Header image for news printout

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women considers the report of the State of Palestine

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination
  against Women     

11 July 2018

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today reviewed the initial report of the State of Palestine on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Hayfaa Alaga, Minister for Women’s Affairs of the State of Palestine, said that women’s rights were affirmed in the Palestinian Independence Declaration and reflected in laws, policies and the gender equality strategy.  Human rights were enshrined in article 9 of the Constitution, which guaranteed the equality of all citizens.  All laws and policies which discriminated against women were being brought in line with the Government’s international obligations, in demonstration of the State of Palestine’s full commitment to the international treaties that it had acceded to.  In this vein, following the ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the death penalty had been repealed.  The Minister recalled the responsibilities under the international law of Israel, the occupying power, to implement the Convention in the territories under its control, and said that the Government was submitting monthly reports to the International Court of Justice on the violations of international law by Israel, the occupying power.  A committee had been set up to identify laws that needed to be brought in line with international treaties; the law on family violence had been adopted; penalties for crimes committed against women and children had been strengthened; and a separate law on the rights of women was in the process of adoption.

At the beginning of the dialogue, Committee Experts commended the Palestinian commitment to human rights, demonstrated through the basic law of 2003 which enshrined basic equality, the accession to the Rome Statute, and the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  An Expert commended the adoption of the national action plan on women, peace and security and urged the Government to ensure that women played a key role as decision-makers in its implementation.  The Committee recognized the reality of the occupation by Israel and the violations of rights of Palestinian women, which it had addressed on multiple occasions, including during the review of Israel’s periodic report, and it also noted that the weakness of Palestinian institutions and the absence of legislative activities since 2007 were a cause of fragility too.  In order to address the current legal uncertainty, it was urgent to address the legal fragmentation and unify the laws, Experts stressed and urged the harmonization commission to accelerate the work towards achieving this goal.  The restriction of the enjoyment of the right to Palestinian nationality by the occupying power was a source of concern, as was the fact that even though women represented 61 per cent of the university graduates, this did not translate into their greater participation in the labour force and in particular in positions of power and decision-making.
 
In her concluding remarks, Ms. Alaga said that Palestinian women faced societal violence due to traditions and stereotypes which saw women as someone who should stay home and raise children or work as a teacher or a nurse, and also suffered violence by the occupation, and thus deserved all the support possible.

Omar Awad Ala, Head of the United Nations Department, Multilateral Affairs Sector, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the State of Palestine, said that the Government was proud that its first report to a human rights treaty body was on discrimination against women.

Louiza Chalal, Committee Vice-Chairperson, commended the State of Palestine for its efforts and encouraged it to address the Committee’s recommendations which would be issued with the purpose of the more comprehensive implementation of the Convention throughout the State party.

The delegation of the State of Palestine was composed of the representatives of the Ministry for Women’s Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Social Development, Public Prosecution, Sharia High Judicial Council, Higher Presidential Committee of Churches Affairs, Central Bureau of Statistics, and the Permanent Mission of the State of Palestine to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 12 July to consider the eighth periodic report of New Zealand (CEDAW/C/NZL/8).

Report

The Committee has before it the initial report of the State of Palestine (CEDAW/C/PSE/1).

Presentation of the Report

HAYFAA ALAGA, Minister for Women’s Affairs of the State of Palestine, introducing the report, said that in the State of Palestine, the rights of women were affirmed in the Palestinian Independence Declaration and reflected in laws, policies and the gender equality strategy.  Palestine was the cradle of the three major world’s religions, said the Minister, noting that the Palestinian people had developed their history and cultural identity on this sacred land.  The State of Palestine belonged to Palestinians wherever they were, and on this territory they enjoyed their rights, religious and political beliefs and human dignity.  It was a State where the majority respected the wishes of the minority, and a society built on the principles of social justice, equality and non-discrimination, which were enshrined in law.  The plight of the Palestinian people was the result of geopolitical interests and tensions between the major political powers, an outcome of political heritage and social beliefs which had led to the exile of the Palestinian people.  

Human rights were enshrined in article 9 of the Constitution which guaranteed the equality of all citizens of the State of Palestine.  All legislation which contained discrimination against women was being repealed and the Government was revising its policies to bring them in line with its international obligations, in demonstration of the full commitment of the State of Palestine to international treaties it had acceded to.  The State of Palestine had ratified about 100 conventions, including the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which had led to the repeal of the death penalty in the country.  The State of Palestine was also a party to the Convention against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  The initial report had been submitted to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on 8 March 2017, on the occasion of International Women’s Day.  As an occupying power, Israel had responsibilities under international law, especially international humanitarian law and international human rights law, and - according to the judgement by the International Court of Justice – had the responsibility for the implementation of the Convention in the territories under its control.  An inter-departmental working group had been established to monitor the implementation of the Committee’s concluding observations, said Ms. Al-Agha and recalled that the initial report had been prepared with the active participation of civil society.  

The State of Palestine submitted monthly reports to the International Court of Justice on the violations of international law by Israel, the occupying power, and had submitted complaints to relevant bodies, including the International Court of Justice, the Human Rights Council and the Security Council, on war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Israel the occupying power.  A report and complaints had also been submitted concerning the violations of international law, including international humanitarian law, by Israel during the latest peaceful protests of the Palestinian people.  The resolution by the Constitutional Court of 2017 demanded the integration of international treaties in the national law, and so contributed to strengthening of the legal capacity to ensure the implementation of international treaties and their integration into domestic law.  A committee had been set up to identify laws that needed to be amended to bring them in line with international obligations.  The State of Palestine had adopted the law on family violence, strengthened penalties for crimes committed against women and children with a March 2018 decree, while a separate law on the rights of women was in the process of adoption.  A technical committee had been set up to review and modernize all legislation relative to civil status and bring it in line with international obligations.  A number of laws strengthening human rights had been revised, including the law on the right to education in 2018 and the law which enshrined the right to higher education, and there was a 30 per cent quota for the political representation of women.  In addition, there was a working group which monitored the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality, while the Police, and a number of other State bodies, had adopted gender equality strategies.

Questions from the Experts

At the beginning of the interactive dialogue with the State of Palestine, a Committee Expert commended the commitment to human rights demonstrated through the basic law of 2003 which enshrined basic equality, the accession to the Rome Statute, and the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  The Committee, said the Expert, held high hopes for the reconciliation process given that women bore the brunt of the conflict, and stressed the critical role of women in peace and reconciliation.
 
The reconciliation process was a real hope, said the Expert, urging the delegation to ensure that it paid due attention to women’s rights and also to ensure that the rights of women were at the foundation of the State and society.

Recognizing the reality of the occupation by Israel, the Expert noted that the weakness of Palestinian institutions and the absence of legislative activities since 2007 were a cause of fragility too.  The Committee was greatly concerned about the situation in the Gaza Strip and the impact on the situation of women, and the pressing needs of the people who were the prime victims of violence, notably refugees, internally displaced persons, the Bedouins and people displaced by settlement constructions.

Welcoming the fact that the Convention prevailed over domestic legislation, the Expert noted the need to reform the laws, and urgently address the legal fragmentation which was the major source of legal uncertainty – there were multiple sources of law in the country, Ottoman, Israeli, Palestinian and others, while Sharia law remained the main source of the law.  The unification of laws was therefore a priority, the Expert stressed, and asked the delegation to inform how the harmonization commission set up in 2017 would achieve this goal.

Responses by the Delegation

Responding, the delegation said that a working group had been set up to monitor the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, in which many civil society organizations working on the promotion of women’s rights participated.  The State of Palestine had the intention to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention.

The Government was working to address the lack of political stability since the coup d’état in Gaza, and was investing considerable efforts in the reconciliation process, unification of the State and harmonization of laws.  The Palestinian Parliament, as an extension of the Palestine Liberation Organization, had been set up as a legislative authority.

A legal workshop had been set up to keep abreast of the seven human rights treaties that the State of Palestine was a party to, and to assess the situation of human rights in the country.  The delegation was engaging in this dialogue with the Committee with an open mind and was looking forward to receiving recommendations concerning the legal gaps that must be urgently addressed, in cooperation with legal bodies and civil society organizations.  There was a need to review the situation of women in Gaza too, stressed the delegate.

With regards to legal fragmentation, the State of Palestine was looking into legal fragmentation in relation to personal status, particularly for the Palestinians living in Israel, and for the Palestinian Diaspora.  A legal committee had been set up in 2015, composed also of judges from the West Bank and Gaza, to address the issue of fragmentation, which had come at a great expense to women in particular.  Efforts were ongoing to foster national dialogue and respect plurality of the legal system which guaranteed equal rights to all people regardless of their religion or ethnicity.  One of the most important tasks was to ensure that the legal opinions issued by the court in Jerusalem were applicable throughout the territory.  The Sharia was a part of the basic law but was not the only source of the law, said the delegation, noting that the Palestinian law originated from many different sources.

The Constitutional Court of the State of Palestine had issued an interpretative decision with regards to the legal hierarchy in the country, which decided the supremacy of international treaties, and this represented a critical milestone in the interpretation of the legislation and the legal status of international conventions.

The harmonization committee, created by a Presidential Decree under the national vision 2016-2020, would first focus on the Code of Penal Sanctions, the Penal Code, and the Code of Personal Status.  The committee would propose amendments to those laws for a decision by the Palestinian Parliament.  The human rights treaties would be published in the official gazette as soon as the laws were harmonized, explained the delegation.

As for the victims of humanitarian crises, including in the Gaza Strip, one of the forms of support by the State of Palestine was the monetary transfer programme, through which 3.27 million shekels had been disbursed in 2017.  The monetary transfer represented 63 per cent of the social programme, and 65 per cent of its beneficiaries were in Gaza.  

Questions from the Experts

A Committee Expert noted that the State of Palestine still suffered “occupation and aggressive practices”, including the construction of settlements and disposition of land, and others, while the non-contiguity of territories between the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem represented a major challenge.  In this context, the Expert commended the courageous step to ratify the Convention without reservation, and also commended the adoption of the national action plan on women, peace and security.

Palestinian women, continued the Expert, were never a burden on the society, but were the sponsors and carers of the national Palestinian.  Peace would not be built without women and yet women were not represented in the decision-making positions, nor were they adequately represented in the harmonization committee.  What was the primary vision for the role of women in the implementation of the national action plan on women, peace and security, and how was it being implemented in the field?  

A mechanism for the implementation of rights was essential for the realization of the rights of Palestinian women, especially the women living under the Israel occupation and suffering the “unjust daily practices by the occupying State”.  What was the coordination between various mechanisms that existed in the country and how were those funded, including the Ministry for Women’s Affairs?

How were those mechanisms and strategic plans monitored, and how was data collected?

Experts also addressed the issue of access to justice and noted that the training of some 30 special prosecutors by UN Women had led to greater prosecutions for violence against women.  The concern, however, remained about a court established on the basis of customary law, and access to justice for women in general.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation explained that a committee had been set up for the implementation of resolution 1325, one of the few States to have done so, and had adopted a strategy and a plan of action on women, peace and security 2016-2019.  Its primary goals were the protection of women from Israeli occupation, accountability, and the participation of women in decision making.  A group had been established to monitor the implementation of the national action plan, and violations of law by Israel, the occupying power, were being documented.

As for accountability, the State of Palestine was documenting Israeli violations and was working with the international community to obtain resolutions, for example by the Human Rights Council, the Commission on the Status of Women, the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, and others.  A strategy for the implementation of the specific objective of increasing the participation of women in decision-making was being developed.

The latest round of the reconciliation process in Cairo had been the first time that women were representing their political parties, in a step to implement resolution 1325.

In May 2018, the National Palestinian Council had adopted a 30 per cent quota for the participation of women in political life.  Palestinian women, said the delegation, had always been strong and they reserved more in terms of their political representation and participation in public life.  Women represented 61 per cent of university graduates but this was not reflected at the leadership level.  This was an important gap, recognized the delegation, noting that the Government recognized this issue as a priority.

The budget of the Ministry for Women’s Affairs was limited by the fact that the State of Palestine was a State under occupation and had very limited resources.  Programmes and development activities were implemented in partnership with a number of international organizations.  

The State of Palestine was very keen on development and had adopted a social development strategy 2012-2022 with the key objective to eliminate inequalities and protect vulnerable persons.  A decision had been made to establish a Committee for Economic Empowerment and increase the budget allocation for those aims, which would address agriculture, youth, women and persons with disabilities, and which aimed to help 300,000 Palestinian families break out of the cycle of poverty.

The rule of law was essential as it represented a link between the State of Palestine and the international community, said the delegate, noting the positive cooperation with civil society organizations who were often invited to training activities organized for Government officials.  The Higher Ministerial Committee monitored the implementation of international obligations, which was done by various State bodies.

On access of women to justice, the delegation said that, pursuant to its international obligations and the national goal to provide justice for all, the State of Palestine was committed to preventing violence against women and punishing the perpetrators.  This was being done through the Office of the Prosecutor and magistrates.  Currently, the justice system was not able to function properly due to legal fragmentation, occupation, and political tensions within the country.

The Sharia justice system was very much family oriented, and efforts were directed to combatting stereotypes and providing justice to marginalized women through 13 Sharia courts in marginalized areas, including in those under the occupation.  Lawyers and judges were trained in family violence and 14 conciliation offices had been set up to provide confidential advice and protect children.  A new law on family protection had been established.

The Government Ministries were a mechanism for the implementation of the international treaties, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Follow-up Questions and Answers

The State of Palestine used temporary special measures only in the form of quotas for the participation of women in political and public life, remarked an Expert, wondering why those were not being used to fight discrimination against women in other areas, including in employment, justice, and decision-making posts.  Why were there no temporary special measures for vulnerable categories of women such as women with disabilities?

Responding, the delegation explained that there had been clear improvement in the adoption of policies which aimed to put an end to discrimination against women in employment and the world of work.  The law on the rights of persons with disabilities had introduced a five per cent quota for the employment of persons with disabilities, in addition to agreements with private companies for the employment of persons with disabilities and especially women with disabilities.  There were clear policies concerning the participation of women in political life, in Parliament, and positive discrimination approach was being used.

Questions from the Experts

Stressing the importance of combatting prejudices and stereotypes, particularly in the Arab region - which did not imply a denial of traditional roles of women - a Committee Expert asked how the empowerment of women was seen by the State of Palestine and what was the cooperation with civil society organizations in this regard.  

The Committee had dealt with violence perpetuated against Palestinian women on numerous occasions, including during the review of the periodic report of Israel, and it noted positive measures that the Government had taken to address violence against women, including the criminalization of “honour” crimes and rape, including marital rape.  What was the status of the law on domestic violence and spousal violence?  It was absolutely vital to harmonize the law between the West Bank, Gaza and the rest of the Palestinian territory, stressed the Expert, and urged the delegation to ensure that all those involved in providing support to women victims of violence, as well as members of the media, needed to be adequately trained on the issue.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that in 2007, the State of Palestine had launched new school curricula and new textbooks which incorporated a new concept pertaining to health, including sexual and reproductive health.  It represented an attempt to remove stereotypes and prejudices in the language, content and the way in which education was imparted.  A complete overhaul of the school programmes was being planned to ensure they were aligned with international standards and treaties.  Efforts were being taken to increase the number of girls in vocational training, including though improved course offers, which would make it easier for girls to pursue professional education.

With regards to training in the police and justice sector on combatting violence against women, a delegate said that an institution had been created to that end, and a specific complaint body for violence against women had been set up.  The courses included interviewing women victims of violence, psychosocial support and dealing with psychosocial trauma, video-recording of interviews in order to avoid re-traumatization of victims, and the role and functioning of shelters.  

Training had been dispensed to 17 media organizations on awareness raising about the Convention and on violence against women, and a network had been set up to promote equality and counter gender stereotypes in the media.  The first draft of the law on domestic violence and protection of the family had been submitted.  There were several halfway houses in Gaza and the West Bank, including for young girls, and their staff had been trained on gender-based violence and working with victims of such violence.

Unfortunately, not all forms of violence against women were criminalized, a delegate said, noting that data on crimes were disaggregated by gender and type of crime, including different acts of gender-based violence.

Questions from the Experts

In all societies, a Committee Expert said, patriarchy constituted a threat which worked through exclusion, male dominance, and lack of respect for the human dignity of women and girls, often marked by the influence of religious groups who were hostile to women.  In this context, the Expert recalled the goal of the Convention of gender equity, and the obligation of the State party to integrate this core goal into the national identity of the Palestinian society.

Trafficking in women and girls was a continuing phenomenon in the State party, which was a country of origin, trafficking and destination, while exploitation through prostitution, including underground, remained rife.  There was no law on child prostitution and child pornography, there was no data collection, and issues of trafficking in persons and prostitution seemed to be taboo.

What was being done to adopt a Presidential Decree on the enforcement of the Convention, to stop the shadow business on trafficking in women and girls, to adopt an anti-trafficking law, and also to adopt a law on child prostitution and child pornography?  Was cooperation with neighbouring States envisaged in the area of human trafficking?  

Responses by the Delegation

Responding, the delegation said that the State of Palestine had acceded to a number of important international conventions and was in the early stages of harmonizing its legislation.  The National Committee on Drugs and Crime collaborated with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime on setting up the necessary infrastructure in the country to combat human trafficking, and the State of Palestine had issued a standing invitation to human rights Special Procedures to visit the country and advise on legal and judicial reform, including the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons.

The crime of human trafficking was not clearly defined, explained a delegate, adding that the State of Palestine was working with other Arab countries in fighting human trafficking as a part of the national plan of action to fight crime.  A legal team had been set up to update the old legal texts, while the national team to fight crime benefitted from the contributions of civil society organizations.  The State of Palestine did not have border control and human trafficking occurred in the areas under the control of Israeli authorities, area C and area G, where the Palestinian Government was not allowed to enter.

Women victims of trafficking in persons required all necessary support, especially if they were also exposed to violence.  A number of services were provided to those victims of trafficking who went to halfway houses and refrained from engaging in prostitution.  The Penal Code of 1960 criminalized human trafficking, prostitution and brothels, as well as underage marriage which was also prohibited by the family code.  Such a legal basis was not, however, sufficient to respond to realities, thus the efforts to reform.

Questions from the Experts

In terms of barriers to the political participation of women, an Expert noted the role of stereotypes and women’s strong commitment to family life, which prevented them from moving to decision-making posts and kept them at lower levels of political participation.  The adoption by the National Palestinian Council of the 30 per cent quota for political representation of women, if properly implemented and monitored, could significantly open the door to greater participation of women in public and political life.  

What steps were being taken to increase the representation of women in decision-making positions and in the Constitution drafting committee, to achieve the 30 per cent quota of women in Parliament, and to ensure equal access for women to higher level posts in the diplomatic service?

Responses by the Delegation

Nothing prevented women from participating in public life or running for office, said the delegation, reiterating the commitment of the State of Palestine to a greater participation of women in the society in general.  There were only eight women ambassadors, but they had key posts: in Geneva and in New York for example, the majority of the staff were women.  More than 50 per cent of the diplomatic corps below the position of ambassador were women, which meant that the next promotion would see many more women in the ambassadorial posts.  The Ambassador to The Hague, the person who represented the State of Palestine before international tribunals, including the International Court of Justice, was a woman.

Also in the judiciary, nothing prevented women from participating, and there were 36 female judges and 32 out of 162 public prosecutors were women.  The law on the judiciary stipulated specific criteria for the appointment of judges; once those criteria were fulfilled, temporary special measures could be undertaken to increase the equal participation of women.  In the Sharia judiciary, women entered only in 2009 thanks to a Presidential Decree; there were now four women Sharia judges who were juniors.  The percentage of women in the Palestinian Liberation Organization was 46 per cent, but in the security apparatus women represented only three per cent.  To address the problem, a strategy had been adopted which called for the majority of the next generation of recruits to be women.  

Given that 61 per cent of university graduates were women, the full potential of women was not being fully realized, the delegation recognized.  The glass ceiling was there and, because of stereotypes, men were preferred during recruitment.

Questions from the Experts

Turning to the right to nationality, a Committee Expert noted that women and men were equal before the law in matters of nationality and that the right to return was transferred both by mother and father to their children.  The enjoyment of the right to Palestinian nationality was impeded by the occupation, as Israeli occupying authorities restricted this right.  Could the delegation comment on those restrictions, and on the situation of stateless women?

What happened with the Palestinians whose houses were demolished by the Israeli occupying power, where did they go?

Responses by the Delegation

The State of Palestine was a State under occupation and thus did not exercise full control over its territory.  The nationality was transferred to the children by Palestinian nationals both by mothers and fathers regardless of the nationality of the other parent.  In territories occupied by Israel, the transfer of nationality was linked to the registry of birth and the authorisation issued by the occupying power, which could refuse to recognize the birth.  

Another issue was related to the definition of a Palestinian; the Palestinian Liberation Authority used the definition by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency: a Palestinian was any person born to parents who were Palestinians in 1948 and had to emigrate because of the Naqba.

The delegation said that Palestinians living in Jerusalem and other occupied Palestinian territories were issued residency permits by the occupying power, in violation of international law.  What was now happening in Jerusalem and other occupied Palestinian territories was the continuation of settler movement in the land of Palestine, which included the forced displacement of Palestinians from their homes in Palestine, including the withdrawal of identity documents of Palestinians from Jerusalem, destruction of homes and expelling of all Palestinians from the holy city of Jerusalem.  The State of Palestine provided legal aid to Palestinians whose homes were demolished by Israel, in order to support them, particularly Jerusalemites, to stay in the city.

Questions from the Experts

In a further round of questions, Committee Experts noted with appreciation the achievements in women’s education thus far, in particular the improved enrolment of girls in primary and secondary schools and in university.  However, a number of issues continued to concern the Experts, notably access to education to all, particularly considering that education was a window to women’s empowerment.  

What were the key barriers to accessing education for girls and what steps were being taken to ensure that every girl, particularly from the rural areas, went to school?  Were there gaps in the Education Act of 1964 which would permit discrimination against women, and what were the intentions concerning the amendment of this act?  What initiatives were there to build a culture of gender equality in the education sector and was there a strategy to address gender segregation in higher education?

The rights of Palestinian women in employment were regulated by the Labour Act of 2000 and the Civil Service Act of 1998, which however did not contain provisions that protected women from gender-based discrimination in the workplace.  What were the intentions concerning the protection of rights of women working in the informal sector, and to overcome weaknesses in the laws governing self-employment and private sector employment?  The delegation was also asked about concrete measures to promote the employment of women with disabilities, and the intention to address sexual harassment in the workplace which represented a barrier to the economic empowerment of women and was a violation of their human rights and dignity.

The law provided strong protection for maternity protection, while healthcare was provided free of charge to people with long-term illnesses or disability; however, adequate access to healthcare services was seriously hampered by the fragmentation of the territory and the presence of many line crossings and checkpoints.  Furthermore, voluntary termination of pregnancy was criminalized, including for victims of sexual violence.  What were the intentions concerning the decriminalization of abortion?

Responses by the Delegation

Responding, the delegation said that the progress made in the area of education was a source of much pride for the Government, which had adopted the new Education Law of Palestine, which introduced compulsory education until the age of 14 and paid special attention to the education of children with disabilities.  There were sanctions for a legal guardian who had withdrawn a child from school before the end of compulsory education.  The girl dropout rate was very low, as the problem was more pronounced in relation to boys.

Access to education for girls was an issue for two specific groups: girls from marginalized areas, the so-called Area C, where access was made difficult due to the occupation, and secondly, for girls with disability.  A number of measures were being taken to increase access to education for girls, but also for children who dropped out, including through opening of new schools, even in a caravan if needed; encouraging pregnant school girls to attend; training teachers to provide the necessary guidance; and providing transport to school to enable students – particularly girls – to reach schools safely.

The Ministry of Education had decided to include sexual and reproductive health and adolescent health in curricula, and steps were now being taken to address the gaps.  In the basic education, the curricula addressed issues of hygiene, while in secondary school more complex issues were being addressed.  On harmonizing education with the labour market, the delegation noted that this was not a problem specific to education of girls, nor was it specific to the State of Palestine.

The State of Palestine was not a member of the International Labour Organization but it abided with the spirit of labour standards.  The Labour Code had been considered to be a progressive piece of legislation for the time, but it had not taken account of gender issues.  For the past three years, the labour legislation, some 30 laws, were being overhauled.  In this process, a range of issues would be addressed, such as defining discrimination in the workplace, including gender-based discrimination, a mechanism to prove discrimination, expansion of the scope of the implementation of the labour law, for example to domestic workers, and others.  The Government was well aware of the need to accelerate labour law reform, which must be done before it could address the law on social protection.  

The Government was also conscious of the need to address the gender pay gap; the need to harmonize maternity leave legislation, which was guaranteed at 10 weeks by the labour law and 12 weeks by the law on social protection; and define and criminalize sexual harassment in the workplace.

Abortion was criminalized in the Penal Code of 1960, the delegation said, however, in accordance with international commitments, abortion had been allowed in five cases in which pregnancy arose from incest.  The decision had been made by the Office of the Prosecutor in collaboration with the fatwa court, and had been made in best interest of the child.  

The Law on the Child enshrined the protection of children up to the age of 18, and combined with the Constitution, it provided for sanctions for those who made girls marry early.  There was a decrease in the incidence of early marriages, from 30 per cent in 1997 to just over 10 per cent today.

Women in the West Bank got reproductive and maternal health services almost for free.  More than 95 per cent of pregnant women were covered with prenatal care, there were programmes for early detection of breast and cervical cancer, and also mobile clinics to reach women in rural and remote areas, which played a critical role in the provision of health services to women who were prevented from accessing hospitals by the Israeli occupying power.  Over 90 per cent of births occurred in hospitals, said the delegation, and there were two youth centres staffed with a nurse where youth could obtain confidential information on any health issue.  

Questions from the Experts

A Committee Expert noted the inequality of treatment of women in pension contributions and in the participation of women in socio-economic development in general, and expressed concern about the economic dependence of Palestinians on the occupying power.

Another Expert took note of the national development plan 2014-2016 which aimed to reduce the gap in development between rural and urban areas, and asked the delegation what was being done to overcome the challenge posed by the occupation of more than 60 per cent of the arable land.  Could the delegation comment on the situation of the Bedouin women, and the situation of detainees?

The Palestinian legal framework was very complex and fragmented, an Expert remarked, and urged the Government to enhance the question of legal capacity in the drafting of the new Constitution and in the harmonization process.  The impact of the occupation, but also of the personal status law, on the effective enjoyment of rights by Palestinian women, was an issue of concern, especially when it discriminated against women.  In this, the State of Palestine should look at the practices and experiences of other Muslim countries which abided by Islamic teachings all the while respecting the rights, particularly in matters of family law.  The age of marriage should be set at 18 for girls and boys throughout the territory of the State party, and one measure that could prevent early marriages was expanding the compulsory schooling until the age of 18.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that a strategy for the economic empowerment of women had been adopted and reaffirmed that the Government prioritised the situation of vulnerable categories of women, particularly women with disabilities.  

There were a number of programmes which aimed to address poverty throughout the territory; unfortunately, the poverty rate among female headed households had increased to 31 per cent in 2017.  In Gaza, the poverty rate had increased from 29 per cent in 2011 to 55 per cent in 2017, but it had decreased in the West Bank, from 22 per cent in 2011 to 18 per cent in 2017.  Of particular concern was youth unemployment, also because of the relationship between youth unemployment and violence, said the delegation, noting that in 2017, the unemployment rate for the 18 to 22 age group stood at 69 per cent for women compared to 34 per cent for men.

The national strategy for rural development 2017-2022 contained a number of measures to address the situation of rural women, said a delegate, noting that the 2014-2016 national development strategy had supported a number of women to start their own businesses.  All statistical data on employment, education, and other sectors, were disaggregated, including for rural women.

The suffering of detainees in Israeli prisons, including children, was insupportable, said a delegate, herself detained by the Israeli occupying force at the age of 14, tortured, and held in solitary confinement.

The delegation reiterated that the State of Palestine was an open legal workshop, in which work was ongoing to ensure that no law discriminated against women, and that all the laws were promoting and protecting all the human rights of all the Palestinian people.  The ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was a great source of pride for the State of Palestine which strived to be a state of law, and was also well aware of the need to translate Sharia into the law, in consultation with the Palestinian people.

Concluding Remarks

HAYFAA ALAGA, Minister for Women’s Affairs of the State of Palestine, in her concluding remarks, thanked the Committee for their understanding of the specific Palestinian situation.  Palestinian women faced societal violence due to traditions and stereotypes which saw women as someone who should stay home and raise children or work as a teacher or a nurse, and also suffered violence by the occupation.  Therefore, the Palestinian women deserved all the support possible.

OMAR AWAD ALA, Head of United Nations Department, Multilateral Affairs Sector, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the State of Palestine, thanked the Committee for their contributions to making the State of Palestine a state of law, and said that the State was proud that its first report to a human rights treaty body was the one on discrimination against women.  Mr. Ala reiterated firm commitment to ensuring that Palestinian women were free from discrimination. 

LOUIZA CHALAL, Committee Vice-Chairperson, commended the State of Palestine 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.
 __________

For use of the information media; not an official record
Follow UNIS Geneva on: Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube |Flickr