11 February 2013
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon met with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to discuss the situation of the rights of women in Pakistan, Austria and Hungary. The reports of the three countries will be reviewed by the Committee this week, together with the report of Cyprus.
Representatives of NGOs in Pakistan delivered oral reports in which they expressed concerns about legal provisions that continued to discriminate against women. There was visible resistance to the passage of vital laws such as the Domestic Violence Bill of 2009, enactment of personal laws of minorities and expanding national statutes to all regions in Pakistan. Armed conflict and the growing ethnic and sectarian violence had led to intense security. Women were attacked by Taliban and others; hundreds of girls’ schools had been destroyed, drastically impacting girls’ education.
The situation of women in Austria had not significantly improved mainly because of the lack of coherent and well organized policies for the implementation of women’s human rights, said representatives of Austrian non-governmental organizations. The persistent traditional perception of gender roles in the society remained the greatest obstacle to women’s empowerment and influenced every single gender-relevant political decision, from employment, social legislation, education and training, to access to decision-making positions.
Speakers from NGOs in Hungary described problems women faced in that country, including multiple discrimination suffered by women with disabilities. While disability and gender were prohibited grounds of discrimination, there was no recognition of multiple forms of discrimination and no legislation, policies or programmes which targeted specifically women and girls with disabilities. The situation of homeless women and women parenting alone was another area of concern, while gender discrimination in employment adversely affected women with children and Roma women.
Speaking during the discussion were representatives from Aurat Foundation on behalf of 24 other NGOs, Shirkat Gah-Women’s Resource Centre, speaking on behalf of 19 other NGOs, Centre for Reproductive Rights, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights, SZEXE Association of Hungarian Sex Workers, FESZT National Council of Disabled People, the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, Centre for Reproductive Rights and Sexual Rights Initiative, Hungarian Women’s Alliance and Hungarian Women’s Lobby.
When the Committee reconvenes in public on Tuesday, 12 February at 10 a.m., it will begin its consideration of the fourth periodic report of Pakistan (CEDAW/C/PAK/4). The reports of Austria and Hungary will be reviewed on Wednesday, 13 February and Thursday, 14 February respectively.
Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations
A speaker for Aurat Foundation, speaking on behalf of 24 other non-governmental organizations, expressed concern about legal provisions that continued to discriminate against women and noted that many forms of discrimination and violence were yet to be translated into legal language. There was visible resistance to the passage of vital laws such as the Domestic Violence Bill of 2009, enactment of personal laws of minorities and expanding national statutes to all regions in Pakistan. The State’s response to violence against women remained fragmented and unsatisfactory in the absence of the larger framework that permitted contextualization of violence.
Shirkat Gah-Women’s Resource Centre, speaking on behalf of 19 other non-governmental organizations, outlined key concern for women’s rights in Pakistan, which included heightened insecurity, poor governance, discrimination against minority women and the existence of parallel legal systems. Those four factors, coupled with natural disasters, had increased the gap between de facto and de jure equality. Armed conflict and the growing ethnic and sectarian violence had led to intense security. Women were attacked by Taliban and others; hundreds of girls’ schools had been destroyed, drastically impacting girls’ education. Minority women confronted increasing discrimination, abduction, forced conversion to Islam and marriages to Muslim men. Hindu personal laws remained United Nations-codified and marriages unregistered; women were deprived of their property rights, had difficulty accessing health facilities and could not participate freely in social, economical and political processes.
Centre for Reproductive Rights spoke about the maternal mortality rates in Pakistan, which were the highest in South Asia. An estimated 14,000 women died from pregnancy or childbirth related causes every year. Poor, rural and marginalized women were suffering from maternal mortality at rates far higher than the national average, with births in rural areas half as likely to be attended by a skilled birth attendant. Abortion was criminalized unless for purposes of saving women’s life, and women subjected themselves to clandestine and often unsafe procedures by untrained providers. As a result, post-abortion complications accounted for a substantial proportion of maternal deaths in Pakistan.
A representative of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom took up the issue of domestic gun violence and said that, according to the 2011 survey conducted in five districts in South Punjab by the Awaz Centre for Development Services, women were the primary person at threat of a gun at home, usually owned illegally by their husbands. Appropriate control over the circulation of existing and often illicit small arms was a crucial element in safeguarding security, gender equality and development. The Committee should ask the delegation of Pakistan about the small arms flow and its relation to violence against women, and should recommend that Pakistan ensure strict regulation and control of internal and across-borders trade and sales of small arms.
Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights said that the situation of women in Austria had not significantly improved mainly because of the lack of coherent and well organized policies for the implement of women’s human rights. A comprehensive and coherent general approach of policy measures for equality and women’s empowerment at all levels and in all areas was still missing. A comprehensive National Action Plan on equality between women and men and on the fight against violence against women remained obligatory. The persistent traditional perception of gender roles in the society remained the greatest obstacle to women’s empowerment and influenced every single gender-relevant political decision, from employment, social legislation, education and training, to access to decision-making positions. In the labour market, women continued to be disadvantaged by a strong occupational segregation, differences in education and training and a persistent gender pay gap. Earning differences between men and women increased with age and skill level and reached peak in retirement with higher risk for women to fall into the poverty trap. Recent legal amendments had led to improvement concerning violence against women, but shortcomings remained such as lack of adequate data collection, including on violence against women with disabilities. Austrian migration policy excluded low-income and educationally disadvantaged migrants permanently from residence and social protection.
SZEXE Association of Hungarian Sex Workers highlighted main issues of concern which included the failure of the State to secure safe working conditions for sex workers, police harassment and violence against sex workers and violation of sex workers’ rights to health services. Sex work had been legalized in Hungary since 1999, but the State authorities had failed in defining legal working areas as per the law, which pushed sex workers underground and exposed them to various health and safety risks.
FESZT National Council of Disabled People said that women with disabilities faced multiple discrimination based on gender and disability. While disability and gender were prohibited grounds of discrimination in Hungary, there was no recognition of multiple forms of discrimination and no legislation, policies or programmes which targeted specifically women and girls with disabilities. Statistics and research on women with disability were virtually non-existent, meaning they remained invisible. The law excluded women with disability from entering marriage or dissolving their marriage, from exercising parental rights, from the right to vote, and from the right to give informed consent for treatments. According to the Health Act, women with disabilities could be forcibly sterilized.
The situation of homeless women and women parenting alone, together with gender discrimination in employment recruitment were highlighted by the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd as two main areas of concern. The population of homeless women was on the increase and women with children, those abandoned by their husbands or children’s father, women with disabilities, retired women and women with mental health issues were the most vulnerable segment of this population. Gender discrimination in employment was very prevalent, especially for women with children and Roma women. The lack of access to childcare centres prevented single mothers from taking advantage of employment possibilities. The Committee should recommend that the Government of Hungary create a viable strategy for housing and assisting homeless women and introduce gender-based quotas for employers and ensure compliance.
Centre for Reproductive Rights and Sexual Rights Initiative drew the attention of the Committee to the 2011 Constitution of Hungary, which included a provision that protected life from the moment of conception, which allowed the Government to restrict access to abortion and other reproductive health services. The Government restricted women’s de facto access to abortion by curbing the availability of medical abortion, while counselling and a three-day waiting period were obligatory, which was contrary to existing human rights standards and the World Health Organization’s recommendations.
Hungarian Women’s Alliance provided information about the implementation of measures contained in the National Strategy for the Promotion of Gender Equality 2010-2021 with the view of eliminating discrimination against women. Evidence of the determination of the Government was the appointment in 2012 of a ministerial commissioner for improvement of labour market prospects for women. Also in 2012, the Parliament had accepted the Hungarian National Social Inclusion Strategy, and the proposals for improving the chances of people living in deep poverty and the social inclusion of the Roma people.
Hungarian Women’s Lobby said that since Hungary’s transition to democracy, the institutional, and legal and policy framework had been inadequate to effectively advance gender equality. There had been insufficient progress in complying with women’s rights’ norms and most of the recommendations by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had not been implemented by the Government. The current Government had a regressive approach to gender issues and the promotion of gender equality had been replaced by the promotion of traditional gender roles and family mainstreaming in the context of the desired demographic increase.
Questions by Committee Members
An Expert took up the issue of multiple forms of discrimination against female sex workers in Hungary and asked whether sex work should be regulated as any other form of work. Could the NGOs comment on the reply of Hungary concerning the definition of discrimination in the Constitution or in any other law? Another Expert asked for further information about the homeless in Hungary.
On Pakistan, an Expert asked NGOs to clarify what kind of recommendations they would like the Committee to make to the Government concerning the discrimination against women and their participation in public and private life. With regard to the area of family laws, were there any female judges in the Family courts? Another Expert noted the hundreds of schools bombed and asked for current information on those schools and what could be done to ensure better access of girls to education. The law on domestic violence was now pending and the Expert asked about major obstacles blocking the adoption of this important law by the Parliament.
Concerning the lack of data and gaps in data collection in Austria, a Committee Expert asked the NGO to comment about possible gaps identified in the 2011 study on violence against women by the Government. Were there any changes in the way the police and judiciary dealt with violence against women? Another Expert noted that the Government’s report was short on the area of family law and wondered what the situation was for women in case of divorce and how their inheritance rights were guaranteed. How was the newly founded Family Court functioning and what question should the Committee ask to ensure progress in Austria?
Hungary and Austria had made an important caseload in the area of violence against women and an Expert asked how the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women decisions in this regard were publicized in those two countries and how their follow up was ensured.
Response by Non-Governmental Organizations
Representatives of organizations took the floor to respond to questions posed by the Committee on Hungary and said that according to the law, sex workers were obliged to have entrepreneurial licences and asked the Committee to recommend to the State party to designate working areas to sex workers.
Answering questions on Pakistan, representatives said that the local Government system in Pakistan must be restored immediately, with 33 per cent of seats reserved for women. The Committee should ask Pakistan to take measures to provide enough support for women to get elected directly. Turning to schools in Pakistan, the NGOs said that destruction of schools in the past decade was due to many reasons, including floods and earthquakes; many were rehabilitated and there was clear Government commitment to school repair. Custom and culture were clear obstacles to greater access to school for girls.
Another speaker elaborated on the registration of marriage and divorce and said that not all marriages were properly registered, which created problems for married couples and in particular women. Divorce for Muslims was done through courts for women and though local councils for men; there was no clear law governing divorce for minorities. The domestic violence bill had been passed by the National Assembly, but not by the Senate and upon the eighteenth amendment this bill was considered to be provincial and not federal matter, which meant that each province would have to pass its own law. Pakistan had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with disabilities in 2011 and its provisions had not been yet implemented. Women with disabilities suffered double discrimination, and because of their gender, they would not receive adequate treatment for their disability from the young age.
A Representative of the non-governmental organization from Austria said that the categories of date provided by the Government in their answers were not precise enough and some crucial data were not available any more. The Working Group on data did not have a mandate for the further implementation of measures; there was an understanding that the data collection on violence against women needed to be improved, but the Government needed to mandate the Working Group to proceed. The 2011 study by the Government was a study on the prevalence of violence in general and not on the violence against women.
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