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CEDAW discusses situation of women in the Philippines, Myanmar and France with civil society representatives

Committee on the Elimination 
of Discrimination against Women 

4 July 2016

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon met separately with representatives of non-governmental organizations, with national human rights institutions and then with other organizations to hear information on the situation of women in the Philippines, Myanmar and France, whose reports will be considered during the first week of the session.

Representatives of non-governmental organizations in the Philippines delivered oral reports in which they noted that the Magna Carta for Women had been enacted in 2009 and said that the authorities still needed to show strong political will to be fully compliant with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  The State was unable to address discrimination against women and gender-based violence, particularly for women with disabilities who continued to be the poorest and most discriminated against.  Speakers also raised concern about the situation of rural women who had been failed by the agrarian reform, and the increasing violence and poverty among indigenous women.

Discrimination against women in Myanmar was deeply rooted and the result of entrenched patriarchy, decades of oppressive military dictatorship and the continued power and influence of the military throughout society.  Women had limited means to pursue accountability and obtain redress and reparations for violations, the rule of law was weak and justice institutions lacked independence and resources.  Speakers were also concerned about the situation of Rohingya women and girls who continued to experience discrimination on multiple fronts, including ethnicity, gender, and religion. 

Despite remarkable legislative advances over the past four years, the real equality between women and men was yet to be achieved in France.  Speakers raised concern about violence against women, including intimate partner violence, which was the number one killer of women aged 19 to 24, and also killed one woman every three days.  Violence did not only take place in domestic settings, but in the workplace as well, where five per cent of rapes and 25 per cent of sexual harassment occurred.  Other issues of concern were gender pay gap and gender inequality in public and political life, the situation of indigenous people in French Guyana, and the continued practicing of involuntary gender modification on intersex children, with impunity.

Speaking during the discussion were representatives from the following civil society organizations from the Philippines: National Rural Women’s Congress, CEDAW Working Group in the Philippines, Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau, Inc (joint statement), Indigenous Women’s Network in the Philippines, TEBTEBBA Inc. (joint statement), EnGenderRights, Inc, (joint statement), Defend Job Philippines, and Centre for Migrant Advocacy, as well as a representative from the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines.   

Speakers from Myanmar included CEDAW Action Myanmar (joint statement) and Amnesty International (joint statement).

The following French organizations took the floor: Coordination Francaise pour le Lobby Européen des Femmes, Regards de femmes, Stop IGM.org, Organization des Nations Autochtones de Guyane, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, La grande lodge feminine du France, and Association de Defense des droits de l’homme, as well as the National Consultative Commission for Human Rights, France, High Council on Equality and Défenseur des Droits.

The country reviews can be watched via live webcast at http://www.treatybodywebcast.org.

When the Committee reconvenes in public on Tuesday, 5 July at 10 a.m., it will begin its consideration of the combined seventh and eighth periodic reports of the Philippines (CEDAW/C/PHL/7-8).

Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations

Philippines

National Rural Women’s Congress said that, among other reasons, the failed agrarian reform and armed conflict threatened the survival of rural women, while the liberalization of trade and cheap imported agricultural produce had a significant negative impact on local production.

CEDAW Working Group in the Philippines said that the State was unable to address gender equality more so with intersectional discrimination.  Women faced violence to the point of death, women victims were arrested and treated as criminals, and the reproductive health needs of lesbian, bisexual and transgender women were neglected.  Women with disability continued to be among the most discriminated against because they were poor and lived mainly in rural areas.  No public data existed about the violence against women and girls with disability, and the public education system reached only two per cent of girls with disability, and in mainly segregated environments.

Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau, Inc, speaking in a joint statement, said that the Magna Carta for Women had been enacted in 2009 and yet the authorities needed to show strong political will to be fully compliant with the Convention.  There was still a need to ensure the critical participation of marginalized women in order to achieve transformative equality.  The non-governmental organization called attention to the lack of consideration of rights of women in disaster preparedness and management plans, as disaster response and rehabilitation was dominantly male oriented and resulted in subordination and invisibility of women.  The situation was even worse for women with disabilities, and other marginalized groups.

Indigenous Women’s Network in the Philippines, TEBTEBBA Inc., speaking in a joint statement, called the attention of the Committee to the increasing number of deaths, escalating human rights violations, poverty and growing vulnerability of indigenous women, despite the adoption of the Magna Carta for Women and the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act.  Most of those who had been killed were defenders of their rights to land and life, and natural resources from the corporate and state projects.  Another problem was the violence, including intimate partner violence, against indigenous women.

EnGenderRights, Inc, speaking in a joint statement, spoke about inadequacies in the reproductive health in the Philippines, where three women per day were dying from unsafe abortions because of the abortion ban, limited access to contraceptives, and denial of post-abortion care.  Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons suffered discrimination in many walks of life, including denial of right to security of person, the right to health, the right to education, etc.

Defend Job Philippines said that under the Aquino administration, many jobs and livelihoods had had to make way for mega-development projects.  Forced evictions had a disproportionate impact on women, said the speaker.

Centre for Migrant Advocacy said that Filipina women migrant workers continued to experience violence and abuse at all stages of the migratory cycle.  Most were engaged in domestic work and many held on to their jobs for as long as they could, regardless of hardship.  The Government had inadequate mechanisms to track whether employers met their legal requirements.

Myanmar

CEDAW Action Myanmar, speaking in a joint statement on behalf of 170 women’s groups throughout the country, said that discrimination against women was deeply rooted, the result of entrenched patriarchy, decades of oppressive military dictatorship and the continued power and influence of the military throughout the society.  Women had limited means to pursue accountability and obtain redress and reparations for violations, the rule of law was weak and justice institutions lacked independence and resources.  Women had been excluded from participation in political life, including from the current peace process and any policy and decision-making.

Amnesty International, speaking in a joint statement, expressed concern about the situation of Rohingya women and girls who continued to experience discrimination on multiple fronts, including ethnicity, gender, and religion.  Since violence had swept Rakhine state in 2012, as an estimated 120,000 individuals, mostly Rohingya, remained in squalid conditions in internally displaced persons’ camps, and because of restriction of movement they were confined to the camps and effectively segregated from other communities.

France

Coordination Francaise pour le Lobby Eurpéen des Femmes said that despite remarkable legislative advances over the past four years, the real equality between women and men had yet to be achieved.  Because of violence, including sexual violence and intimate partner violence, one woman continued to die every three days and only 14 per cent of incidents of violence were reported.  Women’s’ rights could not progress without the separation of religion from public life.

Regards de femmes said that because of Constitutional provisions of gender equality in France, all women should be able to achieve emancipation, but this was not the case for women who were subjected to unequal religious considerations, sexual apartheid, and patriarchal attitudes.

Stop IGM.org said that involuntary gender modification was still practiced in France, on intersex children, with impunity, and there were no mechanisms to protect intersex children from this human rights violation.  France still refused to consider this issue as a human rights issue and preferred to leave it in the hands of the medical profession.  France had an obligation to explicitly prohibit the harmful practice of involuntary gender modification.

Organization des Nations Autochtones de Guyane stressed the need to modify the school curriculum to the needs of indigenous people in Guyana.  The lack of identity documents limited access to health care and also limited freedom of movement.  The main health problem arose from mercury pollution from mining activities.  Protected areas must be established where the traditional game could be hunted, and indigenous people must be allowed to practice their customary law.

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom spoke about the negative impact that arms exports and trade had on human rights and urged France to cancel all arms trade deals where there was a risk that they would be used to impinge on the human rights of women and girls.  France should present its excuses to French Polynesians for the negative impact of decades of nuclear testing on the health of the population, in particular women.

La grande lodge feminine du France remarked that there were very few women in the French Parliament, the world of work was very unequal and there was concern about several laws that had been passed recently.

Association de Defense des droits de l’homme was concerned about racist declarations made by politicians against Muslim women wearing veils, and those women also suffered discrimination in education, work, and political life.  Seventy-four per cent of victims of Islamophobia were women, and because France failed to present a way of life, veiled Muslim women were excluded from French public life.

Questions by Committee Members

An Expert took up the issue of shelters and support services available to victims of domestic violence in Myanmar, and asked whether the recently passed Legal Aid Law included provisions for legal aid to women victims of human rights violations.  Another Expert remarked that human trafficking was a priority issue.  Experts also asked about complaint mechanisms that women victims of violence by the military could use, and also asked for further information about the situation of statelessness in the country, particularly by Rohingya.  Civil society organizations were asked to comment on the recent law on race and religion and on the potential it had to limit access to reproductive health care for women.

Experts asked the civil society organizations about the laws on Islamophobia in France and the situation of Muslim veiled women, about what could be done to remove obstacles to freedom of movement for indigenous women in French Guyana, and to ensure that indigenous communities could practice customary law. 

In the Philippines, Experts said that indigenous people and Muslims resorted to customary law and customary justice mechanism, but with the recent signing of the peace agreement in the Mindanao, the Muslims were governed by the Muslim Personal Law which was very discriminatory against women in many areas, and which Muslim indigenous women strongly opposed.  How was civil society supporting indigenous women in this regard?

Response by Non-governmental Organizations

Representatives of organizations from the Philippines said non-Muslim and non-Moro indigenous people were currently not recognized as people, and that advocacy efforts were focused on expanding the access to justice by allowing the use of customary justice mechanisms.  Indigenous women had very weak access to justice, partly because they still lacked information on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and how it was operationalized in the country, and because official implementation mechanisms still did not reach the remote areas.  That was why civil society advocated that their access to justice should be strengthened by allowing access to traditional justice mechanisms. 

In Myanmar, there were currently no shelters for women victims of rape and domestic violence.  Although the Legal Aid Law had passed in January 2016, the bylaws had not yet been adopted; there were no specific provisions on how the law would address the issue of domestic violence, and there were no specific provisions on how to implement the law.  Women victims of violence had very few options to file complaints and access justice through the court, while investigations lacked transparency and accountability.  The Race and Religion Law had been adopted last year with a lot controversy, there was a fear that it would introduce population control and would establish zones where restrictions on birth and birth spacing would be established, but it was not clear how those zones would be selected.  The fear was that the law would be used to impose such zones on certain ethnicities and certain religious.

Representatives from non-governmental organizations from France were concerned about the limitations of religion on the exercise of freedom and rights of women, and strongly supported secularism.  Concerning the due diligence law, representatives of civil society organizations explained that the law, accepted by the Parliament in March 2016, would establish legal responsibility for transnational corporations operating abroad.  The law could be stronger, and there were some crucial elements missing from it.  A representative explained that the situation of Muslim women as described did not concern only veiled women, but all Muslim women who had to suffer the limitations imposed by religion, had to suffer gender apartheid, although they wanted to live fully in the society, and have access to universal laws and the laws of the Republic.  Another civil society representative stressed discrimination and exclusion that veiled Muslim women faced in many areas of life, particularly in education and employment.

Responding to a question on identity cards for indigenous people in French Guyana, a civil society representative explained that identity cards were necessary to ensure freedom of movement, and to ensure access to health structures.  Many indigenous people, especially women, did not have them.  France did not collect ethnic data, so the situation of suicide of indigenous people was not well known.  There were data which indicated that up to three persons committed suicide every month, and those seemed to be indigenous children who were boarding far away from their families, in hardship conditions.  Some also abused drugs and alcohol. 

Dialogue with National Human Rights Institutions

Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, said that the Magna Carta of Women had designated it as the Gender Ombudsman, sharing the monitoring function with the Philippine Commission on Women.  The Commission’s findings on the violations of the Magna Carta of Women were merely recommendatory, they said and asked the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women to urge the Philippines to protect and strengthen the Commission’s independence amidst attacks on its mandate and mandate holders, and to act on the Commission’s findings and recommendations.  The Commission was concerned about the continued weak access of women to justice and barriers to remedies, which were compounded by multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, especially for marginalized and vulnerable women, in particular women of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.  The Committee should urge the Philippines to increase efforts to ensure access to justice, and to address stigma and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.  The Commission was very concerned about the implementation and application of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012, particularly in the city of Sorsogon which had declared itself a “pro-life city”.  Criminalization of abortion remained in place and despite of the provisions of the law on post-abortion care, the stigma of abortion affected the availability and adequacy of health care in health facilities.  The Commission urged the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women to ask the Philippines to report on its strategies in implementing the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 and the realization of women’s right to reproductive health.

National Consultative Commission for Human Rights, France, raised the issue of gender pay gap that still existed in France, particularly in high-skilled jobs.  The situation persisted in both private and public sectors.  There were areas where the gaps could not be explained by for example the prevalence of part-time work, indicated gender-based discrimination and exclusion, such as “glass ceiling” or “sticky floor” jobs.  Little account was being taken of intersectionality and multiple forms of discrimination, and very few solutions were being advanced to address such discrimination.  There was a need to adopt policies to address female genital mutilation which would take into account the culture and place of origin on migrant communities which still practiced it.  The Commission was concerned about discrimination against Roma women, about women with disabilities who were four times more likely to suffer sexual violence, and about girls subjected to early and forced marriages.  The main cause of death of women aged 19 to 24 was domestic violence, while five per cent of rapes and one quarter of sexual harassment took place at work.  The authorities were very reluctant to take action to address those issues, citing also lack of resources.  Women were prime victims of trafficking in persons and France had in place an independent national rapporteur for trafficking in persons, but the plan to address trafficking in persons was not yet operational due to failure to allocate it any resources.

Committee Experts asked the national human rights institution from the Philippines about its structure and human and financial resources, and about the updates on its resolutions concerning violations of the Magna Carta of Women.

Committee Experts asked the national human rights institution from France, about the additional resources which would be required to ensure that the National Advisory Commission for Human Rights in France operated as an independent monitoring body for trafficking in persons.  They asked about measures that should be undertaken to increase the participation of women in work and in public and political life, and the impact of Islamophobia on discrimination against women.


Responding to the questions, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, said that it had received funding for 200 new positions – mainly technical - which would enable the Commission to respond better to complaints and respond better to human rights issues across the country.  These resources would enable the Commission to grow by about 30 per cent.

National Consultative Commission for Human Rights, France, said that the authorities were not very sensitive to the issue of women’s presentation in work and public life.  It was men who held the positions which needed to implement the 30 per cent quotas on representation of women, and many claimed that women were not interested in such positions because they had young children.  Women were always on the frontline of race or religion-motivated offences, and yet, those were not taken into account by public prosecutors.  The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was not that well known in the country, and there seemed to be lack of interest in the international law, with French experts thinking that the French system was closed and not that open to international law.  There must be specific training not only for judges and magistrates, but also for other legal professions.

Other Organizations

High Council on Equality, France expressed satisfaction for the coordination with the National Consultative Committee on Human Rights that monitored human rights conventions and with the Office of the Ombudsman.  In 2012, there had been a real will to have a cross-cutting equality policy, but things had slowed down since 2014, with the Ministry downgraded to a Secretariat, and a reduced number of meetings, which all indicated a loss of political will.  The Commission’s budget had been significantly reduced, and was only seven million Euro this year.  There was a need to work harder to promote gender equality.

Defenseur des Droits, France said that gender was at the heart of all discrimination in France.  The problem in France was not the lack of instruments to combat discrimination, but it was a problem of effectiveness.  Research showed that few women were aware of the options and information, and did not come forward because of fear of the impact of complaints on their private or professional life.  There was a need to establish a model of class action, on the model currently used in Quebec.  Sexual harassment was the essential cause of gender inequality – many women did not complain because of what was at stake and because they did not feel protected.  The Government must urgently address the effectiveness of the protection extended to victims of sexual harassment.  Another issue was the non-respect of the basic rights of foreigners in France, and there was a huge difference between rights that existed and their enjoyment, particularly for women.

In their questions, Committee Experts asked how the class action model could work in practice, the possibility to file a civil suit against an employer who had not done anything to prevent sexual harassment or had failed to sanction perpetrators, and the ideal budget needed for the full realization of the mandate of the High Council on Equality, including the preparation of the report on sexism.

Responding, Defenseur des Droits recognized that many women victims of violence and discrimination did not file complaints because of the costs involved.  There were ongoing discussions on the establishment of the possibility of a group action by trade unions, while human rights defenders had asked that ad hoc groups be established to deal with complaints. 

High Council on Equality said that legal protection that was available for charges of sexism was very weak, and courts did not have much history in dealing with such cases.  The High Council had three permanent positions and needed another two permanent positions, as well as an additional budget of 125,000 Euro, in particular for drafting the regular biannual report on sexism in France.

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