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Civil Society Organizations brief the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women on the situation in Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Republic of Moldova and Kiribati

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women

CEDAW/20/7
17 February 2020

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon heard from representatives of civil society on the situation of women’s rights in Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Republic of Moldova and Kiribati, whose reports on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women will be reviewed this week.

With the peace negotiations underway, this was a critical time for Afghanistan, said the speakers, who raised concerns about the secrecy of the talks.  The absence of the meaningful representation of women in the peace talks raised a fear that the rights of women and other hard-gained achievements of the post-Taliban period might be traded away.  The speakers highlighted concerns about relentless attacks, intimidation, harassment and violence against human rights defenders, and about the lack of implementation of the Elimination of Violence against Women Law - the only law that criminalized 18 acts of gender-based violence and recognized gender-specific crimes.

Speakers spoke of a witch-hunt for non-governmental organizations in Bulgaria, strongly influenced by nationalistic parties and religious organizations.  The 2018 Constitutional Court ruling on the incompatibility of the Istanbul Convention with the Constitution had hindered its ratification, even though the number of women victims of domestic violence was on the increase.  Intersex people were not socially accepted, a situation made worse by the recent anti-gender campaigns.  Concerns were raised about Roma women and girls, in particular their low level of education and early dropout from schools, early marriages, poverty and unemployment, and the high level of domestic violence. 

In the Republic of Moldova, 73 per cent of women experienced some form of intimate partner violence, which was why the State should take urgent steps to ratify the Istanbul Convention and align its legislation with international standards.  Due to lack of data, it was difficult to assess the situation of Roma women, but they clearly suffered intersectional discrimination and poor access to health care and employment.  Discrimination persisted against the most vulnerable women: criminalization of sex work denied the workers access to health, dignity and privacy, and HIV-positive women faced marginalization and obstacles to accessing obstetric services because of the criminalization of HIV/AIDS transmission.

Speakers from Kiribati underlined the country’s vulnerability to climate change, whose impact on women, already marginalized by patriarchy, was particularly harsh and unjust.  The absence of gender or sex as prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Constitution continued to impact women’s rights and freedoms, including in land ownership.  A culture of impunity prevailed in relation to gender-based violence, while the absence of minimum sentencing guidelines and a lack of gender awareness among the judiciary resulted in the inadequate protection of women’s rights.

During the discussion, the Afghan Women’s Network, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom Afghanistan, and Women for Justice spoke on Afghanistan. 

Speaking on Bulgaria were the Open Door Centre Foundation, Gender Alternatives Foundation, and ILGA World, on behalf of Bilitis Resource Centre Foundation. 

Speaking on the situation in the Republic of Moldova were the Women’s Law Centre/National Coalition “Life without violence”, National Farmers’ Association, National Roma Centre, Centre for Support and Development of Civic Initiatives “Resonance”, Transdniestrian Platform on domestic violence prevention and women’s rights promotion, Moldovan Women Lawyers Association, ECOM – Eurasian Coalition on Health, Rights, Gender and Sexual Diversity, and Gender-Centre/Platform for Gender Equality. 

Speaking on Kiribati were the Kiribati Women and Children Support Centre and Aia Maea Ainen Kiribati (AMAK).

Two national human rights institutions, the Ombudsman Office of Bulgaria and the People’s Advocate Office of the Republic of Moldova, also made statements. 

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 can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.

The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m.  on Tuesday, 18 February to consider the third periodic report of Afghanistan (CEDAW/C/AFG/3).

Statements by Non-governmental Organizations

Afghanistan

Afghan Women’s Network, in a joint statement, said that this was a critical time for Afghanistan as peace negotiations were underway.  Afghan people, including women, had started questioning the peace talks and had raised their concern about their secrecy.  There was a fear that the peace talks might trade away the rights of women and other hard-gained achievements that Afghanistan had made during the post-Taliban period.  The speakers also highlighted a concern about the protection of human rights defenders who suffered relentless attacks, intimidation, harassment and violence.  Informal justice, like the local jirgas, which only had male members, was highly patriarchal and based on social attitudes that were harmful to women’s well-being.

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom Afghanistan noted the continued absence of the meaningful representation of women in peace talks, including in informal talks between the United States and Taliban in 2019, in which only 5 per cent of participants had been women.  Noting that during the 2018 and 2019 elections many Afghans had stayed home for fear of violence, the speaker called on Afghanistan to assess challenges that women faced during elections and implement a national anti-corruption strategy. 

Women for Justice was concerned about the implementation of the Elimination of Violence against Women Law – the only law that criminalized 18 acts of gender-based violence and recognized gender-specific crimes - as in many cases the perpetrators were not prosecuted.  Many women withdrew complaints due to their dependency on their husbands and the fear of losing their children, and there were several cases of powerful perpetrators obstructing justice.  The 1976 Civil Law discriminated against women in matters of child marriage, divorce, custody, matrimonial property, among others.  Afghanistan should adopt the reformed family law - pending since 2016 – that would recognize women’s equal status in marriage and family.

Bulgaria

Open Door Centre Foundation said there was a witch-hunt for non-governmental organizations in Bulgaria, strongly influenced by nationalistic parties and religious organizations.  The Constitutional Court had declared the Istanbul Convention unconstitutional, without referring to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Committee’s general recommendations 19 and 35.  The Bulgarian Orthodox Church continued to intervene with the secular power against the Istanbul Convention and the use of the term “gender”.  Politicians continued to attack women’s non-governmental organizations, while a specific programme to combat violence against women was lacking.

Gender Alternatives Foundation highlighted the issue of domestic violence, noting that the main problem included a lack of State support, social stigma and inadequate regulation.  Because of the stigma, women continued to underreport domestic violence, while the Criminal Code did not recognize domestic violence, rape within the marriage, stalking or psycho-social violence as separate crimes.  The speaker also expressed concern about common verbal mistreatment of women during childbirth and abortion.  The labouring women were forbidden to scream and their disobedience might be punished by inflicting unnecessary pain by the medical staff during delivery.

ILGA World read the statement of the Bilitis Resource Centre Foundation which noted that intersex people were not accepted in Bulgaria and continued to face discrimination in legal equality, education, employment and health services.  Pressed by the lack of acceptance of intersex children and the recent anti-gender campaigns, parents of such children demanded the so-called normalizing medical treatment and surgeries, which were not prohibited by the law.

Republic of Moldova

Women’s Law Centre/National Coalition “Life without violence” said that 73 per cent of women in the Republic of Moldova experienced some form of intimate partner violence.  The State should take urgent steps to ratify the Istanbul Convention and align its legislation with international standards.  Women’s prisons had to respond to the special needs of women and pay special attention to reproductive health, mental illness and substance abuse. 

National Farmers’ Association spoke about the situation of rural women and highlighted their low education levels and poverty.  Women from rural area had limited access to employment opportunities because the current policies did not integrate their specific needs. 

National Roma Centre said that due to lack of data, it was difficult to assess the situation of Roma women in the Republic of Moldova, but they clearly suffered intersectional discrimination and poor access to health care and employment.  The speaker also highlighted the situation of sex workers who were discriminated against and marginalized, while the criminalization of sex work denied them access to health, dignity and privacy.

Centre for Support and Development of Civic Initiatives “Resonance”, Transdniestrian Platform on domestic violence prevention and women’s rights promotion said that in the breakaway region of Transnistria, one out of five women experienced intimate partner violence.  She urged the Government to approve special legislation on domestic violence, establish service centres for victims, and set up a mechanism of sharing experiences on domestic violence.  Discrimination persisted against the most vulnerable women, while the criminalization of HIV/AIDS led to the marginalization of HIV-positive women and hampered their access to obstetric services.

Moldovan Women Lawyers Association said that women lawyers were not protected, especially those with children.  Often, they had to quit working due to lack of maternity protection or sick leave.  Women lawyers should benefit from the same social allowances as other women, including child benefits and full leave if the child was sick.

ECOM – Eurasian Coalition on Health, Rights, Gender and Sexual Diversity said that there was an established gender reassignment procedure for transgender people, however, there was only one document related to it.  The current approach obstructed the right of trans persons to self-determine their gender identity freely and enjoy their right to health. 

Gender-Centre/Platform for Gender Equality said that despite the Committee’s many recommendations, the Gender Equality Committee was not yet functional.  On violence against women in the electoral process, the State should adopt a law on the regulation of hate speech and investigate all instances of violence.

Kiribati

Kiribati Women and Children Support Centre informed the Committee about the national legislation, policies and frameworks in Kiribati, noting that the Constitution did not list gender or sex as a prohibited ground of discrimination.  This continued to impact women’s rights and freedoms in all aspects of their lives, including in land ownership.  A culture of impunity prevailed in relation to gender-based violence, while the absence of minimum sentencing guidelines and lack of gender awareness among the judiciary resulted in the inadequate protection of women’s rights.

Aia Maea Ainen Kiribati (AMAK) highlighted the need to understand the Government’s actions to support equal participation in the society of vulnerable groups of women, including rural women, women with disabilities, sex workers and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.  The speaker also spoke about the injustice and the negative impact of climate change on women in Kiribati.  Because of it, women already marginalized by patriarchy had to work harder.  High seas continued to flood the islands, killing land resources and polluting water wells, doubling women’s burden and duties.  There was a need for an equitable and just transition from an extractive fossil fuel-based economy to a feminist fossil fuel-free future, human rights based and led by communities.

Discussion

In the discussion that followed, Committee Experts noted that in Afghanistan, internal trafficking in persons was becoming a significant problem – what could the non-governmental organizations do to protect women from this form of abuse and exploitation?  What could be done to prevent the use of women as a bargaining chip in the peace negotiations and what was the role of the Ministry for Peace? 

In Bulgaria, were there complaint mechanisms for women who experienced violence and mistreatment in labour and what did the Criminal Code say about sexual harassment?  The Experts also asked for more information about the State’s efforts to support women’s entrepreneurship. 

The Committee was aware of the lack of success to amend the Constitution in Kiribati to include sex and gender as grounds of discrimination and asked for more information about those who resisted this change.

As for women’s political participation in the Republic of Moldova, an Expert asked about the financial incentives for political parties to implement the 40 per cent quota for women.

Responding, the non-governmental organizations from Afghanistan said that there were no shelters for victims of trafficking in persons.  Taliban never wanted women to participate in the political process, but the Government had an obligation to raise the question of the exclusion of half of the Afghani population from the decision-making.  It must implement the peace roadmap and the existing laws.  The High Peace Council was responsible for peace-related issues, while the recently-establishment Ministry of Peace was responsible for peace implementation.  The relationship between the two bodies was not completely clear.

Representatives of non-governmental organizations from Bulgaria and Kiribati said they would provide their responses in writing. 

Speakers from the Republic of Moldova said that it was important to insist on the implementation of the National Action Plan on women, peace and security.  Other responses would be given during the lunchtime briefing, the speaker said.

Discussion with National Human Rights Institutions

DIANA KOVATCHEVA, Ombudsman of Bulgaria, said that the Bulgarian Ombudsman had been accredited with the highest possible status A in March 2019.  Since its establishment in 2005, the Ombudsman had been closely monitoring the efforts of Bulgaria on the elimination of discrimination against women.  The Constitutional Court had ruled in 2018 on the incompatibility of the Istanbul Convention with the Bulgarian Constitution, which had hindered its ratification.  This had triggered some amendments in the Protection against Domestic Violence Act.  While this was a positive development, further legislative amendments were needed to efficiently address physical, psychological and economic violence and to protect women’s rights and victims in pre-trial and trial procedures.

Ms. Kovatcheva said that the number of victims of domestic violence was on the increase and this required a critical approach by the State and the public.  Despite the lack of official statistics, in 2019 at least two women per month had lost their lives as a result of domestic violence.  A recent public opinion survey from September 2019 had found that 79 per cent of Bulgarians believed that more measures against domestic violence were still needed.  The Ombudsman was concerned about Roma women and girls, in particular the low level of education and early dropout from schools, early marriages, poverty and unemployment, as well as the high level of domestic violence. 

DUMITRU ROMAN, Head of Monitoring and Reporting Department, People’s Advocate Office of the Republic of Moldova, said that equality between women and men was enshrined in article 16 of the Constitution, while many laws promoted the principle of gender equality.  The law on ensuring equality contained the definition of discrimination, which was in accordance with the Convention.  However, the main policy documents and the equality body were not adequately resourced, which put the implementation of laws and policies at risk.  The Republic of Moldova had introduced a minimum representation quota of 40 per cent for both sexes, however, women remained underrepresented in public life. 

Mr. Roman said that despite the efforts to remove gender stereotypes and overcome patriarchal and gender-based stereotypical attitudes concerning the roles and responsibility of women and men in the family and the society in informal education programmes, public awareness campaigns and the prohibition of the use of sexist advertising, there were still problems regarding the elimination of patriarchal and gender-based stereotypical attitudes.  Violence against women remained a widespread phenomenon and the State had not yet ratified the Istanbul Convention.  Due to the lack of data, it was difficult to assess the situation of Roma women, women with disabilities or women from rural areas.  Official statistics showed that the gender pay gap was still an important issue and a big challenge for women.

Committee Experts asked about the national gender machinery in Bulgaria and noted that there were three bodies whose competencies overlapped.  In the absence of the national machinery, how was the national human rights institution in the Republic of Moldova able to carry out its mandate related to the elimination of the discrimination against women, which was very persistent.

DIANA KOVATCHEVA, Ombudsman of Bulgaria, explained that the Ombudsman had the broadest human rights mandate to protect all human rights of all people in Bulgaria.  The Commission on the Protection against Discrimination had a quasi-judicial function related to discrimination cases.  The Ombudsman worked directly with victims of domestic violence and supported them in contact with State institutions such as the police or prosecution, thus there was no overlap.  The Ombudsman was the only institution with the mandate and the power to make legislative amendments, which would be a step that Ms. Kovatcheva might consider in relation to the passage of the law against domestic violence.

DUMITRU ROMAN, Head of Monitoring and Reporting Department, People’s Advocate Office of the Republic of Moldova, said that the People’s Advocate Office was accredited under the Paris Principles and that it had a mandate and functions similar to their Bulgarian colleagues.  The Office used its duties to file complaints to the Constitutional Court.  A complaint it had filed in 2019, for example, had strengthened the right of women to care for their children with disabilities and have that care work be counted as a pensionable contribution.  Also, the Office prepared issue-specific reports, for example a special report on violence against women, while its annual report to Parliament gave an overview of the human rights situation and issues in the country.

HILARY GBEDEMAH, Committee Chairperson, in her concluding remarks, thanked the civil society organizations and recognized their unique role in the strengthening of women’s rights.  The Chair hoped for ever stronger collaboration and cooperation.

 

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