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CEDAW discusses situation of women in Burkina Faso, Singapore, Paraguay and Nauru with civil society representatives

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination 
against Women 

23 October 2017

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon met with representatives of non-governmental organizations from Burkina Faso, Singapore, Paraguay and Nauru, whose reports on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women will be considered this week.

In Burkina Faso, civil society organizations raised concerns about a very high rate of early pregnancies among schoolgirls in the country, high maternal mortality due to unsafe abortions, difficult access to contraceptives, the continued practice of female genital mutilation, and sexual violence and forced marriages.  The law on domestic violence must be amended to include a definition of marital rape and introduce sanctions for this crime.  The Committee should urge Burkina Faso to decriminalize abortion in all circumstances, and to take active steps to increase the participation of women in public and political life.

Representatives of non-governmental organizations from Singapore delivered oral reports in which they expressed concerns about the ageing population in the country and the need to ensure that health, education and employment policies addressed the specific needs of elderly women.  Singapore should recognize sex work as an alternative form of work, and put in place measures to protect lesbian, bisexual and transwomen from violence and discrimination.

In Paraguay, speakers raised concerns about the attack on gender equality and women’s rights in the country.  Access to justice for gender-based violence against women was hampered by State agents themselves, and many such crimes went unpunished.  The practice of internal trafficking of girls for the criadazgo,one of the worst forms of child labour, persisted.  The criminalization of abortion was almost absolute; Paraguay had not established a comprehensive social dialogue on abortion nor had it introduced exceptions to the strict abortion law, including for cases of rape, incest, foetal unviability, health risks and pregnancy in girls.

Although Nauru was a matrilineal society in which women were the custodians of family lands, women’s paramount status today was being replaced by male-dominated family groups.  The Committee should urge Nauru to ensure the effective and meaningful participation of women, including in matters related to the use of their lands, and to put in place public consultations.  Policies must be put in place to protect women with disabilities - including those with intellectual disabilities - from violence, abuse and discrimination.  Nauru should remunerate care workers and reintroduce the child allowance scheme to assist families.

Speaking during the discussion were representatives from Coalition CEDEF Burkina Faso, Plan International, Single Mothers Alliance, FIAN – Food First Information Action Network, and Ipas, from Burkina Faso; Women NGO Coalition (joint statement), Sayoni, Project X, and ILC Tsao Foundation, from Singapore; the promoting team from the shadow report of Paraguay to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women from Paraguay; and the Nauru Island Association of Non-governmental Organizations from Nauru.

The Committee will next meet in public on Tuesday, 24 October at 10 a.m., to begin its consideration of the seventh periodic report of Burkina Faso (CEDAW/C/BFA/7).

Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations

Burkina Faso

Speakers for Coalition CEDEF Burkina Faso focused on three key issues of concern, namely better representation for women in public and political life, rights of rural women, and violence against women and girls.  The Committee should ask Burkina Faso to include in the law on quotas a requirement for equal representation of women.  In its dialogue with the State party, the Committee should request the Government to involve rural women more in designing land charters, guarantee better representation of women in decision-making bodies, improve women’s access to health and credit, and increase the number of nurseries to enable rural women to work.  The law on domestic violence had been only partially implemented as additional funding was needed.  The law must be amended to include a definition of marital rape and introduce sanctions for this crime.

A representative of Plan International Burkina Faso raised concern about a very high rate of teenage pregnancies.  According to the official data, two per cent of girls enrolled in school in 2012 were pregnant, but the real number was much higher, especially in private schools which did not report the phenomena in order to preserve their reputation.  Of particular concern was sexual violence against girls in school, including by teachers, said a speaker, noting the case of a teacher who had impregnated five girls in one class.

Single Mothers Alliance urged the Committee to address the difficult access to contraceptives in Burkina Faso, the continued practice of female genital mutilation, and sexual violence and forced marriages.  The Committee should urge Burkina Faso to ensure access to quality education throughout the country, including to sexual education in communities and in schools, take measures to sanction the practice of female genital mutilation, and take steps to raise awareness of religious and traditional leaders about the importance of women’s access to land.

A speaker for FIAN – Food First Information Action Network spoke of situations of displacement of rural communities of Essakane and Kounkoufouanou by mining companies, and the various negative repercussions they suffered, including lack of food, water, access to health and others.  Particularly worrying was the situation of women in this context.  Burkina Faso must put in place a plan for the empowerment of women in the affected communities.

Ipas said that despite strides to increase access to contraceptives, the level of maternal mortality linked to unsafe abortion remained extremely high.  Abortion was criminalized, thus safe abortion was largely inaccessible, and unsafe abortion accounted for over 28 per cent of maternal deaths – one of the highest rates in the region.  The Committee should urge the Government to decriminalize abortion in all circumstances.

Singapore

A speaker from Women NGO Coalition, in a joint statement, said that sexual violence of all kinds was common and unreported in Singapore, and marital impunity applied to rape, including rape of a minor.  The domestic violence regime did not cover non-married intimate partners.  Migrant wives of citizens continued to face unclear immigration rules discriminating on the basis of income, HIV status and other factors, and no path to stable residence was offered, including to women who had children of Singaporean nationality.  Women NGO Coalition also spoke about Muslim inheritance law which was unfair and discriminated against women, and stressed that Muslims should have a choice between Muslim and civil law in distributing their estates.  The State should seek to end polygamy.

Sayoni spoke of the discrimination against lesbian, bisexual and transgender women in Singapore and said that the State should eliminate discriminatory stereotypes of lesbian, bisexual and transwomen from the media, and take steps to introduce affirmative education and assistance for lesbian, bisexual and transwomen in State schools.  Criminalization in the penal code and social stigma prevented lesbian, bisexual and transwomen from accessing protection and justice from violence by public and private actors, and they also continued to be excluded from State policies.

Project X addressed the concerns of Singapore’s sex workers and said that sex work should be recognized as a meritocratic and alternative form of work.  While sex work itself was not criminalized, its related acts were – soliciting in a public place, or using remote communication services to advertise sex work were banned.  The Committee should urge the Government to reform its policy on sex work to ensure the law protected gender equality for all women.

A representative of ILC Tsao Foundation highlighted the situation of older women and noted that the Singapore’s ageing population was predominantly female.  The needs of elderly women were different from the needs of elderly men, therefore future policies, from healthcare to education to employment, should consider the implication of those gender differences.  The work of the Women’s Health Advisory Committee should be extended to include making health a priority for full-time homemakers and caregivers as its objective.

Paraguay

Promoting team from the shadow report of Paraguay to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women raised concern about the attack on gender equality in the country which was illustrated by a recent prohibition of the use of the term “gender” in education.  Fundamentalist elements were trying to remove gender perspectives from discourse and policies, and this had been achieved in some instances – for example, the references to “gender” had been completely eliminated from the law on violence against women adopted in 2016.  At the same time, there were attacks and harassment of women and gender equality activists, while the violence against transwomen was on the increase.  The situation of domestic workers was an additional issue of concern, in which over 60 per cent of active women were employed, and were being discriminated against in terms of wages. 

Access to justice for gender-based violence against women was hampered by State agents themselves, and many such crimes went unpunished.  Due to the absence of a budget, the institutions which should coordinate the policy on trafficking in persons had not yet been created and the mechanisms to support and protect the victims were absent; all this happened despite the frequent reports of Paraguayan women being victims of sex trafficking and the persistence of internal trafficking of girls for the criadazgo, one of the worst forms of child labour.  Of particularly grave concern was sexual abuse of girls, said a speaker, adding that maternal mortality was on the rise over the past three years and that abortion accounted for 25 per cent of those deaths.  The almost absolute criminalization of abortion disproportionately affected disadvantaged women and girls.  Paraguay had failed to comply with a previous Committee recommendation to establish a comprehensive social dialogue on abortion and had also failed to establish exceptions to the strict law on abortion in cases of rape, incest, foetal unviability, health risks and pregnancy in girls.

Nauru

A speaker for Nauru Island Association of Non-governmental Organizations said that as a small island developing State in the great Pacific Ocean, Nauru was vulnerable to the perils of climate change that were externally imposed and over which the country had no control.  Nauru was a matrilineal society in which women were traditionally the custodians of family lands, but women’s paramount status today was being replaced by male-dominated family groups, and women’s equal status was not reflected in reality.  The Committee should urge Nauru to ensure the effective and meaningful participation of women to decide on the use of their lands, and to put in place public consultations that would ensure the effective and meaningful participation of women.  The speaker also raised the issue of violence and abuse of women with disabilities, including intellectual disabilities.  The Government should thus formulate, design and implement a programme to protect women with disabilities.  Women carried the burden of unpaid care work, but mothers including single mothers did not receive social protection benefits to assist with the raising of the children.  The Committee should urge Nauru to remunerate care workers, and reintroduce the child allowance scheme to assist families and stay-at-home mothers in the care and welfare of their children.

Responses by Non-governmental Organizations

Representatives of organizations took the floor to respond to questions posed by the Committee on Burkina Faso and said that more efforts must be put in place to bring the early pregnancy rate down, including by reducing poverty.  The problem was that with more than 300 communities and over 8,000 villages, Burkina Faso simply did not have a mechanism to effectively address the issue - including through providing sexual and reproductive health education which must be strengthened.  It was imperative to examine cultural norms and understand whether there was an interdependent relationship with high early pregnancy rates.  Violence against women and girls was being dealt with by the new law, which however did not include marital rape.  The age of marriage had been addressed and the new provisions of the Family Code had harmonized the marriage age between boys and girls which was now 18 for both; however, this amendment had not yet been formally adopted.  The helpline for victims of violence had been set up by the State and the police officers manning the phones had been adequately trained.  The problem, however, was that the personnel were not sufficient and the lines did not cover the entire country.

In Singapore, while electing a woman as President was a historic move, the criteria for candidacy were extremely limited, and the fact that Singapore had a female President should not be seen as a factor that would increase the number of women in political representation.  Non-governmental organizations in Singapore continued to be disappointed by persistent impunity to marital rape.  Migrant domestic workers faced systemic marginalization and discrimination.  They had limited access to economic, social and cultural rights, their living conditions were poor, and it was difficult to seek access to justice.  One of the key concerns was that they did not have a right to switch employers freely, which was a fundamental right.  The situation in Singapore was very similar to the kafala system in the Middle East.  All migrant women had to undergo pregnancy and HIV tests, and were deported if either of the tests was positive.

Representatives from non-governmental organizations from Paraguay said that there were various cases of threats and physical violence against human rights defenders and women human rights defenders.  The State was not taking active steps to protect those individuals, and all others who worked on issues of gender.  All demands by women in Paraguay included the concerns and rights of indigenous women, including in specific demands for political representations and the demand for consultation in matters concerning them.  The State budget had been slashed by 13 per cent which had directly affected the implementation of the anti-trafficking legislation and measures.  The law against trafficking called for the establishment of a secretariat which would be responsible to the Women’s Ministry, but this had not yet been done due to the lack of resources.  This issue should be properly addressed in the upcoming dialogue with the State party as data on trafficking in persons, including children, was alarming.

Replies to the questions raised on the situation of women in Nauru would be submitted in writing.

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