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Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women considers the report of Timor-Leste

11 November 2015

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined second and third periodic report of Timor-Leste on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Introducing the report, Veneranda Lemos, Secretary of State for the Support and Socio-Economic Promotion of Women of Timor-Leste, said that despite the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in April 2003, Timorese women still faced numerous challenges due to the violent historical background and the tumultuous past marked by war. In spite of the challenges in building institutions, the Government had implemented legal reforms with a view to improve the situation of women, such as the enactment of the Penal Code in 2009 which criminalized domestic violence and categorized it as a public crime. Gender equality was also upheld in several other laws, such as the Civil Code and the Labour Code. In addition, Timor-Leste had one of the highest proportions of women parliamentarians in the world and the highest one in the Asia-Pacific region.

Committee Experts commended the high rate of women’s participation in political and public life in Timor-Leste, and the equal access to education by girls. However they raised concerns over the persistence of gender stereotypes and traditional practices which limited women’s education and employment possibilities. They regretted the lack of a comprehensive anti-trafficking law, as well as the limited number of judges, prosecutors and lawyers which impeded access to justice in rural areas. Experts called for the harmonization of customary laws with the formal justice system, and better gender-based budgeting across different sectors. They also criticized the delay in the adoption of the National Reparation Programme bill, the draft bill on the establishment of a Public Memory Institute, and of three draft land bills.

In concluding remarks, Ms. Lemos thanked Experts for their comments and questions, adding that they would encourage and inspire all women, as well as the whole society in Timor-Leste to get involved in decision-making processes, to work to promote women’s issues and to empower women across all sectors.

In her concluding remarks, Yoko Hayashi, Chairperson of the Committee, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue which had provided further insight in the situation of women in Timor-Leste. She encouraged the State party to address all the recommendations made by the Committee.

The delegation of Timor-Leste included representatives from the National Parliament, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of State Administration, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Social Solidarity, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Permanent Mission of Timor-Leste to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public on Thursday, 12 November, at 10 a.m. to consider the fifth and sixth periodic report of Slovakia (CEDAW/C/SVK/5-6).

Report

The combined second and third periodic report of Timor-Leste (CEDAW/C/TLS/2-3) is available here.

Presentation of the Report

VENERANDA LEMOS, Secretary of State for the Support and Socio-Economic Promotion of Women of Timor-Leste, noted that since the restoration of independence in 2002, Timor-Leste’s social and economic policies had focused on alleviating poverty and inequality to address the immediate needs of its citizens. A significant step in Timor-Leste’s commitment to gender equality had been the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and its Optional Protocol without any reservations in April 2003. Nevertheless, Timorese women still faced numerous challenges due to the violent historical background and tumultuous past marked by war. The Government was still in the process of building and consolidating its institutions, reforming its financial, legal and public service systems, and developing human resources. Capacities still remained uneven and generally low due to the fact that generations had not had the opportunity to access education during the conflict. The Constitution gave the mandate for action on gender issues across all sectors of Government. It called for equality between men and women in all areas of family, political, economic, social and cultural life, but also for non-discrimination on legitimate grounds, including gender.

The Penal Code enacted in 2009 criminalized domestic violence and categorized it as a public crime. It penalized spousal maltreatment, family violence and abuse, rape and sexual assault, and other forms of gender-based violence, including exploitation, prostitution and human trafficking. The Law against Domestic Violence was enacted in 2010, and a National Action Plan on Gender-Based Violence was adopted by the Council of Ministers in 2012. The Civil Code of 2011 upheld equality between men and women in terms of legal age of marriage. Previously, the legal age of marriage was 15 for women and 18 for men. The Labour Code approved in December 2011 safeguarded the equality principles and prohibited any kind of discrimination based on gender and further made provisions for equality between men and women in terms of access to employment, work conditions and equal pay. Timor-Leste had one of the highest proportions of women parliamentarians in the world and the highest one in the Asia-Pacific region. In the July 2012 parliamentary elections, 38 per cent of those elected were women, which meant that the country had already surpassed the 2015 Millennium Development goal of 35 per cent female parliamentary representation. At the local level, the Law on Community Leadership and their Education enacted in 2009 stipulated quotas for women within villages and sub-village councils.

The Government had approved a resolution to establish an inter-sectoral cooperation and coordination mechanism within the Government institutions to ensure that the gender perspective was integrated into policies, plans and budgets at the national and municipal levels. The country’s gender machinery, the Secretary of State for the Support and Socio-Economic Promotion of Women, had an important role in coordinating those efforts. A number of improvements had been made in terms of access to justice. Mobile courts reached remote areas where people could not access the four tribunals and the Ministry of Justice was working on legal literacy programmes for citizens. The Convention was directly invoked in courts, and a comprehensive and specific module on that instrument and women’s rights had been drafted and was awaiting implementation at the Legal Training Centre. As for education, in 2011 48 per cent of enrolled school-age children were girls. At secondary, tertiary and technical education, the percentage was close to 50-50 per cent parity. A grant system for vulnerable women who headed households, the so-called “Bolsa da Mae” scheme, had been implemented in 13 municipalities and had reached over 14,000 beneficiaries in 2012. As for health, there had been improvement in the service delivery for maternal health, which had contributed significantly to a decline in infant and child mortality.

Questions by Experts

An Expert said the State party had previously stated that the need for a gender equality law was outdated. What was the current stance of the Government and Parliament on that issue? Three draft laws on land issues which were of critical importance for protecting women’s land rights were still pending. What priority was being given to the enactment of those laws and when would they be enacted? Had there been progress in the elaboration of the National Action Plan on the implementation of United Nations Resolution 1325?

As for gross human rights violations committed during the Indonesian occupation, what was the outcome of the investigations? To what extent was the transparency of the process ensured? Had the Commission for Disappeared Persons been established? When was the bill on the establishment of a Public Memory Institute likely to be debated and enacted?

What were the barriers to women’s access to justice? Was there an intention to consult with civil society on the draft law on the traditional justice system? Was there a timeframe for the discussion and approval of the draft law? What measures had been taken to allocate further resources to enhance the infrastructure and quality of the justice system in both urban and rural areas? Was there a mechanism to review and monitor gender insensitive judgments?

Answers by the Delegation

The draft land laws would be debated in the Parliament and the Council of Ministers until 2016. As a young country, Timor-Leste was still developing its justice system in order to cover all areas of the country. The Ministry of Justice was organizing a debate on customary law, in order to see how to harmonize customary laws with the formal justice system. The Ministry of Justice through the Legal Training Centre aimed to increase the quality and number of those practicing law. In December 2015 another training course would be held for judges and lawyers. Extension of the reach of courts was part of the judicial reform. At the moment there were only four district courts. The monistic application of international conventions in Timor-Leste’s legal system allowed for the transposition of those norms at the national level.

As for the National Action Plan for the implementation of United Nations Resolution 1325, a coordination system had been set up among ministries. The National Action Plan was supposed to get the approval of the Council of Ministers by the end of 2015. A budget had already been set aside for its implementation. With respect to gross human rights violations committed in 1999, the establishment of a Public Memory Institute was a complicated and sensitive issue for the Timorese people. Survivors of the war would receive appropriate support from the State. A draft law on reparations had been presented to Parliament. A Secretary of State under the President’s Office had been established in order to see how to recover the remains of victims. Indonesia was committed to that endeavour.

There was a possibility for the review of court decisions, as stipulated in the Penal Code. Usually courts directly applied the provisions of the Convention. With respect to the measures taken to ensure women’s access to justice, efforts were being made despite the fact that Timor-Leste was a young country and still establishing its legal system. The Ministry of Justice, in cooperation with other ministries, disseminated laws and provided training to communities on gender issues. It was true that there was no law that harmonized the informal justice system with the formal one. Often in cases of domestic violence, money or property was exchanged for a sentence. Most of the judges, however, applied the Penal Code of 2009. Sometimes victims lacked the courage to speak in court.

Follow-up Questions by Experts

What was the status of pending cases since the departure of foreign judges? What was the status of the bill on the establishment of a Public Memory Institute? Also, what was the status of the reparations process? The National Reparation Programme bill was pending? Why was it taking so long to enact that bill? Would the Government establish a trust fund to provide reparations to victims?

The shortage of judges, prosecutors and lawyers prevented citizens from accessing the formal justice system, an Expert noted. A low percentage of women who had experienced violence sought legal aid and police help. That was caused by the low level of legal literacy and the cost of legal aid. How could that problem be resolved? The Criminal Protection Law had never been used. Why was that?

Answers by the Delegation

As for the pending cases since the departure of foreign judges, there were 32 processes remaining. The majority of alleged perpetrators were in Indonesia. The Legal Training Centre opened 45 vacancies every year. As the requirements for those positions were difficult to meet, the 45 vacancies were never filled. As for access to justice by women in rural areas, it was true that it was inadequate. The Ministry of Justice had presented a law on legal interpreters and translators to be employed in courts. Women could therefore more easily access justice. Regarding the approval of the National Reparation Programme bill, the delegation explained that many of the 1999 victims included combatants of the National Liberation Army and veterans. The Government needed to resolve those cases first and then move to other issues. Problems needed to be addressed one by one due to limited budgetary resources. At the moment, the issue of veterans was given priority. In 2011 a technical secretariat had been set up under the Office of the President of the Republic to that end. Many perpetrators of the 1999 human rights violations lived in Indonesia, which was why the Government was discussing with Portugal the return of international judges.

Questions by Experts

An Expert asked whether the income coming from natural resources had increased the level of gender equality and the quality of life of women and girls. The national gender equality machinery seemed to have been affected by limited power and lack of technical capacities. What were the institutional and budgetary resources for that machinery? It was one of the lowest gender budgeted institutions.

As for temporary special measures, another Expert welcomed the adoption of such measures with respect to women’s participation in political and public life at the national and regional levels, as well as the adoption of such measures in the employment sector. What mechanisms were in place to monitor the implementation of the quota systems, and what were the results of those temporary special measures? Was there any intention to use those measures to address the occupational segregation and the problems of women with disabilities?

Answers by the Delegation

The delegation explained that in Timor-Leste women were not yet economically empowered. The budget allocated to the Secretary of State for the Support and Socio-Economic Promotion of Women was low, due to, among other reasons, its multiple international partners and donors. However, its budget was appropriate to its role of monitoring gender mainstreaming and providing capacity-building in the implementation of gender-based budgeting in ministries and municipalities. With respect to women with disabilities, the Constitution stipulated that persons with disabilities had their rights guaranteed as any other person. The Government allocated a specific budget for the issues of persons with disabilities.

As for the implementation of temporary special measures, the Ministry of Interior, for example, had set up quotas for the recruitment of women. The Ministry of Education had already achieved gender equality in access to education. Some 46 per cent of university graduates in Timor-Leste were women. Nevertheless, challenges remained in ensuring equal benefits from university scholarships. Many of the beneficiaries were still men.

Questions by Experts

Gender stereotypes and harmful customary practices, such as the bride price or dowry (barlake), early and forced marriage, and polygamy still limited women’s education and employment possibilities. Could the State party provide more information on that? As for violence against women and girls, what studies and data did the State party possess on that problem? How many cases of domestic violence had indeed been transferred to the Public Prosecutor by the Victim Protection Unit? Was the budget and training for the investigation of domestic violence adequate? What efforts were being made to ensure that timely and effective justice was reached in cases of violence against women and girls?

Regarding trafficking and exploitation of prostitution, that issue remained a major issue in Timor-Leste, including domestic labour. A comprehensive anti-trafficking act had not yet been adopted. When would it be adopted and would it address the specific needs of victims? When would the National Anti-Trafficking Action Plan be adopted? What steps were being made in overcoming the resource gap for the investigation of cases of human trafficking? There was also a need to provide gender sensitive training to police and the judiciary. There were reports of some officials being involved in cases of human trafficking. There seemed to be only one shelter for the victims of trafficking. What was being done to increase the number of shelters? There was no adequate data on the exploitation of prostitution, even though that phenomenon was rampant in the country. Underground prostitution was also widespread and police often took advantage of the vulnerable position of victims of forced prostitution. What measures were being taken to monitor the situation?

Answers by the Delegation

Steps were being undertaken to eliminate gender stereotypes, notably in cooperation with local and religious leaders. In addition, gender working groups had been established within ministries and school curricula included a gender perspective. The Law against Domestic Violence contained provisions to eliminate stereotypes about both men and women. Previously domestic violence had been considered as a private affair, but now it was classified as a public crime. The impact of negative stereotypes against women was also the subject of various awareness raising campaigns across different sectors. Women were encouraged to work and to take up leadership positions. For example, women were encouraged to work in domains previously dominated by men, such as the petroleum industry, geology and technical sciences.

The Victims Protection Unit’s role was to investigate cases of domestic violence and to refer them to the Public Prosecutor’s Office within five days. If a victim needed shelter, the Unit would make the necessary referral. The Government did allocate a budget for emergency response to the Unit.

The Anti-Trafficking Law and the National Anti-Trafficking Action Plan were still in the process of approval. The delay in adoption was due to the fact that some other priorities were being considered by the Parliament, such as the national budget. The Penal Code criminalized persons who organized exploitation of prostitution rather than persons who actually committed the act. There were difficulties in gathering evidence against those who organized sexual exploitation.

Follow-up Questions by Experts

An Expert stressed the need for using a monitoring mechanism for gender mainstreaming and gender budgeting. Were there some ideas on strengthening the role, authority and funding of the Secretary of State for the Support and Socio-Economic Promotion of Women?

Information was received that there had been no protection order issued under the Law against Domestic Violence. What was the reason for that? Unless accompanied by awareness raising among the general population, the law would not have any effect, another Expert remarked. As for incest, what was the legal provision and legal practice in that respect? How many cases had been considered? What was the state of mediation in cases of domestic violence? There was a need to clarify the legal definition of marital rape.

Was any training on disability provided to the police and judiciary with respect to cases of gender-based violence? Would disability be included in the collection of disaggregated data on gender-based violence? Another Expert noted that reports had been made that the military and police had committed sexual violence.

There was no legal provision for the referral of international victims of trafficking to seek asylum in the country. There was also a need to make efforts in identifying victims of trafficking in general.

Answers by the Delegation

As for the monitoring of gender responsive budgeting, the delegation recognized that the current mechanism had not been sufficiently effective. There were, however, some efforts taken by the Secretary of State for the Support and Socio-Economic Promotion of Women to improve it, in coordination with relevant ministries, in particular with the Ministry of Finance. Gender working groups would be established in ministries, as well as at the municipal and district levels, and they would be supported by the focal points of the Secretary of State for the Support and Socio-Economic Promotion of Women.

The protection order under the Law against Domestic Violence indeed had never been implemented. Nevertheless, the Penal Code procedures had been implemented with respect to cases of domestic violence. According to the Penal Code, there was no additional evidence required to prove sexual abuse, including incest. Mediation was practiced and when it favoured the victim, the court accepted that position. The national police and judiciary participated in human trafficking training.

Questions by Experts

An Expert commended the current level of female participation in the political life of Timor-Leste. However, women still faced several barriers to assuming leadership positions, such as lack of education, negative gender stereotypes, and lack of support from families. They did not occupy leadership positions in higher education, political parties and private sector. What temporary special measures could be adopted to increase their participation at the local level and within political parties not just in quantitative but also in qualitative levels? What steps were being taken to remove the barriers to the participation of women in international organizations?

Answers by the Delegation

Twenty per cent of those holding managerial positions were women. At the village level female participation in decision-making positions was still low and it amounted to only two per cent. The Secretary of State for the Support and Socio-Economic Promotion of Women had conducted training at the local level to provide capacity-building for women who wanted to run for leadership positions.

Questions by Experts

Despite the equal access to education by girls, they still faced barriers due to the lack of proper sanitary conditions in schools. What measures would address the implementation of a gender-sensitive sanitation policy in schools? Did a clear re-entry to school policy for pregnant girls exist? As for sexual violence against girls in schools, was there really a decrease in the number of such cases as stated by the State party, or was it a case of lack of reporting? An Expert asked why public servants working in the education system who perpetuated sexual violence were merely transferred to other schools.

As for employment, an Expert expressed concern that many of the previous recommendations made by the Committee had not been adopted. Why were relevant conventions still not ratified? Women were also employed in the informal sector and had limited access to social and health benefits. What measures were planned to overcome that inequality? How was the pay gap between men and women addressed? The Committee received information from informal sources that 65 per cent of women with disabilities did not work, whereas 86 per cent of them were not able to access vocational training.

Timor-Leste had one of the highest maternal mortality rates. To what extent was that issue viewed as a national priority? Were there plans to monitor the situation and establish a response system? What measures were envisaged by the Government to expand the coverage of specialized medical services for women and girls with disabilities? Abortion remained a crime with a prison sentence. Was the Government willing to review legislation regarding abortion? Access to sexual reproductive health services remained a challenge. Was the Government considering to remove barriers to those services by unmarried youth? How did the Government address the traditional negative views of discussions of sexual health issues?

Answers by the Delegation

The Ministry of Education had made efforts to remedy the fact that only 65 per cent of schools had toilet facilities and that only 38 per cent had toilets with regular water function. Those facilities were planned to increase by 10 per cent. The statistical data on drop-out rate among girls was 3.3 per cent, whereas for pregnant girls it was close to 50 per cent. The Ministry of Education would work to strengthen its re-entry into school policy, or to allow girls to transfer to another school after pregnancy if they wanted. Gender discrimination would be overcome through inclusive education. All children had the right to access education without any discrimination. Administrative actions regulated the conduct of teachers. Teachers who had been found guilty of having perpetrated physical or sexual violence against students lost the right to continue working in the education sector.

Timor-Leste’s Labour Code also protected equal access to work, training and vocational training, work conditions and equal pay. The minimum wage provision in the private sector had been established in line with the level and capacity of workers.

The Government gave high priority to maternal health in order to reduce the high maternal mortality rate. Prevention measures would be implemented in hospitals and then in health centres. All citizens had the right to access comprehensive health services. In order to address the human resources issues, the Ministry of Health had come up with various strategies to that end. In past years medical staff had been sent to Cuba for training. They were then deployed in rural areas. As for abortion, it was illegal under the existing law and the Government had no plans to amend Article 141 of the 2009 Penal Code.

Questions by Experts

Concerning social policies and economic empowerment of women, in what way was the social protection system pro-gender? Was there a specific policy to support women’s small businesses and promote access to credit? What kind of social support was provided to women victims of violence?

The participation of rural women in decision-making regarding land policies was limited. What measures were in place to ensure that they had equal access to that decision-making as men? Women’s access to compensation was challenging. What measures were in place to ensure fair and equitable compensation? To what extent was the Government ensuring access to agricultural resources and an enabling environment for rural women? What was the current status of the rural gender policies?

Answers by the Delegation

The “Bolsa da Mae” scheme was a grant system for vulnerable women who headed households. The payments depended on the number of dependent children in a household. The Secretary of State for the Support and Socio-Economic Promotion of Women had signed an agreement with women’s groups to provide capacity-building in the agricultural sector. UN Women had established a strategy for economic empowerment of women, which would serve as guidance for the work of the Secretary of State for the Support and Socio-Economic Promotion of Women.

As for women’s access to agricultural resources, the Government had been providing seeds and farming equipment to rural women. Regarding the participation of rural women in the process of adopting the draft land law package, the Government led a technical group to disseminate information on land rights throughout rural areas.

Questions by Experts

The 2011 Civil Code recognized three different forms of marriage: civil, Catholic and traditional. However, women’s property rights were affected by the lack of civil registration of marriage. What kinds of measures were being made to promote the registration of marriages and births? It was reported that it was difficult to obtain divorce under the current Civil Code. Did the Government envisage reform of the provisions on divorce and division of marital assets? Would the Government consider raising the legal marriage age from 17 to 18?

Answers by the Delegation

The delegation explained that persons under the age of 17 should obtain parents’ permission to get married. The Ministry of Justice did not have any intention to amend that article of the Civil Code. Civil and traditional marriages were recorded in the civil registry, whereas Catholic marriages were recorded in the Church registry.

Concluding Remarks

VENERANDA LEMOS, Secretary of State for the Support and Socio-Economic Promotion of Women, thanked Experts for their comments and questions, adding that they would encourage and inspire all women, as well as the whole society in Timor-Leste to get involved in decision-making processes, to work to promote women’s issues, and to empower women across all sectors.

YOKO HAYASHI, Chairperson of the Committee, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue which had provided further insight in the situation of women in Timor-Leste. She encouraged the State party to address all the recommendations made by the Committee.

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