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Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women reviews the report of Burkina Faso

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination
against Women

24 October 2017

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the seventh periodic report of Burkina Faso on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Introducing the report, Laure Zongo Hien, Minister for Women, National Solidarity and Family, said that Burkina Faso continued to take steps to strengthen the legislative and institutional framework for the rights of women: it had adopted a number of legal texts, including on the prevention, repression and reparations for violence against women and girls, and on the protection of children in conflict with the law. The national strategy for the promotion and protection of girls 2017-2026 and the national strategic plan for the elimination of female genital mutilation were in place, and the country was taking tangible and concrete steps to protect women from domestic violence, early and forced marriage, sexual harassment, and female genital mutilation. Burkina Faso attached great importance to increasing the participation of women in public and political life, and was in the process of re-reading the law on quotas. Ms. Zongo Hien concluded by stressing that the full realization of the rights contained in the Convention was hampered by a range of economic, financial and political constraints, notably poverty, illiteracy, and lack of financial and material resources.

In the discussion that followed, Experts welcomed the efforts to improve the situation of women in Burkina Faso and, recognizing the challenges caused by the activities of non-State armed groups in the north and the Sahel, commended the participation of Burkina Faso in peacekeeping missions, in regional security initiatives, and in welcoming refugees. They inquired about the impact of local and mobile courts on access to justice for women, and raised concern about corruption in the judiciary. Burkina Faso had put in place a number of institutions to promote national reconciliation, social cohesion and understanding between religions, Experts noted and asked about the participation of women in these initiatives and in efforts to counter violent extremism and radicalization. With regard to violence against women and girls, concerns were raised about the continued practice of female genital mutilation and the normalization of domestic violence, as well as about the lack of harmonization between different laws which addressed various forms of violence against women. In the area of health, Experts were worried about the precarious situation of maternal and infant mortality, noting that maternal mortality rates stood at 300 per 100,000 live births. Abortion was criminalized and unsafe abortion was among the leading causes of maternal mortality.

In concluding remarks, Ms. Zongo Hien expressed satisfaction with the quality of the exchange with the Committee Experts during the dialogue and said that Burkina Faso took due note of the Experts’ comments and recommendations.

Dalia Leinarte, Committee Chairperson, commended Burkina Faso for its efforts and encouraged it to address various recommendations which the Committee would issue with the purpose of the more comprehensive implementation of the Convention throughout the State party.

The delegation of Burkina Faso included representatives of the Ministry of Women, National Solidarity and Family; Ministry of Justice, Human Rights and Civic Promotion; Ministry of Finance and Development; Ministry of Health; Ministry of National Education and Literacy; Ministry of Public Functions, Labour and Social Protection; Ministry of Agriculture and Housing; National Council to Combat Female Circumcision; and the Permanent Mission of Burkina Faso to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will reconvene in public on Wednesday, 25 October, at 10 a.m. to consider the fifth periodic report of Singapore (CEDAW/C/SGP/5).

Report

The seventh periodic report of Burkina Faso is available at this link: CEDAW/C/BFA/7.

Presentation of the Report

LAURE ZONGO HIEN, Minister for Women, National Solidarity and Family of Burkina Faso, said that the report before the Committee had been prepared in a participative and inclusive manner, with public institutions and civil society. Burkina Faso continued to strengthen its legislative and institutional framework for the rights of women and had adopted a number of legal texts, including on the penitentiary regime; on the protection and promotion of older persons; on prevention, repression and reparations for violence against women and girls; and on the protection of children in conflict with the law. In addition, Burkina Faso had promoted policies and strategies to address discrimination against women, and had adopted the national plan for economic and social development 2016-2020, the national strategy for the promotion and protection of girls 2017-2026 and its national action plan 2017-2019, the national strategic plan for the elimination of female genital mutilation, and others. The national commission for the follow-up and implementation of Burkina Faso’s engagement for women (CNSEF) had been created in 2008 and represented an operational tool for follow-up and monitoring. The national human rights commission, under the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights and Civic Promotion, had a large mandate for the promotion, protection and defence of human rights.

Burkina Faso had taken measures to protect women from domestic violence, early and forced marriage, sexual harassment, and female genital mutilation, including training activities and awareness raising among the population and specific groups. In addition, those phenomena were sanctioned by the law. The national strategy to prevent forced and early marriage adopted in November 2015 envisaged Burkina Faso as a country without any form of child marriage by 2025. One of the most important initiatives to combat gender-based violence was the joint programme with the United Nations agencies to combat violence against women and girls 2014-2015, while a centre for victims of gender-based violence had been created to offer a range of services, including listening, counselling, and integrated victim support. Judicial sentences for female genital mutilation were being increasingly pronounced, while a sanction of one to five years in prison and/or a monetary fine was prescribed by the law for any act of violence against women and girls accused or suspected of witchcraft.

Turning to the fight against trafficking in persons, the Minister said that Burkina Faso had undertaken prevention activities and the provision of services and rehabilitation of victims. Thanks to the work of monitoring committees established at the local and national levels, 1,442 victims of human trafficking had been identified in 2016. They had access to integrated support services and steps were being taken to facilitate their social reintegration. There were ongoing efforts to increase the participation of women in public and political life, including through the ongoing re-reading of the quota law. At the moment, women held seven of the 32 ambassadorial positions, seven of the 29 ministerial positions, 15 of the 127 membership of parliament positions, and four of the 13 regional governors positions. Training in gender-sensitive budgeting was being provided to the gender caucus at the national assembly, and in 2015 the national coordination of women’s organizations had been set up and it had received budgetary allocation for its functioning.

In closing, Ms. Zongo Hien stressed that the Government continued to make efforts to implement the Convention and to improve the situation of women on the ground, adding that Burkina Faso was the second country in Africa to carry out a specific study on discriminatory social institutions, and as a result, had developed a Social Institution Gender Index. The full realization of the rights contained in the Convention was hampered by a range of economic, financial and political constraints, notably poverty, illiteracy, and lack of financial and material resources.

Questions from the Experts

A Committee Expert welcomed the efforts of Burkina Faso to improve the situation of women in the country, and took note of the continuing discrimination they suffered, as well as security, humanitarian and human rights challenges caused by the activities of non-State armed groups in the north of the country.

What was the timeline for the reforms to the Family and Persons Code and the Criminal Code to go through properly and would they actually be adopted by parliament?

The previous national human rights institution had lost its accreditation under the Paris Principles in 2012. The delegation was asked about the steps being taken to ensure that the new national human rights institution received status “A” accreditation and about the practical guarantees that the new national human rights institution would have the mandate to combat violence against women?

On access to justice, were the local rural courts able to overcome the barriers due to distance and did they provide effective access to justice for people from the rural areas? What was in place to ensure women’s access to justice and what measures were being taken to root out corruption from the judiciary?

Another Expert commended the strong participation of Burkina Faso in peacekeeping missions and in regional solidarity initiatives, and its dealing with refugees. In order to counter the impact of terror and violence by non-State armed groups, Burkina Faso had put in place a number of institutions to promote national reconciliation, social cohesion and understanding between religions. What was the legal status of those institutions, what was their composition, and how was the participation of women therein assured?

There were more than 30,000 Malian refugees in Burkina Faso, in addition to internally displaced persons and stateless persons. The Expert commended the recent ratification by Burkina Faso of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and inquired about the concrete steps taken to ensure its application in practice.

Burkina Faso was for a long time considered an example of religious tolerance; how was this feature of the country being maintained and strengthened given that it was under attack by violent extremism in the north?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation reassured the Committee that Burkina Faso was undertaking measures to implement the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

With regard to the reforms to the Family and Persons Code and the Criminal Code, a delegate explained that those pieces of the legislation were still undergoing amendments in the Council of Ministers and it was hoped that they would soon be presented to the national assembly for adoption.

The delegation said that local and mobile courts were in place and they dealt with cases of female genital mutilation. By organizing rural hearings, Burkina Faso allowed women to have a greater voice and to muster greater support. A legal aid fund had been set up which provided support to all women in need.

As for the timetable for the adoption of the new Constitution, it was not possible to give an exact date, but the Ministry of Women had advocated for the greater inclusion of women in the Constitutional Council. The Constitution would contain new provisions concerning protection from discrimination and violence against women.

The new law on the national human rights institution of 2016 took into account all the recommendations previously given to Burkina Faso on this matter, and the new national human rights commission was currently being set up. There were in total 11 commissioners, who included women. The accreditation process under the Paris Principles would start soon.

Burkina Faso had adopted in 2017 the plan of action for the implementation of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which included awareness raising activities among the legal profession, as well as awareness raising for the general population concerning the importance of birth registration.

As for the steps taken to address insecurity in the country, Burkina Faso had put in place a mechanism which sought to address insecurity in the north and in the Sahel. The Ministry for Women had implemented an emergency Sahel programme which sought to assist women and girls, including to access school freely and without fear, and to promote women’s economic empowerment. Women had an important role to play in ensuring the security of their communities and an inter-ministerial project was being developed which would strengthen the role of women in the context of the fight against terrorism and radicalization. The delegation stressed the importance of regional and international solidarity in this context.

Follow-up Questions and Answers

In their follow up questions, Committee Experts asked about the definition of discrimination against women in the legislation, concrete steps taken to combat corruption in the judiciary, and the practical implementation of the legal aid provisions. They also asked about the implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 on women and peace and security, and in particular the participation of women in decision-making in all matters concerning peace and security. What assistance was being provided to Burkinabe stateless persons?

Responding to those questions, the delegation said that Burkina Faso was very aware about the length of the legal reform process and said that time was necessary to look at the issues properly and ensure that nothing was forgotten.

The definition of discrimination was fully in line with the Convention; this definition was contained in the Constitution, Family and Persons Code, Labour Code, and the law on the prevention of violence against women and girls.

Burkina Faso had passed the law in 2015 to prevent and repress corruption, which had criminalized a number of actions. The High Instance of the Magistrate had undertaken a number of activities to address corruption in the judiciary and there were a number of cases, criminal and disciplinary alike, brought against individuals in 2017. The High Council of the State to Combat Corruption was in place and active.

The legal aid fund provided support to women victims of violence who fulfilled the general conditions, notably the poor, widows, and single mothers. The poverty status was proven by a certificate issued by the local council.

A mechanism was in place to allow the reintegration of returnees to Burkina Faso. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had a unit for nationals abroad which facilitated their return and reintegration.

The Ministry for Women, as well as various religious organizations and associations, were actively involved in the implementation of the Sahel G5 initiative. The Ministry was presiding over the Sahel G5 national unit which was a part of the Permanent Secretariat.

Questions from the Experts

In the next round of questions, a Committee Expert took note of the multitude of gender equality mechanisms in Burkina Faso, including the Ministry of Women, National Solidarity and Family, and the National Council for the Advancement of Women. The delegation was asked to clarify the situation of the national gender equality machinery, the relationship between its various institutions, and the coordination mechanism in place. Which per cent of the State budget was allocated for gender equality, and was this the allocation for the Ministry of Women alone, or was it shared – and how – with other gender equality institutions?

The Committee welcomed the initiatives concerning the use of temporary special measures to correct the disparity of representation between women and men, and looking to restore gender equality. The Expert stressed the temporary nature of those measures and that they should be repealed once the aim was achieved.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation addressed the questions concerning the national gender machinery and explained that the Permanent Secretariat of the National Council for the Advancement of Women, which was within the Ministry of Women, National Solidarity and Family, oversaw all gender-related issues within the Ministry, to ensure that gender was mainstreamed in all policies. Each Ministry had its own gender unit, which also ensured gender mainstreaming in those Ministries. It was important to ensure that gender mainstreaming was not only happening at the Ministerial level but was happening throughout the country.

All those efforts had translated into concrete gains for women, in their day-to-day lives, including through improved access to health and education, access to safe drinking water, and economic empowerment. The Feminine Compendium had been launched in July 2017: any woman could freely register with this database of skills and competences and it allowed Burkina Faso to understand the capacities of its female population.

In follow-up questions, an Expert remarked that Burkina Faso was one of the countries which actively promoted the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and asked what was the relationship between the Sustainable Development Goals and the national development plan? What institutions were in place for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals?

The delegation said that the national plan for economic and social development 2016-2020 contained a strong commitment to the socio-economic development of women, and explained that sectoral plans, fully aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals, were currently being developed. Those plans put accent on the economic empowerment of women, as Burkina Faso believed that this would be the driver for the improvement of the status and rights of women in the country.

Questions from the Experts

A Committee Expert took note of the efforts in Burkina Faso to do away with negative stereotypes and harmful traditional practices, including the criminalization of female genital mutilation and the adoption of the strategic plan to eliminate the phenomenon. Nevertheless, women and girls in Burkina Faso continued to suffer from this practice and other forms of violence, including domestic violence, and early and forced marriages. Furthermore - and this was very worrying – there was a normalization of domestic and familial violence. The root cause of all those forms of violence was gender inequality.

It was commendable that Burkina Faso had adopted a range of laws and strategies to address various forms of violence against women and girls, but the problem remained their sporadic implementation, and the lack of data to show progress.

Another issue was that different forms of violence against women were being addressed by different laws while the link between those different pieces of legislation was not always obvious. For example, female genital mutilation and rape were criminalized by the criminal code, while marital rape was included in the law on violence against women. What steps were being taken to harmonize and coordinate the laws addressing violence against women and girls?

What would be done to further train the judiciary and the legal and police officers to systematically implement the laws addressing violence against women and girls? What services were available to victims of violence against women? What was the status of the helpline, did it function 24/7 and were its staff properly trained?

Another Expert raised questions about the coordination of activities to prevent and supress trafficking in persons in the field, institutions involved and resources allocated.

What data was available about trafficking in persons, and what was the dimension of this problem in the provinces? What support was available from international and regional organizations to combat human trafficking?

The delegation was asked to inform the Committee about the identification of and the support provided to victims of trafficking in persons.

The Committee was worried about the exploitation of homeless children, and Experts asked the delegation about the system in place to protect such children and about the sanctions for the perpetrators of violence against them.

What was being done to reduce the demand for prostitution and to support the social reintegration of prostitutes, including those of foreign origins?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation explained that the criminal code was currently being reviewed, while looking to harmonize different aspects relating to violence against women and girls, including the definition of rape. The Family and Persons Code recognized customary marriages and that was why the Government worked to raise awareness about the law.

As for the exploitation of homeless children, including forcing them to beg, the delegation stressed that the anti-trafficking law prohibited such practices. Prostitution was not criminalized but pimping was. The law on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography strongly sanctioned such crimes.

There were two centres for homeless children in the provinces, and also in Ouagadougou, where these children received shelter and vocational training. Hotlines to report violence against women and girls were in place and operated on a 24/7 basis free of charge.

Follow-up Questions and Answers

Committee Experts were concerned about human trafficking in Burkina Faso and stressed the importance of awareness of the phenomenon by the country’s diplomats. How many cases of violence had been reported to the hotlines, and what action had been taken?

The delegation had mentioned 13 centres providing emergency care to victims – were those only for victims of violence against women or could they also address the needs of victims of human trafficking and other victims?

What support and alternatives were being offered to women wishing to exit from prostitution? Prostitutes were stigmatised and subjected to violent behaviour – could they freely go to the police to report violence and abuse, and how were they treated by the police officers?

Responding, the delegation said that there were several hotlines: on female genital mutilation, on violence against women, and on human trafficking and trafficking of children in particular. Those hotlines operated 24/7 and structures were in place to process the information received.

As for the definition of marital rape in the law on violence against women and girls, the delegation said that since the adoption of the criminal code in 1991, Burkina Faso had ratified a number of international conventions, thus it was now revising the Criminal Code with those specific provisions. In the law on violence against women and girls, the provisions of marital rape were rather restrictive and it should probably be reviewed.

A plan of action to combat child trafficking was in place, while another plan was being drawn up on the basis of the treaty of friendship and cooperation between Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire.

Questions from the Experts

A Committee Expert noted that in 2009, Burkina Faso had adopted a law on quotas in order to increase the representation of women in political and public life, but this and other measures had not brought about the desired changes in the 2015 elections.

What was being done to sanction those who had violated the 2009 law? What measures, other than legislative ones, had been taken to combat prejudices about women in politics and provide women candidates in elections with training and capacity building? Was it true that some women candidates for the 2015 elections had to step down because of threats of violence and harassment?

Why was the number of women ambassadors so low – only seven out of 32? How many women were among the latest recruits to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as young diplomats? What would be done to increase the number of women from Burkina Faso applying for positions in international organizations?

More than 20 per cent of children in Burkina Faso were still not registered at birth, and there was strong geographic disparity in birth registration rates. What was being done to apply new information and communication technology to simplify the birth of a child? By when was Burkina Faso expected to have universal birth registration?

Replies by the Delegation

Responding to the questions and comments made by the Committee Experts, the delegation reassured the Committee that there were sanctions for all political parties which had failed to have 30 per cent representation of women during the 2015 elections. All parties which had failed to apply the quota had up to 50 per cent of their funding withdrawn.

There were no official reports of threats and harassment of female candidates.

An integrated women’s empowerment programme was in place which looked at both their economic and political empowerment, and aimed to increase the representation of women in decision-making processes. The draft law on quotas which had raised the quota for political representation of women from the current 30 to 50 per cent would soon be presented to parliament for adoption.

Out of the seven women ambassadors, five were career diplomats. The recruitment process took into account gender parity and quotas were being taken into account, to ensure that diplomacy was not a male profession. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs worked with the Permanent Secretariat of the National Council for the Advancement of Women to advance the representation of women. A delegate noted that a Burkina Faso woman was a political commissioner in the African Union.

The delegation confirmed that about 20 per cent of children born in Burkina Faso remained unregistered and said that a plan of action 2012-2016 had been launched to address this issue. Efforts to increase the use of information and communication technology in birth registration were ongoing, but there were also underlying challenges in this regard, such as difficult access to electricity, or lack of mobile phones.

Awareness raising campaigns concerning trafficking in persons and risks involved in migrating for work outside of Burkina Faso were being undertaken.

Questions from the Experts

In the next round of questions, a Committee Expert asked about temporary special measures adopted to accelerate gender equality in education and address gender disparity in the middle and higher education, where girls continued to drop out in greater numbers than boys? What was being done to ensure access to school for children, particularly girls, from rural and remote areas, and children from socially marginalized groups?

What was the situation of school drop outs today and what provisions were in place to reduce the number of children dropping out of school and supporting the continuation of education? How were pregnant girls supported to continue their education regardless of pregnancy?

The delegation was asked about sexual education in schools and about the mechanisms in place to prevent sexual harassment and abuse of children in schools, including by their teachers.

Another Expert addressed the issue of women and work and asked about concrete measures in place to increase women’s access to the labour market, and about the mechanism women could recourse to if they were discriminated against in workplaces.

It was fundamental to ensure that women could access professional training and jobs traditionally reserved for men. What steps were being taken to accelerate the ratification of the International Labour Organization Convention 189 concerning decent work for domestic workers?

On health, the delegation was asked about the precarious situation of maternal and infant mortality in Burkina Faso. Maternal mortality rates was still very high, above 300 deaths per 100,000 live births. What was being done to implement the health-related Sustainable Development Goals?

Unsafe abortion was among the leading causes of maternal mortality, said an Expert, noting that abortion was criminalized and could not be carried out voluntarily for any reason. What was the state of play on measures that could be taken at this time to resolve this situation and reduce this particularly high rate of maternal mortality rates in the country? What was the situation of women who were prosecuted for seeking abortion?

Which steps were in place to reduce the still rather high HIV rate among women in prostitution? What strategies and measures were being contemplated to ensure access to contraceptives for unmarried couples and single women?

Eighty per cent of the population lived in rural areas, and unfortunately a good part of the rural population, particularly women, did not enjoy access to quality social services on a par with the urban population. Could the delegation explain what was being done to address this issue, how the rural women accessed health, education and other basic services of good quality, and how they participated in local decision-making bodies?

There were significant problems with land, Experts noted and recognized the Governmental decision to ensure that at least 30 per cent of the land was allocated to women. What was the state of implementation of this decision, and how could rural women access credit?

Turning to women from disadvantaged groups, an Expert asked about the situation of albino women, steps taken to put an end to the tradition of treating elderly women as witches, and action taken to address the issues that women deprived of liberty faced, including supporting them in their social integration.

What projects for the future were in place to assist the population displaced or otherwise affected by the activities of mining companies?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation responded to questions raised on education and said that the gap between rural and urban areas in terms of the number of schools was closing. Sexual education was a part of the curriculum, where students studied the so-called emergent issues, and the delegation stressed that talking about sexual education was not a taboo any longer.

There were mechanisms in place which women could use in matters of discrimination in the workplace. The labour code prohibited sexual harassment in the workplace; all violations of this provision could be taken up under the law on the prevention and suppression of violence against women. No date had been set for the ratification of the International Labour Organization Convention 189 on domestic work, but this was one of the demands of the trade unions in the country.

There were three main ways to obtain land in the rural areas: by inheritance, by employment and by time. Over 60 per cent of men and over 40 per cent of women who owned their plots obtained them through inheritance.

The national plan for accelerating family planning had been recently adopted. It contained measures to improve access of women to contraception and to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to child. Community-based health providers
had been trained as well. In 2016, 76 women had died because of abortion in rural areas and abortion represented the fifth cause of maternal deaths.

Officials from the Ministry for Women were present in all places of detention throughout the country. Food assistance was provided to ensure that detained women had access to nutritious food. The law on penitentiary had been adopted and it took into account the recommendations Burkina Faso had received in relation to the situation of persons deprived of liberty. It contained innovations concerning the detention of women, particularly pregnant women and those who had recently given birth.

Universal health insurance was not fully operational as yet; the system sought to put in place a unique system for all vulnerable groups. A fund would be set up to operationalize the universal health insurance.

In order to reduce the number of girls dropping out of schools, various measures were in place to support parents to ensure that girls were in school. Usually, girls dropping out due to pregnancy returned to school, and there were systems in place to care for the children.

Questions from the Experts

Gender equality was guaranteed in the Constitution of Burkina Faso and in a number of laws such as the Family and Persons Code, the Labour Code and the Criminal Code. However, some provisions that discriminated against women remained, for example the legal age of marriage remained at 17 for girls and 20 for boys, while the age of marriage could be further lowered to 15 for girls and 18 for boys under some circumstances. Also, polygamy was admitted under certain conditions, and polygamous unions were widespread, particularly in rural areas.

What was being done to raise the legal age of marriage and equalize it for girls and boys? What was the plan concerning the repeal of all discriminatory legal provisions from the Family and Persons Code which was currently being revised?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation explained that the Government provided assistance in obtaining documents for marriage, and also assisting couples in recognizing their unions as civil marriages. The reforms to the Family and Persons Code were still being defined and the delegation was not able to confirm that all discriminatory provisions would be removed. The revised law would equalize the legal age of marriage for girls and boys which would be at 18 years of age. Polygamy was a long-standing traditional practice and efforts were ongoing to raise awareness among the population.

Concluding Remarks

LAURE ZONGO HIEN, Minister for Women, National Solidarity and Family of Burkina Faso, expressed satisfaction with the quality of the exchange with the Committee Experts during the dialogue and said that Burkina Faso took due note of the Experts’ comments and recommendations.

DALIA LEINARTE, Committee Chairperson, commended Burkina Faso for its efforts and encouraged it to address various recommendations which the Committee would issue with the purpose of the more comprehensive implementation of the Convention throughout the State party.

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