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Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women reviews the situation of women in Barbados

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination  
against Women  

12 July 2017

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined fifth to eighth periodic reports of Barbados on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Introducing the reports, Steven Blackett, Minister of Social Care, Constituency Empowerment and Community Development of Barbados, stressed the high levels of sustained investment in the social infrastructure in spite of the perennial challenges Barbados faced as a small island developing State. He added that, traditionally, considerable emphasis was placed on supporting women by providing a wide safety net of social services, particularly during periods of economic dislocation.  Health care was free of charge for all citizens, and education was compulsory for all children aged five to 16 and free of charge in government-operated schools.  The recent amendments to the 1992 Domestic Violence (Protection Orders) Act had widened the definition of domestic violence, enhanced the power of the police to intervene in situations of suspected domestic violence and expanded the application of the law to couples in visiting relationships.  Barbados was proud of the accomplishments so far to level the proverbial playing field for women, said Mr. Blackett and, recognizing that more work needed to be done, welcomed the opportunity to discuss with the Committee how to further strengthen its support for the promotion and protection of human rights at home.

In the ensuing dialogue, Committee Experts welcomed the progress in advancing the rights of women, including through free, universal and compulsory education for children up to the age of 16 and the adoption of an anti-trafficking law that defined trafficking in persons, in line with the international law.  It was a matter of concern that the Constitution still did not include sex as prohibited grounds of discrimination, and that the constitutional protection against discrimination was reserved only to citizens.  The greatest challenge in ensuring gender equality in Barbados was the elimination of violence against women and girls, which was highly prevalent, Experts stressed. They noted that the Government itself recognized femicide as a major concern.  Other issues included the continued sex trafficking of children, sometimes even by parents, the very high rates of teenage pregnancy, which stand at 44 per 1,000 live births compared to 18 per 1,000 live births in other countries of comparable development level, the corporal punishment that continued in all settings, and the criminalization of same-sex relations.

In his concluding remarks, Mr. Blackett thanked the Committee Experts and said that Barbados would do its best, within the limits of available resources, to be one of the best countries for women.

The delegation from Barbados included representatives of the Ministry of Social Care, Constituency Empowerment and Community Development, National Advisory Council on Gender, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, and the Permanent Mission of Barbados to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The concluding observations on the reports of Barbados would be made public on Monday, 24 July and would be available on the session’s webpage.

Live webcast of the Committee’s public meetings is available at http://webtv.un.org/

The Committee will reconvene in public on Thursday 13 July at 10 a.m. to consider the combined third and fourth periodic reports of Niger (CEDAW/C/NER/3-4).

Report

The combined fifth to eighth periodic reports of Barbados can be read here: CEDAW/C/BRB/5-8.

Presentation of the Report

STEVEN BLACKETT, Minister of Social Care, Constituency Empowerment and Community Development of Barbados, said that the Constitution, the supreme law in the country, provided equal protection to all citizens regardless of race, creed, gender, political opinion, religion or place of birth.  Those protections had been further enhanced by a body of law that gave effect to the constitutional rights and no law enacted could be inconsistent with those rights.  The celebration of the 50th anniversary of independence in November 2016 had been an opportunity to reflect on national challenges and achievements.  Barbados had invested efforts to build, consolidate and deepen the enabling framework in which women and girls could access opportunities to fulfil their potential and realize their rights, and had ensured high levels of sustained investment in the social infrastructure, notwithstanding the perennial challenged faced by a small island developing state.  By the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1980 Barbados had underscored its intent to ensure women’s equal access to, and equal opportunities in, political and public life, notably the right to vote and to stand for election, as well as equal access to education, health and employment.

Mr. Blackett noted that women were at the core of the country, numbering approximately 144,000 compared to about 133,000 males. He reiterated the Government’s commitment to continue investments in key sectors of social care, education, health and housing.  The efforts were beginning to bear fruit: in 2016, the economy grew by 1.6 per cent compared with 0.9 per cent in 2015, but there was a need to remain prudent in the light of a challenging domestic outlook such as the slow progress of fiscal consolidation and the high debt burden.  The current conditions required continued fiscal discipline, with economic growth, to secure Barbados’ future.  Traditionally, the Government placed considerable emphasis on providing support for women by providing a wide safety-net of social services, particularly during periods of economic dislocation.  The Poverty Alleviation and Reduction Programme administered the Poverty Eradication Fund established to provide assistance to persons with critical expenditures such as rent, education and medical expenses.  Last year, the Fund had assisted 66 persons.  The Identification, Stabilization, Enablement and Empowerment programme provided psycho-social interventions to households. In 2016, the programme paid out $95,000 in benefits. 

In Barbados, health care was free of charge at the point of access for all citizens, and education was compulsory for all children aged five to 16 and free of charge in all government-operated schools.  Girls continued to consistently outperform boys in obtaining scholarships and in exhibitions at the secondary school level, and those trends continued at the tertiary levels with the Government subsidizing the cost of studying for citizens at the University of West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.  On the legislative side, Barbados had passed the amendments to the 1992 Domestic Violence (Protection Orders) Act in January last year to include a wider definition of domestic violence, enhance the power of the police to intervene in situations of suspected domestic violence and expand the application of the Act to include couples in visiting relationships.  In conclusion, Mr. Blackett stressed that Barbados was proud of what had been accomplished so far to level the proverbial playing field for women and recognized that more work needed to be done. He welcomed the opportunity to discuss with the Committee how its strong support for the promotion and protection of human rights at home might be further strengthened.

Questions from the Experts
 
Opening the dialogue with the delegation of Barbados, an Expert lamented that the reports only covered the period up to 2012 and that the replies to the list of issue had been received only last week.

The Expert welcomed the country’s impressive progress to advance the rights of women, but expressed concern about the lack of action to address the Committee’s previous concluding recommendations, such as to include sex as prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Constitution.  The failure to do so led to the denial of protection against discrimination to women on this ground, remarked the Expert.

The constitutional protection against discrimination was reserved only to citizens – would this provision be changed to include everyone in Barbados?

The Committee was concerned about a lengthy legislative process which could be detrimental to women suffering discrimination and violence, and asked about the plans on rapid drafting of an omnibus bill on the domestication of the Convention and its prompt adoption by the Parliament?

Access to justice was a serious issue of concern in Barbados. The delegation was asked whether a priority would be accorded to the establishment of family courts and courts dealing with violence against women and girls.  How would those courts be resourced and would training in gender sensitivity and competence of the court officials be prioritized?

What measures were being taken to increase legal literacy of women and men on women’s rights and their awareness of the Convention?

Could the delegation comment on the status of Barbados as a tax heaven and its commitments to international tax cooperation?  How would the additional revenues impact the budgetary allocations for women?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation recognized that the Constitution lacked reference to sex in the prohibited grounds of discrimination in section 23, but pointed to section 11 on equal treatment of women and men, which guaranteed equality on all grounds, including on the grounds of sex.  The policy on gender equality was in the advanced stages of drafting and it proposed the amendment to section 23 of the Convention to enlarge protection from discrimination, including on the grounds of sex, marital status and pregnancy.

The Ombudsman of Barbados was working on raising awareness of human rights and the provision of the Convention.

Responding to questions raised about access to justice and the establishment of family courts, the delegation explained that a consultant had been hired to harmonize legislation around family issues and to ensure that all gaps were addressed.  The family court would be established and its staff would be trained.

In terms of the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention, Barbados was not yet able to proceed as it still lacked domestic legislation to do so.  Specific obstacles to the ratification would be communicated to the Committee in a written form.

Responding to questions raised about the position of Barbados as a tax haven, the delegation explained that Barbados was committed to doing what was necessary so that the international community recognized the “cleanliness” of its financial jurisdiction.  It was clear that there would be direct and indirect impacts of the latest changes in the international financial jurisdiction as the national revenues would most likely decrease.  Barbados would do its utmost to mitigate the negative impact on the most vulnerable groups.

Questions from the Experts
 
In questions concerning the national gender machinery, the Committee Expert commended Barbados for the establishment of mechanisms to ensure gender equality and to prevent and address violence against women, including the drafting of the national policy on gender, some gender-sensitive training of judges, prosecutors and the police, and the establishment of the Office of the Ombudsman.

Could the delegation comment on the reported inefficiency of those measures and mechanisms?  What were the human rights implications linked to the implementation of austerity measures and additional taxes, and in particular their impact on the situation of women living in poverty?

It seemed that the structure, authority and resources for the promotion of gender equality in the country were not sufficient, remarked the Expert, who asked the delegation to inform on the situation, mandate and resources of the Bureau of Gender Affairs.  What was the status of the national policy on gender, was the roadmap for its implementation in place and how was it resourced?  What inter-institutional coordination mechanism was in place between the Bureau, the Ombudsman and the National Human Rights Commission?

The delegation was also asked which temporary special measures had been adopted to address obstacles to achieving real equality between women and men and what was their impact.

Responses by the Delegation

In response to the question on the impact of austerity measures, the delegation stressed the positive action taken to ensure the continued social care for vulnerable populations. In terms of social welfare, it further noted that it had allocated $16 million for the 4,000 people on the register of vulnerable persons, most of whom were women.

The Bureau of Gender Affairs was the key Government’s structure in this domain, its staff was small, but effective and it developed partnerships to extend its reach and field of action, for example with universities, churches and non-governmental organizations. 

The Unit on Family Conflict had been set up and it would, together with the National Statistical Office, work on the collection of data on violence against women and girls, after it had decided on the best indicators against which data would be collected and analysed.

The overarching philosophy in the construction of the State budget was to guarantee stability and future growth, through a variety of measures.  The obligation to be protective towards vulnerable groups and protecting social services in the best possible way was the key guiding principle.

In recent times, women in Barbados dominated the public service: for instance, women held 12 out of 16 Permanent Secretary positions, the Chief Education Officer was a woman, and five women held the position of Supreme Court Justice versus three men.  Women were also a majority in community development structures.

Two major projects had been initiated to lift women out of poverty, particularly inter-generational poverty - 90 per cent of those persons were women. One was the “IC Bridge programme”, under which female social workers went into communities and supported families to exit inter-generational poverty.  Another programme was recently initiated to extend the activities of the IC Bridge programme with a $10-million loan from the Inter-American Bank.

Questions from the Experts
 
In the next round of questions, the Experts stressed the State’s responsibility to protect and promote human rights and eliminate and modify discriminatory stereotypes and social norms. They asked the delegation about the public awareness campaigns implemented to that effect, the status of the national gender policy, apparently submitted in March 2016, and the measures and steps taken to remove from the legislation all provisions that discriminated against women and girls. 

The greatest challenge in ensuring gender equality in Barbados was the elimination of violence against women and girls, which was highly prevalent in the society.  The Government itself recognized Femicide as a major concern. 

What data were available on violence against women: the number of reported cases, the number of prosecutions and sentences imposed on perpetrators?

What was being done to counter negative reactions to the gender equality agenda?

The Experts emphasized the importance of this context of the “KLAT formula”: knowledge, legislation, awareness and training, and stressed that more must be done to raise awareness among women and men about gender-based violence and action taken to combat it.  Crucially important was to ensure the training of the police and the judiciary, which seemed inadequate in Barbados.  Many police officers addressing cases of domestic violence and violence against women acted with discriminatory attitudes and often blamed women for the situation.

Another Expert commended Barbados for the adoption in 2016 of the Trafficking in Persons Prevention Act, in which the definition of trafficking in persons was consistent with international law, and asked about key elements contained in the roadmap for the implementation?  The Committee was very concerned about the fact that Barbados remained a country of origin and destination for human trafficking, including for labour and sexual exploitation. It was also concerned about the continued practice of sex trafficking of children, sometimes by the parents.

What level of human and financial resources had been allocated to investigate and prosecute trafficking offences?  Could the delegation provide data on the number of cases investigated and prosecuted, and the nature of sanctions imposed on perpetrators of trafficking in women and girls?

Prostitution was illegal and practiced. The Experts were concerned about the status of women engaged in prostitution, including their lack of access to health and social services.  They asked what actions had been taken to address root causes of prostitution including poverty and sex trafficking, and what measures were being taken to give women prostitutes greater access to health and social services, and to provide them with the support to exit prostitution?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation explained that the Social Policy Committee of the Cabinet had commented on the national gender policy, and the Bureau of Gender Affairs was now revising the text to incorporate those comments.  The policy identified several activities to sensitize the public about gender-based violence, the victims and the perpetrators, and also inform the public how victims could obtain support. 

The Bureau worked consistently with the non-governmental organizations that drove the domestic violence awareness campaign in the country, and was cooperating on the issue with UN Women.

In terms of training, the police regional training centre had a module on violence against women and it was now a part of the mandatory training for all new recruits.

Barbados was starting to promote amendments to the Protection Act and was in the process of holding consultations with several groups.  There was one shelter in the country for victims of violence; it was also used by victims of human trafficking.  Most of the trafficked persons were from outside of Barbados and they were assisted by the Government and the United Nations to return to their countries.

During its Universal Periodic Review sessions in 2008 and 2013, Barbados had committed to establishing a national human rights institution, which it intended to achieve by broadening the scope of the Office of the Ombudsman.  However, the idea had been changed since then, and Barbados had set up the National Coordination Committee on Human Rights to examine specific instances related to the establishment of a national human rights institution.

The Family Conflict Unit had been set up in the police force to ensure that the issues related to domestic violence and violence against women and girls were treated adequately.

Questions from the Experts
 
Committee Expert asked about measures taken to increase women’s political participation and the measures to be adopted to raise women’s representation in Parliament to at least 30 per cent.  What was being done to amend the legislation on equal representation of women and men in decision-making in all areas and at all levels of political and public life?

On quotas for political participation, two major political parties were working on raising awareness and promoting greater participation of women in political parties.  How was the State supporting such efforts?

The delegation was asked to explain how a child of Barbadian citizens acquired nationality, considering that transfer of nationality by the parent was not linked to the child’s place of birth.  Were mothers and fathers treated equally in the transmission of nationality to their children, regardless of where they or the children were born?  What were the plans concerning the amendments to the Constitution and nationality law to ensure that women and men were treated equally in terms of being able to transmit their nationality to their children and spouses?

Responses by the Delegation

Answering questions on political representation of women, the delegation stressed that everyone in Barbados had equal rights and opportunities to stand for elections.  At the moment, out of 30 seats in the Parliament, five were held by women, including by one woman with disabilities; the leader of the Upper House was a woman, too.  The Government was committed to equal participation in political life and was encouraging young people to engage. The Barbadian Youth Parliament, for example, provided young people with opportunities to learn about the political system and develop competences to engage with the system as adults.

In terms of women’s participation in the diplomatic service, the delegation said that the Minister of Foreign Affairs was a woman, 70 per cent of Foreign Service staff were women, and women held four out of the 13 highest diplomatic posts.

With regards to nationality, the Constitution and the policies allowed for Barbadians born overseas, and also their children born overseas, to automatically become citizens.  Barbadian women married to foreigners could transmit nationality to their spouse and children.  All Barbadians, male and female, automatically transferred their nationality to their children.

Questions from the Experts

In their questions and comments concerning education, an Expert commended Barbados for their education policy and the free, universal and compulsory education for children aged 6 to 16. 

Some concerns remained, namely very high rates of teenage pregnancy, which stand at 44 per 1,000 live births compared to 18 per 1,000 live births in other countries of comparable development level.  What measures were in place to ensure that girls were not expelled from school for being pregnant, to adopt a proper re-entry policy to enable the young women to return and stay in school following birth, and to ensure that comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education was included in the curriculum?

Corporal punishment continued in all settings.  During its 2013 Universal Periodic Review, Barbados had accepted the recommendation to change traditional attitudes to corporal punishment but had rejected the recommendation to prohibit the practice.  Could the delegation comment on and explain the reasons for and obstacles to the abolition of corporal punishment in all settings?

An Expert asked about measures envisaged to improve the participation of women in the labour force, and asked the delegation to provide gender-disaggregated data on unemployment and on the participation in various Government initiatives to support employment. 

In Barbados, male workers earned 18 per cent more than females. Considering that the equal pay for equal work principle was applied in the public sector, this indicated an important gender-based discrimination and gender pay gap in the private sector.  What was being done to ensure that the principle of equal pay for work of equal value was applied throughout the country? The delegation was asked to provide data on child labour and to inform on how the phenomenon of sexual harassment was being addressed through laws and policy.

Experts asked the delegation to explain how health services, particularly those specific to the health needs of women, such as maternity care, breast cancer and others, were adapted in the context of austerity measures.  What programmes existed for health of women engaged in prostitution, which was illegal, and for the specific needs of lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women?

Replies by the Delegation

Responding to the questions and comments made by the Committee Experts, the delegation said that all teenage girls had the right to continue their education after pregnancy.

The Ministry of Education had recently announced the upcoming abolition of corporal punishment in school, an indication that a policy that was being drafted.  Child labour was prohibited and illegal in Barbados.

Pregnant teenage girls could leave school after reaching their fifth month of pregnancy, and return to the same school or another school following the birth.  Pregnant girls were not left to be alone; they were in close contact with the school counsellor and other school officials.  

Informal sector employees could register themselves and contribute to the social protection schemes to enjoy the same social and pension rights as formal sector workers.

The delegation explained the process that was put in place before the signature or ratification of an international treaty. It stressed the need to assess legal ramifications and ensure that adequate resources were available for the implementation of the obligations under those treaties.

Transmission of HIV/AIDS from mother to child was zero due to free access to antiretroviral drugs and free HIV testing for all pregnant women.  There were several non-governmental organizations active in raising awareness of the issues affecting sex workers and supporting them to leave prostitution.

Questions from the Experts
 
Taking the floor to ask the next series of questions on women’s economic empowerment, an Expert congratulated Barbados on the work done on the urban enterprise programme, which had benefitted women. The Expert asked about the credit programmes available to households earning less than $16,000 per year, how accessible they were for women and whether they provided a required degree of social protection.  Could women access bank loans and credits on an equal footing as men?

Another Expert noted that although there were no legal constraints, there were still practical obstacles that stopped women from becoming land owners and asked about steps taken to recognize the unpaid work at home, which was mainly done by women, and to ensure it was remunerated.

Could the delegation explain how women were included in the drafting of the Sustainable Development Goals’ strategy? What support was available to women to help them counter the negative impacts of climate change, which was particularly harsh in a small island developing state?

On vulnerable groups of women, the delegation was asked to comment on the situation of women with disabilities, migrant and asylum-seeking women.  Since sexual relationships between adults of the same sex was criminalized, what measures had been put in place to protect lesbian, bisexual and transwomen from violence and discrimination, and to ensure their full access to all social services?

An Expert commended Barbados for its long-standing commitment to sustainable development. The Expert asked how the country planned to establish a new framework for action that would respond to the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals and link women to this new vision for the country and the region.  This was a challenge but also an opportunity to strengthen the economic situation of women and link them more firmly with the sustainable development agenda.

Responses by the Delegation

The data on the situation of persons with disabilities in Barbados was not available at the moment, said the delegation, adding that it would be submitted in writing.

In terms of the criminalization of same-sex relations, the delegation said that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons were not prohibited from enjoying rights as citizens and that they had the right to enjoy all social services on an equal footing with all other citizens.

A Committee had been established to examine how Barbados would approach the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  The sustainable development was a critical question in Barbados, which played a leading role as a small island developing state in the negotiation of the 2030 Agenda.  Barbados was focused on social and gender dimensions of the issue and, since its independence in 1966, was committed to social inclusion, particularly for the most disadvantaged.  Additionally, Barbados was committed to transiting towards a green economy, and the Sustainable Development Goals were the embodiment of this vision.

Questions from the Experts
 
A Committee Expert welcomed the adoption or amendment of a number of laws in the area of family, including on maintenance.  The law no longer required that a woman take her husband’s name upon marriage – what measures had been taken to raise public awareness about this legal change?

There had been frequent reports of girls running away from home, putting them in considerable danger.  What were the reasons why girls were running away and how were the girls and their families supported to prevent this from occurring?

The Expert took positive note of the Government of Barbados’ intention to prohibit corporal punishment in school and asked about the reasons why the prohibition would not be extended to the home, too.

Barbados was vulnerable to natural disasters such as hurricanes: to which extent were emergency personnel trained in gender-sensitive response and rescue? And how were the voices of women included in the emergency preparedness and management plans?

Responses by the Delegation

In response to the issues raised by the Experts, the delegation said that there was no real, evidence-based consensus on societal attitudes to corporal punishment; it was, generally speaking, culturally accepted, but most contemporary households tended not to administer it on their children.  It was accepted that, soon, corporal punishment would become a thing of the past in schools, but it would most likely continue to be culturally accepted at home.  What was the age of marriage?

The Department of Emergency Management had local branches and the staff was trained in the rescue of vulnerable groups such as persons with disabilities. Steps were also being taken to include gender issues and mainstream gender in the operational procedures.

Further on corporal punishment, even though people reserved the right to discipline their children, they were not allowed to use excessive punishment, said the delegation. It explained that the Child Care Board monitored the situation and would intervene if the punishment became excessive.  There were parenting programmes usually run by non-governmental organizations to strengthen parenting skills.  

It was not well known why girls ran away from home, and more research was needed in this regard.  The right of women to keep their name in marriage was a new one, said the delegation, who added that more efforts were needed to increase awareness among the public.

With regards to the age of marriage, the delegation said that, although it was in the books that a girl could get married at the age of 16 with parental consent, this was not widely practiced.  A consultant had been hired to look at the legislation and identify irregularities and gaps, as well as harmonize the legislation with the international obligations, which would include the provision on the age of marriage.

Concluding Remarks

STEVEN BLACKETT, Minister of Social Care, Constituency Empowerment and Community Development of Barbados, thanked the Committee Experts and said that Barbados would do its best, within the limits of available resources, to be one of the best countries for women.

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

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