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Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women examines the situation of women's rights in Colombia

GENEVA (19 February 2019) - The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today reviewed Colombia’s ninth periodic report on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Adriana Mejia, Deputy Minister for Multilateral Affairs, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Colombia, introducing the report, said that for the first time in the history of the country, a woman held the position of Vice President, and there was gender parity in the cabinet, with women heading 16 ministries, including interior, justice, labour, telecommunications, transportation, and mines and energy.  Colombia remained committed to eliminating all forms of discrimination against women and was working on widening the technical, administrative and financial capacities of the Presidential Council for Women Equity to enable it to respond to the growing demands for the integration of gender in all levels of Government.  The National Development Plan 2018-2022: Pact for Colombia, Pact for Equality included actions for, inter alia, the political empowerment of women and the right of women to a life free from violence.  Colombia would continue to act as an agent of change concerning the role of women in society and remained committed to eradicating impunity that perpetuated gender-based discrimination in the family and public life. 

Maria Paulina Riveros, Deputy Attorney General of Colombia, said that 53 per cent of the murders of human rights defenders committed between 2016 and 2018 had been successfully investigated and prosecuted.  An action plan on the protection of social leaders, human rights defenders and journalists that focused on providing a comprehensive response to guarantee their unhindered work had been adopted in November 2018.

In the dialogue that followed, Committee Experts said that, since the arrival of peace, the eyes of the world were on Colombia.  The troubled implementation of the peace agreement was a matter of concern, and particularly alarming was violence against and murders of social leaders and human rights defenders.  Minority women, campesinas (rural women), women with disabilities, women of African descent, and lesbian, trans and bisexual women were marginalized and excluded from equal opportunities to realize their rights, Experts said, asking about specific measures to protect them from discrimination and ensure their equal access to justice.  Experts commended the leadership of the Vice President in the advancement of women and the establishment of the National Council for Women, and the commitment to gender equality in the national development plan and in the peace agreement, and urged Colombia to set up a formal mechanism for a permanent dialogue with women’s organizations and associations, including on the implementation of the peace agreement and gender equality policies.  Concerns were raised about the prevalence of female genital mutilation among certain indigenous peoples, substantial impunity for sexual violence, femicide, and high rate of teen pregnancy – 58.5 per cent, as well as about protection from sexual violence for young girls living in institutions and for women with disabilities without legal capacity.

In her concluding remarks, Ms. Mejia said that Colombia was well aware of the road ahead to ensure guaranteeing a life free of violence for all women, guaranteeing the rights of women and girls with disabilities, and protecting women victims of violence and trafficking in persons.

Hilary Gbedemah, Committee Chairperson, in her closing remarks, invited Colombia to accept an amendment to article 20, paragraph 1 of the Convention concerning the Committee’s meeting time, and encouraged it to take measures to address the Committee’s concluding observations.

The delegation of Colombia consisted of representatives of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Ministry of the Interior, Office of Attorney General, Constitutional Court of Colombia, Congress, National Gender Commission of the Ministry of Justice, Presidential Council for Women Equity, and the Permanent Mission of Colombia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of Colombia at the end of its seventy-second session on 8 March.  Those, and other 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 can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.

The Committee will reconvene on Wednesday, 20 February at 10 a.m., to review the combined fourth to seventh periodic reports of Antigua and Barbuda (CEDAW/C/ATG/4-7). 

Report

The Committee has before it the ninth periodic report of Colombia (CEDAW/C/COL/9).

Presentation of the Report

ADRIANA MEJIA, Deputy Minister for Multilateral Affairs, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Colombia, introducing the report, emphasized that the Colombian constitutional and legal framework was aligned with the definition of discrimination against women contained in the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  In order to guarantee equality and non-discrimination in the administration of justice, the National Gender Commission had been set up in the judiciary to promote gender mainstreaming and the institutionalization of gender equality in the work of imparting justice.  In addition, members of the Higher Court had drawn up guidelines on the integration of gender in the administration of justice.  Colombia remained committed to eliminating all forms of discrimination against women.  For the first time in the history of the country, a woman held the position of Vice President, and there was gender parity in the cabinet, with women heading 16 ministries, including interior, justice, labour, telecommunications, transportation, and mines and energy.

The National Development Plan 2018-2022: Pact for Colombia, Pact for Equality addressed, inter alia, strengthening gender institutionalization, the political empowerment of women, promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights, the right of women to a life free from violence, and others.  In line with the Committee’s recommendations, Colombia was working on widening the technical, administrative and financial capacities of the Presidential Council for Women Equity to enable it to respond to the growing demands for the integration of gender in all levels of Government.  Also, the Government was preparing to set up the National Women System as the highest body in charge of adopting the national gender equality policy, ensuring full respect for the human rights of women, and fostering the adoption of a gender approach in all public institutions at all levels.

MARIA PAULINA RIVEROS, Deputy Attorney General of Colombia, said that Colombia strongly condemned any attacks and acts of violence against all human rights defenders and activists.  The Office of the Attorney General had successfully investigated and prosecuted 53 per cent of the murders of human rights defenders committed between 2016 and 2018; set up a special investigating unit in September 2017; and bolstered the State response in relation to the investigation and prosecution of such crimes, with the guidance of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights.  Furthermore, in November 2018, Colombia had adopted an action plan on the protection of social leaders, human rights defenders, and journalists focused on providing a comprehensive response to guarantee their unhindered work.

ADRIANA MEJIA, Deputy Minister for Multilateral Affairs, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Colombia, continued the presentation of the report and explained that the law 1257 of 2008 contained a comprehensive definition of violence against women and girls in both private and public spheres.  Female genital mutilation was considered to be a form of violence which affected the lives and health of women, and had been included as a form of sexual violence.  The Colombian State would continue to act as an agent of change concerning the role of women in society and remained committed to eradicating impunity that perpetuated gender-based discrimination in family and public life.  More than half of the victims of the internal armed conflict were women, Ms. Mejia remarked, adding that under the strategy for reparation to women victims of sexual violence and victims of the armed conflict, $839 million had been paid to over 370,000 women victims of the armed conflict and to almost 7,000 women victims of sexual violence.  Over the past 20 years, Colombia had increased the representation of women in Congress from eight to 14 per cent, and in the current legislative period to 2022, women made up over 23 per cent of the Senate.

The provision of early education was among one of the key priorities, and concerted efforts were being directed to improve the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents, including through a comprehensive strategy for boys, girls and adolescents 2015-2025, which focused on preventing early pregnancies.  In conclusion, Ms. Mejia noted that recently, Colombia had experienced an unprecedented migratory phenomenon.  It had received over one million Venezuelans fleeing the humanitarian crisis in that country since 2016, as well as 400,000 Colombians returning to the country.  All were being hosted with generosity despite the lack of resources.

Questions by Committee Experts

At the beginning of the interactive dialogue, a Committee Expert said that with the arrival of peace in Colombia, the eyes of the world were on this country, but problems remained in the implementation of the peace agreement.  Particularly alarming was the violence against and even murders of leaders and human rights defenders, particularly in 2018, the Expert said, asking the delegation to explain the obstacles to exercising effective Government control over non-State armed groups. 

What measures were being taken to ensure that all women had effective and equal access to justice, especially women with disabilities, indigenous women, women of African descent, and lesbian, trans and bisexual women?  Were the rulings of the Constitutional Court binding for all levels of the Government?  The National Development Plan had a vast section on gender equality, the Expert noted, asking whether the budget for those activities had been increased and which indicators were being used to measure progress.

Another Expert emphasized that some women in Colombia were marginalized, discriminated against, and not given an equal opportunity to realize their human rights.  These included minority women, campesinas (rural women), and women with disabilities.

Replies by the Delegation

Concerning the binding nature of the Constitutional Court’s rulings, a delegate said that the Court had been rather creative in ensuring that its rulings were enforced.  The Court was also assessing the situation of women in prison in order to evaluate whether the mechanisms in place were sufficient to ensure their protection, and it also worked on promoting gender-sensitive sentencing.  The Constitutional Court’s website contained links to all its rulings in order to disseminate them among the judiciary, while its 2017 ruling stated that all members of the national army must be aware of the rights of women.

Colombia had allocated resources for the protection of women human rights defenders and social leaders and had defined several actions guided by the rulings of the Constitutional Court, including adopting law 009 of 2015 which addressed the structural causes of violence against women.  A nation-wide campaign to raise awareness of the work of women human rights defenders and social leaders was being developed.

The Government had been committed to including gender in all aspects of the peace agreement signed with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army (FARC).  The Prosecutor’s Office had set up a unit focused on gender in 2015 and had adopted a strategy for the investigation of crimes against human rights defenders and social leaders in 2017, drafted with the support of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights.  A great number of murders happened in rural and remote areas, therefore under the new strategy, mobile teams had been set up and dispatched to those areas in order to accelerate the investigation and prosecution of crimes against human rights defenders, including women human rights defenders.

Minorities were a priority for the Government of Colombia.  Two days after taking office in August 2018, President Duque had convened a meeting with them to hear their concerns and discuss how to address them.  Colombia had taken direct action with indigenous communities, women in particular, while the National Development Plan 2018-2022 contained a chapter on indigenous peoples and minorities, including Roma, Gypsies, and Afro-Colombians.  A Commission of Indigenous Women was in place, and a high body had been set up for consultations with women of African descent.  Based on the Constitutional Court’s orders, the authorities were taking concerted measures to support displaced indigenous peoples, and had reconciled the health system with indigenous health.

Colombia was proud to have gender equality enshrined in its Constitution and that it was one of the countries in Latin America with the highest representation of women in Congress.  The majority of victims of the armed conflict were women and girls, who suffered crimes such as sexual violence, sexual enslavement, and forced recruitment.  Colombia had adopted a law stipulating that crimes against humanity and crimes against children must not go unpunished.

Questions by Committee Experts

In the next round of questions, an Expert commended the progress Colombia had made in developing the national gender machinery, in particular the leadership of the Vice President, the establishment of the National Council for Women, and the commitment to gender equality in the national development plan and in the peace agreement.

What was the position of Colombia concerning the establishment of a formal mechanism for a permanent dialogue between the national machinery for the advancement of women and women’s organizations and associations, including for the implementation of the peace agreement and gender equality policies?  How would the priorities for the advancement of women be delivered, particularly for vulnerable women, including women with disabilities, women of African descent, campesinas, and former female combatants?  Turning to the Gender Observatory, the Expert asked the delegation to explain how its capacity of analysis had been strengthened, to enable it to provide data and information necessary for public policy design.

Colombia had made significant strides forward in adopting temporary special measures, especially in the area of political participation and the representation of women, but concern remained about the situation of vulnerable women.  What political and legislative measures would be taken for those women and how would the women be involved in the design, implementation and monitoring of those measures?  What was Colombia doing to tackle intersectional discrimination that those groups of women suffered?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that there were 18 different processes for dialogue and consultations on various issues relevant to the status of women and gender equality, for example on violence against women, on rural women, etc.

The guidelines for gender equality in public policy had been designed in a consultative and participatory manner in 2013.  An action plan for the implementation of the guidelines had been put in place; and it had been evaluated in 2017 by women themselves.  Colombian women, in all their diversity, would participate in the definition of the second phase of the national policy on gender equality.  Equally, rural women participated in the design of all policies and measures concerning them.

The national mechanism for the advancement of women, the Presidential Council for Women Equity, was the driving force for those policies and the main implementing body, even if it was not implementing them directly but promoted the policies among various levels of Government.  The Gender Observatory was a part of the Presidential Council for Women Equity in charge of compiling data and policies of all Government bodies and institutions.

The delegation explained that the eight key directions of the National Development Plan 2018-2022 were the result of technical and policy analysis and evaluation of measures taken to date in the area of gender equality.  Women’s offices had been created in provinces and districts, which would be the main implementers of all gender equality measures and policies at the local level.

The National Gender Commission worked with all Colombian women and had initiated a dialogue to raise awareness of the right of indigenous women to access justice, in order to inform indigenous women about legal protection they were entitled to and the ways they could seek justice.  Colombia had allocated $9 billion to support municipalities and communities.  The Government had been working with regions on disability regulations with the aim of ensuring that persons with disabilities enjoyed all their rights.

As for the final peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army (FARC), a gender table had been set up in October 2017 in order to promote all actions for the inclusion of women.  Also, a special women’s body for the follow-up on the peace agreement had been created, composed of eight women who represented the diversity of Colombian people, in which over 800 women’s associations from all levels participated.  The body monitored the implementation of the peace agreement and made recommendations.  

Questions by Committee Experts

Turning to discrimination and violence against women, a Committee Expert remarked that the lack of a comprehensive strategy and resource allocation seemed to be the major obstacles to eliminating those phenomena.  Despite progressive measures included in the law on domestic violence and violence against women, the implementation remained weak and women victims of violence did not have adequate access and recourse to justice.

The Committee remained concerned about the prevalence of female genital mutilation among certain indigenous peoples, substantial impunity for sexual violence, and femicide.  What was being done to support the implementation of the action plan to eradicate harmful traditional practices and to ensure the application of the specific methodology for the investigation of femicide developed by the Prosecutor General?  Would Colombia ratify the Arms Trade Treaty and what steps was it taking to control the flow of small arms in the country?

The delegation was asked about specific measures in place to protect young girls from sexual violence, in particular those living in institutions.  Given the loss of legal capacity of women and girls with disabilities, how did the State protect them from violence, including sexual and domestic violence.

The Committee commended Colombia for steps taken to prevent, supress, and punish the crime of trafficking in persons, including a solid strategy to fight the crime, but the statistics were still unreliable.  Female migrants from Venezuela were particularly vulnerable to trafficking for sexual purposes, the Expert said, asking about specific measures adopted for their protection.

Replies by the Delegation

In order to strengthen the prosecution of the offence of domestic violence, Colombia had put forward a draft bill which would enlarge the definition of the family to include those not living under the same roof.  This provision would effectively enable the prosecution of crimes committed by former partners or spouses.

Femicide was a stand-alone crime which carried proportional sentences, the delegation said, expressing regret that three Colombian women were murdered every day – in 2017 a total of 1,050 femicides had been registered.

Combatting impunity for sexual and domestic violence was indeed a challenge, the delegation recognized, explaining that the Attorney General and Prosecutor General had taken concrete steps to improve the investigation of such cases and double the rate of charges handed down for sexual violence.  Carrying small arms was banned.

Questions by Committee Experts
Turning to the political representation of women, a Committee Expert asked the delegation to explain the outcomes of the 2018 elections for Congress, in which 308 women had run and only 23 had managed to obtain a seat.  Women now made only 21 per cent of the members of Congress.  Was there a career development system in the Foreign Service that would guarantee parity and equal opportunities for women?

Another Expert raised a question on birth certificates issued to children born in Colombia to foreign parents, asking the delegation to confirm whether it was a proof of nationality.  Colombia had signed but not yet ratified the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation confirmed that there was indeed a decentralized and competitive recruitment system in the Colombian Foreign Service, based on equal opportunity.  Certain positions were reserved for political appointments, but overall there was a balance in opportunities between political appointees and career diplomats.

The law on the equal participation of women and men in public and private life had not mustered the necessary votes in Congress.  Women represented 43 per cent of high-level positions in the Government while the representation of women in Congress was one of the highest in Latin America.  Colombia, however, remained committed to raising this percentage.

Over half of the population in Colombia were women, but this was not matched by their political participation.  Nevertheless, the trend was one of growing representation; at local levels for example, women’s participation had increased from 12 per cent in 2003 to 34 per cent in 2015.  The Government was implementing a number of measures to increase women’s participation in public and political life, including through empowering women and creating a supportive social fabric, reducing “horizontal hostility”, education, and support to women’s social groups and associations.  

All children born in Colombia were issued with a birth certificate, which nevertheless was not a proof of citizenship.  In the case of Venezuelan children born in Colombia, all citizenship related matters had to be resolved with the Venezuelan consular services.

Questions by Committee Experts

Concerning the inclusion of women in the labour market, the delegation was asked to inform on the strategy for gender equality in the world of work and to explain measures undertaken to apply the principle of equal pay for equal work and to close the persistent wage gap that stood at 19 per cent at the moment.

The Committee commended Colombia for joining the regional gender equality certification programme and asked about steps taken to increase the number of companies that accepted the programme.  Would it be possible for the Government to decide that each public company must join the programme and get the certification?

Sexual harassment seemed to be a large problem in Colombia, both in the public and private sectors.  What were the results of the strategy put in place to address the issue, especially since many women did not report incidents of sexual harassment?

Replies by the Delegation

Responding, the delegation reiterated the commitment to close the pay gap, especially for indigenous women and women of colour.  To that end, several initiatives had been put in place to enhance labour opportunities for those groups and to strengthen sanctions for labour offences.  The National Development Plan 2018-2022 contained actions to that end as well as cross-cutting strategies to promote labour inclusion of indigenous women.  Payment stimulus had been established in 2008 to support the employment of women victims of violence, while a project encompassing 48 municipalities had been initiated in 2018 to promote the employment of rural women in non-traditional sectors.  The first-ever gender equal cabinet was taking measures to promote the employment of women in higher paying jobs and managerial positions.  Colombia was paying particular attention to removing obstacles and barriers to the employment of women, youth and persons with disabilities in non-traditional jobs and sectors.

The strategic plan to prevent sexual harassment at work had been adopted, and workshops on the issue were being held in the public and private sectors.  In June 2018, the Constitutional Court had ordered the Ministry of Education to regulate the filing and processing of claims of sexual harassment in universities.

Questions by Committee Experts

Colombia was making strides in improving the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents, including to reduce early pregnancy, but at 58.5 per cent it still remained very high.  What was being done to implement the directive n°1 of February 2018 concerning the education of victims of the armed conflict, and especially indigenous women and women of African descent?  How was Colombia encouraging girls and young women to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and how was it eradicating violence in schools, including sexual violence?

Replies by the Delegation

The National Development Plan 2018-2022 placed education as a component that guaranteed equity and contributed to eliminating gender gaps in the labour market.  A number of activities had been taken to prevent teenage pregnancy, which was a barrier and a stumbling block to girls’ enjoyment of the right to education.  A multi-sectoral and cross-cutting strategy for comprehensive care for children and adolescents 2015-2021 had been put in place, which aimed to empower adolescents to plan their lives and access the necessary services, including for sexual and reproductive health.  The strategy was being implemented in 563 municipalities, and had resulted in the reduction of teen pregnancy for the 17- to 19-year-old age group from 72 to 61 per 1,000 live births.  Abortion was decriminalized if the life of the mother was in danger, in the case of foetal malformation, or in the case of rape.

Separate funds had been put in place to support access to education for victims of the armed conflict, indigenous communities, and Afro-descendants.  The Ministry of Education was in the process of drafting an educational policy for indigenous peoples, with their participation.  The school feeding programme was one of the measures to retain children in school; in 2018, the programme covered five million children throughout the country, half of them girls.  School transport was another measure - 430,000 children benefitted from this service in 2017.

Questions by Committee Experts

The Committee took note of the headway made in improving access to healthcare for women and girls, but despite measures taken, a number of concerns persisted, including the discrepancy in the availability and quality of health care and services between rural and urban areas.  This had important repercussions on the health of indigenous and Afro-descendant women.  What was being done to address the issue, including to implement a well-resourced strategy to improve access to health care in rural areas?  What was being done to ensure reliable access to safe abortion, under all circumstances?

The Committee stressed that forced sterilization was a human rights violation and asked about measures being taken to protect women with disabilities and women living with HIV/AIDS from forced sterilization and forced abortion.

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that the action plan for rural health had recognized geographic imbalances in access to quality health care between rural and urban areas, and said that a host of measures was being taken to that effect, including to address several traditional health practices of indigenous communities.  A protocol and technical guidelines for safe abortion had been developed and disseminated, as had a set of measures preventing unsafe abortion.  In 2017, 758 women with disabilities had undergone some form of reproductive health procedure, and all had been conducted with consent.

Questions by Committee Experts

With regard to the socio-economic empowerment of women, a Committee Expert recognized a host of initiatives that Colombia was taking, including to provide training in information and communication technology, but the concern was about the reported exclusion of indigenous and Afro-descendant women from those programmes.  What was the level of digital literacy and connectivity among Colombian women?

The delegation was asked about steps taken to extend social security to women in the informal sector, particularly maternity protection, and to establish social protection floors in line with the International Labour Organization recommendation of 2014.  Colombian women still bore disproportionate responsibilities with regard to unpaid care work, spending on average seven hours per day compared to three hours that men spent.  This held women back from pursuing other opportunities for their socio-economic and other advancement.

When would a comprehensive strategy and policy on rural women be adopted?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that Colombia had invested countless efforts into improving access to health for the population, and today, the health care average had reached almost 100 per cent.  In 2017, women represented 47 per cent of those who had the right to pension, while a periodic benefit system had been put in place to provide pensions for those outside of the formal social protection system.  In 2017, three out of four of those who had registered for the programme were women.

Digital Citizenry was one of the programmes that supported the access of women to information and communication technologies and improved the rate of digital literacy of women.

Questions by Committee Experts

The legal system in Colombia fully respected equality between women and men, but as in many countries, this was not the case in practice.  What was the status of the draft bill to guarantee compliance with alimony presented to the Senate in 2017?

Another Expert raised the issue of the denial of legal capacity to women with intellectual disabilities, which prevented them from entering a marriage, having a family, voting, or accessing justice.  When would Colombia finally address its law to correct this? 

Could same sex couples adopt a child?

Replies by the Delegation

Congress was reviewing a draft bill on alimony and no decision had been passed yet.  In 2016, the Constitutional Court had issued a ruling allowing same sex couples to adopt abandoned children, on an equal basis with others.  Colombia agreed on the need to remove the exception allowing the marriage of minors; the draft law on the issue had not passed, but the intention to repeal the exception was included in the National Development Plan.

Concluding Remarks

ADRIANA MEJIA, Deputy Minister for Multilateral Affairs, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Colombia, in her concluding remarks, reiterated that Colombia had made progress in building a country based on lawfulness, entrepreneurship and equality.  It was well aware of the road ahead to ensure guaranteeing a life free of violence for all women, guaranteeing the rights of women and girls with disabilities, protecting women victims of violence and trafficking in persons, and consolidating data on investment made in increasing access to public services. 

HILARY GBEDEMAH, Committee Chairperson, in her closing remarks, thanked the delegation and invited Colombia to accept an amendment to article 20, paragraph 1, of the Convention concerning the Committee’s meeting time.  The Chair commended Colombia for its efforts and encouraged it to take measures to address the Committee’s concluding observations.

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