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In dialogue with Seychelles, Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women urges better funding of gender equality machinery

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination
against Women 

25 October 2019

Committee Experts also Raise Questions on Domestic Violence and Situation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Women

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the sixth periodic report of Seychelles 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 financial and other resources allocated to the State party’s “gender machinery”.

Committee Experts said that the resources allocated to the Gender Secretariat were still inadequate and its staffing had been reduced to one full-time officer.  It was difficult to understand why Seychelles’ gender machinery was so poorly resourced, in light of the high per capita income of the country - the highest in Africa.  Noting the Government’s plan to introduce a National Domestic Violence Bill, they inquired about its timeframe.  Did it include the offence of marital rape?  Would domestic couples who were not married, and lesbian, gay and bisexual couples be able to seek redress under this bill? 

Mitcy Larue, Minister of Family Affairs of Seychelles, said the Gender Secretariat’s financial, technical and human resources were inadequate for the promotion of the implementation of the Convention.  It supplemented its Government-allocated annual budget through the submission of project proposals to various bilateral and multilateral partners.  Other delegates explained that a hiring process was underway to add a second professional to the Gender Secretariat’s staff.  They added that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations were not yet part of the Government’s civil society platform, but efforts were being made so they could join it.  The National Domestic Violence Bill did not specifically mention lesbian, gay and bisexual people, due to constitutional constraints.

In her concluding remarks, Ms. Larue thanked the Experts for a productive session.  Seychelles was cognizant of its strengths and weaknesses.  It would take into account the recommendations of the Committee.  As a small island developing State, Seychelles would appreciate help from the United Nations to build capacity and move on to the next level.

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

The delegation of Seychelles was comprised of representatives of the Ministry of Family Affairs, the Ministry of Employment, and the Permanent Mission of Seychelles to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public at 4 p.m.  on Monday, 28 October to meet with representatives of non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions from Cambodia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Lithuania, whose reports it will review next week.

Report

The Committee is considering the sixth periodic report of Seychelles (CEDAW/C/SYC/6).

Presentation of the Report

MITCY LARUE, Minister of Family Affairs of Seychelles, said that as a small island developing State, Seychelles had overcome many obstacles and was doing its utmost to conform to the Convention while remaining cognizant of challenges and gaps in its implementation.  The socio-economic development in Seychelles in the last five years had been significant.  The islands had attained a high level of human development, ranking 62nd on the Human Development Index in 2018.  Seychelles had achieved all the Millennium Goals and was well on track to achieving the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Gender based violence was deeply rooted in gender inequality and was a daily reality for too many women and girls who suffered in silence, behind closed doors at the hand of those who were supposed to love and protect them.  A study conducted in 2016 had brought to the fore the magnitude of the various forms of violence experienced by Seychellois women.  More than half of the sampled female population admitted to having experienced some form of gender-based violence.  The Government was committed to strengthening legislative protection, gender justice, service response and awareness raising on this matter.  It had developed a Domestic Violence Bill, which also provided protection to male victims of domestic violence.  This bill would criminalize domestic violence, providing remedies including protection orders.  It outlined key services and minimum standards applicable to service providers.

The Constitution of Seychelles ensured that formal discrimination against women in the public sphere was no longer prevalent.  The Constitution made no provision for quotas or reserved places to advance the representation of women in the national parliament or publicly elected bodies.  Nonetheless, extensive advocacy work had led to an increased participation of women at decision-making levels.  The President had and continued to make efforts to name more women at high-level leadership positions, including Principal Secretary and Chief Executive Officer.  Since the last report, the proportion of women holding minister positions was 50 per cent.  The number of women representatives in parliament had however decreased to 21 per cent from 44 per cent.

Gender mainstreaming remained a priority for the Government and the portfolio for gender, which had been established in 1992, fell under the purview of the Ministry of Family Affairs.  The Gender Secretariat, while not having the mandate and authority to oblige partners to undertake proposed actions for gender mainstreaming, sought cooperation and engagement from partners through consultations, one-on-one meetings and training sessions.  Its financial, technical and human resources were inadequate for the promotion of the implementation of the Convention.  The Gender Secretariat supplemented its Government-allocated annual budget through the submission of project proposals to various bilateral and multilateral partners.

The Ministry of Family Affairs was developing the National Gender Plan of Action 2019-2023 and work was ongoing to assess the National Employment Policy of 2014, which outlined Seychelles’ commitment towards eliminating discrimination in employment and promoting gender equality. 

Gender equality was crucial and should be the norm.  The Government was determinedly moving in this direction.

Questions from the Experts

Experts pointed out that the Constitution did not establish the principle of equality between men and women and failed to prohibit discrimination on the ground of sex, which prevented the striking down of legislation that was discriminatory against women.  It was not good enough to say discrimination was provided for in ordinary law.

Unfortunately, the Committee had not been informed on whether the Convention or general recommendations by the Committee had been used in domestic courts and administrative proceedings.

Experts welcomed the fast-track procedure put in place by family courts for domestic violence cases and requested more information on the manner in which it was carried out.

They asked what the Government intended to do to increase legal literacy amongst women.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation remarked that the preamble of the Constitution dealt with the equality of all members of society.  Article 21 specifically referred to equal protection.  The Government understood the need to have a definition of discrimination and would seek support in the country to include a definition aligned with the Convention.  Since the new Constitution had been adopted in 1993, the Government had promoted the principle of non-discrimination.

At all times, the Government attempted to include the private sector and civil society at all levels within the confines of practicality.

Previously, the National Human Rights Commission and the Ombudsman’s Office were fused.  They had now been separated, in line with guidelines outlined in the Paris Principles.

The Convention and its Optional Protocols had not been cited in Seychellois courts.

Seychelles did not recognize the jurisdiction of the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, but it was considering granting it.

Questions from the Experts

Experts, citing official and alternative sources, said that the resources allocated to the Gender Secretariat were still inadequate and its staffing had been reduced to one full-time officer.  It was difficult to understand why Seychelle’s gender machinery was so poorly resourced, in light of the high per capita income of the country, the highest in Africa, and its commitment to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, including gender equality.

What resources, if any, had been put in place for the implementation of the National Gender Action Plan 2019-2023?  Could the delegation provide clarification regarding the budgetary allocations to the Gender Secretariat and the Gender Management Team?

They asked if efforts had been made to integrate women’s rights concerns into the work of the national Human Rights Commission and the Office of the Ombudsperson.

What was the extent of the Government’s collaboration with women’s civil society organizations, including those advocating lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues?

Turning to special measures, it seemed that a quota had been put in place, but sufficient temporary special measures had not been taken to increase women’s political representation.  What did the Government intend to do in this regard?

Responses by the Delegation

Delegates said both the National Human Rights Commission and the Office of the Ombudsperson had broad mandates and could consider issues related to women’s rights, even though for now they had not done so.

The Government believed in having a process of development, which had achieved results.  The country had not considered introducing temporary special measures.  That did not mean it would not do so in the future.

As a small island developing State, Seychelles had limited resources.  The Gender Secretariat was part of the Department of Family affairs.  It was distinct, and operated independently, from other entities.  A hiring process was underway to add a second professional to its staff.

The Secretariat’s budget was never sufficient.  The Government tried to supplement it by obtaining financial support from international organizations, notably to carry out surveys.  While this was not the optimal modus operandi, it was what the country could do for now. 

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations were not yet part of the Government’s civil society platform, but efforts were being made so they could join it. 

There were no quotas in place in Seychelles, but a dialogue on this matter was ongoing between the Government and political parties.

Questions from the Experts

Experts asked if the State party had made any progress in adopting a plan of action on the National Gender Policy’s objectives concerning gender stereotypes in education and the workforce.  Had any measures been taken to prohibit job advertisement for positions restricted to men, such as jobs in the construction, security and maintenance sectors?

Noting the Government’s plan to introduce a National Domestic Violence Bill, they inquired about its timeframe.  Did it include the offence of marital rape?  If not, why?  Would domestic couples who were not married, and lesbian, gay and bisexual couples be able to seek redress under this bill?  They also requested information on the studies that had been carried out on gender-based violence.  A study carried out in 2016 seemed to be based on a definition of violence that lacked specificity.  How were its findings being used by the State party?

Experts asked questions about measures in place in Seychelles to suppress trafficking in women and exploitation of prostitution.  They expressed concerns about shortcomings in the prosecution of perpetrators and the identification of victims.

Responses by the Delegation

The drafting of the National Domestic Violence Bill had taken time because there were numerous stakeholders with which the Government had had to engage while developing this piece of legislation.  It had been gazetted, however, and was now before the National Assembly, which could adopt it at any time, depending on its work schedule.

The gender-based violence study had been done in collaboration with other Southern African Development Community States in order to develop a baseline.  The National Gender Policy, which had been developed in 2016, and the related plan of action were still being developed.  The Government was hoping to bring it before the cabinet by the end of the year.

The National Domestic Violence Bill did not specifically mention lesbian, gay and bisexual people, due to constitutional constraints.  Once the bill had been approved by Parliament, hopefully soon, and assented by the President, the implementation phase would start.  Communication campaigns to inform the population of its content would be organized.

On job advertisement, the new Employment Bill would outline a format, which had to be followed by all employers.  All employers would have to register job vacancies and they would be reviewed by the Government prior to being advertised.  Any violations of the bill, including the inclusion of discriminatory content, would be addressed and sanctions could be imposed.

Marital rape would be covered by the National Domestic Violence Bill.

On trafficking, the Ministry of Employment had imposed a moratorium on the recruitment of Bangladeshis in October 2018.  One year later, a bilateral agreement had been signed between Seychelles and Bangladesh to regularize the recruitment process of Bangladeshis in Seychelles, which should curtail trafficking.  The Government was planning on signing similar agreements with other countries. 

Questions from the Experts

Experts said there was a low level of participation of women in public and political life.  Perhaps this was due to a lack of information.  What strategies had been put in place to ensure the participation of women on an equal footing with men?

They requested information on plans to allow the acquisition of citizenship by children born to one Seychellois parent and a foreign parent.

Responses by the Delegation

In response, a delegate said the Government did not have quotas, a discussion must be held on this matter and it should involve all stakeholders for the country to move forward on this issue.  The population should also be involved.

The delegation remarked that perhaps the gaps pointed to by the Experts were due to a lack of support mechanisms for women, who tended to put “family first” in Seychelles. 

Questions from the Experts

Experts asked about measures, if any, taken to increase the presence of girls in traditionally male-dominated areas.  Would the Government consider temporary special measures?

Structured, consistent training programmes were needed on gender equality, Experts said, calling for a paradigm shift in that regard.  It was not sufficient to learn about gender issues “on the job” as delegates had said.

Dropout rates were not encouraging in light of the Committee’s previous concluding observations.  Noting that high heels were part of some schools’ uniforms, Experts asked what the State party was doing to combat stereotypical dress codes.

Responses by the Delegation

It was no longer mandatory for girls to wear high heels.  It was tourism schools that had put in place this requirement.  Female students now had to wear court shoes.

There was a science national institute in Seychelles and it was working hard to promote the participation of girls in science and technology.  Encouraging women’s participation in male-dominated job sectors remained a challenge, delegates acknowledged. 

Questions from the Experts

Experts commended the State party for fostering the development of the formal labour market, despite having faced a severe economic crisis.

They requested information on the Employment Act due to be adopted in 2020, and asked if the private sector respected the principle of “equal pay for work of equal value”.  Were there measures in place to foster work-life balance as well as measures to discourage and sanction sexual harassment?

Responses by the Delegation

Delegates said there had not been any cases reported to the Ministry of Family Affairs regarding unequal pay.  Most complaints lodged with the Ministry were about unpaid work, and they concerned mainly male workers.

Seychelles was party to the International Labour Organization Convention on discrimination.  The Government involved private employment agencies in workshops and meetings related to policies on employment. 

On sexual harassment, threats were considered to amount to “harassment”.  A definition of harassment had been included in the Employment Bill.

The Ministry of Employment facilitated employment for the most vulnerable groups of society, such as people with disabilities.  Under the employment scheme, persons with disability were also supported and received assistance to find jobs.

The Government was considering adopting the International Labour Organization Convention on Domestic Workers as a part of reforms that had been rolled out since June.  The ratification should take place in the first quarter of 2020.

Questions from the Experts

Experts noted that the healthcare service restrictions had yielded positive results.  However, infant mortality rates were a source of concern for the Committee, as was the number of suicide attempts.

Did the delegation acknowledge that teenage pregnancy was a major challenge for the country?  Could it advise the Committee on the cases in which it was legal?

Was the Government considering making access to contraceptives easier for children under the age of 18?  No plan of action had been elaborated to implement the policy on sexual and reproductive health of adolescents.  Could the State party remedy this?

Responses by the Delegation

The World Health Organization was assisting the Government to review its policies on adolescent health, including maternal and sexual and reproductive health.  This should be completed by the end of 2019, following which a plan of action could be drafted accordingly.

On infant mortality, a programme would be put together to provide services to mothers and thus contribute to the reduction of the infant mortality rate.

The age of access to contraceptives without parental consent was 18 years.  Doctors could prescribe contraceptives without parental consent under certain circumstances.  The State party did not have a voluntary termination of pregnancy unit.

Data on women’s health was lacking, the delegation acknowledged.  More data was needed to understand what had been achieved.

There were some circumstances under which abortions could be performed legally, including when the pregnancy posed a threat to the woman’s physical or mental health and when the child could be born with significant mental or physical impairment.  If the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest, that was taken into account.

When it came to the situation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans women, the delegation acknowledged that additional work had to be done to meet the requirements of the Convention.

The Government had statistics on cases of domestic violence against older women, which it would provide to the Committee.

On children with disabilities, the Government was preparing a strategic plan to move forward.  Further developments on that front were expected next year.

The delegation took note of the Committee’s recommendation to allow access to contraceptives for adolescents under 18.  Further consultation in the State party was required on this matter.

Questions from the Experts

Turning to equality before the law and equality in marriage and family relations, Experts noted that a bill amending the Civil Code provided that the minimum age of marriage was to be 18 for everyone; spouses would be jointly responsible for the family; and “en ménage” partners, that is domestic partners, would be entitled to equal shares of their property if the relationship lasted for 7 years or more.

They asked what the timeline was for the adoption of the new Civil Code.  They requested information on circumstances in which a minor could be allowed to get married; inheritance rights of unmarried women and their children; and plans or discussions, if any, on recognizing same-sex marriages or civil unions.

Responses by the Delegation

The bill to amend the Civil Code was before the National Assembly, where it was being debated and reviewed by a Parliamentary Committee.  While the Parliamentary calendar had yet to be finalized, the bill would likely be adopted in 2020.

On same-sex marriage and civil unions, there was a need to consult with the population and raise awareness.  A dialogue had to be established with various stakeholders.  The Government would subsequently make a decision on the next steps.

The offence of marital rape would be dealt with by criminal courts, not family tribunals.

On inheritance rights of unmarried women and their children and access to contraception, delegates said that the Government would ensure aligning policies with international conventions, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Concluding Remarks

MITCY LARUE, Minister of Family Affairs of Seychelles, thanked the Experts for a productive session.  Seychelles was cognizant of its strengths and weaknesses.  It would take into account the recommendations of the Committee.  As a small island developing State, Seychelles would appreciate help from the United Nations to build capacity and move on to the next level.

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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