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Non-Governmental Organizations brief CEDAW on situation of women in Montenegro, Barbados, Niger and Nigeria

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination  
against Women 

10 July 2017

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon was briefed by representatives of non-governmental organizations on the situation of women in Montenegro, Barbados, Niger and Nigeria, whose reports will be considered by the Committee this week.

Montenegro, often characterised as a leader in the process of European integration, did not ensure that rapidly adopted laws and policies had a positive impact on day-to-day lives of women, said representatives of non-governmental organizations.  Even though it had been among the first to ratify the Istanbul Convention, there was a lack of due diligence in combatting violence against women, lack of accountability and complete impunity of State officials who failed to comply with the law.  The Committee was asked to address the situation of women vulnerable to intersectional discrimination, especially sex workers, Roma women and lesbian, bisexual, intersex and trans women.

Representatives of non-governmental organizations from Barbados highlighted a number of issues of particular importance to women, including access to justice, participation in political life, stereotypes and harmful practices, violence against women, trafficking in persons, and unemployment.  Lesbian, bisexual and transgender women were likely to experience abuse and aggression at the hands of their intimate partners, family members and even strangers, and the provision of specific support services should be extended to this group; more needed to be done to protect them from discrimination and ensure equality in all walks of life.

Reservations to the Convention that Niger had entered during the ratification of the Convention 20 years ago still remained in place and were effectively blocking the enjoyment of the rights of women in the country.  The economic situation of women was another issue of concern: they were predominantly poor and were under the patriarchal control of the husband, father or son; many girls dropped out of school due to early marriage and early pregnancy; and there were concerns over the high maternal mortality rate, early marriage and high fertility rates for women, obstetric fistula and violence against women in the context of reproductive health. 

Speakers from Nigeria drew attention to discrimination against women in several provisions of the Constitution which recognized any married woman, regardless of her age, as an “adult” - in a country where about half of the girls were married off by the age of 16, this was a serious concern.  Access to abortion was illegal in all cases except when the life of the mother was in danger; as a result of this restrictive law, women and adolescents often resorted to clandestine and unsafe abortions leading to one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.  Women in Nigeria paid a heavy price in the conflicts that ravaged some areas of the country, including the herdsmen crisis that had caused killings and massive displacement. 

Speaking during the discussion were a representative of NGO Coalition and a representative of three non-governmental organizations: Juventas, Spectra and Queer from Montenegro; Life in Leggings: Caribbean Alliance against Gender-based Violence and EQUALS from Barbados; Coordination des ONGs et Associations Féminines du Niger for Niger; and from Nigeria, a representative of the NGO Coalition, Centre for Reproductive Rights and WILDAF, as well as representatives of IPAS, Women International League for Peace and Freedom and Precious Jewels – Nigeria Sex Workers Association.

The Committee will reconvene in public on Tuesday, 11 July at 10 a.m. to start the consideration of the second periodic report of Montenegro CEDAW/C/MNE/2

Statements by Non-governmental Organizations

Montenegro

A representative of the NGO Coalition of seven non-governmental organizations noted that Montenegro was often characterised as a leader in the process of European integration due to its rapid adoption of laws and policies in an attempt to comply with the European Union standards, but this meant little to women as the changes were merely formal and the laws and policies barely made any positive impact on their day-to-day lives.  Rash adoption of laws, without priori impact analysis on women’s lives, often followed by frequent amendments, had become a common practice and created a climate of legal uncertainty and institutional unreliability.  One such example was the Law on Social and Child Protection that had been changed three times within the period of three years, initially to introduce benefits for mothers of three or more children in 2015, then to reduce them in January 2017 and finally to abolish them in June 2017.  Even though Montenegro had been among the first to ratify the Istanbul Convention, the practice demonstrated the lack of the State’s due diligence in combatting violence against women, lack of accountability and complete impunity of State officials who failed to comply with the law.  Finally, because of the inability of the State to ensure the execution of court decisions on child support, the living conditions of single mothers and their children were particularly harsh.

A speaker on behalf of three non-governmental organizations: Juventas, Spectra and Queer, spoke about women vulnerable to intersectional discrimination and said that violence, discrimination, unemployment, inadequate health and social protection, and limited access to justice were more prominent among certain groups of women.  Sex workers were not visible nor protected, and women who used drugs suffered restricted access to health services.  Lesbian, bisexual, intersex and trans women suffered discrimination due to the high level of homophobia, inadequate legal framework and discriminatory practices.  Of concern was also the socio-economic situation of Roma women, for whom early and child marriage, functional illiteracy and high school drop-out rates were a reality and for which a more adequate response from the State was needed.

Barbados

A representative of Life in Leggings: Caribbean Alliance against Gender-based Violence highlighted a number of issues of particular importance to women in Barbados, including access to justice, participation in political life, stereotypes and harmful practices, violence against women, trafficking in persons, and unemployment.  There was a severe backlog in the courts and as a result women and girls were re-victimised when called upon years later to recount the experiences they spent years trying to forget.  Underage girls were villainized by law enforcement enforcers and criminalized by the justice system when trying to escape abusive situations.  The amendment to the Domestic Violence Act had made it more inclusive and offered a wider range of protection, but it was the implementation of the law that was the problem, and sexual harassment needed to be clearly criminalized.  Unemployment was high and it was hard to provide for children; as a result, mothers encouraged their underage girls to have sexual relations with older men in order to provide for the family.

A speaker for EQUALS spoke about the human rights of lesbian, bisexual and transgender women in Barbados and stressed the need to do more to protect them from discrimination and ensure their equality.  Lesbian, bisexual and trans women were often forced to conform to rigid gender roles and norms by their families, peers and societies, and they were encouraged to mask their “true” sexual orientation by dressing and appearing more feminine.  They were likely to experience abuse and aggression at the hands of their intimate partners, family members and even strangers, and the provision of specific support services should be extended to this group of women, with a strategy in place which addressed their needs.  The non-governmental organization also highlighted discrimination against lesbian, bisexual and trans women in the workplace, which affected them in the long term.

Niger

Coordination des ONGs et Associations Féminines du Niger introduced the shadow report for Niger and said that the reservations Niger had entered during the ratification of the Convention 20 years ago still remained in force, thus effectively blocking the enjoyment of the rights of women in the country.  Awareness raising campaigns must continue, as well as advocacy and lobbying of decision-makers to lift the reservations and ensure equal access of women to their rights with men.  Niger must demonstrate the political will to harmonize its legislation with the Convention and other human rights instruments, and adopt domestic measures to implement the provisions of the Convention.  Another issue of concern in Niger was the economic situation of women, who were predominantly poor and under the patriarchal control of the husband, father or son; they did not have effective access to resources and means of production.  The situation of rural women was even more alarming.  It was imperative to involve women in decision-making, ensure their access to financial resources, and engage them in development planning and decision-making.  Many girls dropped out of school due to early marriage and early pregnancy, which meant that the Government must ensure universal and free primary education, and put in place measures to keep girls in school until the age of 18.  The representatives voiced concern over the high maternal mortality rate, early marriage and high fertility rates for women, obstetric fistula and violence against women in the context of reproductive health. 

Nigeria

A speaker for NGO Coalition, Centre for Reproductive Rights and WILDAF drew the attention of the Committee to the issue of the domestication of the Convention in the national legal system and to discrimination against women in several provisions of the Constitution, namely in the matters of conferring nationality to a spouse, and the age of marriage as it recognized any married woman as an “adult”, and this in a country where about half of the girls were married off by the age of 16.  Thus, an important issue for the Committee to address was sexual and physical violence against women and early and child marriage, as well as the issue of land and property in the context of customary laws which discriminated against women.

A representative of IPAS said that access to abortion was illegal in all cases except when the life of the mother was in danger, and the law criminalized the woman undergoing the abortion, the service provider and anyone else involved in the process.  As a result of this restrictive law, women and adolescents often resorted to clandestine and unsafe abortions.  Maternal deaths in Nigeria accounted for 32 per cent of all deaths among women of reproductive age.  Nigeria had one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world and unsafe abortion was the most important contributor to maternal mortality.

Women International League for Peace and Freedom said that women in Nigeria paid a heavy price in the conflicts that ravaged some areas of the country, including the herdsmen crisis that had caused killings and massive displacement.  Nigeria had recently launched its second national plan for the implementation of the resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, which required adequate and dedicated funding.  The very high proliferation of small arms and light weapons continued to have a serious impact on women both in conflict and non-conflict areas.  Provisions of the Violence against Persons Prohibition Act, Childs Rights Act and Disability Rights Bill on response protocols to cases of sexual and gender-based violence were not enforced and even the police refused to treat sexual and gender-based violence as a crime. 

A representative of Precious Jewels – Nigeria Sex Workers Association, drew attention to the lack of State accountability in terms of gender equality and investment in human rights and health of sex workers in Nigeria.  Even in the absence of a legal basis for criminalization, sex workers were harassed and punished by law enforcement agencies that applied administrative offences.  Due to the law being silent on sex work, sex workers were forced to work in dangerous conditions and were subjected to violence by their clients and the law enforcement officers.

Questions by Committee Members

An Expert took up the issue of the law on civil partnership in Montenegro and asked for an explanation on the current mechanism which recognized same-sex couples and awarded them social protection.

In Nigeria, an Expert asked about what was more promising in the new Action Plan on the United Nations Security Council 1325 on women, peace and security.  Were civil society organizations consulted on the new Action Plan?  What temporary special measures would be most effective in the current situation?

What was the public and Parliamentarian response to the decriminalization of beggary and indecency in Barbados?

Experts asked the civil society organization from Niger about the action taken following the abandonment of the family code.

Response by Non-governmental Organizations

Representatives of organizations took the floor to respond to questions posed by the Committee on Montenegro and said that the proposed law would recognize civil partnerships between women and men and also same-sex partnerships, and would also cover some gaps left behind by the family law in terms of the protection extended to women.  The Government’s plan was to adopt this draft law next year, but no steps were being taken in this direction.

In Barbados, officials were saying that altering laws and decriminalizing beggary and indecency was against public opinion.

Representatives from non-governmental organizations from Niger stressed that civil society organizations had an action plan which dealt with parliamentarians, politicians and civil society, and it would be re-launched.  The plan was not a problem in itself, but there were minority religious interpretations which created some obstacles.

With regard to the gender and equal opportunity bill in Nigeria, which incorporated the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, it had not been accepted for different reasons, one of which was the lack of domestication of the Convention, but the main reason was deep-seated fundamental machoism, and there was no political will to address the contentious issues, particularly those linked to marriage and inheritance.  The State must be in the driver seat, but this leadership was lacking at this crucial time of conflict in the north and northeast, and the gains made by enhanced earlier school enrolment were being overturned.  The civil society organizations were partially involved in the implementation of the national action plan on women, peace and security, but the Government must provide regular budgetary allocations to ensure the implementation of the second plan.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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