Committee on Elimination of Discrimination
8 July 2013
Hears Statements on the Situation of the Rights of Women in Afghanistan, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Dominican Republic
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon met with non-governmental organizations and a national human rights institution who briefed Experts on the situation of the rights of women in Afghanistan, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Dominican Republic. The reports of these three countries will be reviewed by the Committee this week.
Representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Afghanistan were very concerned by the confused situation in relation to the law on violence against women, which, after operating under Presidential Decree for three years, was now being challenged by parliamentarians to block its passage into law proper. It was also widely noted that women faced violence at all levels and adequate protections had not been put into place by the Government.
Speakers from NGOs in Cuba told the Committee that gender stereotypes were deep-rooted and work needed to be done to offer women opportunities to go beyond them. This could be achieved through training the women themselves as well as members of the professional sectors. Violence against women was recognised as an issue that needed action.
Organizations speaking about the Democratic Republic of the Congo said that laws on equality were struggling and the Family Code, which ensured parity, had still not been brought into force. Women were often victims of violence in their homes and a study was available to provide concrete cases of this. Access to justice, water and basic human rights remained an issue for some parts of society.
Representatives of NGOs in the Dominican Republic told the Committee there was no clear data on occasions of violence against women and, for those incidents that were reported, there was a low rate of prosecution. In addition, there was real concern over the policy of not issuing migrant children with birth certificates comparable to those given to children of permanent residents.
Speaking during the discussion were representatives from Afghanistan Women Network, Human Rights Watch, Council of Churches of Cuba, AGPA, The National Union of Jurists of Cuba, Cubalex, Coalition CCEDET et GTDFVS, Freedom from Torture, Coalition for Women’s Human Rights, Foundation Community Hope and Justice International, Open Society Justice Initiative. Musanga Timani Chimene and Justine Masika Bihamba both spoke on behalf of a number of NGOs.
The Committee will reconvene on Tuesday 9 July, at 10 a.m., to begin its consideration of the combined seventh and eight periodic report of Cuba under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW/C/CUB/7-8).
Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations
Afghanistan Women Network said the law on the elimination of violence against women, which made this violence illegal, had been challenged and the articles of the law were under amendment by politicians. This was in direct opposition to many articles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Unless actions were taken, the important achievements of the past 12 years would cease to exist. Among the progress made was the establishment of equal rights in the Constitution, a temporary measure to setting a 25 per cent quota system for the election of women, and the aforementioned law on violence against women.
Human Rights Watch said the law on violence against women had been publicly criticised on the grounds that it denounced Islam. Furthermore, the 25 per cent quota law had been set aside. It seemed that Afghan women were losing a battle to protect their rights as the international community withdrew and the Karzai Government was doing nothing to halt this. Progress had come through advocacy by activists and the Government’s support, which seemed to have dwindled. Human Rights Watch called on the Committee to make tough recommendations on a number of topics to combat this.
Council of Churches of Cuba said that stereotypes continued in churches and women were denied leadership roles. The work that had already been carried out had produced educational material based on a gender equality approach and these had been distributed in the grassroots community. The organization had also formed alliances with other groups that worked in the area of women’s rights and the prevention of violence against women. It promoted biblical thinking with a gender-based approach.
AGPA had trained 50,000 persons on issues related to gender equality and this had strengthened capacity on this important area. There were now 600 women working in agricultural jobs which had been previously considered to be masculine roles. Women now made up 23 per cent of Cuban judges. Manuals had been produced, alongside documentary films, one of them looking at the attitude of Cuban men. The experience of Cuban women had also been raised at international events.
The National Union of Jurists of Cuba said that stereotypes were deeply entrenched in Cuba and not all of them had been eliminated. So much work had been done to raise awareness of Cuban legal professionals. The challenges ahead included improving legislative norms, better training for those in the care sector, actions for victims of violence, and increasing the flow of information. The greatest limitations on human rights stemmed from the embargo imposed on Cuba by the United States.
Cubalex said that in Cuba the police had the right to decide if a case was brought to court and the victim was not involved. The lack of academic training in the police force could promote corruption. The NGO also raised the case of Sonia Garro Alfonso and asked the Committee to request information on her case. Women of African descent and lesbian and transsexual women were discriminated against and the Government needed to consider them more in policy development.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Coalition CCEDET et GTDFVS said the Democratic Republic of the Congo had strengthened its laws for the promotion and protection of women’s rights, although the draft laws on equality were still struggling in parliament. Many laws were discriminatory and a Family Code, guaranteeing parity, had not been put into place. The Democratic Republic of the Congo needed to address the situation of the 11,000 girls who were not enrolled in education. Women’s access to health was also an issue, including maternal mortality, access to retrovirals, and a lack of stocks of rape kits. Free education and scholarships should also be provided.
Musanga Timani Chimene, speaking on behalf of a group of NGOs, said that the loss of ancestral lands had had devastating effects on indigenous women who had been forced into precarious conditions and could not feed their families. The Government had taken no steps to protect the rights of indigenous women. Access to education was also an issue, often due to the lack of facilities in villages, while girls travelling long distances to school faced the threat of sexual assault. Access to health services was low and access to clean water was almost inexistent. No indigenous person held elected office and their illiteracy rates were close to 100 per cent. Without special measures this situation was unlikely to improve.
Justine Masika Bihamba, speaking on behalf of a group of NGOs, said that women were often victims of violence in their homes and this was part of a broader landscape of inequality. Women were often under-represented and excluded from the peace process, which meant that their issues were not addressed. Women faced problems in accessing justice and there were no penalties for sex crimes committed by foreigners as a war crime. Children born of rape were a challenge for the community. A special law on marital rape was needed as well as the strengthening of justice for victims of special violence.
Freedom from Torture said that its report was based on 34 accounts of physical and psychological torture against women in the country. The Government should take steps to ensure that all women in detention had access to justice and medical care; that detention conditions complied with minimum United Nations standards; that all women had access to compensation and rehabilitation; and that impunity for perpetrators was brought to an end.
Coalition for Women’s Human Rights said data on violence against women was collected in a confusing manner, which did not speak to the magnitude of the problem in the country. Female unemployment was double that of men, with a wage gap of 25.5 per cent. The education system taught traditional roles and despite the constitutional requirement to promote female participation, the rate of this was very low. The rate of teenage pregnancy was a concern. Not enough was being done to highlight and punish the crime of human trafficking.
Foundation Community Hope and Justice International said issues for women in the Dominican Republic included a low rate of conviction for domestic violence, impunity in cases of trafficking and sexual harassment, a lack of state shelters for women victims of trafficking, a lack of equal access to public positions of decision making, a lack of gender balance in the diplomatic service, a high rate of female unemployment and unequal pay rates.
Open Society Justice Initiative said the situation concerning nationality for persons of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic had deteriorated as a result of administrative measures. These included different birth certificates for children of non-resident mothers. The Migration Law had been applied retroactively to restrict the issue of documents and the instruction to healthcare providers was to contact the authorities if a mother giving birth did not have a passport so that they may begin an investigation into her status.
Questions from Experts
An Expert wondered what kind of collaboration or solidarity the NGOs had formed with women parliamentarians to protect the quota system? Another asked which special measures had been in place with regards to women in Afghanistan? Was it possible for victims of sexual violence in Cuba to bring a case in a court of law if the police decided this was not appropriate? Were there any studies supporting the relationship between economic distress and violence in the family in Cuba? On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, an Expert asked about efforts for the free distribution of condoms to prevent transmission?
Also, where could the text of the draft Family Code be found? Was the delegation asking for the guarantee of 50 per cent on lists for parliamentary seats, or 50 per cent representation in the houses of government? Was there a connection between the availability of weapons and the level of violence? What was the current situation in relation to the availability of abortion? Was the Dominican nationality law available somewhere? On Cuba, an Expert wondered about assisted fertilisation programmes, as well as the impact of abortion? Was authorisation required for the marriage of girls aged 13?
There was a law on violence against women in Afghanistan, what potential support was there for efforts to reject amendments to the law against violence? What was the role of the Ministry for Women in this regard? Was there support for the amendments? Was there updated information on women that had fled their homes, and was this a criminal offence? Why was the distribution of condoms in Cuba such an issue? Was there a critical mass in relation to abortion in the Dominican Republic? On Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which were the two priority areas that would stop the further deterioration of the situation? How much was being done in Afghanistan to look at positive opportunities for women in Islamic law? Which issues would be most effective to raise with the Delegation of Afghanistan?
Responses by Delegations
Representatives of NGOs in Afghanistan said that the quota under challenge was the quota for provincial council members and that this was to be posed as a question to the lower house to see what their position would be. The biggest concerns for the countries were in the next 18 months and it was uncertain what would happen next. It was therefore important to call out for support internationally. If there was not even a law in the country to ensure that atrocities against women were punishable then what else was possible? The best possible situation was that the proposal for amendments to the violence against women law was withdrawn and the law, which had been in use for three years, operated as it once had. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs was for supporting this, though the Ministry itself was marginalised. The two key priorities were to have this law, and to have female participation in the peace process in Doha.
Representatives of NGOs in the Dominican Republic said the Criminal Code which was recently approved by the Chamber of Deputies had removed the criminal nature of an abortion in certain cases. This had been discussed in the Senate for over 15 years, and there was a critical role from over 30 organizations which had started to change the nation’s mindset. It was suggested that the scope for abortion could be explained from simply health concerns to rape or incest. Before 2010, the Central Electoral Board denied migrant children birth certificates, and although a decision had gone against them and forced them to offer such documentation, the Constitution was then changed to say that only those that were the offspring of legal migrants would receive papers. Court cases did come through the office of the prosecutor and legal aid was available in some other situations. Assisted reproduction was available and lesbians could benefit from this. Plans were in place to improve sex education for adolescents.
Representatives of NGOs in the Democratic Republic of Congo said efforts had been made on the healthcare of women that risked passing HIV to their child, mostly through counselling, though this was not always possible. It was difficult to access post-exposure to HIV kits as there were often low stocks. This was the same for stocks of retroviral and the United Nations needed to address this rather then leave it to development partners. It was recommended that the arms treaty at the United Nations level be ratified to improve security for women. In April a law was adopted which allowed women to act as legal persons and enter contracts; the reform of the Family Court was recommended.
Representatives of NGOs in Cuba said living conditions and how people lived together in Cuba could have an impact on family violence and this had been communicated to the Government to ask them to develop a multi-disciplinary approach. With respect to labour there was no limitation on women and they were able to join the labour market or have children as they saw fit.
Statement from the Independent Human Rights Institution in Afghanistan
A representative from the independent human rights institution in Afghanistan, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said that human rights were now being promoted compared to a decade ago – including in education. The Independent Human Rights Commission had improved its capacity to work against human right violations, and ensured prevention of abuses through its investigations.
Unfortunately, few women had ministerial positions, and the ability of women to use their rights was a concern, such as in access to justice and in reproductive health. Women faced violence at all levels and only half of young women were able to access to education. The number of at-risk women was high due to family violence and there were only 16 shelters. The traditional justice system limited women’s access to justice. Rape and honour killings were common human rights violations. The mechanisms to report sexual harassment was weak and workplace rights were not easily enforced. The government should better provide for access to justice and female judges should be deployed in Family Courts. The fight against corruption should be strengthened.
Questions from the Experts
What capacity did the Commissioners have to act? Was the Commission using the CEDAW Convention when giving advice? What was the current state of the law on violence against women? Were other laws relevant in cases of violence against women, offering another avenue to act? Had the presence of the American Army exacerbated the situation?
Replies from the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission
The CEDAW Convention was very important as applicable under the Constitution, making it the responsibility of the Government to review this, alongside other treaties. On the law on violence against women, members of the Parliament did not agree with gender equality and this matter was also being spoken against by religious leaders, for this reason it was important to have the support of the international community. After the reporting of many cases of honour killings, the Commissioner had travelled around the country to investigate the causes, which included when women were not honest with men. The Americans had promised peace and security and brought neither. There was no clear strategy and coordination between the international community. This lack of security also exacerbated the issue of honour-killings.
NICOLE AMELINE, Chairperson of the Committee, in concluding remarks, thanked the non-governmental organizations and the national human rights institution for their valuable contribution.
For use of the information media; not an official record