not enough to break cultural stereotypes in the decision-making sphere. There were currently no plans to change the electoral process, although any member of parliament could table a debate on it. The current Government did not plan to do anything about it, although it had agreed to carry out a study on electoral system reform in order to increase women’s participation, but no solid actions had been implemented. Although there was a programme called ‘Political Leaders for Women’ which promoted women candidates during elections, political parties said that there were few women candidates in politics because they either had no experience in politics or were not competitive. That was not true, women had no experience because they had no opportunities to gain experience! Women candidates were seen positively by citizens and voters, but consistent commitment at the Government and political party level was essential.
Questions by the Experts
Prison conditions for women were raised: what were those conditions like, and did the State party have rules on their incarceration, for example that prison officers staffing women’s prisons should also be women, an Expert asked. There was overcrowding in prisons, reports of institutional violence against women involved in protests, and also reports that women were released from prison at midnight and left to sleep on the streets – those women were often vulnerable, for example drug addicts.
Turning to education, an Expert commended the State party for the reported decline in illiteracy, but noted that the poorest women, namely rural and indigenous, continued to be disadvantaged and discriminated against. The delegation had discussed ways they were helping indigenous women, but were there any specific measures to target rural and the poorest women?
The Government was addressing the elimination of poor gender stereotypes and sexist images in primary and secondary schools, including in textbooks. The report further mentioned gender mainstreaming in five core subjects on the curriculum. Could the delegation explain what that entailed? At university level the report mentioned gender sensitivity training for university staff, such as professors and lecturers. Was such training available for regular teachers at all levels of primary and secondary education? Girls and women tended to study subjects that ultimately led to lower-paid jobs, which only enhanced the pay gap and reduced their opportunities in life. What was being done to help girls study subjects that would lead them into primarily male-dominated careers which were better paid?
The report said that 80 per cent of teenage mothers dropped out of school. What facilities were provided to help pregnant adolescents and adolescent parents remain in the education system? Despite the Government’s regulations many schools still expelled their girl pupils if they became pregnant. What measures could be taken to implement regulations in practice?
Teenage pregnancy was a huge concern, especially given that 50 per cent of girls aged 15 to 19 years from rural areas became pregnant. What was being done to reduce teenage pregnancies and to provide comprehensive sex education? The Committee had concerns about the sex education curriculum, which reportedly failed to conform to human rights standards and promoted gender stereotypes and solely heterosexual activity, which was discriminatory. What access did adolescents have to reproductive health services, namely contraceptives, including the morning-after-pill?
Speaking as an Expert, the Chairperson said that as a fellow Latin American woman it defied her understanding that no protection by abortion was allowed for pregnant women in cases of rape, extreme violence or disability. There seemed to be real solidarity for women in Chile yet abortion illogically slipped through the net. Furthermore, it seemed there were incongruities in Chile’s abortion legislation as it possibly allowed abortion for girls less than 12 years of age, for rape victims and for women with mental health issues. Could the delegation please clarify?
On labour, an Expert commended the State party for its many initiatives and legal reforms in the area of employment since it last appeared before the Committee in 2006. The first challenging area related to female participation in the workforce, which had grown to the current figure of 47 per cent, which while welcomed was low by international standards and was mainly due to women taking self-employed, low-skilled and part-time jobs, which were insecure. Turning to the 2009 Act on the principle of equal pay for work of equal value, the Expert regretted the Act had not yet introduced the principle in accordance with International Labour Organization standards, and there was no real wage transparency in the workplace.
Regarding sexual harassment at work, the relevant act was criticized for being weak in its scope of protecting victims. What could be done to introduce effective protection against harassment in the workplace? Concerning family responsibilities, there were improvements in recognizing men’s role and responsibility in sharing childcare, but there were risks of discrimination towards women because new legislation on funding childcare services for women employees possibly made the employment of women more expensive. Did Chile intend to ratify the important International Labour Organization Convention 189 for Domestic Workers?
Turning to healthcare, an Expert commended Chile on progress made, including political will to tackle HIV/AIDS, but noted disparities, particularly in terms of childhood mortality and healthcare coverage for indigenous and rural communities, as well as healthcare for women in prison. Chile experienced a serious earthquake in 2010, and in the Committee’s experience such natural disasters often created serious problems for women. Did the Government have a gender perspective for the reconstruction efforts following that, or any, natural disaster?
Regarding pensions, sources had told the Committee that life expectancy was used to determine pension provisions. For example, if a women and a man both retired at 65 and had accumulated the same amount of funds, the monthly pension received by the woman would be less than that received by the man. Did the delegation agree that was fair?
Another Expert asked about marital rights and the economic consequences of divorce; both the administration of property during a marriage, but also the distribution of property when a marriage was dissolved. The latter was a new issue due to the relatively late change in the law, in 2004, to authorize divorce in Chile. Currently, upon divorce, a husband had the right to administer all property: his own, his wife’s and their joint property. It seemed legislative reform on the issue had been halted: could the delegation explain why?
Response by the Delegation
Concerning prisons, a delegate said that generally women prisoners were released during the day, but could not be released after 4.30pm. It used to be the case that when a sentence had been fully observed people were turned out onto the streets at midnight, but that changed a year ago and today family members would go and collect the person from prison at midnight, and if the former prisoner did not have any family members they would instead be released the following morning. There had been work done to make sure that at risk and vulnerable groups, particularly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, could fully recognize their human rights. Their psychological and physical integrity was duly considered and they were protected from potential violence in prisons. The prison system was being modernized to meet international standards, and the National Service for Women’s Affairs was ensuring a gender perspective throughout those reforms.
Regarding pensions, women did accrue less pension either because they were looking after children or were discriminated against by the gender pay gap. Women reached retirement age earlier than men, at the age of 60 years rather than 65 years. It was true that those and other factors impacted on the pension they received but work was being done to make the system fairer. For example the child benefit system had been added to the pension system and there was a benefit for working women to ensure continuation of their pension contributions.
Abortion was a very controversial, very much discussed and deeply felt issue in Chile, where the Constitution provided for the right to life, including the right to life of an unborn foetus. Various bills, most recently in 2011 and 2012, sought to decriminalize abortion and had prompted in-depth discussions. The 2012 draft bill was approved by the parliament but in April 2012 the Senate voted 19 to 12 against it.
Therapeutic abortion was allowed in Chile, and could be carried out by a doctor if the woman’s life was at risk. It was not considered an abortion in such cases, as abortion was a procedure carried out directly to end the life of a child. But if a woman’s life was at risk, a doctor should do everything possible to preserve the life of the mother – if the foetus died during that process, then that was acceptable.
Maternal mortality due to abortion only amounted to between six to ten women per year, a delegate said. Over 50 per cent of those deaths were due to identifiable causes, and 47 per cent were due to non-identifiable causes. In Chile abortion was illegal so any death due to abortion fell within that 47 per cent. The Government had passed a law to provide contraceptives, including emergency contraceptives, in order to ensure wider distribution guaranteed by law. Any person refusing to provide emergency contraceptives would be committing a criminal offence, and technical guidelines were distributed to health centres on how to help women who had had an abortion, relating to privacy and other related reproductive health services. Although abortion was criminalized there had been no sanctions in the reporting period.
Teenage pregnancy was a huge concern and the main reason for school drop-out. About 39,000 young women and girls under the age of 19 years did not go to school at all because they were young mothers. A further 1,800 young men or boys did not go to school because they were fathers. The problem was ongoing as a further 60 per cent of teenage mothers had a second teenage pregnancy within two years of giving birth to their first child. Thankfully the trend had started to reverse, and in the last two years figures had slowly started to decrease, to 38,000 for girls and 1,700 for boys, showing that measures taken were having an effect. It was a very complex social problem closely linked to social determinants, because adolescent pregnancy was most prevalent in low-income sectors of the population.
Teenage pregnancy in girls under the age of 14 years was the largest concern, as that age group suffered the greatest rights violations and abuse, and the National Service for Women’s Affairs was conducting a study with the World Bank to find reasons for the high incidence rate. The National Adolescent Programme was recently given a legal grounding, which meant that adolescent girls and boys had access to a broad range of services that were regulated. To keep pregnant girls within the education system there were crèches in schools or nearby, there were flexible provisions for teenage parents, and extra assistance for them from teachers, as well as a law which established definitive protocols for dealing with pregnant girls. Finally, guidelines had been handed out to schools on how to encourage pregnant girls to stay at school.
Chile, as with other countries, wanted the best conditions for domestic workers but had difficulty ratifying Convention 189 of the International Labour Organization because of the problem of collective bargaining. Although the gender pay gap was high, it had dropped from 32 per cent in 2009 to 26.7 per cent in 2011. Sexual harassment was difficult to prove, but on 8 August 2011 a new law criminalized the act of harassment in the workplace, which was defined as repeated harassment against a fellow worker which humiliated them and threatened their equality in the workplace.
The low level of women’s participation in the labour market continued, so the National Service for Training, as part of the Ministry of Labour, had rolled out a programme called ‘Training on the Job’ aimed at unemployed and first-time workers. The programme was split into specific areas targeted at women, men, young and older people, and paid them minimum wage for six months by voucher. The Women Miners Programme, aimed at helping women work in previously male-dominated areas, had already enrolled 1,693 so far, and for example, 197 women had already graduated in heavy machinery operation and truck driving.
A delegate sought to answer the important comment that employing women with children could cost more to the workplace, but said that the provision of day-care for their children only applied to employers who had more than 20 women in the workplace and that the Government sought to lower the costs to employers of financing such a crèche and thus erasing any cost disparity between hiring a man or a woman.
There were indeed many earthquakes in Chile’s seismic zones, as well as other natural disasters, a delegate said, confirming that all topics of reconstruction that affected women and children in particular were examined.
Regarding property division between husband and wife, a delegate referred to a test case in which a divorced couple went to court when the woman tried to sell her own property – inherited from her parents – but was unable to because only her ex-husband had the right to sell it. The case was settled out of court in the woman’s favour, and today a draft bill was being passed through parliament to rectify the confusion in those cases. However there were some parliamentarians who believed that as women worked less than men and had a lower income, changing the system would harm women and risk leaving them with nothing, as the current system guaranteed women 50 per cent of assets following dissolution of a marriage. The proceedings were complex, and many non-governmental organizations were working together with the National Service for Women’s Affairs in order to pass an amendment to the law.
Regarding the economic consequences of divorce, a draft law was looking at providing economic compensation to the spouse who had looked after children in the home, as she had not been able to work while child-rearing. The same draft looked at how to share the pension and other assets.
CAROLINA SCHMIDT ZALDIVAR, Chilean Minister Director of the National Service for Women’s Affairs, thanked the Committee for the highly constructive dialogue and said she hoped her delegation had provided a full picture of how Chile was following up on their recommendations and working to bring about true equality between men and women. Social and cultural changes were needed and the Committee’s advice would help with that.
SILVIA PIMENTEL, Chairperson of the Committee, congratulated the State party for the efforts that had been made, encouraged it to press ahead in implementing the Convention in Chile and hoped that the Committee’s concluding observations would be acted upon.
For use of information media; not an official record