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Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women meets with Civil Society Representatives

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination
   against Women

9 November 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 Madagascar, Timor-Leste and Slovakia, whose reports will be considered during the third week of the session.  It also met with a representative of the National Human Rights Commission of Timor-Leste.

Representatives of non-governmental organizations in Madagascar underlined issues concerning the legal framework, women’s participation in political and public life, rural women, violence against women and access to justice, and access of women to land rights.

Civil society representatives from Timor-Leste focused on issues of female leadership in decision-making positions at the local level, the National Action Plan based on the Law against Domestic Violence, the re-entry school policy, the lack of implementation of the recommendations by the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor (CAVR), and the inadequate situation of women and girls with disabilities. 

Slovakian non-governmental organizations spoke about the inadequate institutional protection of women’s rights, barriers in access to modern contraceptives and legal abortion services, as well as about the continued discrimination against Roma women and girls in health care, education and the justice system.

Non-governmental organizations from Madagascar included the Coalition of Civil Society in Madagascar composed of 35 organizations, and the National Council of Women in Madagascar.  Those from Timor-Leste included Civil Society Coalition in Timor-Leste, Amnesty International, the Judicial System Monitoring Programme, Global Initiative, and Ra’es Hadomi Timor Oran.  From Slovakia the following took part in the dialogue: Citizen, Democracy and Accountability, Women’s Circles and TransFusion, Centre for Reproductive Rights, and Centre for Civil and Human Rights.

The Committee will reconvene on Tuesday, 10 November, at 10 a.m. to consider the combined sixth and seventh periodic report of Madagascar (CEDAW/C/MDG/6-7).
Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations

The Coalition of Civil Society in Madagascar highlighted the legal framework and the national mechanism, women’s participation in political and public life, rural women, and violence against women and access to justice.  It was noted that there were no constitutional, legislative or administrative measures to provide an explicit definition of “discrimination against women.”  Political decision-makers denied issues affecting gender equality and they were not aware of the measures that the State should take in line with the Convention.  There was a lack of gender disaggregated data in all areas and a lack of gender equality culture.  Less than one per cent of the national budget was allocated to the department in charge of promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment.  The overall participation of women at the decision-making level stood at only four per cent.  In local elections of July 2015, only five per cent of elected mayors were female.  That low representation was due to the lack of temporary special measures taken by the State. 

The National Council of Women in Madagascar said that rural women were not able to participate in the implementation of local development policies.  Gender stereotypes were embedded in cultural and social norms and inhibited women’s participation in decision-making.  As for access to land, the Inheritance Law discriminated against women and reduced their opportunities to access land.  The principle of equal access to basic health services was also violated.  The level of maternal mortality was very high.  As for violence against women and access to justice, there was no specific law on gender based violence, despite the overwhelming facts pointing to the high prevalence of domestic violence against women.  Female survivors could not access justice due to the high cost of legal counsel.  There was no free legal aid for them.  The State did not provide shelters for survivors, whereas in the east of the country, four of the six counselling centres for victims of violence had been closed down.  The State had not taken any measures to investigate insecurity for women. 
The Civil Society Coalition in Timor-Leste highlighted the issues of female leadership in decision-making positions at the local level, the National Action Plan based on the Law against Domestic Violence, and the re-entry school policy.  In rural areas women were still restricted by social, cultural and political barriers, and there was a continued under-representation of women in public life and decision-making processes.  The Government lacked both financial and human resources to implement the National Action Plan on Domestic Violence and Gender-Based Violence.  The plan was not implemented effectively and it lacked additional services for victims, including their children.  The Re-Entry School Policy was poorly implemented.  The number of girls dropping out of school continued to increase and many of those girls faced stigmatization and were often transferred to other schools. 

Amnesty International and the Judicial System Monitoring Programme focused on women’s and girls’ access to justice and reparation in the post-conflict Timor-Leste for violations committed during the Indonesian occupation from 1975 until 1999.  The Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor (CAVR) had documented 853 instances of sexual violence committed against women and girls.  However, Timor-Leste and Indonesia had largely failed to implement many of the recommendations.  The Government should ensure that there would be no impunity for crimes against humanity and other human rights violations.  It should implement the Commission’s recommendations and encourage the Timorese Parliament to debate and enact as soon as possible two draft laws on a national reparation programme and a Public Memory Institute in accordance with international standards.

Global Initiative noted that Timorese women faced pervasive structural discrimination and negative gender stereotypes, which dramatically impeded their ability to participate in and benefit from education and political representation, and which limited their rights over land and other resources.  Timor-Leste did not yet have a formal system for administering land rights.  There was no national land policy, but the Government was in the process of developing a national land law.  Most people used the traditional justice system to deal with land issues, and the traditional system was not favourable to women.  While the Government had held some consultations on the draft Land Law at the district level, people in the rural areas had not participated in a meaningful way. 

Ra’es Hadomi Timor Oran stressed that women with disabilities in Timor-Leste faced multiple and intersectional discrimination due to their gender and their disability.  There was a stark lack of data collected across all sectors disaggregated by disability.  The 2010 census reported that 72 per cent of people with disability in Timor-Leste had never attended school and of those attending school only 36 per cent were girls.  There was also a need to take urgent action to provide accessible victim support services for women and girls with disabilities who were at higher risk of experiencing violence, and to ensure their protection through obligatory training for police and the judiciary.
Citizen, Democracy and Accountability and Women’s Circles and TransFusion noted that the institutional protection of women’s rights was inadequate.  Judicial proceedings in discrimination-related cases were too long and the compensation was symbolic.  There had been an increasing backlash against gender equality, sexual minorities and reproductive rights led by religious and other conservative groups.  Women continued to be discriminated against in employment and in family relations.  Transgender persons faced serious violations of their rights, such as forced castration in order to have their gender legally recognized.

Centre for Reproductive Rights underlined that women continued to face significant barriers in access to modern contraceptives, and in access to legal abortion services.  The cost of abortion was not subsidized which made it inaccessible for many low-income and young women.  The existing regulation of conscience-based refusal of reproductive health care was inadequate.  Women also experienced discrimination and abusive treatment during child birth in hospitals, and there were serious deficits in ensuring that women gave their informed consent to interventions during child birth.

Centre for Civil and Human Rights stated that the Roma women still faced discrimination in health care and education.  In some hospitals they were placed in separate rooms, whereas separate dining rooms and bathrooms also existed.  Roma girls were educated in separate schools or classes.   Slovakia had the second highest proportion of Roma children educated in special education for children with mental disabilities.  Sterilization of Roma women without informed consent was still carried out and the State had done nothing to conduct extensive investigations into those cases and to introduce a comprehensive compensation mechanism.  The State had also not done anything to monitor the implementation of the new health care legislation.  Roma women also did not have effective access to justice and had low trust in the judicial system.
Questions by Experts
On Timor-Leste, an Expert asked whether civil society was consulted when the State party prepared the report.  How many shelters for victims of violence against women existed in the country and where were they located?  What was the percentage of women owning their own land?  Did they gain land through inheritance or some other form? 

On Slovakia, an Expert asked about the economic situation of women and about specific deficiencies of the existing regulation of marital property.  As for the new possibility for joint custody of children after divorce, the so-called alternating custody of both parents, how did it work?  Another Expert asked about the degree of participation of Roma women in the work of the national authorities for the Roma people.  Speaking about low trust in courts by Roma, an Expert asked for some statistical data demonstrating such distrust. 

As for the reported backlash against gender equality, what kind of action by the Government of Slovakia would be required?  Another Expert raised the issue of no progress in female participation in political and public life in Slovakia.

On Madagascar, an Expert asked for the clarification of the cited figure of female participation in political and public life.

Replies by Non-governmental Organizations

The overall figure on the representation of women in political and public life in Madagascar was four per cent because it was calculated on the basis of figures at levels of decision-making.

On Timor-Leste, it was said that civil society had participated only once in the preparation of the State party’s report.  There were six shelters for victims of gender-based violence in the country, out of which four were in the capital.  The perpetrators and victims would often end up in the same place.  As for the land issue, there were no statistical data.  However, women’s access to land was very low.    

Civil society representatives from Slovakia explained that the law that regulated the management of the marital property accorded the same rights to partners, including investment into the marital property.  Business property, however, was not considered part of the marital property.   The earning potential of the partners was also not taken into account.   The law applied only to marriages and not to de facto unions, such as same-sex unions.   As for the recent backlash against gender equality, conservative groups in Slovakia had been very active, whereas the State had been very neutral.  As for female representation in political and public life, it was desperately low.  In the judiciary, women managed only traditional female areas, such as the family law.  Roma civil society mostly focused mostly on cultural agenda.  Sometimes they commented on discriminatory legislation.  In 2012 research was conducted on court decisions involving Roma.

Statement by the National Human Rights Commission of Timor-Leste

The National Human Rights Commission of Timor-Leste noted that almost 40 per cent of Timorese women between the age of 15 and 49 experienced violence at home.  Almost 75 per cent of married women who experienced violence did so at the hands of their husbands.  Unmarried women mostly experienced violence by their parents.  Educated and economically independent women were often overrepresented in the statistics of violence.  They were at the forefront of a cultural clash because they did not comply with the stereotype of the woman who stayed at home and the man who was the head of the household.  There was a need for stricter laws against domestic violence.  Sexual violence was another serious problem in the country.  The Commission thus asked the Committee to urge the State party to implement robust measures against sexual violence, including prosecution of perpetrators and public outreach campaigns to raise awareness.  Access to formal justice was sometimes difficult for women in Timor-Leste due to low awareness about the formal justice system, and physical accessibility and availability in rural areas where traditional justice systems prevailed. 

Questions by Experts
An Expert remarked that she had highly appreciated the information provided by the National Human Rights Commission of Timor-Leste.  Another Expert inquired about the State party’s stance that a gender equality law was not necessary in Timor-Leste.  However, such a law was needed to advance women’s rights and to provide a clear definition of gender-based violence, she remarked. 

The representative of the National Human Rights Commission of Timor-Leste explained that the gender equality law was still in the form of a draft.   


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