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Council starts Interactive dialogue with Experts on Cultural Rights and on Discrimination against Women in Law and Practice

Human Rights Council
AFTERNOON

31 May 2013

The Human Rights Council this afternoon meeting began a clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights and the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice.

Farida Shaheed, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, said that her thematic research focused on two distinct areas, the first related to the enjoyment of cultural rights by women on an equal basis with men, and the second related to the right to freedom of artistic expression and creation.  Restrictions at various stages of artistic creation could result from oppressive laws and regulations but could also be the outcome of a fear of physical or economic coercion.  States should abide by their obligation to protect all persons participating in artistic activities from violence by third parties.   

Kamala Chandrakirana, Chairperson of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, said that progress since the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995 had been painfully slow.  Political parties were generally exclusionary towards women and the democratic deficit undermined women’s participation in public and political life.  Stereotypes about women’s capacities continued to negatively affect women’s participation around the world.  Women were often relegated to health and social welfare positions while economic and defence briefs went to men, distorting the power balance. 

Russia, Republic of Moldova and Tunisia spoke as concerned countries.

In the ensuing general discussion, delegations stressed the important role of women in society and highlighted the need to further protect the right of women and to promote gender equality in the political arena and in the area of employment.  Some speakers also drew attention to the necessity to protect women’s right to health, including reproductive health.  Concerning the right to freedom of artistic expression, speakers stressed the importance of protecting creativity and all forms of artistic activity.  Some delegations pointed out that the right to freedom of expression should be exercised responsibly, and said that States should have the right to take permissible action whenever it was necessary to protect public order and national security.   

Speaking in the general discussion were Colombia, Pakistan on behalf of Organization for Islamic Cooperation, European Union, Cuba, Algeria on behalf of African Group, Finland, Malaysia, Maldives, South Africa, Slovenia, United States of America, Switzerland, Botswana, Spain, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Norway, New Zealand, Venezuela, Denmark, Syria, Argentina, Austria, Angola and Indonesia.

Ethiopia and China spoke in right of reply.

The Human Rights Council will resume its work at 9 a.m. on Monday, 3 June, when it will continue its clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights and the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and practice.  It will then start a clustered interactive debate with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression and the Special Rapporteur on violence against women.

Documentation

The Council has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights (A/HRC/23/34); an addendum to the report concerning the mission of the Special Rapporteur to the Russian Federation (A/HRC/23/34/Add.1); an addendum to the report concerning the Special Rapporteur’s mission to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (A/HRC/23/34/Add.2); and an addendum to the report concerning the comments by the Russian Federation on the report of the Special Rapporteur (A/HRC/23/34/Add.3).

The Council has before it the report of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice (A/HRC/23/50); an addendum to the report concerning the Working Group’s mission to the Republic of Moldova (A/HRC/23/50/Add.1); and an addendum to the report concerning the Working Group’s mission to Tunisia (A/HRC/23/50/Add.2).

Presentation of Reports by Experts on Cultural Rights and on Discrimination against Women in Law and in Practice

FARIDA SHAHEED, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, introducing the report, said that in 2012, she had concentrated her thematic research on two distinct areas, the first related to the enjoyment of cultural rights by women on an equal basis with men, and the second related to the right to freedom of artistic expression and creation.  The report addressed the rights of all persons to freely experience and contribute to artistic expressions and creations, through individual or joint practice, to have access to and enjoy the arts, and to disseminate their expressions and creations.  Restrictions occurred at various stages of artistic creation and could result from oppressive laws and regulations, but could also be the outcome of a fear of physical or economic coercion.  Ms. Shaheed was deeply concerned that artists in many parts of the world felt threatened or had been attacked by aggressive audiences. 

States were encouraged to critically review their legislation and practice that imposed restrictions on artistic freedoms, in cooperation with representatives of independent associations of artists and human rights organizations.  States should abide by their obligation to protect all persons participating in artistic activities or disseminating artistic expressions and creations from violence by third parties.  It was necessary to assess and address more comprehensively the impact on artistic freedoms of aggressive market strategies and situations of monopolies or quasi-monopolies in the area of media and culture.  Freedom of artistic expression and creativity could not be dissociated from the right of all persons to enjoy the arts.  It was important, when resorting to possible limitations to artistic freedoms, to take into consideration the nature of artistic creativity, as well as the right of artists to dissent, to use political, religious and economic symbols as a counter-discourse to dominant powers, and to express their own belief and world vision.  Artistic expressions and creations did not always carry and should not be reduced to carrying a specific message or information and the resort to fiction and the imaginary had to be understood and respected. 

In a visit undertaken to Russia, it was agreed that since the end of the Soviet Union, substantial progress had been made in achieving the enjoyment of greater artistic freedom in the freedoms of expression, religion and participation in cultural life.  However, some actors had noted a clampdown on freedom of expression over the past five years.  The Special Rapporteur called for a shift in policy towards artistic expression criticizing political power or the Russian Orthodox Church, or both.

With regards to a visit to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, it was noted that the situation was very complex, in particular when population groups were in the process of retrieving cultures that had been lost or neglected.  One of the major challenges identified was that the archives of former colonizers constituted the main sources of information, which posed difficulties in terms of both access and content.  It was recommended, amongst other things, that the Government strengthen its support to heritage clubs in schools.

KAMALA CHANDRAKIRANA, Chairperson of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, said that progress since the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995 had been painfully slow.  The target set then of achieving 30 per cent of women in decision-making positions had not been reached; in the legislative branch of Governments, the current global average was 20 per cent.  Only 17 women were Heads of Government or State.  Women accounted for just 27 per cent of the judicial branch world wide.  The United Nations did better at lower levels but the presence of women in decision-making positions was put at 27 to 30 per cent.  Political parties were the determiners of women’s participation in politics, and these were generally exclusionary toward women.  Where progress was made, quotas played a role.  Policy outcomes that advanced gender equality involved public debate, alliance-building, and activism by women’s movements.  However, the democratic deficit in general undermined women’s participation in public and political life.  Experience of States in transition varied greatly.  Transitions presented opportunities to advance women’s representation and interests but did not always yield inclusive democracy.  Stereotypes about women’s capacities continued to negatively affect women’s participation around the world.  Women were often relegated to health and social welfare positions while economic and defence briefs went to men, distorting the power balance.  When women’s civil society organizations were active they were often targeted with harassment.  National human rights institutions played a crucial role in supporting women but as yet there were no international norms for including women’s interests in national human rights institutions.  Constitutional, legislative and judicial remedies were needed to address this issue.  Data gathering on women’s roles as distinct from other discriminating factors was scant.

The Republic of Moldova had made notable legal progress toward gender equality, however, a 2012 law that intended to promote equality contained contradictions.  There were vibrant networks of women in decision-making positions but discrimination was nonetheless observed.  The report contained recommendations including the establishment of an ombudsman for women’s human rights. 

In Tunisia, the Working Group was encouraged by the outcome of the political transition despite the polarized views the transition had unleashed.  Tunisia had a long equality tradition but there were still loopholes that could result in both regressive judicial interpretation of existing laws and regressive new laws.  The Working Group made recommendations.  Tunisia remained the State in the region with the highest percentage of women in political positions and the Working Group welcomed a parity law passed in 2011.

Statements by Concerned Countries

Russia, speaking as a concerned country, said that a number of recommendations made were useful and in line with contemporary Russian realities.  According to its Constitution, the State language across the territory was Russian.  Concern about the absolute presence of Russian in the media and publications was thus completely unfounded.  The freedom of creativity and expression were not absolute, or it could lead to become a factor for the destabilization of society.  Discrimination against sexual minorities in Russia did not exist.  The conclusion on the weakening position of women in society was unconvincing, highly disputed, and unsubstantiated.

Republic of Moldova said that the Government appreciated that the Working Group had found time to participate in a round table on the national legislation regarding gender equality, where discussions were dedicated to develop effective tools in order to regulate gender discrimination and design effective action for women’s representation in political and public life.  As mentioned in the report, the national authorities had undergone a comprehensive review of relevant legislation and amendments to bring them in line with the law on ensuring equal opportunities between women and men and European standards.  The mid-term action plan for 2013-2015 was in the final phases of consultations and was to be shortly approved. 

Tunisia, speaking as a concerned country, said its Government underlined the importance of the recommendations of the Working Group and was happy that the Working Group could see for itself the place that women held in all levels of public life.  Women had strengthened their place in the atmosphere of freedom in Tunisia that had arisen in the wake of its revolution.  Tunisia’s draft constitution enshrined equality and the rights of women were safeguarded in principle and in practice.  Tunisia would however make every effort to enact the recommendations that the Working Group made in its report as Tunisia moved toward becoming a democratic and pluralistic State.

Interactive Dialogue

Colombia said that it had taken measures to promote and protect all the rights of girls, women and other vulnerable groups, including persons of African origin.  Colombia highlighted that it was important to strengthen non-governmental organizations for women in order to increase the participation of women in public life.  In 2012 Colombia launched a gender public policy for women and it had also taken steps to ensure a gender focus in various public policies.    

Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, said that freedom of artistic expression fell within the broader ambit of the fundamental right of freedom of expression.  The report of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and practice made valuable detailed recommendations to encourage the equal participation of women in all aspects of political and public life.  The Organization for Islamic Cooperation attached great importance to women’s rights.  

European Union said that it attached great importance to the promotion of cultural rights and recognized the right of all to freedom of expression, including artistic expression and creativity.  Could the Special Rapporteur highlight some of the causes of the restrictions placed on artistic expression and explain what could be done to improve the situation?  Regarding discrimination against women, the European Union said that women’s rights to education and health, including reproductive health, should be assured.   

Cuba agreed with the Special Rapporteur that art was an important vehicle for individual expression but there had to be respect for the cultural norms.  In Cuba, the cultural policy was based on freedom of creation and the participatory, popular nature of Cuban democracy.  What was the Special Rapporteur’s opinion on foreign powers paying artists to promote regime change in certain States?  On the Working Group’s work, Cuba said it would like to know what its next theme would be.

Algeria, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said that Arab women were encouraged to participate in all forms of life, including in the workplace.  The Arab Group took note of the recommendations made by the Working Group, endorsed the constructive international and regional dialogue, and entered into the spirit of the Working Group’s report with respect to measures that would reduce violence against women.  The Internet was seen as a useful tool for the emancipation of women.

Finland said it agreed with the Working Group’s recommendations and its own national framework promoted the full equality of women but also women from other groups such as women from sexual minorities and women with disabilities.  Finland supported the importance placed by the Working Group on the sustainability and growth of autonomous women’s movements particularly in States in transition where there was a threat of regressive actions toward women’s equality.

Malaysia said that its federal constitution protected the right to freedom of expression.  Nevertheless, as provided by law, the constitution also placed permissible restrictions on such rights where it was necessary to protect national security and public order.  Malaysia, therefore, believed that the right to freedom of expression was not absolute and should be exercised with responsibility.  Malaysia also said that violence against women in all its forms undermined women’s capacity to engage in political and public life.  

Maldives said that it had one of the highest rates of female-headed households in the world.  Nevertheless, women in the political and public life still continued to be a mere fraction compared to men.  To promote the involvement of women in public life, the Government had implemented a National Gender Equality Policy.  Maldives also said that among the challenges it faced were the lack of quality education in local communities and the hesitancy of families to send a girl child away for studies.

South Africa said that it had made significant progress towards gender equality since 1994 by taking comprehensive legal measures, and called on the international community to increase cooperation in the fight against poverty.  It also encouraged States to establish national legislative frameworks in order to address the problems of discrimination, inequality and dire poverty.  South Africa was ready to collaborate with the Working Group in ensuring that women’s empowerment remained high on the list of priorities of the international community.

Slovenia said it supported the mandate of the Working Group and reiterated its commitment to the full participation of women in political and public life at all levels since this was critical to the full enjoyment of human rights by everyone in society.  Could the Working Group give some examples of innovative strategies or good practices in overcoming the tendency toward stagnation in the achievement of gender parity?

United States said artistic expression, as protected by its constitution, was vital and welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s examination of the matter and how it was essential to the protection of other rights.  The United States commended the Working Group for its report and noted that in difficult economic times, women’s voices are disproportionately affected.  Women’s participation in public life led to better societies and the United States looked forward to continuing updates from the Working Group.

Switzerland said that it supported the approach of the Working Group based on collaboration and exchange with other United Nations bodies such as the Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Commission on the Status of Women.  Switzerland encouraged the Working Group to continue its exchanges with civil society whose contribution, in its view, was essential.  Switzerland appreciated that recommendations were made not only to Governments but also to the international community. 

Botswana said that it had put in place national frameworks and mechanisms aimed at ensuring adherence to the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in both the private and public sphere.  It agreed with the Working Group’s observation that women’s full participation required concerted action to overcome stereotypes associated with their participation in sectors that were traditionally dominated by men.

Spain referred to the integration in Spain of legislation for the effective equality of women and men which introduced equality of treatment in all areas of life.  Spain valued the reference made to how political transitions provided an opportunity for States to move forward on equal representation for women.  It was concerned that in such transitions where women had fought to establish democracy, they were nonetheless excluded. 

Sri Lanka said that women in Sri Lanka enjoyed the benefits of a free education system from primary to tertiary levels, which had significantly contributed to their empowerment.  The women of Sri Lanka had obtained the right to vote ahead of many Western countries.  However, the number of women having an active leadership role in the political arena was relatively low, so Sri Lanka was encouraging more women to participate in politics.  Concerning employment, an increasing number of women were represented in the public and private sectors.

Nigeria said that there could be no democracy without the full participation of women in public and political life.  Political transitions presented States with the opportunity to democratize but it was also necessary to ensure that women were not marginalized in the process.  Much needed to be done to promote gender parity at the highest levels of the United Nations system.  Nigeria asked the Working Group to share information and best practices concerning efforts to close the “knowledge gap” mentioned in their report.

Norway said that the international film, video and music industry had made artistic expression increasingly global.  However, the conditions in which artists worked varied, with some artists being harassed, censored and persecuted because of their opinions or the form of art they performed.  The fear of censorship was often internalized by artists and art institutions, which led to self-censorship and threatened the development of free artistic expression.  What measures could be taken to strengthen artists’ awareness of human rights?    
New Zealand said that women’s participation in political and public life played an important role in its history.  However, as the report recognized, there was always more that could be done and New Zealand was committed to increasing the number of women in leadership in the different realms.  It was interested in hearing more on views from the Working Group on any examples on how to better encourage women into less traditional roles.  

Venezuela said that cultural values were an undeniable right of the people and a constitutional right that was guaranteed by the State.  Venezuela highlighted the level of shared responsibility between the artist and society.  Freedom of artistic expression and creativity may not be understood as full freedom to carry out any activity that could affect law and order in society.  Venezuela had set up a broad legal basis that made women visible in the constitution with inclusive and non-sexist language. 

Denmark said there was a need to address structural and societal discrimination against women in political and public life.  Could the Working Group elaborate on how children and youth could be better sensitized towards a positive attitude on women’s equal right to participate in decision-making at all levels?  Could the Special Rapporteur elaborate further on the need to review national legislation that might impose restrictions to the freedom of artistic expression?

Syria said that it had always paid great attention to the empowerment of women, and the participation of women in its diplomatic service was as high as 30 per cent, among other milestones.  However the greatest threat to women’s advancement in Syria today was the terrorists wreaking havoc in the country, and Syria called on those States supporting the terrorists to stop.  Women in the Golan Heights were subject to the unjust labour laws of Israel, and the Working Group had a responsibility to catalogue these abuses.

Argentina said that there could be no democracy without the true equality of women in public positions and in Argentina men and women were equal before the law; policies were in place that were designed to eliminate all forms of discrimination.  The executive branch was led by a woman in Argentina and there was much representation of women in Argentina’s public life, but more could be done and it supported the work of the Working Group.

Austria welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s specific recommendations with regard to combating censorship of artistic expression.  Where artistic expression was critical of prevalent social, economic or political circumstances, it strengthened democracy.  Austria said the recognition of artistic expression went beyond merely the upholding of the right to free speech and States should have proactive policies in this area.  Turning to the Working Group, Austria noted the difficulties of upholding the participation of women in public life in States in transition.  A coherent set of gender policies was needed to promote women in public life in such situations. 

Angola said that it attached great importance to the promotion and protection of women’s rights, which were a priority, as reflected in the implementation of international treaties and the adoption of economic and social measures aimed to improve women’s rights and combat all forms of discrimination against women.  Angola had adopted policies to promote the empowerment of women and had acceded to several relevant international instruments.  Further steps should be made to ensure gender parity at the United Nations.    

Indonesia said that it took pride in its multicultural society and that its Constitution guaranteed that all Indonesians had the right to develop themselves through the fulfillment of their basic needs.  Indonesia asked the Special Rapporteur how best to address the gap of knowledge between the judicial system and the community at large when socio-cultural and religious philosophy dominated their values vis-à-vis artistic expression and creativity.  Could the Working Group explain how women’s equal participation in political and public life could be accelerated?  

Right of Reply

Ethiopia, speaking in a right of reply, said that it valued the role of civil society groups in the development of the country in general and the realization of the right to freedom of association was guaranteed in line with international instruments.  Therefore the statement by CIVICUS was incorrect, because the number of civil society organizations operating in Ethiopia had significantly increased in recent years.     

China, speaking in a right of reply, said that it opposed the statement and unfounded accusation made by the Helsinki Human Rights Foundation in the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to education.  China had always granted the greatest importance to the rights and interests of national minorities.  Equality among the different groups was part of China’s policy.  In the autonomous region of Tibet, the Tibetan language was as important as Chinese.  It was hoped that the Foundation would avoid making any irresponsible speeches. 
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For use of the information media; not an official record