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Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women considers report of Togo

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination
against Women

4 October 2012

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined sixth and seventh periodic report of Togo on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Introducing the report, Ayawavi Djigbodi Dagban Zonvide, Minister for the Promotion of Women, said in recent years Togo had suffered severe climate-related disasters and the population had grown to 6.1 million in 2010. However, Togo had achieved notable reforms in strengthening human rights as well as in sectors including public financing, banking, insurance, energy, mining, transport and telecommunications. New legislation had been passed prohibiting all forms of discrimination and implementing positive discrimination, such as quotas for women’s participation in the field of agriculture, security forces and law. Female genital mutilation rates had been considerably reduced from 12 per cent in 1996 to two per cent in 2012, and awareness-raising was carried out to combat traditional gender stereotypes. The new Code on Individuals and the Family set out various new provisions for married women. Extensive health and education reforms targeted specific areas of concern affecting women and girls, while women’s employment was enhanced by a national acceleration strategy focusing on agriculture, rural women, and the provision of micro-credit.

During the discussion Committee Experts asked questions about the criminalization of female genital mutilation, polygamy and child marriage, and about measures to support women victims of violence in general. Legislative reform and the domestic implementation of the Convention in general were broadly covered, as were temporary special measures. Experts asked for information on strategies to prevent trafficking of women and girls, and to stop child labour, particularly girls working in domestic settings. The limited progress in the participation of women in political and public life was also raised, as were laws on nationality, and reform in areas of health and education.

In concluding remarks, Ms. Zonvide thanked the Chair for the impressive organization of the session and the fruitful suggestions and contributions given.

The delegation of Togo consisted of the representatives of the Ministry of the Promotion of Women, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, the Training Centre for Justice, the Gender and Women’s Rights Directorate, the Division of Family Health from the Ministry of Health, the Directorate of Stock-Rearing in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fishing, the Ministry of Communication and the Permanent Mission of Togo to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 10 a.m. on Friday, 5 October, when it will consider the sixth periodic report of Equatorial Guinea (CEDAW/C/GNQ/6).

Report

The combined sixth and seventh periodic reports of Togo can be read via the following link: (CEDAW/C/TGO/6-7).

Presentation of the Report

AYAWAVI DJIGBODI DAGBAN ZONVIDE, Minister for the Promotion of Women of Togo, said guidance was given from the highest levels of State all the way down to the grassroots on the need for women’s systematic integration in all levels of society. In recent years Togo had suffered severe climate-related disasters, particularly floods which caused severe damage to the infrastructure and crops and led to displacement. The population had grown from 5.5 million in 2008 to 6.1 million in 2010, and 51.4 per cent were women. However, Togo had achieved notable reforms in strengthening human rights as well as in sectors including public financing, banking, insurance, energy, including hydraulic energy sources, mining, transport and telecommunications. Legislation to prohibit all forms of discrimination included the Children’s Code, Labour Code and Social Security Code while the preliminary draft of the new Criminal Code also took up the issue of discrimination and included a specific chapter setting out sanctions for discrimination against women. Legislation also allowed for positive discrimination, such as quotas for women’s participation in the field of agriculture, security forces and law. Efforts to increase women’s participation in the field of politics and diplomacy were ongoing, and women were now present in almost all higher State institutions, including the diplomatic service, the military and civil service, although their numbers were still low.

Female genital mutilation rates had been considerably reduced from 12 per cent in 1996 to two per cent in 2012. Gender stereotypes often created a practical barrier to women achieving equality, so to combat this training was directed at key influential individuals such as traditional chiefs, journalists, community leaders, religious leaders and the security forces. Work had been done to protect women and children from trafficking and to punish perpetrators, and while more needed to be done, particularly in recognizing the problem and legally, Togo’s recent ratification of the Palermo Protocol on Trafficking, the Hague Convention on International Adoption and a draft decree setting up a National Anti-Trafficking Commission were positive actions. Health reforms included a law on health insurance, training for women health workers, opening of local clinics, acceleration of the national campaign to reduce maternal mortality, and a campaign to overcome obstetric fistula through the provision of subsidised caesarean sections: the latter had seen a successful rise in the caesarean rate while last year alone a further 166 women suffering from obstetric fistula had received free corrective operations. The law protecting people living with HIV was modified in 2010 to incorporate a gender-based and human rights approach, and anti retroviral drugs were free for sufferers.

The ‘Education for All’ programme had furthered efforts to provide girls and women with equal opportunities to those of boys and men for schooling and training, and also to reduce the cost of education. The curriculum had been reformed to erase gender stereotypes, teachers had been trained and school canteens had been established. A national sports policy emphasized the promotion and involvement of women and girls in sports and recreation. Employment for women was enhanced by a national acceleration strategy which focused on agriculture and food security, particularly for rural women, and provision of micro-credits for women who wanted to start their own business. The new Code on Individuals and the Family set out various new provisions including the marriageable age, consensus-based choice of the home by the spouse, parental authority for women in the event of the death of a spouse, and the right of a spouse not to undertake degrading mourning rites without consequences for inheritance. In summary, the Minister said that the challenges were difficult and the stakes were high: further legislative reforms must be pursued, as well as training and awareness-raising, and Togo counted upon the support of the international community to do so.

Questions from the Experts

An Expert welcomed the delegation and said she felt that Togo had a great future ahead as a leading democracy and promoter of women’s rights. However, she was concerned about the slow pace of reform, particularly concerning Constitutional and legislative changes. What was the status of Togo’s ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention? The long-awaited Family Code was recently adopted but nevertheless certain discriminatory measures still remained, for example concerning the ongoing legality of polygamy and customary rights. Did the Government have a legislative timetable in place in order to accelerate change and ensure a results-based and comprehensive framework for action? And regarding the judiciary, what progress had been made in training judges on the Convention?

An Expert requested more information on the work and structure of the Ministry for the Promotion of Women and also on the function and commission of the Gender and Women’s Rights Directorate.

An Expert commented that it was important that the State party cooperated with civil society, non-governmental organizations and women’s organizations – it had been shown time and time again that nothing could be achieved without them. However, the Government must not forget that the primary responsibility to prevent discrimination against women lay with the Government, and not women’s organizations or women themselves.

Regarding violence against women, an Expert said the topic seemed to be ‘glossed over’ in the report. What was being done to combat all forms of such violence?

Female genital mutilation was an entrenched norm in Togo and there were reports that in some parts of the country up to 33 per cent of women had undergone the mutilation. Even the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture had noted that there had been no study since 1999 to measure the scale of that form of violence against women.

Response from the Delegation

A delegate answered that violence was not ‘glossed over’ in Togo, but taken very seriously. A strategy to combat violence against women was adopted in 2008 and updated in 2012. The draft Criminal Code covered every aspect of combating violence against women, and the delegate assured the Committee that it would be adopted by the time they next met. It was wrong to say there had been no studies on violence against women since 1999. A study on female genital mutilation was last conducted in 2008, with a recent assessment conducted in 2012. A study on gender-based violence was taken in 2010. All studies helped the Government develop its strategies to combat gender-based violence and assess them for effectiveness.

The Family Code was a step forward and in line with the Convention, and therefore progressive but also in line with the customs of Togo. The practice of polygamy was retained within the Code on a provisional basis in order to keep the traditional populations of Togo involved with the new laws. Togo was now primarily a monogamous culture based on marriage, and polygamy needed to be phased out by awareness-raising – there were already fewer polygamous households as women learnt about their rights and refused to accept being part of one.

Those issues were part of a larger framework through which the Government dreamt of improving conditions for Togolese women. The Government had a duel role: to meet the requirements of the international community and to oversee the development of the mindset of Togo. It could not just adopt new legal measures to please the international community that were impossible to implement domestically. Progressive amendments had to be in line with the local mindset, and to do that the Government focused on awareness-raising, particularly at the grass-roots level. A broad programme to raise the awareness of traditional chiefs on the rights of women was in place, as they could become focal points on key areas.

Combating traditional customs was a serious challenge in Togo and thus country-wide awareness-raising campaigns were very important. The delegate thanked the very active civil society and non-governmental organizations bodies for their valuable help and support in that regard.

Regarding the pace of legislative reform, the delegate similarly reminded the Committee that they had to lay the groundwork for any international law before new measures could be adopted. For example, illiteracy meant that people often did not understand new legal provisions. Furthermore, Togo faced upcoming elections so the Government wanted to avoid rushing into passing new legislation which may not be adopted given the election results. The fact that Togo had ratified the Convention without any reservations was proof that it wanted to move forward, and benefit from the Committee’s help to do that. However, Togo faced a lot of pressure in the implementation of the Convention, for example from local attitudes and climate problems.

The Ministry for the Promotion of Women comprised of three directorates focused on human rights, women’s advancement and on the economic advancement of women. Those directorates operated nationally both in the regions and the prefectures, and were funded by the Government. Judges and magistrates were given training on the mainstreaming of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, a delegate confirmed.

The vulnerability of girls with disabilities was especially prevalent and the Government sought to address that, as well as challenges faced by other vulnerable groups such as the elderly.

Questions from the Experts

The use of temporary special measures was highlighted by one Expert, who said she was happy to see that the State party had put them in place following the Committee’s previous recommendations. A clearer explanation of their use was requested, particularly whether they were temporary or not. The Expert noted the use by the delegation of the term ‘positive discrimination’ and said the Committee did not like to use that term as it often had negative connotations, but preferred the term ‘temporary special measures’. The awareness-raising campaigns conducted by the State party were also commendable, but did they target men as well as women?

Togo had taken a brave decision to criminalize incest in the new draft Criminal Code, which was a taboo topic in many African countries, an Expert noted, asking whether a timeline could be provided for the adoption of the new Criminal Code. Another Expert noted that female genital mutilation was not actually criminalized in domestic legislation, and nor was child marriage. Without criminalization – and sanctions – how could those practices truly be prohibited and prevented? A further type of violence against women which should be covered was that young girls, who had been victims of child marriage, often could not have children because of the violence they suffered early in their marriage.

Response from the Delegation

The International Day of Girls was used to raise awareness against child marriage, which was placed at 18 years and would be criminalized in the forthcoming draft Criminal Code. A delegate listed statistics from the 2010 Togolese Study on Gender-Based Violence, which would be provided to the Committee. Early marriage was almost twice as high in rural areas as urban areas, where it stood at 19 per cent. Regarding female genital mutilation statistical data showed that the level had fallen from 12 per cent of the population in 1996 to an estimated two per cent in 2012.

A delegate said that a major programme was underway to help women victims of violence, which included awareness-raising. The most striking impact those campaigns had had was that the phenomenon of violence against women and children was now visible. Formally it was a taboo subject and victims did not dare to complain about the violence they were subjected to. Another consequence of the awareness-raising campaigns was that they gave victims the courage to complain. Increasingly parents were bringing court actions against the perpetrators of violence. It was very difficult for parents to admit that their daughter had been raped but increasingly parents had the courage not only to speak to a social worker but also to engage in judicial proceedings on their daughter’s behalf. In judicial proceedings there was now a climate of trust towards women which allowed them to stand up in courts and make their complaint.

With the support of civil society partners the Government had established community support centres for women victims of violence, and also a hotline for child victims. The support centres also provided medical assistance, and doctors were being trained to fulfil their role in the judicial process by providing a certificate documenting the severity of the injuries that would allow a judge to investigate. Psychological support was provided and was increasingly effective: Lomé University now trained psychologists so more were available, while the university hospital in Lomé also housed a support centre to provide legal and psychological advice to victims of violence.

Concerning trafficking of women and children, Togo worked on the basis of the regional policy of the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) to prevent trafficking of women and children. The new law was the result of considerable efforts and work in the sub-region and a reflection of ECOWAS policy.

A study by the International Labour Organization on child labour in Togo had made it possible for the Government to identify the proportion of girls working in domestic labour, and following the recommendations of that study a committee had been set up to establish programmes to help relieve the situation of girls working in domestic labour. The study had also prompted the drafting of a general National Programme Against Child Labour.

The timeline for legislative reform was determined by the National Assembly, or the Parliament, a delegate confirmed, adding that that made it difficult to give the Committee a clear answer today. Awareness-raising campaigns basically targeted men, as women were the victims and men were the perpetrators. Many organizations defending women’s rights operated in the field, but the target was usually men.

Questions from the Experts

There had been very limited progress in the participation of women in political and public life, and only 10 per cent of members of the National Assembly – or parliament – were women, an Expert noted with regret. The draft law on quotas would ensure that 30 per cent of National Assembly members were women, so what was the present state of that legislation? Women in employment numbered about 20 per cent of workers, and worked mostly in the fields of health and education. In the judiciary there was only one woman working as a judge in the Constitutional Court alongside eight men, while no women judges were appointed to the prefecture courts. Would the quota system have an impact on increasing numbers of women in those areas or was it just to do with elections and the parliament? Regarding the Foreign Service, the Expert noted positive examples of women diplomats serving in some significant posts, but asked for specific figures.

Regarding nationality, an Expert asked about the new draft law on nationality, which appeared to amend previous discriminatory clauses that held that Togolese women could lose their nationality if they divorced, whatever the reason for the divorce, or that Togolese women could not give their nationality to a non-Togolese man upon marriage, and the consequences of that on their child. Could the delegation please clarify?

Response from the Delegation

The figures on women’s participation in public life were real, a delegate agreed, saying that she had noted in her opening statement that women were not well represented in sovereign positions. However, positive steps forward had been made and the Government was not unaware of the imbalance. Following the adoption of the law on quotas several measures had been adopted to promote the participation of women in those sectors in which they were absent. Furthermore, that law allowed for an advocacy system that would help women gain decision-making positions. A delegate further emphasized the problem in convincing political parties to nominate women politicians, as if the parties felt that the women would not be elected, they would not put them forward. The Government did not have a lack of political will and it was not the one that managed a fictitious scenario: it had to deal with the realities, and that involved moving forward slowly.

The law on nationality dated back to 1998 and the Constitution took precedence over it. The new draft law on nationality would do away with the previous discrimination towards women and divorcees; under the new law women would retain their advantages and no judge could take away the Togolese nationality that they acquired through marriage. Divorce was not a reason for a woman to lose her nationality. If a Togolese woman married a non-Togolese man, he would also have the right to gain Togolese nationality through the marriage. A child could acquire Togolese nationality though his or her mother. The new law would settle all issues that had been left pending on acquiring, keeping or losing Togolese nationality.

Questions from the Experts

On Article 11, an Expert asked about measures taken to keep women in schools, particularly considering the high rate of illiteracy among rural women. Also the extent to which women were exposed to violence was worrying, particularly in schools. What action had been taken towards enacting legislation against this as recommended by the Committee on the Rights of the Child? On the topic of adolescent pregnancy, were girls now allowed to remain in school to continue their education if they were pregnant? What access was there to sexual health services and education?

Another Expert noted that legislative and institutional measures to improve health for women as far as the Millennium Development Goals were concerned in relation to HIV/AIDS were in place, though the figures provided did not allow for proper analysis. Teenage pregnancy was an issue, and six years after it was initially raised, the numbers were still alarming, as was a paucity of education on sexually transmitted infections. What had really happened in terms of implementing this policy? Was there specific training for medical and health staff on the reproductive health law?

There were obstacles to the implementation of the reproductive health law in that there was not enough staff, so how did the rural population deal with this? What measures had been adopted? On abortion, it was mentioned that leeway was now given to allow the procedure, but on what timeline? How possible was it to access services?

The next set of questions touched on the quality of the monitoring and evaluation systems for health services in the country. Maternal mortality rates were high. Was there a data collection system in place for these cases? If not, why not? On fistulas, it was asked what preventative measures were taken to avoid the condition? In general the report showed a lack of staff and an inability to access services. Was the insurance scheme mentioned only for civil servants? How about families with more than one wife?

On jobs and economic development, indicators demonstrated that the fight against poverty was still at a high level. What was being done to allow rural women to live, work and become professional in their careers? This concerned literacy and access to credit and micro-credit. Had precise projects been tabled in this regard? What were the priorities? The report said the State party was looking to recruit civil servants, was there a policy of parity in this?

Migrant women and working children were vulnerable and measures had been taken to stop child labour, but were there further measures planned? Also, the informal sector was inherently disorganized, how could women in this area become business owners and managers and be supported? Was new technology a way to accelerate change?

On Article 14 an Expert recognised work on drinking water and illiteracy elimination, although more needed to be done to tackle the many challenges faced by rural women. In 2006 Togo was urged to take measures to stop discrimination against women in the ownership and inheritance of land. It was clear that some work had been done on this, but was there further information on progress made? Was there a time frame to adopt a land code? Customary attitudes were against women inheriting land, what measures were being taken to address this negative custom? Mining activities were reported to have diminished agricultural land, making life more difficult for women and their families and forcing migration. What measures were in place to help these people? Were income generation activities provided? What about literacy programmes?

Responses from the Delegation

On education, the Minister responded by saying that the Government encouraged access to schools for girls and high dropout rates were being tackled. A delegate added that there was a law that protected young girls against sexual violence and the general criminal law provided for penalties. Measures to keep young girls in school aimed to improve the living conditions of women through grass roots development programmes aimed at income generation and assistance in completing tasks asked of younger girls, allowing them to go to school.

The State party was further trying to stem the rural exodus so young girls could go to school, and a gradual programme was in place that would help with this. Assistance was also being provided to families to send their children into education. On violence, the most important issue was in making parents aware that criminal penalties could be sought following a violent act.

Care for girls who fell pregnant was provided for by statute and the issue was instead whether schools applied it. There was a high adolescent pregnancy rate although steps had been taken to bring it down, including awareness-raising in schools.

On reproductive health, a delegate said information on the reproductive health laws had been translated and was being disseminated. It was right that there were low numbers of practitioners, though this was being addressed through competitive recruitment. The country had not sat on its laurels and sought mobile solutions for rural areas, such as the current vaccination programme and prenatal counseling services.

Abortion was not legal in Togo, though it was allowed when there was a risk to the health of the mother, cases of incestuous rape or if the child was likely to be severely disabled. This decision was made by a gynecologist. No timeframe was laid out and this would need to be considered in the future.

On maternal health, there was a five-year plan in place and at the end of the period this would be evaluated to improve services. Training was also monitored and a bulletin was issued monthly. In terms of obstetrics, work was being done on awareness raising efforts to bring down the rate of fistula through prenatal monitoring and abstinence. Following recent campaigns where women were treated for fistula, word-of-mouth discussion of the risks involved should help bring down rates in the future.

In terms of providing healthcare to rural communities, work was being done to improve outreach. The Government’s mutual health society helped people with their healthcare costs.

Difficulties were being seen in employment, particularly among young people, said a member of the delegation. A national policy created an agency mandated to bring down cases of discrimination in favour of men in employment by 25 per cent to ensure parity in the labour market. In the same vein there were support programmes from thousands of women who had benefited and systems were in place to channel assistance to women. The sector brought a lot to the country and if it was possible to circumscribe the limits of the sector then there was much potential for income generation for women, and the Government.

It was true that agricultural lands were being snatched up for phosphate mining and a Government scheme offered compensation to the owners of those lands.

Customary law operated in the country, alongside civil law; there were positive aspects to this from both sides though amendments needed to be made to both bodies.

A delegate continued by saying that land was the country’s raw material and so to empower women they would need their own land, though often land belonged to local communities rather than individuals. The issue would take time to be resolved and there were many issues to be addressed in an in-depth discussion. Other actions were being taken, however, especially in view of the fact that women did not inherit land and work with non-governmental organizations was seeing easier access for women. Within the Ministry of Agriculture rural areas were being assisted in accessing land through a principle of allocating the bulk to women. Another delegate explained that the formalities of starting a business had been cut considerably, supported by the national jobs policy.

Questions from the Experts

An Expert posed the follow-up question of how much were the measures in place monitored? Was there any trend data that showed that girls in rural areas were taking up the opportunity for education? Were the conditions of the law applied in that pregnant girls were allowed to remain in school? Another wondered whether, in the multiple legal systems used, customary law functioned to the detriment of women’s equality as seen in other countries? Another suggested that the Government should take measures to address the discrimination seen in land law. Again, what was the progress towards the development of a land code?

The next set of questions asked about a comprehensive, long-term health package that offered nationwide coverage? What was the national plan in terms of psychological and psychiatric health? Was it necessary for a husband to accompany his wife to family planning centres, or was this just customary? Was work planned to change these attitudes?

Another Expert asked about the issue of women or girls with disabilities. The report mentioned that these needs were factored into healthcare provision, but there were reports that with regard to education there were no prioritized programmes for girls. What special programmes were available to ensure access to education and healthcare, as well as employment opportunities? Had the State taken steps to tackle the killing of children with malformations at birth?

As a follow-up question it was asked what exactly was the standing in the code of laws of the State Party of customary law? Where exactly was the relationship spelt out? Next, an Expert wondered about the possibility of strengthening maternity leave and whether steps taken to target sexual harassment in the workplace were strong enough.

Response from the Delegation

The delegation responded by saying that previous rules declared that girls who fell pregnant should be removed from school and could return after giving birth. However, following the ratification of the relevant conventions this had been superseded and girls could now study for as long as their health allowed it.

Cases of the killing of deformed infants were an issue of concern and a study was recently completed into the problem which would properly document this field and help build a strategy to combat it.

On the topic of the simultaneous legal systems it was explained that civil law was an inheritance of colonization, while customary law was developed through everyday life over many years. The majority of local law was positive, though negative practices remained in some localities. Customary law was not formal and written down, it was instead long-ingrained practices and work was being done to raise awareness of cases where this clashed with civil law. Another delegate added that progress had been made on new regulations which said that customs may only be retained where they meet the human rights needs of those they are applied to. If a custom was found to be discriminatory to women than a judge could set it aside.

Updated data was not yet available on whether maternal mortality was falling, though informal figures suggested a downward trend. The outlook planned was to ask community practitioners to report cases to work on remedies for the situation. A lack of consultants had delayed the start of this work though it was now in progress.

On mental health, women in Togo with psychiatric problems were looked after in specialised centres, said the delegation, though the programme involved was in its inception stage. Social service provision was also delivered through hospitals.

On family planning, the delegation said that men accompanied women to family planning centres as they were a partner in the pregnancy and so they could be clear on the information given. On the topic of disability services, it was said that legislation was already in place and a 2004 review had updated provisions. Enough action had not been taken on disabled girls, and targeted pilot projects in the poorest areas hoped to bring them into the educational fold. Services for the disabled were mostly run by civil society.

In terms of the land code the issue of inheritance was no longer a problem, the problem was instead codification. The Government had commissioned a study to bring forward a land code and drafting of a text was soon to begin.

Questions from the Experts

On Articles 15 and 16, Experts asked whether updated figures on polygamy were available. What happened in the formulation of the family code that meant polygamy was not outlawed as previously anticipated? De facto unions were not regulated, the report said, but an expert wondered how this affected women’s rights? Were they left vulnerable about this? What about children born to these relationships? Were they left without rights if their fathers did not recognise them voluntarily?

Responses from the Delegation

A member of the delegation said the differences between the drafting of a law and its final ratification were down to the will of the lawmakers and were based on their review of the texts. It was decided to deal with other cultural issues over polygamy in the text, which had shortcomings in the area, through awareness raising and a better draft law. The same approach was taken for the family code.

As far as the situation of children in or out of wedlock was concerned, it was true that there were no regulations regarding the issue, though they could be protected through the children’s code. There was also a provision to force fathers to accept paternity under certain circumstances. Dealing with the matrimonial regime, there was an innovation in the new code which allowed women to organize their homes as they wished and work was being done with non-governmental organizations to share information on the new code with illiterate women so they could also benefit.

Questions from the Experts

An Expert followed up on comments made by asking whether the State party had made provisions for the division of marital property following death or divorce. It was also asked why there had not been a move from separate property towards community property? This could come with a default arrangement that would care for women whose marriages ended.

Response by the Delegation

The delegation said that the work a woman did in the house was noted and this contribution would be considered in any post-marriage settlement. This information would be the subject of further awareness raising in the training of judges.

Concluding Remarks

AYAWAVI DJIGBODI DAGBAN ZONVIDE, Minister for the Promotion of Women of Togo, thanked the Chair for the impressive organization of the session and the fruitful suggestions and contributions given.

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For use of information media; not an official record