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

 Committee on Elimination of Discrimination 
  against Women 

2 October 2013

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined seventh and eighth periodic report of Colombia on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Presenting the report, Nigeria Renteria, Chief Presidential Advisor on Women’s Affairs of Colombia, set out institutional, legislative and practical progress made since the last report of Colombia, which included laws to fight violence against women and to provide for victims of Colombia’s armed conflict, as well as the creation of the High Presidential Council for Women’s Equality.  The Government sought to develop women’s economic and social empowerment and their participation in decision making positions, and focused on four areas: peace-building and cultural change, economic independence and work-life balance, promotion of women’s participation in decision-making bodies, and drafting a comprehensive plan to ensure women could live free from violence. 

Alma Bibiana Perez, Director of the Presidential Human Rights and International Law Programme, co-presenting the report, spoke about actions taken to protect women human rights defenders and a law on quotas to increase women’s political participation.  She also referred to the gender equality plan and legislation on women’s employment, policy to prevent teenage pregnancies and provide family-planning services, and the Rural Women’s Programme which provided for land restitution.  Colombia sought to reduce levels of underreporting and impunity in cases of violence against women and to guarantee justice and comprehensive reparations for victims. 

Committee Members commended the delegation for the many reforms they had implemented although they expressed concern about a wide gap between legislation passed and the real situation of women on the ground.  The on-going armed conflict was widely discussed, particularly women’s role in the peace negotiations, as well as women victims of sexual and other forms of violence, and trafficking, related to the conflict.  Experts were concerned about the very high abortion rate, despite abortion being legalized in 2006, and discrimination in the field of employment.   The situation of Roma women and girls, and discrimination faced by women with disabilities, indigenous women and Afro-Colombia women was also discussed.

In concluding remarks Nicole Ameline, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue and encouraged it to take all necessary measures to address the various recommendations of the Committee, for the benefit of all women and girls in the country. 

Ms. Renteria said the Government of Colombia worked daily to overcome the gender gap.  The Government looked forward to the Committee’s recommendations and would do its best to abide by them. 

The delegation of Colombia included representatives of the Office of the President, the Presidential Council for Women’s Equality, the Presidential Human Rights and International Law Programme, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Health, Special Administrative Management Unit for Land Restitution, the General Directorate for Women and Gender Group Coordination Unit for Support and Reparations for Victims, and the Permanent Mission of Colombia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will reconvene on Thursday, 3 October, at 10 a.m. when it will start its review of the fourth periodic report of Benin.

Report

The combined seventh and eighth periodic report of Colombia can be read via the link: (CEDAW/C/COL/7-8)

Presentation of the Report

NIGERIA RENTERIA, Chief Presidential Advisor on Women’s Affairs of Colombia, began by outlining some institutional progress made since the last report of Colombia.  In September 2012 a comprehensive plan to ensure women could live a life free from violence was launched, along with Government guidelines; the related Action Plan 2013 to 2016 had a budget of $1.8 million, while the 10 year Gender Equality Policy sought to bring about cultural change.  The High Presidential Council for Women’s Equality sought to develop women’s economic and social empowerment and their participation in decision making positions, and focused on four areas: peace-building and cultural change, economic independence and work-life balance, promotion of women’s participation in decision-making bodies, and drafting a comprehensive plan to ensure women could live free from violence. 

Women often suffered from multiple discrimination not only because of their gender, but also because of their ethnicity, disability, age, location and other reasons.  A major legislative advance in combating violence against women, including domestic violence, was a 2012 law that obliged the State to protect women and outlined the duties of society to prevent violence against women, and also provided for harsher penalties for perpetrators.  The Intersectoral Commission on the Eradication of Violence against Women, established in 2010, recognized the multidimensional nature of violence against women and had been granted $150 million in funding for the 2013 to 2016 period.  A national hotline, number 155, had been established for women victims of violence, and the Commission’s initiatives included training for the judiciary. 

In the context of the armed conflict, the State’s response to all forms of violence against women and its support for victims was formulated in partnership with civil society.  A law on victims and the land reform included both material and symbolic measures, as well as measures to combat impunity and increase prosecutions, and gave the burden of proof to the State.  A new 2013 ruling prohibiting illegally-acquired small arms would also have a positive impact.  By 31 August 2013, figures showed there had been 5.7 million victims of the conflict, of who 2.7 million were women.  As 50 per cent of the victims of the conflict were women, the comprehensive reparations provided by that law were very important.  Reparations for ethnic minority groups were subject to prior consultation with communities of people of African descent and indigenous groups.  Ms. Renteria delivered a large number of disaggregated statistics, which included the percentage of conflict-related crimes involving women, who made up 59.8 per cent of enforced disappearances, 12 per cent of murders, and 81 per cent of sexual violence cases.  A further 394 women victims of the conflict were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. 

ALMA BIBIANA PEREZ, Director of the Presidential Human Rights and International Law Programme, spoke about the importance of women who were human rights defenders and leaders and said the Government had launched a programme to guarantee their health and safety.  Following the Committee’s recommendation, the 2000 law on quotas to increase women’s political participation as a form of temporary measure had led to promising results.  There were 16,972 women candidates at the 2007 elections, a number that increased by 47 per cent in the 2011 elections, when there were 36,137 women candidates.  In 2012, a committee called CERRUM was put in place to implement the Committee’s recommendations.  Colombia had also launched a gender equality plan for women’s employment that provided companies with an ‘equality seal’ if they proved that they supported and promoted women in the workforce.  The 2010 Employment Law had affirmative action components, such as providing tax credits to companies that employed women who were older than 40, or were the head of a household. 

A policy to prevent teenage pregnancies was adopted in 2012, as per the Committee‘s recommendation.  Colombia provided comprehensive information and support before, during and following abortion procedures.  Contraception and family planning services were available and the professionals providing those services were trained, although more training was needed for members of the judiciary to raise awareness of the abortion law.  The Rural Women’s Programme sought to ensure women could own their own land and have means of production.  It also included them in the wide-ranging land-restitution plan to return land to those it had been taken from. 

In the short-term, Colombia wanted to strengthen the institutional machinery for gender-equality policies, develop strategies and ensure State budgets matched the needs of women.  In the medium term, the Government hoped to achieve access and opportunities for women, particularly in the fields of labour, education and political participation.  In the long term, it wanted to ensure its society had knowledge of women’s rights.  It also sought to reduce levels of impunity in cases of violence against women and the underreporting of cases, as well as guarantee justice and comprehensive reparations for victims.  Colombia also wanted to follow-up on all rules, policies and programmes put in place and study indicators on how effective they were in the different regions of the country. 

Questions by the Experts 

An Expert spoke about the peacebuilding efforts to find a solution to the on-going armed conflict in Colombia and asked about women’s involvement in the peace process, particularly in light of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, on women in peacekeeping and peacebuilding. 

The work of the Court of Justice was recognized throughout the region, but sadly there were contradictions between the three branches of Government that made the realization of women’s rights complex and inadequate.  One area of huge concern concerned the reproductive rights of women.  It was reported that prosecutors working on sexual crimes were not trained, and in some cases not aware of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.   Did the State party provide training on the Convention and women’s rights?

An Expert asked how the special high-level body that dealt with women’s rights, CERREM, coordinated with other bodies at the highest levels, especially given its small budget.  Non-discrimination was enshrined in the Constitution of Colombia, an Expert said, but would the State party consider having a non-discrimination plan in order to respect the modern concept of equality? 

Response by the Delegation

In response to these questions and comments and others, the delegation said that the CERREM advisory body for women had been set up under the Office of the President, and sought to implement the Government’s equality and non-discrimination strategy.  It was a cross-cutting strategy that meant gender equality groups in each Government Ministry worked together, and currently eight Ministries were involved.  CERREM had a secretariat, and it coordinated and guided the work of the gender-equality groups.  It was staffed and had a small, operational budget (less than $1 million per year), but it was not equivalent to a Ministry and could not carry out the workload of a Ministry, although the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had previously recommended that Colombia did so.  CERREM sought to play a technical advisory role and to strengthen the gender equality groups. 

Regarding training of judicial officials, a delegate said protocols had been created on how to investigate cases of sexual violence against women.  Expert judges for those sort of crimes were trained by the Prosecutor’s Office on how to carry out such investigations.  Furthermore, with support from the United Nations and the Governments of Germany and the United States, Colombia was setting up guidelines for officials on how to care for women victims of sexual violence, including rehabilitation measures. 

Regarding peacebuilding and the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which was commonly known as the blueprint for women in peacekeeping, a delegate confirmed that it was the women’s movement in Colombia that had promoted that resolution since the beginning.  When it came to peacebuilding, women were involved in peace negotiations, but there was more than that.  It was true that the greatest impact of the conflict fell upon the shoulders of women.  There had been interaction with women’s groups on how to best make reparations to victims.  There was significant representation of women leaders and movers in that sector.  It was true that there was no woman leader of the peacebuilding negotiations, which were led by the President himself, although two women were involved in the broader process.  Furthermore the three deputies to the High Commissioner for Peace were all women.  Colombia was aware of what the international community was saying about that, but it was important to note that it was the President taking the lead on this process and the President who made those decisions.  Just last week the President made an important statement at the United Nations General Assembly which the delegation said it had shared with the Committee, on how his country was taking on board the opinions of the international community on the Colombian peacebuilding process. 

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 was about the participation of women in peacekeeping, a delegate agreed, but issues included the treatment of women who had been displaced.  However, she could confirm that there was a great deal of discussion and work being done on that issue.  The head of delegation emphasized that the peace process was being led by the President, in Havana, and the six top negotiators were all men.  However, there were three Directors and six Deputy Directors who were women.  A high percentage of staff in the President and Legal Officers was women, providing advice, working on documents and so on.  She said the delegation would certainly convey the Committee’s concerns to the President, that he could not rule women out, no matter how sensitive the negotiations. 

Questions by the Experts

An Expert said she was impressed by the huge quantity of laws, programmes, orders and action plans developed by the Government.  Continuing, she said she was also impressed by the glaring gap between those high-level policies and the situation of women on the ground.  She commented that the State party’s report was far too long, more than three times longer than the maximum length allowed; some of its annexes were not translated.  The very lengthy report and answers to the list of issues still did not give a direct and concise view of the situation in Colombia. 

Despite the many efforts of the Government, the issue of racism and racial discrimination remained serious and was also structural.  That fed into the problem of multiple discrimination of women.  The groups concerned were mainly African-Colombian and indigenous women.  The Anti-Discrimination Act of 2011, which was passed as a follow-up to the Durban Conference on Racism, did not have a specific approach for women.  The Attorney-General had reportedly asked for its appeal.  Was the State party intending to amend that Act to incorporate a gender-dimension and specifically address the needs of African-Colombian and indigenous women?

The ruling of 2006 on three cases of abortion was not implemented, an Expert said.  How was the Government working to make sure the executive and the judiciary marched in step and abided by each other’s decisions.  Another Expert asked for more information on military courts. 

Response by the Delegation

A new Statutory Law had ruled that military courts could no longer consider crimes of sexual violence, as well as crimes of genocide, enforced disappearances and crimes against humanity.  That law was currently before the Constitutional Court. 

A delegate said there was work to be done in terms of tackling racial discrimination, particularly against women.  The Government was currently drafting a bill on support for ethnic minorities.  An Indigenous Public Policy was being put in place for indigenous peoples that had a gendered approach. 

Answering the Committee’s concerns about the sheer length of the report, a delegate emphasized that Colombia did have a lot of policies, programmes, laws and actions that it wanted to mention in the report to keep the Committee up to date with the progress made.  As it was a combined report it covered quite a lengthy period during which many policies had been put in place to prevent discrimination against women. 

Regarding the clash between the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Executive, a delegate said the Constitutional Court had always defended human rights, but there were divergences and they were part of the democratic process.  Civil society played a crucial role in that.  Gender training programmes were provided.

Questions by the Experts

In 2002 Colombia ratified the Rome Statute.  How did the Government intend to fulfil its obligations under that, which included investigating crimes of sexual violence in a conflict under international law, not domestic law?  There was a law that allowed military actors to benefit from de facto amnesties, even if guilty of crimes of sexual and other violence against women.  

All over the world violence was fuelled by discrimination and discrimination was usually rooted in stereotypes.  Was the fight against stereotypes a priority for the Government, an Expert asked?  That was the reason why there was opposition from civil society, and even why women themselves sometimes hampered progress.  The Expert also asked about the 183 individual cases of sexual violence against women and girls which the Constitutional Court ordered in 2008 to be pursued, how many had been brought to trial?

Although the armed conflict was a large concern, the Committee was also worried about daily cases of violence that women experienced at home, an Expert said, giving as examples the fact that female genital mutilation was not illegal, and in another case a judge justified a case of incest and threw it out of court. 

How were women with disabilities protected, as they were sometimes institutionalized without their permission, or given protection orders?  The legal guardians of those women were not supervised.  A person gave testimony to the Committee who knew her rights, but had been deemed unfit to make her own decisions. 

Despite its length the country report was almost silent on the issue of prostitution, an expert said, defining it only in relation to legislation on trafficking in persons for sexual purposes.  Of course the definition was correct in those instances, but even though the two forms of sexual exploitation – prostitution and trafficking in persons – were linked, they should be dealt with separately.  What about so-called voluntary prostitution, which was legalized and tolerated in Colombia. Did the Government have any plans to prevent prostitution, including so-called voluntary prostitution?  Did the Government have plans to penalize sex-buyers, or clients, as had successfully been modelled in some European countries? 

Response by the Delegation

Colombia knew there was a major gap between the laws and policies, and how vital it was to effectively implement them to establish real gender equality, a delegate said.  The delegate knew it was crucial to think carefully about the Committee’s recommendations and go beyond ‘dead letter’ laws, to have standards, budgets and objectives.  In the short term, Columbia wanted to create the institutional machinery to establish trained staff, capacities and policies for women.  In the medium term, the Government wished to adopt temporary policy measures in the area of employment, and in the long term, it wanted to bring about cultural shifts to embody equality rather than discrimination.  From 2013 to 2016, the Government assigned a budget of $1.8 million for the implementation of women’s policies.

There was an attempt to bring about cultural change in education and eradicate gender stereotypes against women, with the help of civil society and the assistance of the Committee’s General Comment Number 19.  A broad-based media campaign was being designed to fight stereotypes in the media, and would hopefully be launched in January.  The Government had had many meetings with influential people in the media, in coordination with the broadcasting body.  A delegate said they would reply to the Committee in writing regarding media campaigns against violence against women. 

There were 476 cases of trafficking in persons currently before the Prosecutor’s Office, of both domestic and international trafficking.  Women were disproportionately the victims of such cases.  Agreements with countries including Panama and Ecuador had been put in place to ensure swift prosecutions.  There were currently 88 arrest warrants, and 57 sentencing rulings for such cases.  Those cases were a priority area within the Prosecutor’s Office.
 
Female genital mutilation was not tolerated.  The Government needed to work more precisely on its follow-up.  However, it was very difficult to obtain reliable information on the registration of cases of female genital mutilation, as it happened behind closed doors, in private, in isolated communities, far from hospitals and health centres.  The female genital mutilation occurred at delivery, and often health practitioners did not attend births.  Only cases involving women who had been hospitalized for complications were registered.  The Family Welfare Institute was carrying out awareness-raising and training of midwives, who had been instrumental in making the practice less prevalent.  Today indigenous communities recognized that female genital mutilation was a harmful practice, and had even ruled that the practice should be banned.  Midwives or anyone else who carried out female genital mutilation were prosecuted. 

A delegate from the Ministry of the Interior said in general they worked more on trafficking in persons, than prostitution on its own, but that did not mean it should not be tackled.  The delegate referred to a recent Constitutional Court ruling which dealt with the question of domestic servitude and all of its implications, which gave the Ministry a real possibility to start substantive work with all State institutions on exploitation through domestic servitude, especially in rural areas, where such acts were considered socially acceptable.  The Ministry was working hard to make people understand that victims of trafficking had been trafficked against their will.

Regarding internal cases of trafficking in persons, the Public Prosecutor had programmes that sought to oversee sites where trafficking, and especially sexual exploitation, took place.  Those locations were often mines or sites of mega extractive projects, where men sexually exploited women who had often been trafficked. 

Prostitution was not a crime in Colombia, as long as the prostitute was over the age of 18 years.  It was illegal for girls under the age of 18 to be prostitutes, and there was a Government programme to care for them.  Many local authority bodies worked with people who wanted to stop being a prostitute and find a different job.  A delegate said perhaps there had been less focus on prostitution in general because the armed conflict and associated crimes had taken centre stage. 

Regarding the investigation and prosecution of cases of sexual violence against women by the Public Prosecution Office, there had been 1,214 cases of sexual violence in the armed conflict dealt with by the ordinary courts system, with 577 charges levelled.  The issue was a priority, and the reporting and prosecution of those cases was closely monitored.  Strategies to ensure the investigations were effective were based on a victim attention model.  There was a witness protection programme.  And for the past three months, there was a gender protection model.  There were also specific provisions for indigenous women and women of African descent.  The Public Prosecution Office aimed to analyse the context in which cases occurred.  Over the next four years the Government would invest $115 million just for gender-based violence.

Regarding acts of sexual violence committed by the FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People's Army), the delegation said Law 1448 on victims and land restitution clearly included a gendered approach and considered all the acts that could lead to women becoming victims, such as displacement or eviction from their land, as well as all the ramifications of acts of sexual violence.  When women reported acts of sexual violence the details, statements and context of the crime were registered, although there were several such registers in Colombia.  Women who were community leaders were even more vulnerable to acts of sexual violence.  Taking into account cultural contexts had led to an increase in reporting of those crimes.  The delegate added that Law 119 meant that victims of organized criminal gangs, such as the Bactrim, could also be included in the register.

Regarding the protection of women with disabilities, a delegate from the Ministry of Health said that Colombia had ratified and promulgated the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  Under that edict Colombia had been involved in many activities, including on the sexual and reproductive rights and health of persons with disabilities.  There were two situations: first when a person with cognitive or sensorial disabilities was not able to take decisions for him or herself – in that case the Government must make sure all services were provided with the consent of the person’s parents or guardian.  When a person did have the capacity to make his or her own decisions, the Government must provide them with all the information and resources they needed to access services, including pregnancy, and if necessary, abortion, services.  A law had been passed on voluntary sterilization for men and women; no action could be taken without the permission of the person involved, or of their parents or guardians.

Regarding the Rome Statute and the Legal Framework for Peace, a delegate said the Attorney General automatically took on acts of genocide or crimes against humanity, in the context of armed conflict and or a systematic series of attacks against a certain people; such crimes would automatically be prosecuted by the State, as part of a general agreement between the Government and FARC.  The State had an obligation to investigate and judge those crimes as part of the transitional justice system. 

Questions from the Experts

An Expert asked for an update on the pending decree on witness protection, as well as for details on how the internal trafficking of women was being addressed, as it was worsening.  In the Committee’s last concluding observations it raised concern about links between drug trafficking and other forms of trafficking, especially as women and girls were usually used as ‘mules’ to carry the drugs.  Finally, if prostitution reform was dealt with at the local level, what rehabilitation services were allowed for?

An Expert asked about political participation and temporary measures to achieve de facto equality.  Constitutionally Colombia had a problem which was resolved with regard to elections for women.  However, despite that solution the Expert was concerned that Colombia was the only country in the region with a quota – of 30 per cent - for the executive branch of Government, but the Executive branch did not respect the 30 per cent quota.  If the Government leaders did not respect their own guidelines, how could regional and local governments be expected to follow suit?  Leadership needed to be shown.  Furthermore, what was being done to protect human rights defenders? 

Secondly, it was one thing to have a quota for elections, but in terms of the Inter Parliamentary Union’s ranking of countries and elections, Colombia was number 104 in the world.  Colombia had many qualified political leaders who were women.  So there was a contradiction there in terms of the Inter Parliamentary Union’s ranking.  A number of seats were set aside for indigenous women but only one had become a member of Parliament. 
Finally, an Expert congratulated Colombia for having an outstanding Foreign Minister and for employing lots of women within the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

Response from the Delegation

Regarding women in leadership roles, a delegate explained that the latest figures showed that 1,711 out of 3,673 leadership positions were held by women in the Executive branch of Government.  Only one leadership position was held by a woman in the Judicial branch of Government, and 16 per cent of leadership roles in the Legislative branch were held by women.  There were 19 special development meetings working on increasing women’s participation. 

Concerning prior consultation processes with women, particularly in groups of ethnic minorities that traditionally sent more men than women to take part in consultative processes, the Ministry of the Interior was concerned about the situation and was working closely to identify women leaders in the regions in order to promote their participation directly.  With support from United Nations Population Fund, the Government was targeting its efforts to the regions where it could have the most impact.

Turning to women leaders in the diplomatic service, a delegate said 26 per cent of Embassies were led by women, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs was a woman.  The two sub ministries under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were also led by women, as was the secretariat.  Concerning the number of seats set aside in parliament for indigenous women, a delegate said that there was not a single elected indigenous women in Parliament. 

The protection of human rights defenders was led by the Ministry of the Interior, which worked with women’s social movements to incorporate gender issues in everything linked to effective protection of those human rights leaders, who faced threats because of their position and work.   In 2013 the Government hoped to finalize the creation of a legal instrument that would guarantee the safety of female human rights leaders, and incorporate complementary protection measures designed to protect the other rights of women that were impacted by their work.

Questions from the Experts

On education, an Expert spoke about school enrolment rates and regretted that the data on them was not disaggregated by gender or ethnicity, so the Committee could not see how the system catered to the needs of girls, including girls of African descent and indigenous girls. 

The drop-out rates at all levels of school were a concern, although the Committee said it was good that girls had lower drop-out rates than boys.  Nevertheless, girls’ drop-out from school was still too high, the Expert said.  The two reasons for them were a shortage of educational resources and an inappropriateness of education provided, which was repetitive and reduced the motivation of students to learn.

Furthermore, the school drop-out rate for pregnant girls was 50 per cent, probably due to sexist stereotypes and the poor gender training of teachers and officials who worked in the schools.  What about education rates for girls with disabilities?  How did the Government assess the impact of its gender-based measures taken in the areas of sex-based and reproductive education? 

Concerning tertiary education, the drop-out rates of girls and women from university degrees was extremely high, at 47 per cent, with 60 per cent from technology and vocational (Tech-Voc) courses, an Expert regretted, asking what was being done to stop the extremely high attrition rate and to keep girls in higher education.   

Regarding employment, an Expert identified serious structural problems.  The employment rate was 20 per cent lower for women than men, female unemployment was higher, and the pay gap persisted.  However, programmes to train women in non-traditional sectors, such as construction, were commended, and the Committee would like to see more of them.  The Committee noted the Law 1496 on equal pay, but along with the International Labour Organization was concerned that the legislation did not reflect the principle of ‘equal pay for equal work of equal value’.  

The Expert commended the State party for its affirmative action, by law, in enhancing women’s employment opportunities by giving tax deductions to companies and employers that employed women over the age of 40, under the age of 28, and who were the heads of households.  Did it have data on how successful that programme had been?

What about the informal work sector, which was dominated by women?  How were those girls and women domestic workers having their social security cared for?  Did the State party plan to ratify International Labour Organization Convention 189 on providing decent work for domestic workers?  The Expert asked for information on cases of sexual harassment at work, and also on the impact of the Free Trade Agreement negotiated with the United States and Canada, which included human rights but not women’s rights. 

Response by the Delegation

The two issues of education and employment were deeply linked, a delegate said, and therefore it was good to speak about them together.  Turning first to the question on disaggregated data for school drop-out rates, a delegate said that 1.3 million girls were enrolled in both the primary and secondary sector, just slightly more than boys in school, of those numbers the drop-out rates were 12.8 per cent for girls in 2012 and 14.9 per cent for boys; the figures were almost similar for girls and boys.  The biggest problem was women not staying in the education system for a sufficient length of time, they were more likely to drop-out as they got older.  Typically girls dropped out of school because of traditional roles, such as carers or pregnancy, and boys dropped out in order to work.

The Ministry of Education had a programme to tackle school drop-out and in 2012 created a Gender Unit that embarked upon a series of policies to ensure girls and boys stayed in school longer.  Those policies included a flexible syllabus, training, teenage pregnancy prevention programmes that had components to ensure pregnant girls stayed in school. and other initiatives aimed at indigenous groups.  Pupils in Grade Ten were able to stay in school without incurring extra costs. 

Teenage pregnancy was a big concern as most girls dropped out of school because they became pregnant.  The Government programme aimed to reduce the teenage pregnancy rate, which was around 19 per cent, to 15 per cent over the next two years, and targeted not only adolescent girls but children as young as six years old.  Regarding the curricula, the Government sought to eradicate discriminatory practices, and to prepare girls to have the skills to pursue careers linked to science, maths or physics, as typically girls performed less well in those subjects as they got older. 

International Labour Organization Convention 189 had already been ratified by Colombia, in 2012, a delegate confirmed.  Convention 189, which protected the rights of domestic workers, was already in force in Colombia.  Pragmatic proposals to set out the number of hours per week a domestic worker should work, as well as how to verify their skills, were being set out.  Sexual harassment in the workplace was being tackled by labour inspectors who gave training on all forms of harassment.  The Free Trade Agreement, made with the United States, Canada and the European Union, included a labour agreement as an annex.  

Continuing, a delegate explained that new legislation for the period 2013 to 2016 aimed to tackle the specific problems women faced in employment; the gender pay gap, maternity rights, access to the employment market, and balancing work concerns with family life.  There were also awareness-raising programmes aimed at both urban and rural areas.  The ‘equality seal’ was given to companies that had gender-friendly policies, and gave fair salaries.  Policies were in place to get rid of the gender pay gap and other inequalities between men and women. 

Questions from the Experts

Turning to the area of women’s sexual and reproductive health, and specifically abortion, an Expert said abortion rates in Colombia were extremely high.  The Committee only had 2008 figures, but they showed that that year 400,400 abortions were carried out, of which only 0.01 per cent were legal.  Moreover, 130,000 of those women suffered complications following the abortion but only one per cent of them were treated.  Between seven and 13 per cent of the abortions resulted in a maternal death.  The number of abortions had increased by 20 per cent between 1999 and 2008.  Those figures showed an appalling non-respect of the 2006 Constitutional Court decision to legalize abortion, the Expert said, in the light of which the number of legal abortions should be much higher and the number of illegal abortions should be much lower. 

Furthermore, it was known that a great many health providers refused to give abortion services even though women fulfilled the legal criteria for them.  A 2012 Human Rights Watch report showed that women victims of violence, in particular internally displaced persons, were often not given access to health services or informed about them.  In cases where women were given access, they were not treated rapidly enough to guarantee that proof of rape or sexual assault could be taken for forensic purposes and future prosecution, nor were they given emergency contraception against the risk of pregnancy, and medication against the risk of HIV infection.  The Expert asked how health personnel, including administrative staff in hospitals, were being trained to increase abortion provisions in Colombia, in particular for the poorest women.  How were judges being made to sanction doctors who refused to perform abortions, and were the doctors and health institutions themselves sanctioned, such as by the withdrawal of their right to practice medicine?

The State party was commended for many efforts in increasing the availability of contraception, but there was clearly a big problem in that regard given the very high number of abortions.  How did the Government plan to implement its numerous measures? 

Sterilization was the most-used method of contraception in Colombia.  Were women being coerced into using that method, instead of reversible contraceptive methods?  The Committee had information that women with disabilities, indigenous women and women of African descent were particularly susceptible to forced sterilization.  Concerning HIV AIDS, the report did not seem to contain information on the availability of anti-retroviral drugs and the infection rate. 

An Expert asked about the economic empowerment of women in Colombia.  How well could women access credit and bank loans, including micro credit schemes, and how was the Ministry for Economic Development cooperating with other Ministries, such as the Ministry for Welfare, to improve economic opportunities for women. 

The poverty and the forced displacement of women in rural areas, as well as the impact of the armed conflict on rural women, were issues raised by one Expert, who said the problem was very acute in conflict-affected zones in rural Colombia, where large areas of land were often owned by one person. 

The on-going discrimination faced by indigenous women and by Afro-Colombian women, particularly those living in rural areas, was a concern to the Committee, an Expert said.  Reports from non-governmental organizations showed grave violations committed against those women, who continued to be disproportionately affected by the armed conflict, as identified by several United Nations Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts.  Could the Committee provide information on what results its policies on ending discrimination against those groups had had?

Response from the Delegation

The abortion rates were a cause for concern, said a delegate.  Women must be able to access abortion services, and that was what the Constitutional Court had said.  The Ministry of Health was working on the issue, it had passed laws, conducted training of medical practitioners and private and public sector health service workers, conducted awareness-raising, and promoted the Constitutional Court decision.  However, there was a high turnover of staff in the health sector, therefore training had to be on-going.  Health practitioners had been trained in specialized abortion techniques.  The equipment and running procedures of clinics were now regulated; staff must be qualified, trained and abide by the law.  They must have the instruments to gather forensic material from rape victims, and also be able to support victims of violence.  The Ministry also worked with the Colombian Association of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians so they knew the best practice to care for victims, and for pre and post abortion care.  Anti-retroviral drugs for HIV had been available for some years and it was compulsory to make them available to rape victims. 

It was illegal to carry out sterilization without the consent of the woman involved, or the parents of a minor, or the legal guardians of a woman with disabilities.  The Government had not heard of any cases of the sterilization of women who had HIV AIDS.

Modern contraceptives and family planning services were provided via the healthcare plan, for adolescents and adults.  Family planning and sexual and reproductive health services aimed especially at adolescents had been extended throughout the country, particularly in rural and remote areas. 

Regarding the follow-up question on conscientious objection to abortion, a delegate confirmed that a doctor could claim a conscientious objection to carrying out an abortion, but a health service could not, and was obliged to find somebody else to grant the abortion.  The delegate further confirmed that the Ministry of Health had provided training on the least aggressive and non-invasive abortion methods, such as aspiration.

Regarding temporary special measures for women’s economic empowerment, a concern about credit was to be able to separate credit awarded to women away from credit given in the fight against poverty, credit that could empower women and develop their capacities.  There was credit for rural woman and also credit for urban women.  The budget assigned for that was $1.5 billion, most of which was set aside as loans.
                      
The law on victims and land restitution provided restitution for surviving victims of the armed conflict.  A major advance had been a change in the burden of proof to the State, so that women claiming their land back no longer had to demonstrate that they once owned the land.  The Land Restitution Unit had a specific programme to help women access their land, partnered by the National Association of Female Peasant Workers from Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Backgrounds, a non-governmental organization working at the forefront in the field, and in the implementation of the law.  The Government also worked closely with the mining and energy companies to prevent violence and exploitation in those areas. 

Concerning lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, a delegate said the Constitutional Courts had protected same-sex relationships and other rights, such as the right to pension.  The Congress – and the country in general - was currently debating the issue of same-sex and fair marriage.  Property ownership was protected for couples who, although not married, had a recognized union. 

Regarding early and forced marriage, and whether children between the age of 14 and 18 could marry, a delegate said any individual under 18 years was considered to be an adolescent, and their protection was guaranteed, with support from Family Welfare Officers. 

Concluding Remarks

NICOLE AMELINE, Chairperson of the Committee, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue.  The Committee commended the State party for its efforts and encouraged it to take all necessary measures to address the various recommendations of the Committee, for the benefit of all women and girls in the country. 

NIGERIA RENTERIA, Chief Presidential Advisor on Women’s Affairs, said the Government of Colombia worked daily to overcome the gender gap.  It hoped it had well explained its various positions, achievements, priorities and more in eliminating discrimination against women.  The Government looked forward to the Committee’s recommendations and would do its best to abide by them. 

The Committee’s concluding observations will be made available at http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/SessionDetails1.aspx?SessionID=812&Lang=en on Monday 21 October.

To learn more about the Committee on the Elimination of the Discrimination against Women, visit: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cedaw/

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