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NGOs Brief Committee on the situation of women in Bolivia, Croatia, Namibia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Committee on the Elimination
of Discrimination against Women

13 July 2015

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon met with representatives of non-governmental organizations to hear information on the situation of women in Bolivia, Croatia, Namibia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, whose reports will be considered during the rest of the sixty-first session.

In Bolivia, non-governmental organizations said impunity for violence against women including femicide prevailed, while maternal mortality rates remained persistently high, particularly in rural areas. Rates of teenage pregnancy were high because of sexual violence, while unsafe abortion was the third leading cause of maternal mortality. The appropriation of land, and extractive and mining industries caused environmental pollution and degradation and increased the vulnerability of indigenous women, including to sexual exploitation and trafficking.

Representatives of non-governmental organizations from Croatia said that women victims of domestic violence were being arrested along with their abusers for verbally insulting the aggressor or for acting in self-defence, while those who had never lived with the perpetrator and/or had no children with him were excluded from protection by the Law on Domestic Violence. Conscience based refusal of abortion services by health care providers was now so widespread that women had great difficulties to access safe abortion services. While the law allowed individual doctors to refuse to provide abortion services on grounds of conscience, it was not an option for hospitals, but six out of thirty hospitals had institutional policies against the provision of abortion services.

Concerning the situation in Namibia, non-governmental organizations drew the attention to forced sterilization of women living with HIV/AIDS, and said that there had been little legislative progress in protecting women in the family context. The high level of gender-based violence continued unabated and corporal punishment continued to be practiced in schools despite its prohibition by law. It was crucially important to officially recognize women’s rights to land in their own names; the right to land should not be perceived as existing only through a relationship with a man.

The 2015 Law on Domestic Violence in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines introduced a comprehensive definition of domestic violence and made reporting of domestic violence obligatory, but it also created a financial burden for victims, did not provide for legal aid, did not specify the role of the Crisis Centre which was the shelter for battered women, and did not oblige government agencies to record and report data on domestic violence.

Non-governmental organizations from Bolivia were the Coalition of Civil Society representing more than 100 civil society organizations, and the National Confederation of Indigenous Women of Bolivia. Croatian non-governmental organizations that took the floor were Women’s Network of Croatia, Autonomous Women’s House Zagreb, and Centre for Education, Counselling and Research. Speaking on the situation of women in Namibia were Southern Africa Litigation Centre and Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. St. Vincent and the Grenadines Human Rights Association also took the floor.

The Committee will reconvene in public on Tuesday, 14 July at 10 a.m., to begin its consideration of the combined fourth to eighth periodic reports of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (CEDAW/C/VCT/4-8).

Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations

Bolivia

The Coalition of Civil Society drew the attention of the Committee to the weakening of the women’s rights protection mechanism and recommended the establishment of a Ministry of Women to ensure crosscutting gender mainstreaming. Another issue of concern was impunity for violence against women including femicide; almost 40 per cent of the reported cases were rejected by the prosecutor, including because they were withdrawn by victims who were often financially dependent on the perpetrator. The State should assign resources to implement sustainable preventive strategies and strengthen the legal protection of women. Bolivia still experienced a high maternal mortality rate, particularly in rural areas where it was four times higher, and rates of teenage pregnancy were also high due to sexual violence; unsafe abortion was the third leading cause of maternal mortality.

National Confederation of Indigenous Women of Bolivia said the appropriation of land and natural resources increased the vulnerability of indigenous women. Extractive and mining industries caused environmental pollution and degradation and reduced the surface of agricultural land, while the presence of a predominantly male workforce foreign to indigenous communities led to sexual exploitation and trafficking of indigenous women. Marginalization of indigenous women translated to their weak access to justice. Bolivia should adopt special measures to guarantee the rights of indigenous communities and fulfil its constitutional and international obligations in this regard.

Croatia

Women’s Network of Croatia noted that Croatian non-governmental organizations were completely excluded from the preparation of the report and said that Croatia was failing in the implementation of the Anti-Discrimination Act and the Equality of Sexes Act, and said that there were significant problems with the implementation of the hate crime provisions in relation to violence against lesbian women. Although abortion was legal, it was not accessible financially and spatially, while the Ministry of Health had adopted instructions for dispensation of contraceptives after tablets which were contrary to the European Union law, forcing women to answer a series of intimate questions at the pharmacy and limiting access to tablets to minors.

Autonomous Women’s House Zagreb said that women victims of domestic violence were being arrested along with their abusers for verbally insulting the aggressor or for acting in self-defence. Those who had never lived with the perpetrator and/or had no children with him were not entitled to any protection under the law. The new Family Law contained harmful provisions, such as mandatory mediation in divorce and enforced custody, where a parent seeking to limit visitations by a violent parent could face heavy fines and incarceration up to six months.

Centre for Education, Counselling and Research said that conscience based refusals of abortion services by health care providers were now so widespread that women had great difficulties to access safe abortion services, and poor, rural and socially disadvantaged women suffered an especially heavy impact. The law allowed individual doctors to refuse to provide abortion services on grounds of conscience, but six hospitals out of thirty had institutional policies against the provision of abortion services.

Namibia

Southern Africa Litigation Centre drew the attention of the Committee to forced sterilization of women living with HIV/AIDS, and said that little had been done to stop the practice and no information about investigations were publically available. The Government should put in place a clear policy on sterilization, including full and informed consent, and launch an independent investigation into all alleged cases of forced or involuntary sterilization and provide remedy for victims.

Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights said that there had been little legislative progress in protecting women in the family context and stressed the critical need for laws on marriage, recognition of customary marriage, marital property reform, intestate succession, divorce, cohabitation, and stalking. A high-level rate of gender-based violence continued unabated and corporal punishment continued to be practiced in schools despite its prohibition by law. Land remained a crucial issue for women in Namibia, and it was very important to officially recognize women’s rights to land in their own names and this should not be perceived as existing only through a relationship with a man.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Université du Québec à Montréal International Clinic for the Defence of Human Rights, read out the statement by St. Vincent and the Grenadines Human Rights Association in which it said that the 2015 Law on Domestic Violence introduced a comprehensive definition of domestic violence and made reporting of domestic violence obligatory, but it also created a financial burden for victims, as it required them to file affidavits, for which they had to retain a lawyer. The Law did not provide for legal aid, did not specify the role of the Crisis Centre which was the shelter for battered women, and did not oblige government agencies to record and report data on domestic violence.

Questions by Committee Members

In Croatia, an Expert raised the issue of the role of the Church which seemed to be at the root of some of the problems women experienced and asked what the Committee could do to remind the State party that it was a secular State. Non-governmental organizations were also asked to comment on the State party’s report which stated that prosecutions for discrimination had increased, and about their proposals for legislative amendments to address the phenomenon of dual arrest in the context of violence against women and domestic violence.

Experts took up the issues of the continued use of corporal punishment in schools in Namibia, despite its clear prohibition in the law, the training of the judiciary and the media on the Convention, the status and the role of the Law Reform Commission and the main obstacles to the legislative reforms process.

Bolivia had achieved almost gender parity in the political representation of women in Parliament and the Senate, and non-governmental organizations were asked about their role in the legislation.

Response by Non-governmental Organizations

Representatives of non-governmental organizations took the floor to respond to questions on Bolivia and said that as a result of recent elections, Bolivia now had the second highest political representation of women in the world. Now that women had been elected, it was hoped that they would deliver on the commitments they had made prior to the election, particularly in the implementation of the existing laws.

Croatian non-governmental organizations agreed that the Church exerted great influence on the passing of legislation in the country, with detrimental impact on the rights of women in areas such as sexual education in school, assisted fertilization, same-sex marriage, and others. It was important to stress the secular character of the State and there was a need to address the growing religious extremism. Croatia had good legislation in place, which was well known by judges and the police, but the political will was lacking for its implementation. The rate of dual arrest was on the increase, from 22 per cent in 2013 to 43 per cent today. It was critical to implement the right kind of training for the police and also to amend the Law on Domestic Violence to narrow down the definition of domestic violence, which now also included verbal violence.

Corporal punishment was prohibited in Namibia, but many parents complained about their children being physically punished. Non-governmental organizations had been consulted on the preparation of the report and felt that their contribution had been properly taken into account.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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