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CEDAW discusses situation of women in Australia, Cyprus, Liechtenstein and Mexico with civil society organizations

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination      
  against Women    

2 July 2018

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon met with non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions from Australia, Cyprus, Liechtenstein and Mexico, whose reports will be reviewed this week.

In Australia, organizations reported gaps in women’s empowerment and protection, especially in relationship to Aboriginal, migrant and poor women.  The lack of a national bill of rights was pointed out, and it was claimed that the Convention was not comprehensively enacted into law.  Also decried were impending budget cuts in welfare programs that disproportionally affected women, despite a declared gender-neutral approach to such issues, and what was seen as the muzzling of human rights advocates and whistle-blowers.

Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins said that despite much progress, discrimination and sexual violence was rife and the gender pay gap remained at 15.3 per cent, with many other benchmarks falling short.  The Sex Discrimination Act of 1984, the main vehicle for achieving women’s equality, was wide-ranging but had shown limitations in addressing systemic discrimination.
 
A speaker from Cyprus raised concern about discriminatory treatment of lesbian, bisexual and transgender women, and obstacles to the full enjoyment of their rights.

Civil society organizations from Liechtenstein were concerned by the lack of Government’s commitment to develop a national gender strategy.  The violence protection law was a major milestone in the fight against domestic violence, but its implementation which was wrought with difficulties.  The Committee should urge Liechtenstein to ease legislation on abortion, and continue efforts to improve work and family life by financing child services and instituting a paid parental leave.

Claudia Fritsche, Vice President of the Human Rights Association of Liechtenstein, an institution applying for a national human rights institution status, said that the catalogue of measures published by the Equal Opportunity Unit would not reduce the gender gap.  A comprehensive gender equality policy aimed at a balanced gender representation in political as well as economic and decision-making positions was needed.

Violence against women, including femicide and sexual violence, and disappearance of women and girls were cited as key concerns in Mexico.  Speakers were also worried about cyber violence, the denial of sexual and reproductive health rights, harmful practices towards children and intersex persons, as well as female genital mutilation.

María Eréndira Cruzvillegas Fuentes, National Human Rights Institution of Mexico, raised the issues of violence and reprisals against human rights defenders, journalists, and women involved in politics, and expressed concern about discriminatory and abusive treatment of refugee and migrant women.  In Mexico, an average of nine women were killed every day mostly by their intimate partners; poor women were particularly vulnerable.  Abortion was still criminalised, while laws which allowed abortion in specific cases were not harmonized.

Speaking on the situation in Australia were the national human rights institution, the Human Rights Commission, and the following non-governmental organizations: Aboriginal Family Law Service, Australian Non-Governmental Organization’s Coalition, Harmony Alliance, Human Rights Law Centre and Bougainville People’s Research Centre.  Accept LGBT Cyprus spoke on the situation of women’s rights in Cyprus.

Liechtenstein Women’s Network, Women’s Shelter, Liechtenstein Association of Persons with Disabilities and StopIGM.org spoke on Liechtenstein, as did the Human Rights Association.  Speaking on Mexico were the Mexican Non-Gubernamental Organizations Collective and La Plataforma Latinoamericana de Personas que Ejercen el Trabajo Sexual (PLATPERS), as well as the National Human Rights Commission of Mexico.  

All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage.  The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings is available via the following link: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/.

The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 3 July, to review the eighth periodic report of Australia (CEDAW/C/AUS/8).

Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations

Australia

Aboriginal Family Law Service noted that Aboriginal women were 35 times more likely to be hospitalized as a result of domestic violence and that federal services were often ineffective in legal and protective areas.  Racism was often a factor in such violence and in the lack of legal protection from it.  In addition, women in Aboriginal communities often lacked access to the benefits of national programs to empower women.  The high level of child removal, in addition, contributed to community trauma and to the continuing cycle of violence.  A national strategy was urgently needed for family support services targeted at Aboriginal communities, as was increased funding to relevant legal services and concerted efforts to end the over-representation and abuse of Aboriginal women in prisons.

Australian Non-Governmental Organization’s Coalition said that Australia remained the only industrialized one without a national bill of rights, and that the Convention was not comprehensively enacted into law.  Women continued to face significant economic disadvantages; single mothers in particular suffered most from reductions in social security and 40 per cent of their children lived in poverty.  In addition, women were increasingly homeless and their right to choose was being limited by funding and ideological protests.  Separation of children had a terrible history in the country.  Australia should decriminalize abortion and ensure that reproductive health services were freely available through the public health system.

Harmony Alliance said one in three women in the country would experience violence in her lifetime, and noted with concern that programmes attitudinal and cultural change, appropriate services, access to housing and other key efforts remained underfunded.   Opportunities for empowerment were not available.   Women victims of domestic violence had limited access to services, particularly those migrant women.  It was an issue of concern that soon, asylum-seeking women would lose more rights.

Human Rights Law Centre said that the national plan was not responsive to the needs of women with disabilities, who were more vulnerable to violence, forced sterilization and other procedures, as were transgender persons.  Legal action was needed on a range of levels to change the situation.  The Government was also not implementing its human rights commitments in regard to migrant women.

Bougainville People’s Research Centre called for an end to structural gender discrimination in the extractive industries, which it said that current measures did not sufficiently address.

Cyprus

A speaker for Accept LGBT Cyprus said that lesbian, bisexual and queer women in her country lacked assistance to fight discrimination in employment, while a lack of sensitivity among health care providers led to obstacles that stigmatized that vulnerable group.  Same-sex couples also faced a lack of rights in terms of adoption and other parental rights.  Hate crimes against lesbian and transgender women frequently occurred and local authorities lacked training to assist and support the victims.  Cyprus should immediately enact a gender-recognition law to assist transgender people to overcome the many obstacles to the enjoyment of their rights.

Liechtenstein

Liechtenstein Women’s Network outlined the areas of main concern which included violence against women, stereotypes and traditional role models, low representation of women in politics and other decision making bodies, unpaid care work and low-paid part-time work of women, and employment and social security issues such as gender pay gap and the reconciliation of family life and work.  It was a matter of concern that the Government had explicitly stated it had no intention to develop a national strategy or action plan on gender-related issues.  The Committee should urge Liechtenstein to develop a national gender strategy, support civil society, ease the legislation on abortion, and continue efforts to improve work and family life by financing child services and instituting a paid parental leave.

Women’s Shelter recognized that the violence protection law, which provided expulsion of the potential perpetrator and a prohibition on entering the shared abode, was a major milestone in the fight against domestic violence, but raised concern about its implementation, which was wrought with difficulties.  Women were scared to file complaints of marital rape, and violent fathers often retained custody of children as joint custody was a common practice even in cases of domestic violence.  There should be an action plan on domestic violence, and training for actors working in the field of domestic violence such as police officers and ambulance workers.

Liechtenstein Association of Persons with Disabilities said that women with disabilities often experienced sexual violence in their lives, and recognized the progress made with the 2007 Disability Equality Act which prohibited disability-based discrimination.  It was important to collect statistical data.

StopIGM.org was concerned about the continued practice of intersex genital mutilation.  The Government failed to act and, while surgeries were not performed in Liechtenstein, the State sent children abroad namely to Switzerland or Austria.  Parents were often pressured for non-urgent surgery or experiments for their intersex children.

Mexico

Mexican Non-Gubernamental Organizations Collective spoke of the slow progress in using modern communication technologies to promote gender equality, and expressed concern about the labour situation and family violence.  The concern was especially related to the non-recognition of the crime of femicide, re-victimization of victims of violence during investigative procedures, and an absence of victim protection.  Cases of violence against women were not properly investigated – over the past three years, 24 per cent of femicides had not been investigated at all.  Sexual violence was another question of concern, with over 600,000 complaints submitted.  Indigenous women represented 26 per cent of the victims of violence.  There were harmful practices towards children, intersex persons, as well as female mutilation, and many women had been murdered when running for office.

La Plataforma Latinoamericana de Personas que Ejercen el Trabajo Sexual (PLATPERS) deplored the discriminatory treatment of Mexican women and drew the Committee’s attention to the lack of respect by the Government for the International Labour Organization Convention on equal remuneration.  Sexual and reproductive rights of Mexican women were often denied.
Questions by Committee Experts

Experts asked about the gaps in protection for lesbian and transgender women in Cyprus, and the improvements in the civil-union law described in the most recent report from the country.  

On Australia, members of the Committee inquired about the impact of a lack of bill of rights, the extent of budget cuts involving the rights of women, as well as restrictions of freedom of expression of human rights defenders.  An Expert asked how the political environment inhibited progress in gender equality, whereas another wondered why the country was reluctant to institute quotas and other special measures for the advancement of women.

Committee Experts inquired about extremist groups fighting against the gender advancement in Mexico and whether their existence was pervasive.  Experts also raised questions on the phenomenon of cyber violence and its prevention in schools, stereotypes within the legal and judicial systems and what was being done to overcome them, and the prevalence of intersex genital mutilation.  Which specific measures should be recommended to the Government to improve the protection of women, and would better protection measures reduce the incidence of disappearances?

An Expert asked for further elaboration on the problem of strict requirements for the burden of proof for women faced with violence in Liechtenstein, how the court operated in this regard, and whether a joint custody of children was a default option.

Replies by Non-Governmental Organizations

Responding, the non-governmental organizations from Australia said that quotas for recruitment of Aboriginal women to police forces had been lagging and was an important factor in the violation of their rights.  The lack of a bill of rights resulted in a corresponding lack of accountability for discrimination against women.  There had been no gender analysis on the impact of budget cuts on low income women and their families.  There was already chronic underfunding of services for women experiencing domestic violence and other difficult situations.  Long-term funding was being requested.  An assumed gender-neutral approach was also hobbling progress.  Trauma informed interventions to reduce the prison population of indigenous women was also being requested.  An organization also decried the muting of criticism and whistle-blowing on the part of human rights advocates that was threatening the health of democracy in the country.  

A speaker from the organization from Cyprus said that no legal actions had been taken in legal cases regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons because of a lack of evidence.  In regard to a hate-speech case, there had been no initiation of action by the Attorney General.  Partners in civil unions had no parental rights under many conditions including in the case of artificial insemination, among other deficiencies of the civil-union law, the representative said.

A representative of non-governmental organizations from Liechtenstein said that children from poor families had better chances to escape intersex mutilations, while children with better health coverage were submitted to the practice.

Non-governmental organizations from Mexico in their responses to Experts’ questions spoke about the evangelical presence in the political sphere and said that over the past several years, the links between the traditional groups such as Catholics and public forces had become increasingly visible and obvious.  They were having a major influence on public policy with their fight against progress in women’s rights.  A network was forming in decision-making spaces, executive and social bodies, and various young groups lobbying against women rights were achieving more and more economic support for their cause.  

Social networks were also a source of violence; in this area, impunity reigned and there were no prosecutions.  With regards to stereotypes, it was difficult to identify them clearly, said a speaker, noting that some were related to conduct and appearance of women, maternity, and sexual violence.  There were discrepancies in access to the justice system, particularly for those wishing to complain about officials who did not carry out their duties - it was very complex to submit a complaint with lots of red tape, and the burden of proof was with the citizen.  Violence against women and girls was still not considered a crime, and while there was progress in terms of law and policy, the practice remained problematic and femicide occurred as a result.

Statements by National Human Rights Institutions

KATE JENKINS, Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Human Rights Commission of Australia, said that despite much progress, discrimination and sexual violence was rife and the gender pay gap remained at 15.3 per cent.  Women continued to be underrepresented in the workforce and over-represented in unpaid domestic work, and were unpresented as well in leadership positions.  The Sex Discrimination Act of 1984 was wide-ranging but had shown limitations in addressing systemic discrimination, thus the Commission had requested its comprehensive review.  Recent progress included the establishment of a Parliamentary committee on human rights to scrutinize compliance with human rights treaties, multiple measures against domestic violence, the first woman Aboriginal member of parliament and a Government commitment to reduce the gender participation gap by 25 per cent by 2025.

However, there was still much to do and the Commission had offered 19 recommendations to improve Australia’s compliance with the Convention, highlighting issues such as violence against women, the increasing vulnerability of older women and the discrimination faced by women and girls in regional, rural and remote parts of the country.  The priority areas in which her Commission would press for accelerated action the next 12 months included removing the systemic and structural barriers facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in realizing their rights, as well as prevention of and response to sexual harassment in the workplace.   Another priority issue involved breaking down remaining barriers to women’s equal participation in the workforce and achieving equality in retirement savings.

MARÍA ERÉNDIRA CRUZVILLEGAS FUENTES, National Human Rights Institution of Mexico, noted with concern a shortfall in the Commission’s budget, which would hamper its ability to fulfil its role.  Main topics addressed in the Commission’s report to the Committee were femicide, rights of girls and adolescents, trafficking, disappearances, lack of access to justice, risks migrant and refugee women faced, as well as violence and reprisals against human rights defenders, journalists, and women involved in politics.  It also addressed the measures needed to improve gender equality, sexual diversity and tackle child marriage, and provided an update on the situation of 61 million Mexican women.  The Commissioner said that in Mexico, an average of nine women were killed every day mostly by their intimate partners; poor women were particularly vulnerable.

There was a gap in gender equality in the labour market: women tended to occupy posts at minimum wage and were paid less for same work; 26 per cent of working women suffered violence at work, 47 percent suffered sexual assault, and 29 suffered various forms of discrimination.  The Commission was concerned about the situation of elderly women and the fact that seven women electoral candidates had been killed during the recent political process.  Abortion was still criminalised, while laws which allowed abortion in specific cases were not harmonized; some states continued to provide dispensation for marriage under the age of 18; prison conditions were still below international standards, women were held in places far from homes, and conditions for holding their children were deplorable; and migrants and asylum seekers were treated as criminals.

CLAUDIA FRITSCHE, Vice President, Human Rights Association of Liechtenstein, an institution applying for a national human rights institution status, noted the absence of a clear commitment by the Government, which was also evident in the lack of a monitoring mechanism that would be able to detect shortcomings or request implementation of measures.  The lack of gender equality programs within the national administration was also noted.  The catalogue of measures published by the Equal Opportunity Unit was not enough, said Ms. Fritshe, as the gender gap could not be reduced that way.  Drawing the Committee’s attention to inadequate women’s participation at decision-making levels, Ms. Fritshe said that action was needed to adopt a comprehensive gender equality policy aimed at a balanced gender representation in political as well as economic and decision-making positions, and there must be an overarching gender mainstreaming and discriminatory employment and promotion practice.

Discussion with National Human Rights Institutions

Responding to questions raised by the Committee Experts with regards to the situation of women in Australia, Ms.  Jenkins said that efforts to stop sexual harassment would work to improve reporting and enforcement procedures.  On budget cuts, she said that it was true that her Commission was experiencing greater limitations in funding; additional funding had been sought from the Government and the private sector.  Private support was needed, for example, for the anti-harassment initiative.  The Commissioner described the efforts to support women human rights defenders, and to use special measures more pro-actively, and said that the relative guidelines would soon be released.  On family law, she said that domestic violence was now in the spotlight and the Attorney General had made family law reform, including custody provisions, a priority.

In response to questions raised on Liechtenstein, Ms. Fritshe confirmed the slow rate of change with regards to the situation of women’s rights and said that there was a lack of political will and support for Association’s quest to obtain a status A accreditation under the Paris Principles.

The Commissioner from Mexico said in response to Experts’ questions that there was a legal complexity in a federal country which was composed of 32 states, and which sometimes made a launch of national initiatives complicated.  This included the adoption by states of the provisions of federal penal code related to violence against women and femicide.  There was a lack of harmonization of laws between different levels of government, and in secondary rulings by the justice system.  Not everyone agreed on what qualified as a femicide, thus education and awareness raising programmes for decision-makers were needed.  The budget was critical, stressed Ms. Cruzvillegas Fuentes, and autonomous processes to make sure there was full access to the public system.  There must be a cross-cutting policy with a mission to address all the problems of women, with a matching budget.
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