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Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women discusses access to abortion and gender stereotypes in dialogue with Andorra

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination
against Women 

23 October 2019

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the fourth periodic report of Andorra on how it implements the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  During the interactive dialogue, Experts raised concerns about access to abortion and gender stereotypes.

Committee Experts reiterated a recommendation that had been made in previous concluding observations, namely to legalize abortion under certain circumstances.  They asked if the State party would consider amending article 108 of the Penal Code to de-penalize abortion, at the very least in cases where there was a threat to the mother’s physical and mental health, the woman had been raped or was a victim of incest, or when the foetus was not viable.  They also inquired about Andorra’s policies on gender stereotypes.

The delegation said the decriminalization of abortion would require a constitutional change and would create a number of institutional problems, as Andorra was a co-principality.  Still, the Government wanted to make headway on this matter.  It was not uncommon in Andorra for patients to be referred to healthcare centres in Spain or France.  In such cases, the costs were covered by the social security.  Costs, therefore, did not impede access to abortion.  There had been no cases of women who wanted to have access to abortion and had been prevented from doing so.  It could not be said that in Andorra women’s lives were being threatened because they could not get access to abortion. 

On stereotypes, measures taken included modifying curricula; ensuring non-sexist orientation and guidance was provided to pupils; inculcating the importance of communicating in a manner that valued diversity and reflected an equal respect for men and women; providing training workshops for young persons on stereotypes, prejudices and the negative impact of rumours; and the rolling out of a protocol for children affected by domestic violence and violence in a school context.

In his concluding remarks, Joan Carles Villaverde Canabal, Director of Social Affairs, Housing and Youth at the Ministry of Social Affairs, Housing and Youth of Andorra, said the delegation had endeavoured to engage constructively with the Committee and provide the most objective responses possible.  This dialogue had been extremely useful.

Hilary Gbedemah, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue. 

The delegation of Andorra was comprised of representatives of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Housing and Youth, the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, the Andorran Parliament, the Tribunal, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Permanent Mission of Andorra to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public at 10 a.m.  on Thursday, 23 October to consider the fifth periodic report of Kazakhstan (CEDAW/C/KAZ/5 ).

Report

The Committee is considering the fourth periodic report of Andorra (CEDAW/C/AND/4 ).

Presentation of the Report

JOAN CARLES VILLAVERDE CANABAL, Director of Social Affairs, Housing and Youth at the Ministry of Social Affairs, Housing and Youth of Andorra, said that in the past few years, significant efforts had been deployed to prevent and address problems affecting women in Andorra.  In 2016, the Department of Equality and Equality Service had been created in that context and it aimed to work on discrimination and inequality issues faced by women.  It was notably entrusted with promoting and implementing programmes to prevent and combat gender-based and domestic violence, and ensure an effective equality between men and women.

A law on equality of treatment and non-discrimination had been approved 2019.  It introduced for the first time the reversal of the burden of proof, as well the principle of equal wages, allowing for the payment of money to close wage gaps from the moment at which the discrimination was detected.  This law also included specific provisions on sanctions that ensured its enforcement.  Furthermore, the implementation of this law implied the creation of an Observatory on Equality, to which adequate resources and means would be provided.

The law also allowed for the training of technical staff in order to mainstream the perspective in the elaboration of programmes, policies and norms.  It further envisaged the adoption of temporary affirmative action measures.  It acknowledged that the implementation of a sanction process on equality and non-discrimination matters required training bodies conducting inspection activities in various sectors, such as education, labour and health.

The law on equality of treatment and non-discrimination also established a general protection framework and created a system of guarantees.  Without any prejudice to the Penal Code, it introduced and defined sexual harassment and gender-based harassment, recognizing that such behaviour amounted to gender-based discrimination.  It also amended existing legislation to specifically recognize the definition of violence against women included in the Istanbul Convention. 

A State Secretary of Equality and Citizen Participation position had been created by the current legislature.  The person holding this position was responsible for the implementation of the law on equality and non-discrimination and would spearhead the drafting of a specific law on effective equality between men and women.

Ensuring the proper follow-up, as well as filling questionnaires and the overall evaluation process required significant efforts on the part of an administration of a country as small as Andorra.  In line with its international obligations and commitments to the achievement of human rights, notably those of women, Andorra had nevertheless submitted voluntary reports, such as the Voluntary Report on the Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Questions from the Experts

Committee Experts commended the State party on laws adopted that marked progress in the achievement of human rights, such as the law on equal treatment and non-discrimination and the law on the rights of the child and the adolescent, as well as the plan to implement the Sustainable Development Goals in the country.

The Committee was nevertheless concerned about the lack of knowledge and use of the Convention in Andorra.  The State party itself acknowledged that it had not been cited in courts.

No specific study had been conducted on barriers faced by women in accessing the justice system.  Given the existence of a wage gap, and taking into account the legal provisions that allowed for it, had the Government considered compensating women that were affected by it? 

Had the Government considered making progress on reproductive rights and access to abortion?

The Committee Experts requested information on complaints processed by the Office of the Ombudsman and training of law enforcement officials.

Experts noted that the Constitutional Tribunal integrated the norms of the Convention, but inquired about the specific status of the Convention within the hierarchy of Andorran norms.

Responses by the Delegation

On the status of the Convention, the delegation said that while the Convention had not been invoked before the courts, it held constitutional value and could at any point be used as such.  When the law had been transposed, lawyers typically advocated on the basis of Andorran law.  The Convention was therefore most commonly used indirectly through national legislation, in which it had been transposed.  It could, nevertheless, be invoked directly.

On access to justice, while there had been no study on barriers preventing access to justice, criminal investigations were opened after a woman filed a complaint and a lawyer could be appointed to assist her if she requested.  The law took into account the special circumstances of single-headed households as well as that of women with dependent children in allowing for the provision of legal aid.

Training on gender was given to Andorran judges, and they could freely access training offered by French and Spanish governmental entities.  Four years ago, the Government had started rolling out training on gender equality for all departments.  In collaboration with higher courts, in 2018, specific training was offered on, inter alia, declarations of victims with a gender perspective.  A specific conference on national law and the Istanbul Convention, which would include a specific module on the Convention, would be held in Andorra.

The delegation could not say how many complaints had been received by the Ombudsperson.  The Ministry of Social Affairs, Housing and Youth was not aware of any complaints on discrimination.  It had received, however, complaints from the Ombudsperson’s Office on matters such as social protection, for instance from people who said they had not received their social support funds.

On abortion, the delegation remarked that the decriminalization of abortion would require a constitutional change and would create a number of institutional problems, as Andorra was a co-principality.  That being said, the Government wanted to make headway on this matter, without finding itself submerged in a constitutional crisis.  Abortion could take place in foreign centres.  It was not uncommon in Andorra for patients to be referred to healthcare centres in Spain or France.  The coalition in power was setting up a social support service for women, including those who found themselves with an unwanted pregnancy.  Progress had been achieved.  Abortion was no longer a taboo, and Andorra was on the right path; there was awareness of this issue at the political level, and it was also being debated by the population.

Questions from the Experts

Experts expressed concerns about the constant restructuring of the mechanisms established to address discrimination.  At the end of the day, it was not clear where accountability lay.  What had changed?  What was the delegation’s assessment of the situation?

They inquired about steps taken to foster collaboration with civil society organizations.  Were there any plans to establish a national human rights institution?

The Government should work with civil society organizations to identify needs; they could play an instrumental role in filling gaps.  Their role was complementary to the Government’s.

The Experts requested additional information on special measures.

Responses by the Delegation

Regarding the restructuring of the mechanisms established to address discrimination, the delegation said the new State Secretary position had been recently established. 

When the Government changed in 2015, Parliament decided it was important to foster the development of a white paper on discrimination.  The drafting of this draft paper built on previous work and did not amount to a break in work.  Civil society organizations had participated in the drafting process, and the Government had worked to ensure their participation was on an equal footing.

The role of the Office of the Ombudsperson had been bolstered so that it was as close as possible to the competencies of a national human rights institution.

While no specific study had been carried out about how many people had access to justice, the delegation assured that social services were providing early detection measures in schools and hospitals that could help women access justice.  Indeed, social and psychological support could help women access justice.  There were no legal barriers preventing women from accessing justice.

The programme for effective equality should be drafted within two years, as per the timeframe established by law.  It was part of the comprehensive gender equality and non-discrimination programme under article 30.  A series of challenges or steps that needed to be taken had already been identified.  All these programmes would be developed in a participatory way. 

Questions from the Experts

Experts commended the State party for its efforts in establishing a joint working group between the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Social Affairs on a preventative plan to combat gender stereotyping and gender-based violence.

What were some of the obstacles faced in adopting the plan on domestic and gender-based violence?  They also requested information on the timeframe for its implementation and the involvement of women’s civil society groups, teachers and the church in its preparation.

Turning to the media, they asked if women were actively engaged in the evaluation process and the creation of radio and television content and participation in the programmes.

What were the sanctions imposed on public and private sector companies that committed offences under the act on equal treatment and non-discrimination?

Experts also asked about the number of women who accessed civil courts and subsequently received protection.  When did the Government intend to establish regular training on gender-based violence for all relevant officials?

Responses by the Delegation

On stereotypes, the Government believed they emerged amongst young persons and had taken a number of actions accordingly.  Measures taken included modifying curricula; ensuring non-sexist orientation and guidance was provided to pupils; inculcating the importance of communicating in a manner that valued diversity and reflected an equal respect for men and women; providing training workshops for young persons on stereotypes, prejudices and the negative impact of rumors; and the rolling out of a protocol for children affected by domestic violence and violence in the school context.

The law on gender-based violence, inter alia, had articles on working with the media.  Following a meeting with media organizations, the Government would draw up a document of best practices.  This would notably seek to avoid that media representation cause further victimization.  Two training workshops had been organized.  The first dealt with basic concepts and presented the legal provisions in place.

Training on domestic violence had been imparted for four years to all officials that could be involved in detecting and addressing it.  The Government continued to provide this training while updating the content and the related protocols.

Given that Andorra was a small country, the Government had determined that having a shelter would not be a good option as it could be easily identified by perpetrators.  Victims were rather hosted in apartments, along with their families.

The Government had put in place a programme that worked with men so that they stopped engaging in gender-based violence.

In the cases of domestic violence, criminal courts intervened.  When custody began, judicial protection could be afforded to women.  Very often, women’s security could be guaranteed in her own home.  But a barring order could be handed down so that the women did not have to leave home.  The Government favored such measures that were less victimizing.

Questions from the Experts

Turning to legislation to suppress all forms of trafficking in women and exploitation of prostitution, Experts asked whether cooperation with the police was mandatory for victims to prolong their stay in the country and receive protection.

Noting that prostitution was banned in Andorra, Experts remarked that buying sex was not illegal.  Could the delegation provide clarification on this matter?

It seemed that trafficking for organ removal was the only form of trafficking that was criminalized.  What about trafficking for labour-related and other purposes?

Responses by the Delegation

Delegates explained that the Government did not have a strategy as such, but matters related to strategy were covered by a protocol.  Once the law on trafficking was approved and the protocol was implemented, care services for victims of trafficking would be implemented.  While no trafficking cases had been detected thus far, this did not mean there had not been any nor that there would be none.

Prostitution was not prohibited.  Pimping and promoting prostitution were prohibited.  Buying prostitution services was prohibited administratively.

On domestic workers, in Andorra there was a strong social fabric amongst the Filipino community, and they were aware of their rights.  There might be abuses but they knew how to seek redress.

The Observatory would contribute to disaggregated data collection.

The delegation remarked that the Department for Social Affairs could impose sanctions on media outlets when they acted in a way that amounted to discrimination. 

Questions from the Experts

Experts asked about women’s access to high-ranking positions in the civil service. 

Did political parties have internal rules that provided for equal opportunities for men and women?

Experts drew the attention of those present to the absence of an asylum law.  Did Andorra plan to adopt one?  They asked if the State party was considering adopting the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Responses by the Delegation

Since last February, a law was being implemented that allowed Government officials to have diplomatic careers.  Amongst the current ambassadors, three were women.  About 66 per cent of diplomats were women.  Within the public administration, there over 1,000 women, and more women than men.  There were, however, still gender stereotypes.

Each political party established procedures to promote gender parity.  In the last elections, almost all electoral lists showed parity.

After two years of special status, foreigners could receive a residence permit under the regular immigration law.  The Government abided by the non-refoulement principle.

Questions by Experts

Committee Experts commended the State party on its efforts to advance education in the country.

Access to an equal education system for women and girls was a problem.  Data, including on the percentage of women and men in leadership positions in the education sector, was lacking.  What measures would the State party take to address this issue and improve data collection?

They inquired about steps taken to ensure that school curricula and training provided to teachers included and promoted women’s human rights.  Had the Government considered providing incentives to encourage girls to pursue non-traditional careers?

Responses by the Delegation

All schools were mixed.  On school attendance for children with disabilities, families could decide which school and which educational system they wanted for their child, on the same basis as other children.  Boys and girls could therefore develop to the best of their ability.  Andorra’s three educational systems were inclusive.

There were only 300 students enrolled in Andorra’s University.  There were more female than male students.

There was no gender disparity in schools apart from the difference that existed in the country’s demographics. 

Questions by Experts

Experts asked about the application of the principle of equal pay.  How did it work?  What was the enforcement mechanism?

They requested further information on the measures put in place by the Government to reduce the gender pay gap.

Noting that domestic workers could participate in the social security system, Experts asked how many domestic workers worked in Andorra.  Where did they come from?  Did all of them had a written formal contract as employees and know about their rights?

Responses by the Delegation

International Labour Organization conventions were recognized as sources of law; they had been integrated in Andorra’s legal machinery despite not having been formally ratified.

When a woman was carrying out work that was not compensated in the same manner as similar work performed by a male colleague or counterpart, she could file a complaint with a regular court.  The burden of proof was inverted; it was therefore the company or employer that had to prove that the remuneration was equal.

There were various options for redress in cases of sexual harassment.  It was considered an offence; complaints could be filed before criminal courts.  Anything that amounted to reprisal was also dealt with by the law.

The Government had carried out training programmes for companies on gender equality to advise them on how to develop gender equality plans and policies to, inter alia, prevent and address sexual violence and sexual harassment.

On domestic workers, the Labour Inspectorate could be joined by phone.  People that did call the Government through this mean were informed of their rights and relevant laws and regulations.

If companies did not adopt adequate protection measures and the Labour Inspectorate found violations, sanctions could be handed down against them.

Questions by Experts

Turning to access to healthcare, Experts reiterated a recommendation that had been made in previous concluding observations, namely that Andorra legalize abortion under certain circumstances.

When would the State party amend article 108 of the Penal Code to de-penalize abortion, at the very least in cases where there was a threat to the mother’s physical and mental health, the woman had been raped or was a victim of incest, or when the foetus was not viable?

The Committee had been told that girls carrying a non-viable foetus were encouraged by healthcare professionals to undergo abortions abroad or continue their pregnancy until the foetus died of natural causes.  This could be a traumatic experience.  Could the delegation provide more information on this matter?

They requested information on access to contraception.

Responses by the Delegation

In Andorra there had never been a woman investigated or prosecuted for having undergone an abortion.  Women could go to Spain or France to undergo abortion; in such cases, the costs were covered by the social security.  Money, therefore, was not a problem – costs did not impede access to abortion.  There had been no cases of women who wanted to have access to abortion and had been prevented from doing so.  It could not be said that in Andorra women’s lives were being threatened because they could not get access to abortion.

Adolescents had access to contraception in pharmacies, youth centres and health centres.  No authorization was required for them to obtain contraception, unlike in other countries like France.

There were youth centres in each of Andorra’s seven municipalities, where professionals worked with young people, including social educators.  They organized workshops on gender-equality, sex education, health education, preventive health and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex issues.

Perhaps one day the majority in parliament would change its mind on abortion.

It was not possible to distinguish between voluntary and involuntary abortions, because the State party did not have disaggregated data on this matter.  The number of women who had undergone abortions in France and Spain would be submitted in writing at a later time.

There were no cases of girls dropping out of school due to a pregnancy.  There had not been a case of teenage pregnancy in Andorra in years. 

Questions by Experts

Experts requested information on data collection; women in preventive detention; removal of custody due to the mother’s financial situation; and the law on gender-based violence.

Responses by the Delegation

In response, the delegation said that economic abuse was considered as part of domestic violence.  Taking this fact into account, the Government assessed the situation of victims and provided them with legal assistance, health services and psychological support, seeking to protect their privacy.  If the woman wanted to stay in her home, measures were taken to prevent the aggressor’s access to it.

Andorra had data and was working on ways to harmonize data collection and processing, taking into account United Nations guidelines.  The Observatory on Gender Equality played an important role in that regard.  Indicators would be established to assess the impact of policies. 

Social services had never recommended that a child be removed due to the mother’s financial situation.  As per article 5 of Law 26014, it was impossible for custody to be withdraw on the basis of economic reasons.

On data, it was right that some statistics were not forthcoming, notably data disaggregated by gender.  The Government had realized it was lacking while putting together the white paper.

Questions by Experts

Experts raised concerns about civil unions and family reunification, as well as on the waiting period to obtain a divorce. 

How soon would the Government be able to raise the legal age of marriage?

Responses by the Delegation

Delegates said that in 2018, under the last legislature, the majority had presented a bill to raise the legal age of marriage, but Parliament had been dissolved before it could be adopted.  This bill was now being considered by Parliament.  It contemplated raising the age of marriage to 18.

On divorce, the family code would create a more flexible divorce procedure.  The Government was finalizing the new draft.

People who were bound by civil union should have the same rights as people who were married, including as regarded family reunification. 

Concluding Remarks

JOAN CARLES VILLAVERDE CANABAL, Director of Social Affairs, Housing and Youth at the Ministry of Social Affairs, Housing and Youth of Andorra, said the delegation had endeavoured to engage constructively with the Committee and provide the most objective responses possible.  This dialogue had been extremely useful.

HILARY GBEDEMAH, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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