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CEDAW discusses situation of women in Italy, Thailand, Romania and Costa Rica with civil society

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination  
against Women

3 July 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 Italy, Thailand, Romania and Costa Rica, whose reports will be considered during the first week of the Committee’s sixty-seventh session that started today.

Representatives of non-governmental organizations from Italy expressed concerns about the absence of a structural approach to removing gender-based discrimination and ensuring gender mainstreaming in laws, policies and regulations, about deeply rooted gender stereotypes in education and in the media, and about persistent inequalities in the labour market, a gender pay gap and a gender pension gap of over 40 per cent.  Intersex genital mutilation was still legal, while women continued to face barriers in accessing legal abortion services due to a failure to effectively respond to wide-spread refusal by doctors to take part in abortion procedures on grounds of personal conscience.  Another issue of concern was a spike in arms transfers: the licences for military transfers in 2016 grew by 85 per cent compared to 2015 and 452 per cent compared to 2014; arms sales included transfers to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, the countries involved in the conflict in Yemen, and violated Italy’s international obligations, while a mechanism to prevent the impact of arms sales on gender-based violence in recipient countries had not yet been set up.

Although the 2016 Constitution and other laws in Thailand seemed to provide for equal protection and benefits, in reality, women faced significant obstacles, and since the coup in May 2014, the struggle for justice and equality had become even more difficult due to restrictions of freedom and discrimination.  Of particular concern was the situation of women human rights defenders, especially those defending land and natural resources, women in violent conflict, indigenous women, migrant workers, sex workers, women in prison, women with disabilities, and lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women.  There was a concern that the draft Act on Family Members Welfare Protection, set to replace the Domestic Violence Victim Protection Act of 2007, contained a contradiction between promoting family integrity and supporting women to access justice since it did not intend to protect women’s rights and benefits, and focused on a mediation process instead.

Speakers from non-governmental organizations in Romania described problems women faced in that country, including the gaps between the legislation and policy in the realization of the principle of gender equality, noting that Romania ranked last in the European Union and seventy-fifth in the world.  Sexual education was not mandatory in schools and as a result, the percentage of young people who used contraception at first sexual intercourse was very low leading to the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the European Union.  Other issues of concern were gender-based violence, non-criminalization of domestic violence, and lack of mechanisms to protect women, particularly Roma, disabled, rural and lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women, from multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination.

In Costa Rica, the confessional nature of the State promoted the interference of the religious leadership in the legislation and policies which concerned women and their rights; there was no legal access to abortion for women and girls victims of rape or incest; and women suffered economic violence in cases of divorce and alimony payment, with slow and humiliating judicial procedures many women could not afford.

Speaking during the discussion were representatives from Platform CEDAW Work in Progress Coalition, StopIGM.org, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Centre for Reproductive Rights, Women of Thailand Coalition for 67th CEDAW Session, Women’s Association of Romania TOGETHER, Roma Women Association E-Romnja, and Coalicio Feminista Para el Avance de los Derechos de las Mujeres.

Also addressing the Committee was the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand.

When the Committee reconvenes in public on Tuesday, 4 July at 10 a.m., it will begin its consideration of the seventh periodic report of Italy (CEDAW/C/ITA/7).

Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations

Italy

A speaker for Platform CEDAW Work in Progress Coalition spoke about the absence of a structural gender approach in removing discrimination and said that despite the law decree 5/2010, gender mainstreaming was not taken into consideration in laws, policies and actions at all levels.  Italy had also failed to set up a national human rights institution, despite its international commitments.  Other challenges included deeply rooted gender stereotypes in education, in schools, media, commercial messages and social networks, while low female employment and gender inequalities persisted in the labour market, with significant regional differences, with historical and vertical segregation, gender pay gap which, combined with part-time, precarious jobs and career interruptions translated to a gender pension gap of over 40 per cent.  The Platform also raised concern about femicides and extremely serious forms of violence against women, lack of funding for anti-violence centres, and the lack of a mechanism that excluded the use of restorative justice in gender-based violence cases.

A representative of StopIGM.org provided the testimony of a person exposed to intersex genital mutilation as a child and said that all forms of intersex genital mutilation persisted in Italy, paid for by the State.  Doctors openly boasted in the media about a large increase in surgeries, while the national institutions openly advocated the practice.  Italy still failed to explicitly prohibit by law and adequately sanction or criminalize the practice.

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom raised concern about a spike in Italy’s arms transfers in recent years, noting that the licences for military transfers in 2016 grew by 85 per cent compared to 2015 and 452 per cent compared to 2014.  Italian arms transfers violated Italy’s international obligations and included transfers to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, the countries that were involved in the conflict in Yemen.  Italy was a party to the Arms Trade Treaty, but in spite of those requirements, and the European Union Code of Conduct on Arms Exports, Italy had not established a specific mechanism to prevent arms sales from having an impact on gender-based violence in recipient countries.

Centre for Reproductive Rights spoke about barriers many women in Italy faced in accessing legal abortion services due to serious failures to effectively regulate and respond to wide-spread conscience-based refusals.  Italian law allowed doctors to refuse, on grounds of personal conscience, to take part in abortion procedures; at the same time, the law imposed explicit legal duty on the authorities to guarantee women’s access to services in practice by ensuring the availability of non-objecting doctors.  However, regional authorities routinely failed to comply with this duty, and the proportion of doctors refusing to provide legal abortion had risen to 70 per cent.

Thailand

Women of Thailand Coalition for 67th CEDAW Session said that although the Thai 2016 Constitution and other laws seemed to provide for equal protection and benefits, in reality, women faced significant obstacles, and since the coup in May 2014, the struggle for justice and equality had become even more difficult due to restrictions of freedom and discrimination.  Of particular concern was the situation of women human rights defenders, especially those defending land and natural resources, women in violent conflict, indigenous women, migrant workers, sex workers, women in prison, women with disabilities, and lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women.  The Government had upgraded the national gender machinery in 2013 to the Department of Women’s Affairs and Family Development, but there were serious concerns about its capacity and performance.  The Thai Women’s Empowerment Fund created to strengthen and develop gender equality was not accessible and it was not clear how it was managed.  Other issues of concern included access to justice, especially for Malay Muslim women, women with disabilities and indigenous women.  Women human rights defenders faced arrests, judicial harassment, hate crimes and violence, even more than male human rights defenders.

Romania

A speaker for Women’s Association of Romania TOGETHER raised the issue of the realization of the principle of gender equality, saying that there were important gaps between the gender equality legislation and policies and their implementation, and that civil society was still waiting to build partnership with the Government in achieving gender equality and in preventing and combatting domestic violence.  Romania recognized gender equality on paper, but it ranked last in the European Union and seventy-fifth in the world, and more equality was needed between women and men in the labour market, in access to health care in decision making.

A representative of Roma Women Association E-Romnja said that sexual education was not mandatory in school curricula and lessons on human sexuality were part of an optional course, leading to a very low percentage of young people who used contraception at first sexual intercourse.  Romania had the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the European Union, three times bigger than the European average.  Another issue of concern was gender-based violence, and the non-governmental organization stressed that violence in the family was not a crime, but in the new criminal code, it was only an aggravating circumstance.  Romania had one of the lowest budgets for legal aid in Europe, which was particularly alarming considering that 40 per cent of the population was at risk of poverty and social exclusion.  The amplitude of violence and sexual violence against Roma girls was unreported and invisible, and many reported cases of kidnapping and rape were dismissed by the police as part of the “Roma culture”.  Finally, the speaker raised the issue of multiple discrimination against women, particularly Roma, disabled, rural and lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women, and in particular the concern that mechanisms to protect them from multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination were lacking.

Costa Rica

A representative of Coalicio Feminista Para el Avance de los Derechos de las Mujeres drew attention to the confessional nature of the State which promoted the interference of the religious leadership in the legislation and policies which concerned women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.  This affected the rule of law and the rights of women, particularly their sexual and reproductive health rights, raised concern about the actions of the judiciary, and undermined the decisions of the Inter-American human rights system and treaty bodies system.  Costa Rica had not demonstrated the will to comply with the recommendation of this Committee to ensure legal access to abortion to women and girls victims of rape or incest, and to change the very restrictive interpretation of the law by the medical personnel with regard to access to abortion when the life of the mother was in danger.  It was almost impossible to have access to the emergency contraceptive pill.  Another important concern in Costa Rica was economic violence against women, in cases of divorce and alimony payment; the procedures were slow, humiliating and victimizing, and often women did not have access to justice due to prohibitive costs. 

Questions by Committee Members

In Italy, Experts noted that the country was a party to many international human rights treaties, had adopted laws and policies and allocated budgets, but gender stereotypes persisted, including in the lack of understanding of the structural nature of those stereotypes and gender-based violence.  What was being done in terms of academic research into those issues, into training of professionals and awareness raising, and to empower women to combat violence against women?  The civil society organizations were asked to explain the impact of austerity on access to high quality health services for women throughout the country, what could explain the drop in the number of abortions, and what the Government could do to better address multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and to overcome regional differences in the implementation of the Convention.

An Expert inquired about the extent of the participation of non-governmental organizations and academia in Costa Rica in public debates concerning sexual and reproductive health, including in vitro fertilization,

A Committee Expert asked how women engaged in sex work in Thailand could benefit from protection by labour or social laws.

Response by Non-governmental Organizations

Representatives of non-governmental organizations took the floor to respond to questions posed by the Committee on Italy and said that precise information on the number of abortions and other questions raised by the Committee Experts would be provided in writing, as those were rather complex issues.

In Thailand, most sex workers were officially employed, which made them eligible for the protection by labour laws.  However, the issue was that those laws were not being applied in the entertainment industry.  The media in Thailand had called for the withdrawal of the new media control bill which had been criticised as overly restrictive.

In Romania, the media was male-dominated and was not seen as an ally by women and feminists.  The media used advertising which was sexist, intolerant and racist, and used words such as “filthy gypsies” or showing stereotypical images of women, justifying their behaviour by freedom of expression.  The media was an ally only on the issues of sex education, as it felt that the Orthodox church was abusing its power in this domain.

Representatives of non-governmental organizations from Costa Rica said that there were no sanctions for the sexism in the media and the outdated laws promoted the persistence of gender stereotypes.  The church had a very powerful voice in all debates, but more concerning was religious fundamentalism in the Parliament, as a number of members were pastors, including the current president of the parliament, who used the language of religious values and tried to distance the country from its laws.  The State had made headway in terms of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons but more attention was needed to the specific needs of lesbian and bisexual women.

Dialogue with the National Human Rights Institution of Thailand

ANGKHANA NEELAPAIJIT, National Human Rights Commissioner of Thailand, said that Thailand had made progress in many areas, including the withdrawal of its reservation to article 16, the promulgation of the 2017 Constitution, and the enactment of several laws to promote and protect the rights of women, including the anti-human trafficking act 2017, the correction act 2017, and the criminalization of rape and sexual assault, including against a spouse.  The Commission was concerned about the draft act on family members welfare protection which should replace the domestic violence victim protection act of 2007, which contained a contradiction between promoting family integrity and supporting women to access justice since it did not intend to protect women’s rights and benefits, and focused on mediation processes, which was not in compliance with the Committee’s recommendations.  Women victims of violence could not access justice due to lack of mechanisms for systematic inter-agency coordination, inadequate budget, limited number of female police officers, and lack of knowledge and expertise in handling disputes on sensitive issues, including those involving sexual matters.  Although Thailand had amended its anti-human trafficking legislation, their enforcement remained problematic as many officers still saw the victims as offenders.

Experts asked for additional explanation concerning the right to reproductive health for women with disabilities; the situation of migrant women in detention; the implementation of the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders - 'the Bangkok Rules'; and access to identity documents and social services for children of stateless persons.

Ms. Neelapaijit said that many women with disabilities who suffered violence, including sexual violence in families, could not explain what happened to them to the police or the authorities, and many families preferred to have them sterilized to avoid pregnancies.  Undocumented migrant women could not address the police if they suffered violence or harassment, as they would be deported to their country due to lack of documents.  The prisons were very overcrowded and it was not possible, in many prisons, for women detainees to have their children with them.  The new correction act 2017 was very progressive and it demanded that each prison in the country have sufficient space for women and their children.  According to the Constitution, all children must be registered at birth, which facilitated their access to social services.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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