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CEDAW discusses situation of women in Germany, Sri Lanka, Rwanda and Micronesia with civil society representatives

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women

20 February 2017

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon met with representatives of non-governmental organizations and a national human rights institution to hear information on the situation of women in Germany, Sri Lanka, Rwanda and Micronesia, whose reports will be considered during the second week of the session.

Representatives of non-governmental organizations from Germany delivered oral reports in which they expressed concerns that the rise in racism was not being adequately addressed and asked the Committee to urge Germany to evaluate structural racism and address its impact on migrant and refugee women.  The reform of the Sex Offence Law following the Cologne attacks was welcome but sexism must not be replaced by racism.  It was the responsibility of the State to ensure the effective protection of intersex children against treatment performed without their express and informed consent, they said, and also stressed the barriers to access to adequate health services for transgender women.

Civil society representatives stressed that Sri Lanka was engaging in the process of transitional justice and constitution making; the Committee should urge Sri Lanka to ensure that the chapter on fundamental rights explicitly included women’s rights, and to take action to repeal Muslim personal status laws to end systematic discrimination against women and girls, and not leave the issue in the hands of the Muslim community.  The criminalization of homosexuality prevented lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women from accessing justice for violence and discrimination, they said, and urged the Committee to address the precarious and vulnerable situation of Tamil women.

Speakers from non-governmental organizations in Rwanda described problems that women faced in that country, including different punishments for rape and marital rape, lack of support to victims of rape, and inadequate investigation and prosecution of cases of sexual violence.  The law on abortion was restrictive and aggressively enforced: women imprisoned for abortion represented a quarter of the female population in five prisons in Rwanda according to a 2015 study, and 17,000 women were treated for abortion-related complications every year.  Rwanda had one of the highest rates of gender-based violence in Africa, and sexual violence against children was prevalent. 

In Micronesia, the three most pressing issues facing women were a lack of a ministry for women and gender machinery in the country, absence of women in the Parliament, and violence against women and girls.  Domestic violence was prevalent, and women largely remained silent because they could not escape the situation, and silence was the norm.

Speaking during the discussion were representatives from the Non-governmental Organization Coalition on behalf of CEDAW, ATME Campaign Transsexuality and Human Rights, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (joint statement), FIAN International, Non-governmental Organization Coalition on behalf of StopIGM.org and OII Germany, and Maisha/Medibüro Kiel/Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) from Germany; Women’s Action for CEDAW (joint statement), Muslim Personal Law Reforms Action Group, Equal Ground, FOKUS Women, Women Action Network, International Truth and Justice Project, and Women and Media Collective from Sri Lanka; Non-governmental Organization Coalition for CEDAW and the Centre for Reproductive Rights from Rwanda; and FSM Women non-governmental organization from Micronesia.

Also speaking was the national human rights institution from Germany, the German Institute for Human Rights

When the Committee reconvenes in public on Tuesday, 21 February at 10 a.m., it will begin its consideration of the combined seventh and eighth periodic reports of Germany (CEDAW/C/DEU/7-8).

Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations


Germany


Representatives of the Non-governmental Organization Coalition on behalf of CEDAW expressed concern that the rise in female poverty, particularly among the elderly, and the rise in racism were not being adequately addressed.  The financial crisis of women shelters was still unresolved and 40 years after they had been established, it was still unclear who had the responsibility for their upkeep.  The Committee should urge Germany to urgently address the gender gap in pensions, and to evaluate structural racism to address its impact on migrant and refugee women.  Steps must be taken to protect migrants and refugees from discrimination in employment.  The reform of the Sex Offence Law following the Cologne attacks was commendable, but sexism must not be replaced by racism, stressed the Coalition.

ATME Campaign Transsexuality and Human Rights stressed that transgender women were women but because of the categorization of male gender and female gender, they were considered transsexual and not women.  They were forced to seek medical assistance from the so-called gender expert doctors.

A speaker for Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, in a joint statement with the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights, called for increased transparency in the decision making and the harmonization of arms trade laws in order to ensure that German weapons were not being used to commit gender-based violence.

FIAN International spoke about the failure of Germany to fulfil its extra-territorial obligations which led to suffering and the violation of the human rights of women abroad.  Germany also did not provide adequate access to remedies to victims.

A representative of the Non-governmental Organization Coalition on behalf of StopIGM.org and OII Germany said that all forms of intersex genital mutilation persisted in Germany, supported by public funds.  Several human rights treaty bodies considered intersex genital mutilation in Germany as a harmful treatment and urged Germany to prohibit the practice in the criminal law, ensure access to justice to survivors, and lift the statute of limitations.

Maisha/Medibüro Kiel/Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) said that the law required health workers to report undocumented migrants, which prevented women from accessing health services.  The Committee should urge Germany to remove the law and the reporting obligations and ensure full access to health care for migrant women.

Sri Lanka


A representative of Women’s Action for CEDAW said in a joint statement that Sri Lanka was engaging in the process of transitional justice and constitution making and urged the Committee to keep this context in mind during the dialogue.  The Committee should request Sri Lanka to ensure that the chapter on fundamental rights in the Constitution explicitly included women’s rights, and to repeal the personal status law and the vagrant ordinance which continued to be enforced.

A speaker for Muslim Personal Law Reforms Action Group said that Muslim personal law degraded women to second grade citizens; it still permitted child marriage, polygamy without consent of wives, and inhibited equal access to justice and due process.  The State had abdicated the responsibility to repeal the law under the pretext that it was the responsibility of the Muslim community.  The non-governmental organization strongly objected to this position and stressed that systematic discrimination against women and girls must end.

A representative of Equal Ground expressed concern about the criminalization of homosexuality which prevented lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women from accessing justice for violence and discrimination; 130 years of discrimination must stop.

FOKUS Women spoke about discrimination against Tamil-speaking women in the administration and before the courts, and stressed the vulnerability of female-headed households who, because of lack of categorization, were often excluded from rehabilitation and social assistance.

Women Action Network said that militarization and the break down in the rule of law impacted women in the post-war context and the military continued to be engaged in the State administration, including agriculture and tourism, effectively excluding women.  Land must be returned to its original owners, including women, and landless women must be given land.  There was ample evidence of sexual violence against women by the military, with impunity.  Sri Lanka must adopt guidelines for reparation to women for loss of life, property, livelihoods and violence, including sexual violence.

International Truth and Justice Project said that it had documented the testimony of male and female witnesses of sexual violence, abuse and torture, with total impunity.  Cases of the sexual slavery of three Tamil women in military camps had been documented as well.  The new national authority which would be in charge of witness protection included persons named in various United Nations reports as perpetrators of torture.

Women and Media Collective stressed the need for a comprehensive sexual and reproductive education and the immediate decriminalization of abortion.  Sri Lanka must immediately appoint an independent and well-resourced national women commission, which should come up with a comprehensive human rights-based action plan for women, which would include the decriminalization of homosexuality.

Rwanda


Rwandan Non-governmental Organization Coalition for CEDAW called attention to different punishments for rape and marital rape, with rape being more strictly sanctioned.  There was also concern about the lack of support to victims of rape, and the inadequate investigation and prosecution of cases of sexual violence.  The new law on disability did not include a gender dimension, and discrimination on the basis of gender was not prohibited elsewhere.  The misbelief in the mental capacity of women and girls with disabilities to report rape and sexual violence hampered their effective access to justice.  The Coalition also raised issues of access to contraceptive services, particularly for rural and poor women, and about the criminalization of abortion, while legal procedures allowing abortion in cases of rape or incest were long and arduous.

A representative of the Centre for Reproductive Rights said that although maternal mortality rates had improved, Rwanda needed to continue to employ efforts in this regard to reach the Sustainable Development Goal target, and remove barriers to access of women to ante-natal and post-natal care.  The law on abortion was restrictive and aggressively enforced.  In 2015, women imprisoned for abortion represented a quarter of the female population in five prisons in Rwanda, and 17,000 women were treated for abortion-related complications every year.  Rwanda had one of the highest rates of gender-based violence in Africa, and sexual violence against children was prevalent. 

Micronesia

A representative of FSM Women non-governmental organization drew the attention of the Committee to the three most pressing issues facing women in Micronesia: lack of a ministry for women and gender machinery in the country, absence of women in the Parliament, and violence against women and girls.  The existing institutional arrangement to promote women’s rights was not adequate to ensure effective gender equality in the country.  Women’s issues should not be reduced to health and social issues, but warranted a separate ministry in the government.  One of the key barriers from entering leadership positions and participating in political life was the prevalence of negative gender stereotypes which largely relegated women to the home and did not see them fit to lead men.  Domestic violence was prevalent in the country, and women largely remained silent because they could not escape the situation, and silence was the norm.

Questions by Committee Members


An Expert took up the issue of the constitutional reform process in Sri Lanka and asked about the role of women therein.  Was the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission a part of the constitutional reform process?  What was the strategy to set up the national women commission?  Another Expert asked whether civil society organizations were being consulted on the draft national action plan on the implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.  The Experts also asked about the control of the land by the military and the implementation of the land circular.

What would be the best way to approach the issue of the protection of women belonging to minorities in Rwanda?

Committee Experts asked whether Micronesia had in place a national action plan on climate change and disaster risk reduction, and asked about the impact of traditional beliefs and customs on Micronesia not withdrawing reservations to the Convention.

Experts took up the judgement of the Constitutional Court in Germany regarding the head scarf ban, and asked whether each lander needed to adopt a specific law or if this decision of the constitutional court was applicable throughout the territory.  What was the assessment of the success by the State in providing a high-quality care option for pre-school children, and extending school hours?

Responses by Non-governmental Organizations


The Constitutional Court decisions were not binding at the lander level, explained civil society representatives from Germany, and noting that many refugees and migrants were Muslims, said that many women could not enter the job market in social welfare provision and care economy, simply because those services were often delivered through church organizations, which employed Christians – Protestants mainly – as staff, thus effectively excluding migrant women. 

Progress indeed had been made in childcare, but it had stopped.  At the moment, less than every fifth child was taken care of in a kindergarten for seven hours or less, which was the necessary time for a women to engage in remunerated work which carried social benefits.  There were marked differences between east and west Germany.

Civil society organizations from Sri Lanka, Rwanda and Micronesia would submit their answers in writing due to lack of time today.  Non-governmental organizations from Germany provided the replies today because the Commission would review the report of Germany tomorrow, 21 February.

Dialogue with National Human Rights Institution


BEATE RUDOLF, Director of the German Institute for Human Rights, and the Chairperson of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions on the issue of protection of women from sexual violence, commended Germany for bringing its criminal law on sexualized violence and rape in line with the Convention by adopting the principle of “no means no”.  The debates on the draft law had shown how deeply gender-based stereotypes and rape myths were still entrenched in the public and the legal profession, and to make legal changes a reality, the Government should undertake awareness raising measures to educate the public about the implications of “no means no”.  The police, public prosecutors and judges must be trained in applying the new law properly.  Although violence against women with disabilities in residential institutions was an issue of concern in Germany, the National Action Plan 2.0 did not contain a strategy to address the issue, and no measures were being taken to ensure an accessible independent complaints mechanism for women.  The Committee should urge Germany to urgently address the protection against gender-based violence in refugee shelters. 

Combatting human trafficking was being approached from the criminal law perspective rather than from the human rights perspective; data and statistics on the phenomenon and on investigations and prosecutions were not available.  Also unknown was the support provided to victims, and the effectiveness of the victim protection law.  Unnecessary procedures were routinely performed on intersex infants according to binary gender stereotypes, thus violating the rights of those children, said Ms. Rudolf, recalling the responsibility of the State to ensure effective protection of intersex children against treatment performed without their express and informed consent.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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