5 October 2012
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the sixth periodic report of Equatorial Guinea on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Introducing the report, Alfonso Nsue Mokuy, Deputy Prime Minister in charge of Social and Human Rights, said that in Equatorial Guinea all women, regardless of their civil status, had equal rights to men in all aspects of civil, political, social and economic spheres of life. The National Plan for Economic and Social Development prioritized the strengthening of the institutional framework, including the promotion of economic independence for women, the promotion of free access for women and children to quality basic social services (education, health, nutrition and sanitation), and the promotion of development policies for persons with disabilities. Other projects were in place to help rural women, and Constitutional reform was ongoing. The Government was genuinely committed to promoting the rights of women and ending discrimination against them, but was aware that many challenges remained.
During the discussion Committee Experts expressed concerns about the serious lack of statistical data on issues relevant to the Convention, and about the slow progress of legislative reform since the last review in 2006. Trafficking in persons, violence against women, rural poverty and the use of billions of dollars of oil revenue in social projects were widely discussed. The nationality law was raised, as was gender stereotyping and traditional attitudes towards the position of women in Guinean society. Experts asked questions about the labour market, education for girls, specifically early marriage, teenage pregnancy and high school drop-out rates, as well as about maternal mortality, unsafe abortions and women’s access to trained healthcare workers such as midwives.
In concluding remarks, Mr. Mokuy thanked the Committee for their useful questions and promised that at their next meeting Equatorial Guinea would bring along statistical data in order to discuss the issues in greater depth. The Government was not deliberately trying to hide figures; it wanted to do the best it could to fulfil not only the Convention but all international agreements that Equatorial Guinea had ratified.
The delegation of Equatorial Guinea also consisted of the Presidential Counsellor on Human Rights, the Minister for the Promotion of Women, the Director-General for Human Rights and the Director-General for the Promotion of Women, and the Chargé d’Affairs of the Permanent Mission of Equatorial Guinea to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. on Monday, 8 October, when it will hold informal meetings with non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions from Comoros and Turkmenistan, States parties to be reviewed by the Committee next week.
The sixth periodic report of Equatorial Guinea can be read via the following link: (http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=CEDAW/C/GNQ/6CEDAW/C/GNQ/6).
Presentation of the Report
ALFONSO NSUE MOKUY, Deputy Prime Minister in Charge of Social and Human Rights, began by saying that in Equatorial Guinea all women, regardless of their civil status, had equal rights to men in all aspects of civil, political, social and economic spheres of life. To improve the rights of women, mechanisms and programmes had been put in place. Furthermore, courses, conferences and seminars were held to raise awareness and combat cultural and discriminatory acts against women. The National Plan for Economic and Social Development “Equatorial Guinea Horizon 2020” included the following strategies: promotion of women and gender equality; strengthening of the institutional framework to that end; promotion of economic independence for women; promotion of free access for women and children to quality basic social services (education, health, nutrition and sanitation); strengthening of existing mechanisms and civil society organizations to enable women to claim their rights; and promotion of development policies for persons with disabilities. The National Plan for Economic and Social Development was being carried out with the support of partners including the United Nations Population Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, the World Bank and the African Union.
To empower women, a Government-financed project, which had practical support from the United States, provided technical and financial support to women working in the fields of agriculture and production, and in particular sought to increase the income of rural women and help enable their financial independence. Other multilateral and bilateral projects were in place to further promote gender equality and women’s empowerment. The Constitution was currently undergoing reforms which prioritized the prevention, punishment and elimination of violence against women through a draft bill due to be submitted to Parliament. Legislation on civil and family matters had recently been improved, such as the Labour Act which guaranteed equality of treatment and opportunity in the field of work. The Government was genuinely committed to promoting the rights of women and ending discrimination against them, but was aware that many challenges remained and the Committee’s advice was valued. Mr. Mokuy reiterated his country’s firm determination to continue to work towards respecting, protecting and guaranteeing human rights in general and gender equality in particular.
Questions by the Experts
An Expert congratulated Equatorial Guinea for ratifying the Optional Protocol in 2009, which was a clear sign of its commitment to and respect for the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. The Expert noted that the Constitution of Equatorial Guinea did hold the principle of equality between women and men and forbade discrimination on grounds of gender. The Government expressed determination to get rid of discriminatory national laws and customary practice, and was further working on draft bills on domestic violence, gender equality and on a personal and family code. However, since the last meeting in 2004 there had been little progress in that area, the Expert said, and asked for a timetable for legislative reforms. How were judges being trained on the Convention and on women’s rights in general?
The State party was commended for its efforts in advancing women’s rights by an Expert who said she hoped the dialogue would help them address outstanding gaps, particularly regarding the use of temporary special measures. The Committee’s previous concluding observations and recommendations strongly recommended the use of temporary special measures to boost the representation of women in the public sector, elected office and managerial positions, and also to provide incentives to parents to send their girl children to school. However, although the report stated that women were gradually occupying more public positions, it appeared that no temporary special measures had been taken at all. The main purpose of temporary special measures was to fast-track women into influential positions, and their use would be particularly appropriate in the Parliament of Equatorial Guinea.
The previous concluding recommendations of the Committee had further outlined its very grave concern about the poverty levels of rural women. Although rural women’s groups seemed to be a cornerstone of the Government’s strategies, poverty continued to be a grave concern. Had temporary special measures been considered?
Gender stereotyping impeded gender equality and empowerment of women, an Expert said, adding that she was sure the delegation would agree that stereotypes often ‘justified’ and reinforced historical patterns of discrimination. In Equatorial Guinea a woman needed her husband’s permission to do almost anything, from travel to personal actions. What was the Government doing to address the negative stereotypes that lay at the root of all overt gender discrimination, and in particular those negative stereotypes that actually formed discriminatory laws and practices which caused much harm to women on the ground? Examples included the gender pay gap, occupational segregation, poverty, forced marriage, violence against women in both the domestic sphere and the workplace and more. How were women and girls being encouraged to enter into traditionally male-dominated professions? What educational curriculum development and advocacy campaigns were taking place to that end?
Turning to violence against women, an Expert noted that the delegation said they needed more time to work on laws in that field. However, given that the Government had been so diligent in passing laws on its petroleum resources and the extraction of oil, which of course enabled great financial and social development, and that the President had constitutional power to define policy and elect Government members, how was it possible that the State party had made such progress in the field of extracting oil but still had not passed any laws penalizing or criminalizing sexual abuse or violence against women?
The State party told the Committee that since 2002 it had benefited from revenues of billions of dollars stemming from its oil resources. Was any of that money being spent on issues such as violence against women, sexual violence, adolescent pregnancies, rape and so on? What was being done to protect the rights of the majority of the population of Equatorial Guinea: the 51.4 per cent who were female? Little progress had been made in the last five years: was there a lack of political will on the part of the Government?
Response from the Delegation
A delegate began by explaining that when Equatorial Guinea became independent it inherited many Spanish, colonial laws, which were hard to enforce and now were incompatible with the Convention. The few legislative shortcomings were due to the fact that many of the laws were not compatible with the country’s own combative process. Men and women had the same rights and the same obligations. In situations such as ‘common law marriage’ a woman could not access the property of her deceased husband, or if a wife and husband divorced the wife could not have custody of the children, or if a wife left a husband she had to repay her dowry: those matters were being addressed in a draft law.
The 2012 budget for the Ministry for the Promotion of Women was equivalent to $16 million dollars, a delegate said, which was enough to fund many programmes and plans. Last year a study was carried out on the socio-economic situation of women in Equatorial Guinea, including on health and demographics, and while the adoption of the preliminary results was still pending, the delegation said they would present the results to the Committee at a future opportunity. The results would help the Government develop strategies to cover the gaps indicated. Other studies had been carried out on violence against women and on schooling for the girl child.
Judges were appointed by bodies including the Supreme and Constitutional Courts, as well as the President of Equatorial Guinea. Newly appointed judges attended a three-year training course, followed by ongoing training throughout their careers, as did the police, public sector workers and other public sector workers.
Regarding a specific timetable for legislative reform, a delegate said that Equatorial Guinea had just voted on a new Constitution which would provide for a Chamber of Deputies, a Senate, a Council of State, an Ombudsman, a High Court and a series of institutions necessary to build a new legal system. So due to those recent changes it was difficult to explain today what the priorities were. As part of the reform two new paragraphs were added to the Constitution on the principle of equality of women before the law, which also defined the conditions in which that took place, as well as defining the basic law. That was proof of the Government’s commitment to gender equality. Guidelines on access to justice had been distributed to all State departments, community centres and Government offices the length and breadth of the country: it was important as prior to that a person did not even know how they could access justice.
Women voted and could stand for election. Regarding their participation in political parties, the ruling party in Equatorial Guinea had a woman president and many women served in coordinating committees and decision-making positions in the parties. There was a law mandating the inclusion of women in political parties.
Giving a general overview of progress made in terms of women’s public positions, a delegate said there were now three women holding Ministerial positions within the Government, as well as two Deputy Ministers, and three Secretaries of State; so today women totalled 11.4 per cent of the executive, compared to 6 per cent in 2005. Out of 100 Members of Parliament, 15 were women – 15 per cent – an increase from the previous 10 per cent. There were two women Deputy Chairpersons in the Parliamentary Committee. The Secretary General of the Ministry of Justice was a woman. There were five women lawyers and three women magistrates serving in the judiciary. In external positions Equatorial Guinea currently had four women Ambassadors, an increase on the previous two, as well as three women advisors. Two Guinean women served as representatives to international organizations, including the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Turning to poverty, a delegate said that as far as the Government was concerned there was no difference between men and women. However, specific steps had been made to help women in poverty, including over one million dollars in micro-credit to help women involved in business and agricultural production. Joint schemes with countries such as China and Dubai involved interest-free loans for those women to help them move out of poverty.
The expression ‘stereotype’ was not used in the national lexicon. Allegations like women needed men’s permission to open bank accounts were not necessarily true; because Equatorial Guinea was so small sometimes inaccurate information was circulated about it. Any woman who was working and paid a salary had it paid directly into her own bank account. Regarding women who wanted to travel, yes, their husband probably would have an opinion on it, but they did not need his permission to do so. However there were areas of difficulty and Equatorial Guinea needed the Committee’s assistance to reform them.
Replying to an Expert’s assertion that Equatorial Guinea had made more progress on passing its hydro-carbon laws than on other laws, a delegate said that laws on social situations took more time, as studies and consultations needed to be carried out. For example, prostitution was mentioned, and yes, it existed, but it was private and thus hard to regulate. Public prostitution did not exist in Equatorial Guinea, and anybody could go and check that for themselves. Therefore no law was needed to prevent prostitution, it was not a problem. Regarding violence against women, in the last two years no woman had died at the hands of a man. That was quite good progress, and meant that violence against women was not a priority. Even the Prime Minister could not just approve a law, it had to go through certain steps and many laws required a second reading.
The Ministry of Interior was responsible for non-governmental organizations, of which approximately 30 operated in Equatorial Guinea. Most worked actively with the Government: in 2012 alone four meetings had been held with non-governmental organizations to discuss specific issues. The only problem was financial difficulties in liaising with them, as most non-governmental organizations preferred the Government to provide the resources for activities that the Government itself would implement. The delegation referred to one non-governmental organization, without naming it, which had submitted a proposal to study recommendations in that area that had an expensive budget attached.
Equatorial Guinea was vulnerable to trafficking because of its geographical position: its coast line and borders with other countries. In one night alone 10,000 illegal immigrants could potentially enter the country. Sometimes they came with their families, and sometimes they were individuals who had been recruited, and so the term ‘trafficked’ was used. Equatorial Guinea had never been involved in trafficking. If Equatorial Guinea expelled illegal immigrants it was accused of xenophobia, but any person who came to the country did not want to leave, and the Government had to control immigration in order to manage it. The Head of Delegation expressly and categorically said there were no cases of trafficking, of either adults or children, in Equatorial Guinea. That was the real situation on the ground. A seminar on trafficking, organized by the United States, was recently completed and the Government would reform its policy and immigration law.
On 12 October a centre would be opened where men and women alike could be trained in various fields, such as catering and plumbing. Most education was directed towards higher education but what the country needed now was skilled workers.
Questions from the Experts
An Expert referred to the delegation’s statement that there were no cases of trafficking in Equatorial Guinea. She was confused as to how the Government knew that for sure, particularly when no study had been taken on the scale, causes and consequences of trafficking. She asked what mechanisms the Government used to be confident of that, as other countries could benefit from it.
Another Expert said she was surprised to hear that there had not been one case of violence against women in the last two years in Equatorial Guinea. In 2006 a study on the topic of discrimination against women was carried out, so how was it possible that no data or statistics were available on the possibility that any woman in the country had been abused? The State party had not provided any data to the Committee whatsoever, the Expert said, and did not appear to be accountable to the international community. Furthermore, the State party said that no women were held in prisons with men: was that accurate?
Turning to nationality, an Expert asked detailed questions about eligibility to Equatorial Guinean nationality for women, children, and men depending upon their marital status.
Response from the Delegation
A delegate said that clearly there were women in prison in Equatorial Guinea, as in other countries. He apologised for not bringing data on that to the Committee. Perhaps there was a misunderstanding with the Committee, he continued, as they did have a law on trafficking in persons and although he had stated that there were no incidences of trafficking in persons in the country or of persons being trafficked out of the country, so many migrants came into the country that it was possible that Equatorial Guinea could be in receipt of a trafficked person.
There was no specific law on prostitution, or data on cases of violence against women. It was true that deaths of women through violence were isolated cases, perhaps one case every five years; there really was very little gender-related violence or violence resulting in the death of a woman. The Expert seemed to think they were hiding or concealing data, but that was not the case. What was true was that there was no updated data to bring to the Committee: there would be no reason to conceal data.
Regarding cooperation with non-governmental organizations and the fact that no non-governmental organizations from Equatorial Guinea had attended the Committee meeting, a delegate said he was not told that he should have brought any non-governmental organization representatives with him today. If there was one department that had good relations with non-governmental organizations, it was the Ministry for the Promotion of Women!
The area of nationality has been improved, a delegate was pleased to report. At one time, if an Equatorial Guinean woman married a foreigner he would become Guinean, but today the man had an option to maintain his original nationality. The children of such a marriage could take either of the parents’ nationalities, based on the parents’ choice. If a foreign woman married a Guinean man, and that marriage ended in divorce, she can either continue being Guinean or take up her former nationality.
Duel nationality was not recognized because Equatorial Guinea had no such agreements with other countries, no other State had asked Equatorial Guinea to recognize that and Equatorial Guinea did not recognize double nationality of any other country. That may change in the future. If a person did not want to take Equatorial Guinea nationality they would not be obliged to, but without it they could not vote or stand for public office, or generally participate in public life as other nationals could. The problem with double nationality was that a person could use it to their benefit, depending on circumstances; either a person was a Guinean national or they were not.
Questions from the Experts
Turning to the education of girls, an Expert said that the data provided was old, from 2001. Was any data available on enrolment, attendance, performance, assessments, school drop out and perhaps even reasons for drop out? Did the schools have to complete annual paperwork and supply it to the Ministry of Education? One piece of statistical data from 2007 to 2008 included in the report showed enrolment ratios, rather than rates. For example that primary school enrolment ratio for girls was 49 per cent, while secondary levels enrolment for girls was 24.9 per cent. The Committee was more concerned about girls who were outside of the enrolment system and the reasons for it, and therefore needed net or gross enrolment rates, rather than ratios, in order to assess how many girls were not attending school.
What measures had been taken to reduce the numbers of early marriages? What was being done to change parents’ discriminatory attitudes on the education of girls? Teenage pregnancy was of course related to the high drop-out rates of girl students, but no statistics on that seemed to be available. Were teenage mothers not allowed to return to the mainstream education system after having a baby? The State party referred to two education centres in the country for girls who had had a teenage pregnancy: was that the only option for a girl who wanted to continue their education after pregnancy?
Illiteracy for girls was consequently high as well; what was the status of the programme to combat illiteracy, did adolescent girls actively participate and what was the response?
An Expert said it was a matter of regret that the report lacked information on the situation of women in the labour market, nor did it shed much light on women’s employment in general. How was the State party addressing gender discrimination in the labour market? What about trade unions, which could be a very important mechanism for bringing about better working conditions, fairer pay and gender equality in general? Was there a labour inspectorate and how did it regulate the labour sector? What efforts were being made to close the gap between women and men’s pay, and to implement the principle of equal remuneration for equal work of equal value? The pay discrimination was very much linked to high levels of poverty for women. What about the informal employment sector?
Turning to health, an Expert complained that there was no information on diseases women specifically suffered from, for example breast, uterine and cervical cancer. The data provided in the report on midwives, for example, was concerning as it showed that the ratio of midwives to women was very low, far below the World Health Organization’s minimum standard. Similarly, only 53 per cent of births were attended by qualified birth attendants, which was again very low. That figure was from 2007 and perhaps things have improved since then?
No information was available on the number of unsafe abortions that occurred, or their impact on maternal mortality rates. Furthermore there was no information on maternal mortality rates in general. Surely the State party must have submitted a report on the Millennium Development Goals in 2010, as was obligatory for all United Nations Member States; therefore it must have updated information on maternal mortality – where were the figures?
An Expert asked for clarification on the status of customary marriage: what status did that have under domestic law, and what about the dissolution of a marriage, or custodial arrangements for children? Also, what about polygamy – was it legal in Equatorial Guinea?
Response from the Delegation
There was a paucity of information, it was true, Equatorial Guinea lacked information, a delegate said. Turning to detention, women were kept in the same prison compound as men, he confirmed, but women were always detained in separate wings of the prison, and held completely apart from men.
Turning to education, a delegate said that the number of girls entering higher education and university had increased in recent years. There were also more women entering into professional training. Primary education was free, nobody had to pay. Furthermore pre-school education and crèches were free. It was only secondary level education that carried charges, such as for text books. Regarding illiteracy, the national rate was 23.3 per cent for women and 9.2 per cent for men. Furthermore, school drop-out rates had decreased, falling from 22.2 per cent in 2001 to 16.6 per cent in 2008, at primary and secondary levels. There were no restrictions for girls to attend school, which was free.
The traditional view of family planning was related to Guineans heritage as the sons and daughters of warriors. The world vision of the Bantu people was that the more children you had, the higher your chance of surviving a conflict. People wanted to have six or seven sons in order to fit in with traditional values. So until recently the subject of contraceptives was not something that could be broached. Furthermore, talking about condoms was taboo territory: normally if you mentioned condoms to a woman her response would have been ‘do you think I’m sick’? But awareness-raising campaigns had sensitized people to the positive aspects of condoms and their use was not a taboo anymore. There were so many health reasons for women not to have as many children; the use of contraceptives had saved women’s lives, and women were now at the vanguard of contraceptive use – they knew that contraceptives helped their health and wellbeing. Local health clinics also promoted the use of contraceptives. The main target of awareness-raising was men.
The Government was committed to improving healthcare in Equatorial Guinea, and would provide the Committee with more figures after the meeting. Over 500 community health centres were in operation across the country. A further 300 primary healthcare workers had been hired, while training programmes had so far trained 150 traditional midwives. Necessary medicines were provided to all healthcare centres.
The rate of infant mortality was approximately 352 deaths for every 100,000 live births. Although there was no up-to-date data on that, the mortality rate had been reduced by improvements in the numbers of births attended by community midwives and health workers. Pre-natal care had also been improved, while anti-retroviral drugs were provided to pregnant women who were HIV positive, thus reducing transmission rates of HIV from mother to child. Treatment for breast cancer was provided free of charge.
Extensive training for health practitioners, such as doctors and nurses, had taken place on how to deal with obstetric fistula, and was paid for through the Social Development Fund provided by the Government, with the support of the United States. Three centres to provide medical care for obstetric fistula had been opened.
There were only four banks in Equatorial Guinea and they were reluctant to lend money, but the Government had sought to provide credit, of up to 10,000 Central African Francs, to women’s cooperatives and small businesses, initially in the agriculture sector but now in all sectors.
It was difficult – painful in fact – to broach the subject of extreme poverty in Equatorial Guinea, a delegate said, in fact he guaranteed that you would never see somebody begging in the street there, Guineans took care of their own, and a community would never allow one of their own to go without food. So the poverty was hidden. Measures taken to tackle poverty included the setting up of community centres which could help by providing vocational training and advising people in order to help them lift themselves out of poverty.
Regarding land ownership, the land had to be bought for a purpose, such as agriculture, in order to prevent land-grabbing as had been seen in other parts of Africa. Potential owners had to show they had use for the amount of land that they asked for.
Customary marriage came under customary law, which was law based on custom. There was no distinction between a customary marriage or a marriage in a Catholic church, a canonical marriage, under Guinean law. It was difficult to have statistics on how many people were married under customary law: the only way would be to knock on every door in the country, a delegate said, however it was likely that the majority of people were married under customary law.
Regarding the dissolution of marriage, a major cause of separation was infidelity. Once infidelity occurred a whole set of negotiable conditions became relevant. Custodial rights depended upon both the man and the woman, and the wellbeing of a child; the important thing was that a child grew up without trauma and feeling wanted.
Polygamy was an issue that the Government took a long time to get around to discussing. The question was what would be done with men who had as many as eight wives? The resulting law was to oblige men to treat every wife equally: if he bought a car or an apartment for one wife, he had to buy a car or an apartment for every wife. Therefore only a man who could afford to keep several wives would marry them. The Government hoped that over time polygamy would be phased out, but in the meantime it had codes in place to regulate polygamous marriages. Ultimately the Government would like to see no polygamous marriages, but there were people who believed in polygamy and it was difficult to go against them.
ALFONSO NSUE MOKUY, Deputy Prime Minister in Charge of Social and Human Rights, thanked the Committee for their useful questions and promised that at their next meeting Equatorial Guinea would bring along statistical data in order to discuss the issues in greater depth. The Government was not deliberately trying to hide figures; it wanted to do the best it could to fulfil not only the Convention but all international agreements that Equatorial Guinea had ratified.
For use of information media; not an official record