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Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women examines the reports of Niger

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination  
against Women  

13 July 2017

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined third and fourth periodic reports of Niger on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Introducing the reports, El Back Zeinabou Tari Bako, Minister for the Advancement of Women and Child Protection of Niger, stressed that the elimination of discrimination against women was a priority and that Niger’s National Gender Policy and its action plan 2009-2018 aimed to build a society without discrimination in which women and men enjoyed equal opportunities.  To give effect to the provisions of the Convention, Niger had set up gender cells in ministries and districts, established the National Observatory for the Promotion of Gender in 2015, and created the Parliamentarian Gender Network to advocate for gender equality.  The electoral quotas for women had been increased from 10 to 15 per cent, and significant strides had been made in the elimination of poverty, which had been reduced from 63 per cent in 2005 to 45 per cent in 2014.  The education of girls was a priority and measures to increase their enrolment and completion rates included the adoption of the national policy for girls’ education and the creation of an inter-ministerial group for the education of girls.  Niger spared no efforts to stamp out gender-based violence, child marriage and female genital mutilation; it had adopted a framework for the intervention and the national strategy for the prevention and response to gender-based violence, while holistic centres for survivors had been in place since 2002.

Committee Experts expressed appreciation for the many measures taken to advance the situation of women in Niger and noted with regret the stagnation in the reform of areas where discrimination against women persisted.  They recognized the complex political, security and humanitarian situation caused by the activities of Boko Haram and the increase in racial Islamism which was damaging to women’s rights.  Was Niger ready to be a leader in the implementation of the Convention regardless of the obstacles created by religion, culture and customs, and to withdraw reservations to the Convention?  Experts raised concern about the widespread gender-based violence exacerbated by high levels of female poverty and illiteracy; early and child marriage which was frequent and accepted – one in four girls was married before the age of 15; and the marginal progress in reducing the continued practice of female genital mutilation.  They asked if an independent mechanism would be set up to investigate human rights violations committed by security forces and opposition armed groups, including in the context of anti-terrorism operations, and how women would be associated with this mechanism; about measures taken to curb the illicit migration flows and migrant smuggling through the country; and if Niger was willing to learn from other Muslim countries which had successfully brought gender equality into their personal status laws and addressed religious interpretations which perpetuated discrimination against women.

In her concluding remarks, Ms. Tari Bako reassured the Committee that its questions would be duly addressed.  Niger had learned a great deal.  Niger had its customs and traditions and it needed to ensure that it was in step with modern standards.

The delegation of Niger included representatives of the Ministry for the Advancement of Women and Child Protection; Chief Advisor to the Prime Minister; Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Preparation of Reports to Treaty Bodies and the Universal Periodic Review; Directorate for Human Rights, Judicial Protection of Juveniles and Social Action; Ministry for Primary Education, Literacy, Promotion of National Languages and Civic Education; as well as representatives of the Permanent Mission of Niger to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will reconvene in public on Friday, 14 July at 10 a.m. to consider the combined seventh and eighth periodic reports of Nigeria (CEDAW/C/NGA/7-8).

Reports

The combined third and fourth periodic reports of Niger can be read here: CEDAW/C/NER/3-4.

Presentation of the Reports

EL BACK ZEINABOU TARI BAKO, Minister for the Advancement of Women and Child Protection of Niger, stressed that Niger had made the elimination of discrimination against women a priority; it had acceded to all major human rights instruments and its Constitution in article 22 stipulated the obligation of the State to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women, girls and persons with disabilities.  The National Gender Policy and its action plan 2009-2018 aimed to build a society without discrimination in which everyone – women and men, boys and girls – enjoyed equal opportunities.  In 2012, Niger had set up a committee for follow-up to the implementation of the recommendations made by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and in 2010 it had adopted anti-trafficking in persons legislation and removed discriminatory provisions from the law on nationality, allowing a woman to transmit nationality to her foreign spouse.  The National Agency for Legal and Judicial Aid had been set up to provide legal aid to vulnerable groups, including women.

Significant institutional measures to give the provisions of the Convention more effect had been undertaken, including the setting up of gender cells in ministries, creating a mechanism at the national level, and establishing the National Observatory for the Promotion of Gender in 2015, which monitored the effectiveness of the national gender equality measures.  The Parliamentarian Gender Network had been created to advocate for gender equality.  The law on electoral quotas had been revised and had increased quotas for women from 10 to 15 per cent in 2015; following the legislative elections in 2016, 27 women had been elected to the 171 seats of the Parliament, representing over 15 per cent.  Niger had made significant strides in the elimination of poverty, reducing the poverty rate from 63 per cent in 2005 to 45 per cent in 2014, and had adopted the national plan for socio-economic development 2012-2015 and 2017-2021.  A Solidarity Fund for rural women had been set up in 2011, and policies had been put in place to revise and reduce primary school fees.  The education of girls was a priority and several measures had been taken to increase enrolment and completion rates for girls, including the adoption of the national policy for girls’ education and the creation of an inter-ministerial group for the education of girls. 

Niger had spared no efforts to stamp out gender-based violence, child marriage and female genital mutilation; it had adopted a framework for intervention, with the national strategy for the prevention of and response to gender-based violence, while holistic centres for survivors had been in place since 2002.  Efforts to reduce the very high rates of child marriage included the “Illimin” initiative which targeted adolescents and aimed to reduce child marriages and teenage pregnancies.  In addition, 320 safe spaces had been established through which 32,000 adolescents had been reached in 2017.  The rate of female genital mutilation had been reduced from 2.2 per cent in 2006 to two per cent in 2012.  At the end of her opening statement, the Minister recognized that, notwithstanding the progress to date, many challenges remained to the full realization of rights guaranteed under the Convention and said that, in collaboration with key stakeholders such as the National Human Rights Commission, civil society organizations, and opinion leaders,  Niger was committed to continue taking concrete measures to improve the status of women in the country.

Questions from the Experts
 
A Committee Expert expressed appreciation for the many measures taken to advance the situation of women and expressed regret about the stagnation in reforms in areas where discrimination against women persisted.  The Expert recognized the complex political, security and humanitarian problems caused by the damaging activities of Boko Haram and the increase in racial Islamism in the country which was damaging for the rights of women.

The Expert asked whether Niger was ready to take a leadership role in the implementation of the provisions of the Convention regardless of the obstacles created by religion, culture and customs; and about the withdrawal of the reservations to the Convention, measures to eliminate corruption and nepotism, training and awareness raising of traditional authorities on women’s rights, and the effectiveness of legal aid.

A Committee Expert hoped for the rapid adoption of the law on the status of refugees and internally displaced persons, which had been pending for over a year, and asked about measures taken to support refugees and internally displaced persons who lived in extremely precarious conditions. 

What were the intentions concerning the establishment of an independent investigative mechanism into all human rights violations committed by security forces and opposition armed groups?  How would women be involved in the working of this mechanism, particularly in light of the United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security?

Another Expert addressed the issue of the peace process and noted that the consolidation of dialogue with religious leaders was very significant.  Niger was a transit country for migrants and migrant smuggling – what was being done to address those illicit migration flows in which the rights of women were significantly violated, and what were the provisions of the 2015 law on punishing illegal smuggling of migrants in this regard?  How did Niger ensure that women were placed at the heart of such measures?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation reiterated the firm commitment of Niger to the rights of women and informed the Committee that serious reflection was ongoing about the reservations to the Convention.  The battle for the rights of women was ongoing on many fronts and Niger had to be careful as to which fights to pick.

With regard to the security situation in the country and in the region, Niger did not choose to be in this situation and had done everything to combat Boko Haram.

A consultation framework with civil society had been in place since 2014, through which various awareness raising activities were taking place. 

Niger was doing its best to manage migration and migrants who were transiting the country.  It had just started a joint study with the United Nations Children’s Fund into the migration of women and children through the north of the country in order to identify root causes and possible responses. 

In response to questions raised about access to justice, a delegate explained that the National Agency for Legal and Judicial Aid had been set up in 2010 to provide legal aid to vulnerable groups, including women; it had set up local offices in 10 district courts throughout the country and was working on extending its presence in other districts courts.  The Agency received a budget from the State and its financial and human resources were sufficient.  The national justice and human rights policy had been adopted in 2014, so had the national human rights plan; both aimed to contribute to a more effective and more accessible judicial system which was more protective of rights.

There was an adequate mechanism to support internally displaced persons in Diffa region; distributions, including food distributions, were running smoothly. 

The delegation stressed that the national armed forces were well disciplined, their mandate was to protect the population and there were no violations of human rights, including of human rights of displaced women.  The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had undertaken three missions to Niger since the beginning of Boko Haram activities which aimed to look into the violation of human rights in the context of anti-terrorism activities.  The Office had reported that, while there were human rights violations, it was not the national Army which was involved in torture and other human rights violations.

In their follow-up questions, the Experts recognized the pressing social, economic and security situation in the country as well as the pressure exerted by some traditional and religious leaders, whose opposition had resulted in the abandonment of the draft personal status code.  What were the intentions concerning the revival of the process of the adoption of the personal status code and how could youth be involved?   Would Niger be open to learn from other Muslim countries which had successfully brought gender equality into their personal status laws and also to revisit certain religious interpretations which perpetuated discrimination against women and harmful stereotypes?

Responding to question on the provision of support to internally displaced persons, a delegate said that a large delegation from the United States had recently visited the Diffa region and other areas of the country affected by displacement.  Following up on this visit, Niger and its partners would develop a framework for assistance to internally displaced persons that would enter into force in 2018. 

In terms of the withdrawal of reservations to the Convention, the delegation explained that in March 2014, Niger had organized a five-day National Forum on Population and Development which had brought together representatives from civil society, religious leaders, and universities from the region; as a result, the project of consultation with the ulema (religious leaders) had been set up.  The delegation further said that Niger had ratified the Maputo Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, which prevailed over the laws of the country. 

At the level of the Government, there were several projects and draft bills related to the lifting of the reservations, which were unfortunately blocked by the Parliament under the influence of religious leaders.  The National Assembly was free to accept or reject legislation proposed by the Government, and this was how democracy worked; the Parliamentary Gender Network had been set up to raise awareness among the Members of the Parliament and advocate for gender equality and women’s rights.  The Government was willing and ready, but this was a process which had to go through stages.

Questions from the Experts
 
Taking the floor to address the issue of the national gender machinery, an Expert welcomed the establishment of the National Observatory for the Advancement of Gender to contribute to reducing gaps in gender equality in the country, the setting up of gender focal points in the districts, and the adoption of the ten-year action plan for the implementation of the national gender policy. 

What resources had been allocated to support the functioning of those mechanisms and ensure the implementation of the action plan?  Who were the members of the National Observatory, did it act as an Ombudsman and could it bring complaints of discrimination to courts?  Who were the gender focal points?  What were the main goals and aims of the Parliamentary Gender Network and who were its members?

With regard to the temporary special measures, another Expert welcomed the increase in the quotas for the representation of women in the electoral law, but noted that the increase from 10 to 15 per cent was still far lower than the accepted standard.  In some instances, women were completely absent from decision-making bodies and this was where temporary special measures had a role to play – what was being done in this regard?

Responses by the Delegation

Responding to questions on the national gender machinery, a delegate said that the promotion of gender equality was primarily the responsibility of the Ministry for the Advancement of Women and Child Protection of Niger, within which the National Observatory for the Advancement of Gender had been created as an independent body.  In addition, gender cells composed of several persons had been created in other Ministries and districts which were in charge of promoting gender equality policies. 

Niger had competent human resources, and support from partners who provided capacity building and financial support, in addition to resources provided by the Government.  The gender equality machinery was well resourced.

Currently, there were 11 female ministers and Niger was satisfied with the progress being made in the representation and participation of women in elected and decision-making posts.  

The National Observatory was independent from the Government and was composed of representatives of the different Ministries, the Cabinet, civil society and was a melting pot for different stakeholders.  When presenting their electoral lists, political parties were obliged to ensure that at least 15 per cent of the candidates were women.   The Parliamentary Gender Network was open to everyone, not only women Members of Parliament.

Questions from the Experts
 
In the next round of questions, an Expert regretted that, 28 years after the ratification of the Convention, Niger still maintained the reservation to article 5(1) which obliged States parties to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and other practices which were based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women. 

Gender-based violence was widespread and exacerbated by poverty and illiteracy of women; early and child marriage was frequent and accepted: 25 per cent of girls married before the age of 15, which effectively stopped their schooling and had damaging impact on health; female genital mutilation continued to be practiced and progress made in the reduction of the practice was marginal.  The practice of “wahaya” or the fifth wife, had been qualified as a form of slavery by the courts of the Economic Community of West African States, but it continued to be practiced on some regions. 

What were the plans concerning the prohibition of “wahaya” and female genital mutilation, and the setting of the age of marriage at 18 years?

Another concern was that trafficking in persons persisted in Niger, which continued to be a country of origin, transit and destination.  Only one case of trafficking in persons had been reported since 2014 and general information on the phenomenon was lacking.  Why was this?  How were the “marabouts” monitored to ensure that they did not force women and children into begging and prostitution, and other forms of sexual exploitation?  What measures were in place to prevent trafficking in persons and to protect women and girls from being trafficked for labour and sexual exploitation?

Slavery was criminalized and it was expected that strict measures against slavery were put in place, including the prohibition of “wahaya” or the fifth wife.  What systems and mechanisms were in place to identify and support victims of human trafficking, slavery and prostitution?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that great efforts were being undertaken to reduce early marriage, including through the adolescent initiative which aimed to reduce child marriage and early pregnancy.  Under the initiative, over 300 so-called safe spaces had been set up in districts where adolescent girls, in school or not, married or not, received six-month training and sensitization courses, which empowered them to say no to early marriage.  The plan was to set up 140 centres in each region and over time would cover the whole territory and would lead to the eradication of early and forced marriage.  In 2015, the African Union had started a campaign to put an end to child marriage and as an African Union member, Niger had started the implementation of the campaign in the country and was in the process of drafting the national action plan for the elimination of early and child marriages.

On the prohibition of the practice of “wahaya”, the delegation reminded that the anti-slavery framework was already in place and was strong, and slavery and slavery-like practices were prohibited by the Constitution and several pieces of legislation, including the anti-trafficking in persons law and the criminal law.  A separate law prohibiting “wahaya” was therefore not necessary.

Niger was in the process of setting up a compensation fund for victims of human trafficking.

Legal aid and judicial aid were two different categories; according to the 2010 law, legal aid was granted to all citizens, while judicial aid was provided to vulnerable categories such as youth, disabled persons and women, regardless of their nationality or level of income.  Women in divorce or inheritance proceedings as well as women victims of violence were entitled to judicial aid.

The delegation explained that those married under civil law could not repudiate women, while repudiation was possible in marriages contracted under customary law.  Efforts were being taken to protect repudiated women by ensuring that they remained in the home, for example, and were sheltered and fed by the former husband.

The mandate of the Ombudsman extended into disputes between an individual and the administration, but could not intervene in disputes between private persons.

Following the 2011 study into domestic violence, a national prevention and response plan had been developed in 2017.  The Ministry had been involved in capacity building of those on the frontline of response, police, prosecution and the judiciary, as well as civil society organizations.  It was hoped that a module on gender-based violence would be integrated in the police training.

In terms of legal regulation of marriage, a personal status law defined all conditions for marriage, including age; the draft law on child marriage, which had been rejected by Parliament, proposed the prohibition of marriage of girls still in school.  Everyone had the right to choose whether to marry under civil or customary law.

A study was being conducted into female genital mutilation and there were many non-governmental organizations which worked on the issue with the support of partners, including the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Questions from the Experts
 
In terms of the participation of women in political and public life, an Expert said that the increase in electoral quotas for women was commendable but insufficient, as women continued to be seriously under-represented in elected and appointed positions.  Some positions continued to be the male domain, namely the positions of governors and prefects, and in those, women were not represented at all.

What measures were being taken to increase the representation of women in elected and appointed posts and in the diplomatic service?  What was being done to ensure that the remarkable progress in birth registration of all children born in Niger was sustained?

Responses by the Delegation

Niger was making progress in increasing the political and public representation of women, and the delegation commended civil society organizations for supporting and bolstering the State’s efforts in this regard.  It was expected that two women would be appointed Governors soon.  Women represented over 36 per cent of diplomatic service staff.

Efforts were being taken to combat statelessness, with the support of civil society.  One of the measures to ensure birth registration of all children was mobile judges who visited villages and ensured that all children born on the territory of Niger were registered.

Questions from the Experts

A Committee Expert recognized the commitment of Niger to the education of girls and the progress made in enrolment and completion rates, including in the rural areas.  However, the proportion of children and girls in particular in school remained very low. 

What was being done to support parents in ensuring that their children were in school, and to address traditions and beliefs which held girls back from going to school?  What was being done to remove discriminatory provisions which prevented girl mothers from completing their education?  What was the percentage of girls on university campus and how were girls from poor families encouraged and supported to pursue tertiary studies?

Women in Niger continued to face important obstacles to their employment and 97 per cent of working women were engaged in the informal sector, where they did not enjoy even a minimum of social protection.  Furthermore, women still required a husband’s approval to work.  The 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals were an opportunity for Niger to examine, once again, why those obstacles persisted despite the positive legislation passed.

The Committee emphasized that further measures were needed to increase the percentage of women in formal employment, and to prevent and combat harassment, including sexual harassment, in the labour sphere.

Female genital mutilation was a non-religious, non-African practice which aimed to control female sexuality, said another Expert and asked the delegation to provide data on the prevalence rate and the number of infants who died due to complications.  Could the delegation inform on the availability of and access to sexual and reproductive health services, whether safe and legal abortion was available to all women who requested it, and the status of the new health care development plan 2016-2020?

Replies by the Delegation

In response to questions raised about education, the delegation said that the overall enrolment rate stood at 76 per cent in 2016 and for girls it stood at 70 per cent, which went up from 62 per cent in 2012.  This progress was the result of a host of measures taken to promote the education of girls, such as introducing free of charge education up to the age of 16, introduction of school canteens and school feeding programmes, and the adoption of the national education policy.  There were no cases in which pregnant girls were prohibited from completing their schooling after giving birth.

The delegation said that the gender pay gap did not exist in Niger, and that each individual was paid according to qualification regardless of gender.  When it came to employment, the crux of the problem was the informal sector, and particularly access to banking services for women informal sector workers.   This was changing today, with banking services becoming more accessible.  Women were free to choose the work they wanted and they did not require a husband’s permission to exercise a profession.

A law was in place to end the stigmatization of people living with HIV/AIDS, which represented significant progress.  The prevalence rate had been reduced from one per cent at the beginning of the epidemic in 1987 to 0.4 per cent.  Care for pregnant mothers living with HIV/AIDS was free of charge and they could also access a free-of-charge caesarean.

Sexual harassment in the workplace was forbidden in the labour code, while the criminal code contained a prohibition of sexual harassment in general.

Abortion was illegal and a crime which was punishable by prison, both for the woman and the abortion service provider.  The abortion was legal in three cases: when the life of the mother was in danger, in case of incest and in case of rape, and when such an abortion had to be performed in a State-certified medical centre.

The programme to strengthen the health care system would be soon adopted, and it would focus on rural areas where the challenges were the greatest.  Under this programme, rural health care would be strengthened to improve the provision of health services relevant to women.

Questions from the Experts
 
In a further series of questions, an Expert raised concern about the feminization of poverty, which led to high maternal mortality rates, lower school enrolment and completion rates for women and girls, early pregnancy, and labour exploitation of women in certain sectors.  Women could not open a bank account without the husband’s knowledge and approval. 

Female poverty remained entrenched in rural areas where women continued to suffer discrimination and stereotypes, and in general, were in a more difficult situation than their urban sisters.  Were there any follow-up mechanisms to ensure that rural development programmes included gender focus and how many rural women were the beneficiaries of the Solidarity Fund?  Were any measures being considered to increase the number of women holding chieftain positions?

Turning to the situation of women in detention, the delegation was asked about the separation of pre-trial detainees from convicted prisoners, and what was being done to allow regular visits by the National Human Rights Commission to monitor the implementation of the penitentiary legislation and policies.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation stressed that the majority of women in Niger lived in rural areas.  The national strategy for the improvement of the status of women placed particular focus on the situation of rural women, and it was being implemented through women’s groups, which existed in each village and were a part of the empowerment mechanism.  Women were at the forefront of the fight against desertification and land degradation and also environmental protection.

At the initiative of civil society, the Government was in the process of drafting the social protection bill.

Under the auspices of the African Union, Niger had been participating since 2014 in a regional project entitled the Gender, Climate Change and Agricultural Support Programme, which aimed to support gender equality in the context of climate change in the agricultural sector.

The Solidarity Fund could be used to purchase equipment to alleviate domestic and agricultural tasks of women.

Women were very much involved in the traditional system and exerted much influence; each village had a high-ranking man and a high-ranking woman, while the daughters of the chieftain served as his counsellors and advisors.

It was true that female detainees were kept in the same prisons as males, but they were kept separately in female wings.  Juveniles were also held separately from the adult population.

There was no law, civil or customary, which prevented women from owning land; there were only customary beliefs to that effect.

Questions from the Experts
 
A Committee Expert noted that the law did not specify the age of marriage and recalled the obligations of the State party to eliminate all harmful traditional practices, which included early and child marriage.

Also, there was no legally defined age of consensual sex, which made the identification of statutory rape impossible.  What would be done to establish the minimum age of censual sex for girls?  Polygamy and repudiation were permitted by customary law, while widows were often deprived of their inheritance by the husband’s relatives.  What was being done, apart from the personal status law, to abolish such discriminatory laws and practices?

Responses by the Delegation

In response to the issues raised by the Experts, the delegation said according to customs, a woman had an obligation to move to the husband’s place of residence, although this was not always the case.  It was difficult to upset and change the established customs.  A judge was not obliged to implement customary law but rather had a discretion in deciding whether to apply customary or civil law.

As for the age of sexual consent, the delegation explained that having sexual relations with minors, even a consenting minor, was not allowed and could be considered as rape.  The age of majority was 21 years.

Concluding Remarks

EL BACK ZEINABOU TARI BAKO, Minister for the Advancement of Women and Child Protection of Niger, in her concluding remarks, said that the delegation took note of all the contributions during the dialogue which would be duly addressed.  Niger had learned a great deal.  Niger had its customs and traditions and it needed to ensure that it was in step with modern standards.

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

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