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Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women discusses situation of women in Cambodia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Lithuania with representatives of civil society

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination
against Women 

28 October 2019

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon met with representatives of non-governmental organizations and a national human rights institution to hear information on the situation of women in Cambodia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Lithuania, whose reports will be considered this week.

Speakers from civil society organizations from Cambodia said the legal framework lacked a comprehensive anti-discrimination law. While the Government had made promising commitments to the principles of gender equality, actual actions were limited in scope and highly dependent on foreign aid. Cambodia’s laws were gender neutral rather than gender responsive. Some women had been left out of the conversation, particularly those most at risk of loss of access to land, clean water and basic services.

Representative of non-governmental organizations from Bosnia and Herzegovina said the current political blockage and the absence of agreement amongst key parliamentary political parties were negatively reflected in all areas of human rights. This situation particularly affected women. Gender equality had to be incorporated in the constitutional reform, and the full implementation of the Law on Gender Equality must be ensured in the composition of all bodies at all levels of Government.

The gender pay gap was increasing constantly in Lithuania according to speakers from that country. This led to gender pay gaps in pensions, unequal economic independence and feminization of poverty. Horizontal and vertical segregation in the labour market was one of the main factors in that regard. The Government should oblige employers to include the wage audit disaggregated by gender into gender equality plans.

Speaking in the discussion from Cambodia were the Cambodian Non-Governmental Committee on CEDAW, Gender and Development for Cambodia, Klahaan and Women’s Network for Unity. A coalition of non-governmental organizations took the floor on Bosnia and Herzegovina. Lithuanian Women’s Lobby Organization, Vilnius Women’s House and Centre for Reproductive Rights delivered statements on Lithuania.

A separate dialogue was held with the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office of the Republic of Lithuania.

The Committee will next meet in public at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 29 October, to review the sixth periodic report of Cambodia (CEDAW/C/KHM/6).

Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations

Cambodia

Cambodian Non-Governmental Committee on CEDAW said the legal framework lacked a comprehensive anti-discrimination law. While the Government had made promising commitments to the principles of gender equality, actual actions were limited in scope and highly dependent on foreign aid. Cambodia’s laws were gender neutral rather than gender responsive. Some women had been left out of the conversation, particularly those most at risk of loss of access to land, clean water and basic services.

Gender and Development for Cambodia said gender-responsive budgeting was the single most important topic affecting Cambodian women today. The development process for the national budget had to be gender-inclusive, with meaningful participation by all relevant stakeholders. Accountability was lacking on the part of the Government in many areas. The Government had very little gender-disaggregated data for all sectors. The Government must conduct comprehensive, nationwide and effective capacity-building and awareness-raising to shift cultural mindsets.

Klahaan said pervasive stereotypes harmed every aspect of girls’ and women’s lives in Cambodia. Women had limited space for free expression. The school curriculum on sexual and reproductive health rights could not prevent child marriage, teen pregnancy and domestic violence. Women’s voices were not heard in the creation of laws and policies. Klahaan recommended that the Government amend the law on domestic violence to make all domestic violence illegal, including marital rape.

Women’s Network for Unity said sex workers had not been considered and had no protection within the current labour provision in Cambodia. Laws and policies deprived sex workers of their right to work and to a livelihood. Since 2016, 351 sex workers had been arrested due to a law that prohibited most of the activities associated with sex work. Women’s Network for Unity urged the Committee to ensure that national laws differentiate between sex work and human trafficking. Anti-trafficking initiatives should not impinge on the rights of people in sex work.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

A coalition of non-governmental organizations said the current political blockage and the absence of agreement amongst key parliamentary political parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina were negatively reflected in all areas of human rights. This situation particularly affected women. Gender equality had to be incorporated in the constitutional reform, and the full implementation of the Law on Gender Equality must be ensured in the composition of all bodies at all levels of Government. Maternity benefits must be available to all mothers regardless of their location or employment status. A regular system of collecting detailed statistical data on the status of women, especially in employment, payrolls and benefits, had to be established.

Another speaker for the coalition of non-governmental organizations said when it came to victims of wartime sexual violence, the Government had not taken measures to effectively fight impunity, ensure victims’ identity protection in civil proceedings, and provide adequate compensation, support and rehabilitation to victims. A State fund must be set up or a public budget item must be included for victims to claim indemnities when they could not claim compensation from the perpetrator. Special measures must be introduced at all levels to reflect the status and needs of marginalized groups of women, including access to services, education, political participation and employment. Activists and non-governmental organizations demanded that Bosnia and Herzegovina at all levels of government immediately ensure gender perspective and women’s participation in all reform processes and policies.

Lithuania

Lithuanian Women’s Lobby Organization said the gender pay gap was increasing constantly, leading to gender pay gaps in pensions, unequal economic independence, and feminization of poverty. Horizontal and vertical segregation in the labour market was one of the main factors in that regard. The Government should oblige employers to include the wage audit disaggregated by gender into gender equality plans. The Committee’s recommendations regarding the involvement and support of women’s non-governmental organizations were not being implemented. Lithuanian Women’s Lobby Organization recommended that the Committee ask the Government about the lack of implementation of its oft-repeated recommendations.

Vilnius Women’s House said the gender specific National Strategy for Combatting Violence against Women had been halted in 2014 and replaced with a gender-neutral National Programme for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Provision of Assistance to Victims. Very few cases were prosecuted, and insufficient funding was provided to organizations that supported women who were victims of domestic violence. Understanding amongst judges and prosecutors was lacking. In Lithuania, there was no protection from violence orders nor emergency orders. While female victims were put under a magnifying glass, perpetrators remained immune from prosecution.

Centre for Reproductive Rights expressed concerns about Lithuania’s compliance with article 12 of the Convention due to the legal and policy barriers preventing undocumented migrant women from accessing quality and affordable maternal and reproductive healthcare. As the Committee had repeatedly affirmed, article 12 required State parties to eliminate discrimination against women in access to healthcare, maternal healthcare in particular.

Questions by Committee Members

On Bosnia and Herzegovina, Experts requested information about human trafficking.

Turning to Lithuania, Experts inquired about the equal participation of women in decision-making processes.

They requested information about the amendment process through which a definition of discrimination based on gender could be enshrined in the constitutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina. They sought more information about remaining obstacles impeding transitional justice efforts.

Regarding Cambodia, Experts sought the opinion of non-governmental organizations on the extent to which housing policies had benefitted women. Turning to national plans on domestic violence, they asked about the progress achieved and the remaining challenges.

Responses by Non-Governmental Organizations

Representatives of non-governmental organizations from Cambodia explained that civil society organizations were not fully informed about the procedure through which social housing was provided, nor were they fully apprised of the criteria used by the Government in that context. It seemed that the housing scheme mostly benefitted civil servants.

Non-governmental organizations from Bosnia and Herzegovina said constitutional reforms related to gender equality should take into account issues relating to ethic origins. It was also important to emphasize that the lack of gender discrimination provisions resulted in fragmented regulations and policies on gender equality. Temporary special measures should also be provided for in the constitution. Education curricula in Bosnia and Herzegovina often reinforced traditional gender roles. Training should be provided to teaching staff to address this issue.

Turning to the situation in Lithuania, speakers said information on trafficking would be provided in writing. There were no monitoring systems whatsoever to hold institutions to account. The Prime Minister, after having failed to appoint a single female minister, had said that he loved women but needed competent ministers. Non-governmental organizations were asked for their opinion pro forma; there was no political will to follow up on them. Institutional mechanisms on gender equality, such as the statutory parliamentary committee working on gender, should be re-established or bolstered.

Dialogue with the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office of the Republic of Lithuania

The Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office of the Republic of Lithuania said it had been accredited as the national human rights institution of Lithuania in 2017, in line with the Paris Principles. After having assessed the human and financial resources available to carry out its new functions, it had requested additional funding, to no avail. It could not, therefore, perform its mandate in an independent, adequate way and in fully capacity. Due to stereotypes and social pressure, women chose “more suitable” education leading to positions which were paid less. As much more women than men were taking responsibility to be the main caretakers of children, the gap in earnings only grew larger. The national human rights institution of Lithuania was therefore calling on the State to take immediate and efficient actions to overcome stereotype-based understanding of women’s rights in education and employment fields. In cases of domestic violence, reconciliation procedures were sometimes excessively used, forcing victims to meet the perpetrators. This sometimes led them to rescind their complaints. While there were 17 Special Assistance Centres across the country, they were not adequately funded. The national human rights institution of Lithuania called on the State to take measures to support victims of domestic violence, including the provision of social assistance to victims and their families and ensuring perpetrators faced due prosecution.

Experts asked if the mandate of the national human rights institution could be expanded to include violence against women.

The Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office of the Republic of Lithuania said as the questions put forward by the Experts were political, it could not, therefore, provide comprehensive answers to them.
Under the classical ombudsmen’s mandate which the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office of the Republic of Lithuania also held in addition to its mandate as the national human rights institution, it could look into action by law enforcement officials, but only those that were carried out before pre-trial investigations.

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