Committee on Elimination of Discrimination
7 November 2016
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon met with representatives of non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions and discussed the situation of women in Bangladesh, Estonia and the Netherlands, whose reports will be considered during the third week of the session.
In Bangladesh, more than 30 per cent of women were married by the age of 15 and 66 per cent by the age of 18 - the Government should ensure that the amendments to the Child Marriage Restraint Act and the National Plan of Action to End Child Marriage maintained a minimum legal age of marriage at 18 without legal exceptions, and that they had primacy over personal laws. A uniform Family Code needed to be adopted to enable women to implement their rights in matters of marriage, divorce, inheritance and child custody, while the Anti-Discrimination Law should be enacted without any delay to address discrimination against marginalized excluded groups, including minorities and Dalits.
Key areas of concern in Estonia were lack of specific legislation on violence against women, inadequate protection of survivors, and insufficient access to justice for victims, despite the amendment to the Victim Support Act and the proposed amendments to the Penal Code on stalking, female genital mutilation and forced marriage. The persistent gender pay gap of 30 per cent was the biggest in the European Union, and there were no measures to address the low representation of women in leadership. The non-payment of child maintenance contributed to the feminization of poverty.
There was a lack of systematic attention to the gender impact of policies in the Netherlands which favoured gender neutral policies, and this affected certain groups of women disproportionately; policies of domestic and other forms of violence were still formulated as if it was a gender neutral phenomenon. Discrimination on the basis of gender still took place and many of the problems were linked to stereotypes about male and female roles and the motherhood culture. In Curacao, there was a need for the application of a multi-dimensional poverty index in order to view poverty from a gender perspective, while in Aruba, the ratification of the Istanbul Convention had been delayed.
Speaking in the discussion on Bangladesh were Citizen’s Initiative on CEDAW – Bangladesh, Organizations Working on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, Maleya Foundation, Centre for Reproductive Rights, and Amnesty International; on the situation of women in Estonia, Women’s Support and Information Centre, Estonian Association of Business and Professional Women, and Estonian Women’s Associations’ Roundtable took the floor; while Dutch CEDAW Network and SEDA (Women Centre of Curacao) spoke about women in the Netherlands.
Also participating in the dialogue were the National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh and the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights.
The Committee will reconvene in public on Tuesday, 8 November, at 10 a.m., to consider the eighth periodic report of Bangladesh (CEDAW/C/BGD/8).
Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations
Citizen’s Initiative on CEDAW – Bangladesh called for the withdrawal of reservations to articles 2 and 16 of the Convention and for the adoption of the national action plan for the implementation of the Committee’s concluding observations. A uniform Family Code needed to be adopted to enable women to implement their rights in matters of marriage, divorce, inheritance and child custody, while obsolete laws such as the use of character reference to impeach victims of rape, must be abolished. Bangladesh should set the age of marriage at 18, and adopt a law against sexual harassment in the workplace and in educational institutions.
Organizations Working on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights said that while maternal mortality rates had decreased, the data did not include maternal deaths that occurred on the way to the facilities, or outside of them. More than 30 per cent of adolescent girls were mothers, sexual and health reproductive services were not youth friendly, and information on sexually transmitted diseases and contraceptives was not available to unmarried women.
Maleya Foundation spoke about food security of the marginalized groups such as Dalit, indigenous and rural women, and asked the Committee to urge Bangladesh to develop relevant policies and programmes as per the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations Voluntary Guidelines on responsible governance of tenure of land, fisheries and forests, which emphasized the role of women in the protection of the human rights to food and nutrition, and to codify into law the customary right to land of indigenous peoples.
Centre for Reproductive Rights said that more than 30 per cent of women were married by the age of 15 and 66 per cent by the age of 18. The Committee should urge Bangladesh to ensure that the amendments to the Child Marriage Restraint Act and the National Plan of Action to End Child Marriage maintained a minimum legal age of marriage at 18 without legal exceptions and had primacy over personal laws. The Government should also declare child marriages as legally void, maintain universal marriage registration, and provide support to victims of child marriage.
Amnesty International expressed concern about sexual and gender-based violence against indigenous women and girls in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, which largely went unreported because of a culture of silence, while barriers in access to justice contributed to the culture of impunity for the crimes. The Government should urgently investigate the extent of sexual and gender-based violence against indigenous women and girls and the effectiveness of the justice system in addressing the crimes.
Women’s Support and Information Centre said that there was no legislation specifically on violence against women in Estonia, the protection of survivors was inadequate, and access to justice was insufficient, despite the amendment to the Victim Support Act and the proposed amendments to the Penal Code on stalking, female genital mutilation and forced marriage. There was a need for mandatory gender training for all actors in the criminal justice system.
Estonian Association of Business and Professional Women said that the persistent gender pay gap of 30 per cent was the biggest in the European Union, and there were no measures to address the low representation of women in leadership, which in the corporate sector was only eight per cent. Every fourth child in Estonia lived in a single parent family, usually with mothers, whereby the non-payment of child maintenance contributed to the feminization of poverty.
Estonian Women’s Associations’ Roundtable said that although the Gender Equality Act had been in place since 2004, it was not being fully implemented: Government instruments for monitoring of the implementation of the law were lacking, as were the resources for the task. Gender impact assessments of all proposed legislation were mandatory, but were either not done or carried out merely as “tick box” exercises.
Dutch CEDAW Network called attention to the lack of systematic attention to the gender impact of policies and said that in many cases policies were presented as gender neutral without assessment whether this was justified. Such was the case of austerity measures and the decentralization of social services to local governments, which had affected several groups of women disproportionately, and policies of domestic and other forms of violence were still formulated as if it was a gender neutral phenomenon. The migration policies on migrant and refugee women opposed the principle of self-determination of women and often prevented women from leaving a violent situation.
SEDA (Women Centre of Curacao) urged the setting up of an efficient national gender machinery and to take action to prevent stereotypical views about the role of women and men. Given the high rate of poverty, there was a need for the application of a multi-dimensional poverty index in order to view poverty from a gender perspective. The National Action Plan against Violence should be a component of the Strategic Gender Policy and the Committee should urge the setting up of a Gender Ministry for the purposes of streamlining all the specified aspects of strategic policy under a central authority. In Aruba, there had been a delayed ratification of the Istanbul Convention.
Questions by Committee Members
An Expert asked for additional information concerning the legal provisions with regard to rape and burden of proof on survivors of sexual violence, and the provisions governing the provision of child maintenance in Estonia. What were the groups that were discriminated against?
Non-governmental organizations from the Netherlands were asked about the groups of women who had been disproportionately affected by the austerity measures in the European part, and whether the Government dedicated equal attention to its European and non-European parts,
The Constitution in Bangladesh did not refer to indigenous peoples as such, noted an Expert, and asked about the violations of sexual and reproductive health rights, and the work done by civil society organizations concerning induced abortion and the difficulties in engaging with the Government on matters of maternal mortality which was very high, also because of illegal abortions. Experts also asked about quotas for the political participation of women, the implementation of the nationality act, and the situation of women in remote regions and Rohingya women.
Responses by Non-governmental Organizations
The health infrastructure in Bangladesh was very good, but it was lacking the proper implementation of policies and accountability. Maternal mortality rates were high at 117 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015 and that data did not include deaths outside of health facilities. Religion had an important impact on women throughout their life cycle: it placed constraints on mobility, and reduced the rights that women could enjoy. There were quotas for participation in employment of women with disabilities which were only applicable in the public sector. Women could transmit their nationality to their children, regardless of the nationality of the father.
The fund for child maintenance and support was in place in Estonia and would be active as of next year; child maintenance starting to be paid from February 2017 was 100 euros a month, while at the same time the minimum child maintenance amount by legislation was 225 euros, which was half of the minimum wage of 430 euros. Discrimination was prohibited in the law, but the law was not being properly implemented; the cost of access to justice was high. Women could get free opinion from the Gender Equality Commission, but this opinion was not legally binding. Women could also seize the Labour Inspectorate, which was what most people did, but there were very few discrimination cases in court. The majority of cases brought to the Labour Inspectorate were by pregnant women and women with small children.
Austerity measures in the Netherlands had affected women in several different ways: the decrease in budgets for home care and elderly care had led to redundancies in this sector which had an overwhelming female workforce. In addition, the Netherlands continued to refuse to ratify the International Labour Organization Conference on domestic workers and this compounded the problem. The increased demand for informal unpaid care had ensued, and it was also disproportionately affecting women who were more likely than men to care for elderly parents.
Dialogue with National Human Rights Institutions
National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh disagreed with the proposal by the Law Commission to reformulate the reservations to articles 2 and 6 concerning the implementation of the Convention and equal rights of women during marriage and its dissolution, as it asserted the supremacy of the domestic law and would therefore maintain the substance of the original reservation. The Government had achieved significant progress with regard to upholding women’s rights initiatives which were ultimately contributing to the establishment of gender equality and it was now high time to withdraw the reservations. The State must address remaining discrimination and inconsistencies within its laws such as the different age definition of “child” in various Acts; prohibit marital rape; and extend equal rights protection to women in both public and private spheres, especially since the adoption of the Domestic Violence Act 2010. The Anti-Discrimination Law should be enacted without any delay to address discrimination against marginalized excluded groups, including minorities and Dalits.
Netherlands Institute for Human Rights recognized the awareness of the Dutch Government of the need for full and equal participation of women in society, and the recognition that discrimination on the basis of gender still took place and that many of the problems were linked to stereotypes about male and female roles and the motherhood culture. The question today was how to address those problems and to what extent it required intervention and action by the Government, which had more power, more leverage and more tools at its disposal than in was willing to use. The areas where more efforts were needed included the participation of women in the public and political arena as only 22 per cent of mayors were women; and the ongoing discrimination against women in the labour market, in particular against women and girls wearing hijab, and against pregnant women, as 43 per cent experienced discriminatory treatment in the year they had given birth. Structural inequalities must be tackled by structural measures and neglecting gender dimensions today did not diminish but contributed to current inequalities.
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts asked which concrete measures the Netherlands could undertake to address structural inequalities; whether special policies were being considered in relation to the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 5 to ensure that no one was left behind, especially women whose earning capacities were being reduced and diminished; if women of the non-European Netherlands were receiving equal treatment and equal access to services; and about discrimination against migrant women, particularly Muslims.
How could the Committee formulate its recommendation to Bangladesh concerning the withdrawal of the reservations as the society was ready?
Responding, the representative of the National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh said that the Government had undertaken a number of initiatives to enhance gender equality in the society. It was time to withdraw the reservations, and if some fundamentalist groups demonstrated against the decision, then the State should be ready to deal with those. The representative urged the Committee to take up the issue of elderly women with the State party.
The Commissioner of the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights said that the Netherlands was committed to the Sustainable Development Goals but it still needed to see them in the internal context rather than as a tool for development of other countries. Women were dealing with structural discrimination but many refused to recognize this as they preferred to view themselves as free citizens; the Government also failed to recognize the phenomenon. Laws did not apply automatically in all parts of the Netherlands and there were serious problems with social issues; and the Government should pay more attention to the needs of the non-European parts of the Kingdom. The Government should ensure that child-care was offered to all children and not only to employed women, and there was a need to implement training on gender and stereotypes for employees and employers. It might also be the time for the Netherlands to consider the adoption of quotas for the political participation of women, even if it was a controversial issue at the moment.
For use of the information media; not an official record
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