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CEDAW hears from civil society organizations from Argentina, Switzerland, Honduras and Armenia

GENEVA (31 October 2016) - The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon met with representatives of non-governmental organizations and a national human rights institution and discussed the situation of women in Argentina, Switzerland, Honduras and Armenia, whose reports will be considered this week.

Key areas of concern in Argentina were violence and discrimination, with one woman murdered every 23 hours.  Regressive public policies and budget cuts affected the protection of women and victims of gender-based violence faced serious obstacles in accessing justice.  Civil society organizations drew attention to the ongoing mass demonstrations under the slogan #NiUnaMenos which sought to highlight the work of women, inequalities they suffered and how this contributed to discrimination and violence.  The leading cause of maternal mortality for the past 30 years was lack of access to safe and legal abortion, they said, urging the legalization of abortion and the implementation of the Sexual Education Law.

The Convention was still not a reality in Switzerland, speakers said.  Women continued to suffer discrimination, were under-represented in decision-making bodies, and suffered because of stereotypes, violence, unequal pay, and the unfair tax system.  Poverty was a female issue as it disproportionately affected single mothers, elderly women and families with a large number of children.  Social security, particularly old age pensions, was linked to gainful employment and it punished people doing unpaid care work and part-time workers.  The conditions for combining work and family life were unsatisfactory, with paid parental leave not yet regulated in law, and with women shouldering the burden of income-deficit following separation or divorce.

Honduras had the second highest teenage pregnancy rate in Latin America, with 24 per cent of girls aged 15 to 19 being either pregnant or having already given birth.  The total ban on emergency contraceptives had been imposed in 2009 and was still in place, even for victims of sexual violence, while abortion, including therapeutic abortion, remained criminalized.  There were no efforts to address patriarchal stereotypes which perpetuated multiple forms of violence against women: one woman was killed every 16 hours, and one case of sexual violence was reported every three hours - the majority against girls under the age of 14. 

Gender inequality in Armenia persisted and the lack of political will to address institutionalized sexism created an atmosphere of impunity and societal indifference towards women’s rights.  The drafting of the law on domestic violence had started; however, it did not criminalize domestic violence, was not victim-centred, and did not address marital rape or provide for effective protection and violence prevention mechanisms.  The Committee should urge Armenia to create a national gender equality mechanism, and to increase quotas for women’s participation in Parliament from 20 to 30 per cent.

Speaking in the discussion were the following civil society organizations: from Argentina, Comite de America Latina y el Caraibe para la Defensa de los Derechos de las mujeres (CLADEM), OTRANS Argentina and Frente de organizaciones TLGBI Argentina, and Fundación Plurales and Colective de mujeres del chaco Americano; from Switzerland, NGO-Coordination post Beijing Switzerland, FIZ/PROCORE, Terre des Femmes Switzerland, and StopIGM.org; from Honduras, Foro de Mujeres por la vida, Centro de Derechos de Mujeres, and Centro de Estudios de la Mujer; and from Armenia, Armenian Association of Women with University Education, National Union of Professional Organizations of Health Care Employees of Armenia, Disability Info NGO (representing 11 members of the CEDAW Task Force), and Civil Society Institute/Anti-Discrimination Centre “Memorial”.

Also speaking was the Swiss Federal Commission for Women’s Issues.

The Committee will next meet in public on Tuesday, 1 November, at 10 a.m., to start its consideration of the seventh periodic report of Argentina (CEDAW/C/ARG/7). 

Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations

Argentina


Comite de America Latina y el Caraibe para la Defensa de los Derechos de las mujeres (CLADEM), said that key areas of concern in Argentina were violence and discrimination, and that regressive public policies and budget cuts affected the protection of women and the enjoyment of their rights.  Those must be considered in the context of the increasing number of foeticides, and mass demonstrations under the slogan #NiUnaMenos.  On October 19, the first strike of Argentinian women had taken place, which had culminated in massive demonstrations to highlight the work of women, inequalities they suffered and how this contributed to discrimination and violence.  In Argentina in 2016, one woman was murdered every 23 hours, and victims of gender-based violence faced serious obstacles in accessing justice.

OTRANS Argentina and Frente de organizaciones TLGBI Argentina said that the leading cause of maternal mortality in Argentina for the past 30 years was the lack of access to safe and legal abortion.  It was urgent to legalize abortion and ensure the implementation of the Sexual Education Law throughout the country.  Criminal law provided for cases in which abortion was permitted, but stigma surrounding the practice generated additional obstacles, such as the abuse of conscientious objection by health professionals, unnecessary judicial intervention, and others.

Fundación Plurales and Colective de mujeres del Chaco Americano said that the number of women in prisons continued to increase, mostly for crimes related to possession, sale and drug trafficking, and because of the lack of the use of alternative measures to detention.  The situation of peasant and indigenous women was another issue of concern, and in particular access to land, access to water, and the pollution of water resources.

Switzerland

NGO-Coordination post Beijing Switzerland said that the Convention was still not a reality in Switzerland: women continued to suffer discrimination, were under-represented in decision-making bodies, and suffered because of stereotypes, violence, unequal pay, and the unfair tax system.  Poverty was a female issue as it disproportionately affected single mothers, elderly women and families with a large number of children.  Social security, particularly old age pensions, was linked to gainful employment and it punished people doing unpaid care work and part-time workers.

FIZ/PROCORE spoke about human trafficking, sex work, and migrant women and marital violence.  Protection by residence status for victims of human trafficking remained uncertain, the law focused on prosecution, and there were cantonal differences and insufficient funding.  The increased regulation of the sex industry over the last years had resulted in more repression and pressure rather than improved protection, as it had forced sex work underground.  Migrant women suffering marital violence had difficulty in renewing residency permits in case of separation and had an obligation to provide evidence of systematic violence aimed at exercising control.

Terre des Femmes Switzerland highlighted issues affecting asylum seeking and refugee women and girls and said that a key point of concern was the lack of acknowledgement of gender-based persecution for asylum requests.  Despite being acknowledged by law, gender-based persecution as a motive for requesting asylum was inadequately acknowledged in practice, and asylum requests were often treated without an adequate analysis of women’s specific situation.

StopIGM.org said that all forms of intersex genital mutilations were still regularly perpetrated with impunity in public universities and cantonal children’s clinics, and paid for by the Swiss Disability Insurance.  Adequate psychological support was not available, and there was no law to protect intersex children from those practices.  The Government refused to acknowledge that this was an ongoing human rights issue, claiming that it had happened only in the past.

Honduras

Foro de Mujeres por la vida said that the lack of the recognition of the fundamental rights of indigenous and Afro-Honduran women was a major obstacle, while human rights defenders active on indigenous and land issues suffered threats, violence, and death, as was the case of Berta Caceres and Margarita Murillo.  There were two million rural women in Honduras, of which 65 per cent lived in poverty and only four per cent owned land.  There was a regression in the protection of working rights of women, who suffered precarious and unhealthy working conditions.  Many women, including girls of a young age, were employed in agribusinesses that did not recognize them as workers and denied them their rights.

Centro de Derechos de Mujeres said that the law on domestic work was not in place yet and that many domestic workers suffered cruel treatment by their employers.  Honduras had the second highest teenage pregnancy rate in Latin America, with 24 per cent of girls aged 15 to 19 being either pregnant or having already given birth.  A total ban on emergency contraceptives had been imposed in 2009 and was still in place, even for victims of sexual violence, while abortion, including therapeutic abortion, remained criminalized.

Centro de Estudios de la Mujer said that one woman was killed every 16 hours in Honduras and that perpetrators of this epidemic of violence suffered impunity.  There were no efforts to address patriarchal stereotypes which perpetuated multiple forms of violence against women – every three hours, a case of sexual violence was reported, the majority against girls under the age of 14.  Systematic violence against women and the impunity that perpetrators enjoyed pushed women to migrate in order to survive; 80 per cent of migrants in the United States fled because of sexual violence.

Armenia

Armenian Association of Women with University Education said that despite some positive steps, the Government and State institutions in Armenia were not gender-sensitive and did not rule out gender inequality.  The absence of a State mechanism on gender equality, despite the existence of the law, was one of the chief reasons for such a situation.  The Committee should urge Armenia to create a national gender equality mechanism, and to increase quotas for women’s participation in Parliament from 20 to 30 per cent.

National Union of Professional Organizations of Health Care Employees of Armenia said that women in Armenia suffered discrimination against women in employment: they made only 64 per cent of a man’s pay, remained in low paid professions, and represented 70 per cent of the unemployed.

Disability Info NGO, said that the lack of political will to address institutionalized sexism created an atmosphere of impunity and societal indifference towards women’s rights in Armenia.  The drafting of the law on domestic violence had started, but the concern was that it did not criminalize domestic violence, was not victim-centred, did not provide for efficient protection and violence prevention mechanisms, did not address marital rape, and that it granted custody of children to fathers despite a history of abuse.  Women with disabilities were stigmatised and marginalized, and remained invisible in public policies, programmes and national action plans.  Early marriage continued to be practiced, particularly among ethnic minorities such as Yazidis.

Civil Society Institute NGO/Anti-Discrimination Centre “Memorial” said that Armenia had accepted many refugees from Syria and Iraq, but those not of Armenian or Yazidi origin had not been welcomed, while female Muslim refugees and refugees from Africa were denied asylum.  The list of prohibited professions for women included more than 400 jobs, and this was a distinctive problem of post-Soviet countries.

Questions by Committee Members

An Expert asked for additional information concerning the situation of Yazidi girls in Armenia, and strategies to address the transmission of sexual diseases to women by their migrating husbands.

On Switzerland, Experts asked about access to general services and legal remedies for victims of human trafficking, and whether foreign women who were victims of human trafficking could apply for residence permits even if they refused to cooperate with the prosecution process.  How were intersex babies treated by the medical staff and what was the role of the parents? 

What were key obstacles to the operation of the judiciary in Honduras in protecting the rights of women?

Experts asked about gender parity in the Supreme Court and other judicial institutions in Argentina, and how the questions concerning the reconciliation between a woman’s work and family could be worded.

What was the level of awareness about the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence in Argentinaand in Switzerland?

Responses by Non-governmental Organizations

Representatives of organizations took the floor to respond to questions posed by the Committee on Argentina and said that the Committee could ask the delegation how it dealt with gender-based violence issues.  Only one of the five Supreme Court judges was a woman, and there were no quotas or other legislative measures aimed at the increasing participation of women.

Victims of human trafficking in Switzerland could be protected in some cantons and some centres; if they refused to bring complaints they could stay in shelters for a short time, and if they decided to file a complaint, they could apply for short-term stay permits only, which did not provide a sufficient incentive for cooperation with the prosecution.  An intersex child was still regarded as being disordered and parents were under pressure to undertake cosmetic surgery, with doctors saying that the child would otherwise suffer psychologically.  Parents were pressured to agree to the surgery which violated the rights of the child.

Key factors which hampered access to justice for women in Honduras included poverty; lack of access to judicial organs in rural areas, where 60 per cent of the population lived; lack of training about women’s rights; gender stereotypes; and lack of a gender-based approach in investigations.  This led to a lack of trust in law and order institutions.  The fact that women were not allowed to serve as judges for example illustrated the level of discrimination that women suffered.

In Armenia, the problem of the transmission of HIV to women by their migrant husbands, mainly working in Russia, was an issue of serious concern.  It was estimated that 75 per cent of the registered HIV cases was among women who were infected though heterosexual contact with their migrant husbands.  Stigma against HIV positive women was still very high, which must be urgently addressed, together with the access of women to health care and increasing the negotiating power of women in their intimate relations with their husbands.

Dialogue with National Human Rights Institution

Swiss Federal Commission for Women’s Issues drew the attention of the Committee to the political participation of women, and in particular the media presence of female candidates priori to elections, which was an important factor for electoral success.  A recent study had shown that the media practically no longer used gender stereotypes for the presentation of candidates, while female candidates were still clearly underrepresented both in print and electronic media across all linguistic regions.  The conditions for combining work and family life in Switzerland were unsatisfactory, with paid parental leave not yet regulated in law.  Switzerland was below European average in terms of the number of women in management positions, and therefore gender quotas must be included in the forthcoming modernisation of company laws.    Switzerland must take legal measures to eliminate discrimination against part-time employees – principally women – in invalidity insurance.  Parliament had failed to set a minimum level of child maintenance in the new provisions, and it had not tackled the issue of income deficit following separation or divorce.  It was usually the mother who bore the entire deficit following separation or divorce and she was the one who had to ask for social assistance if there was not enough income for two households.

Committee Experts inquired about factors that impeded Switzerland in making  progress in addressing family issues, including those related to income deficit following separation and divorce.

Responding, representatives said that one reason for which family matters did not advance was that the federal structure was being used as an excuse to pass on the responsibility to cantons.  However, there were clear suggestions on how to solve the income-deficit issues on a federal level.  There was also the matter of mind sets, Switzerland had just elected a Parliament which showed very little gender sensitivity; all matters pertaining to family life were seen as a private issue, and there was adversity of having the State impede on family life.

There were no representatives of national human rights institutions from Argentina, Honduras or Armenia present in the room.
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