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Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women reviews the report of Nauru

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination
against Women

27 October 2017

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined initial and second periodic reports of Nauru on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Introducing the report, Charmaine Scotty, Minister for Home Affairs of Nauru, said that Nauru had made progressive steps to bridge the gap between the genders, and had focused on areas that still fostered a culture of discrimination.  The island had made tremendous progress in combating discrimination in all its forms by adopting a range of texts, abolishing archaic laws and amending those that needed to be adapted – this was particularly true in relation to criminal legislation with the adoption of the Domestic Violence and Family Protection Act this year.  A new gender policy to complement the national women's policy and the frameworks already in place was being developed, and the establishment of a national human rights institution was in the pipeline.  Focused on the fight against sexist prejudices and stereotypes which hindered women’s progress, Nauru had recently set up the Electoral Commission Committee with the mandate to reflect on the introduction of temporary special measures.  Despite the efforts, data collection remained a problem, and foreigners marrying Nauru women still had to wait ten years to obtain nationality.

In the discussion that followed, Committee Experts welcomed the efforts to improve the situation of women in Nauru, recognizing at the same time the challenges that remained. 

They commended the efforts to set up mechanisms to enhance equality between women and men and prevent and eradicate violence as a manifestation of gender inequality and gender-based discrimination.  They regretted that the Constitution and the legislation did not contain a definition of discrimination or a guarantee of equality between men and women, and that the attempt to reform the Constitution, and enshrine temporary special measures therein, had failed.  Experts urged Nauru to amend the Constitution to remove the provisions that still discriminated against women in matters of nationality, and to take steps to decriminalize abortion.  A great issue of concern was the high rate and the rise of pregnancy among teenage girls, which amounted to thirteen percent of this age group, and which influenced the high drop-out rate, thereby negatively impacting the education of girls.  Finally, Experts were deeply concerned that whereas traditionally, Nauru society had matrilineal system where women had headed households, Christianity had changed the way society was shaped and it was increasingly becoming patriarchal.  

In concluding remarks, Ms. Scotty said that the delegation would go home with sincere appreciation of the recommendations and guidance given by the Committee.

Arocha Dominguez, Committee Vice-Chairperson, encouraged Nauru to implement the Committee’s recommendations, which would be sent to the State party through the Permanent Mission in New York.

The delegation of Nauru included representatives of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Ministry for Family and Community Services, and the Child Protection Unit.

The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 4 p.m. on Monday 30 October when it is scheduled to informally meet with non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions from Israel, Kuwait, Kenya and Oman, whose reports will be considered during the second week of the sixty-eight session.

Report

The Committee is considering the combined initial and second periodic reports of Nauru: CEDAW/C/NRU/1-2.

Presentation of the Report

CHARMAINE SCOTTY, Minister for Home Affairs of Nauru, said that Nauru had made progressive steps to bridge the gap between the genders, and had focused on areas that still fostered a culture of discrimination.  The island had made tremendous progress in combating discrimination in all its forms by adopting a range of texts, abolishing archaic laws and amending those that needed to be adapted – this was particularly true in relation to criminal legislation, with the adoption of the Domestic Violence and Family Protection Act this year.  Nauru adopted measures towards the collection of sex-disaggregated data, launching of national plans and policies for the implementation of the Convention, and for monitoring the impact of those policies.  In addition, efforts were being taken to investigate impediments to women’s advancement, promote gender mainstreaming, and involve civil society and women’s non-governmental organizations in the formation of legislative and development strategy.  Still, data collection continued to be a major problem.  Furthermore, Nauru was developing a new gender policy to complement the national women's policy and the frameworks already in place, said Ms. Scotty.

The Electoral Commission Committee had been recently created with the mandate to reflect on the introduction of temporary special measures including through open and inclusive dialogue and consultations.  Nauru was focused on the fight against sexist prejudices and stereotypes which hindered women’s progress and had adopted measures to increase women’s participation in the civil service.  Today, the civil service was predominantly female, and women held the majority of senior Government positions and were also numerous in the diplomatic service.  In the context of a reform of the 1899 Penal Code, Nauru had passed legislation last year which addressed the issues of trafficking in persons, prostitution and sexual crimes.  While recognizing the provisions on nationality contained in the Convention, the Minister acknowledged that there was a problem with foreigners marrying a Nauru woman as they had to wait ten years to obtain the nationality. 

A lot of work had been done to ensure equal access to education, but schooling remained an issue due to practical barriers for teenage mothers resuming their studies after delivery.  Sexual education was also a problem, as there were no teachers trained on this subject matter.  The recently passed Public Service Act set out the provisions in relation to the public service, and small business loans and micro-credits were available to women to promote their economic independence.  The Department of Multicultural Affairs was responsible for the well-being of refugees and asylum seekers, said Ms. Scotty, and invited the Committee to open an office in Nauru to obtain first-hand information, which was the only way to get the right version of what is really happening in Nauru in this domain.  In closing, the Minister informed the Committee that Nauru had decided to establish a national human rights institution that will be able to receive complaints, and stressed that, notwithstanding the progress, Nauru continued to face practical problems with lack of capacity building, mind-sets and prejudices, the collection of data, and the concrete and effective implementation of the Convention in general.

Questions from the Experts

Experts regretted that the Constitution and the legislation of Nauru did not contain a definition of discrimination, or a guarantee of equality between men and women.  What were the Government’s plans to make discrimination appear in the Constitution?  Had the country ensured the principle of equality? 

Legislation was a starting point and fundamental to gender equality and the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.  Had any training been undertaken on the Convention since its ratification in Government departments and among officials, in order to sensitize them to the rights enshrined therein?

Replies by the Delegation

The Nauru Constitution was old and attempts to reform it had failed despite the assistance provided by the United Nations Development Programme to introduce human rights concepts.  A reform proposal that had been put to a referendum had been rejected because the choices had not been fully explained to citizens and due to fears about land rights, a highly sensitive issue for the population.  The delegation reiterated the firm political commitment of Nauru to amend the Constitution and do it properly.  There were plans to include the definition of discrimination in the gender policy as of next year.

The definition of rape under the Crimes Act had been amended so as to make it gender-neutral. 

Training had been undertaken but mostly by donor partners, such as the New Zealand police, United Nations Women, and the Australian High Commission.  In Nauru there was no adequate expertise to provide training.  There were other activities in place to raise awareness about the equality of women and men, including the inauguration of a white ribbon day.

Questions by Experts

Experts commended the State party’s efforts to set up a number of mechanisms to enhance equality between women and men, prevent gender-based discrimination, and to prevent and eradicate violence as a manifestation of gender inequality and gender-based discrimination.  They highlighted some of the policies undertaken by the States party, including the National Women’s Policy 2014-2024, the Nauru Women’s Plan of Action 2005-2015, the Gender Country Plan, and the National Sustainable Development Strategy.  What were the obstacles and challenges faced by the State party in advancing the rights of women under those four major policies?

The delegation was asked about the status of the National Women’s Policy, the resources allocated and the roadmap and calendar for its implementation.  Was there an assessment or a way to monitor the 16 issues set out in the recently expired Women’s Plan of Actions 2005-2015?

It was very important to involve the Parliament in women’s issues, Experts said and asked how the national sustainable development strategy was being planned and how women were included.

What were the religious and cultural obstacles in ensuring women’s rights?  What were the outcomes?

Responses by the Delegation

In terms of the practical obstacles to the promotion of the rights of women and gender equality, the delegation highlighted the passing on the information to each and every woman in Nauru, who must seize the tools, the opportunities that were offered to them.  If the tools existed but were not used, the result would be zero.

Another obstacle was the fact that women themselves lacked the strength or courage to put forward their needs; for example, known cases of domestic violence were sometimes not followed up because it was common for women to refuse to implicate their spouses.

Another major challenge related to the lack of financial resources.  Mechanisms for women’s affairs were the lowest of priorities all around the world and thus funding represented a major challenge.  However, the Government was working to set up a gender unit to work on child protection and women’s affairs, and it had started a gender budgeting process to make gender issues easier to translate in all areas of the Government.

The national sustainable development strategy was a work in progress and a relevant committee was currently visiting communities to explain what the Sustainable Development Goals were.   One of the priority issues was youth empowerment because there was a large young population.

Regarding religious and cultural obstacles, there had never been big problems with religion in Nauru.  In terms of culture, there could be a bit of setback but not as bad as in other countries.  For example, when young women were married, social norms did not favour their engagement in sports if they had young children. 

Land ownership was not specifically mentioned in the National Women’s Policy because land was not an issue for women in Nauru.  If a woman married a man who had a lot of land, that land belonged to the woman until her death.

Nauru’s Women’s Plan of Actions 2005-2015 had been the first such plan, explained the delegation and underlined that the focus on violence against women was one of its main elements; the plan thus included measures such as setting up a safe-house and inaugurating a national public holiday in honour of women.  The Office of the Women had originated after the Beijing Conference. 

Another improvement had been the ratification of the Convention.  Finally, one of the main achievements had been to get women to care about their health, given the high prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases in Nauru.  Two clinics had opened in that context.

Questions by Experts

Referring to the long tradition of the matrilineal system, Experts reminded that historically women were head of households but that patriarchy had penetrated the society through wrongly interpreted religion.  The State party should take into account the important role played by religious leaders as non-State actors. 

Time limited quotas based on Constitution and proper equality laws with the goal of parity were essential and indispensable for Nauru, and gender budgeting would help implement the provisions of the Convention.  Why had temporary special measures been rejected?  What were the steps to raise public awareness about them?  What were the positions of religious communities and their leaders concerning that issue?

Replies by the Delegation

Temporary special measures had been rejected due to lack of public awareness.  Nauru had a population of only 10,000 people, where everyone knew each other and about each other.  Therefore, there was a need to ensure that all understood that they were not being prioritized as a group over others.  That was something that had to be taught to women as well, as some women had voted against provisions promoting women’s rights in the Constitution in the referendum.  The Government had to be very careful about initiating those issues again, as people would state that there was no need to re-open them again after the referendum. 

There was a plan to try to introduce temporary special measures through the new Electoral Commission rather than the referendum.  In the last general elections, the number of women candidates had drastically decreased, which was why temporary special measures were needed.

Follow-Up Questions and Answers

Expert noted that temporary special measures could be used for many other areas and not just in the Parliament and the Government.  For instance, giving a larger budget in the field of health, for sexual and reproductive health or giving school allowances to girls, which could widen the discussion about temporary special measures and render them more acceptable to wider population.

Experts also inquired about remaining challenges, especially in relation to cultural practices.  What was being done to increase instructor retention in schools?  Would attention be paid to provide equal opportunities to girls in cases of teenage pregnancies?  What was being done to address gender stereotyping in the work place?  

Was the State party taking into consideration the findings of the Nauru Family Health Study?  Allegedly, women were required to go back to work after giving birth to a stillborn child.  In addition, women were eligible for maternity leave of up to four days per week only.  What were the rights pertaining to maternity leave?

The delegation said that the four-day leave was open to all public servants, men and women alike, for a period of up to three months.  As for teenage mothers, there was a programme to counter all teenage school drop-outs.

The Women’s Office was conducting awareness raising visits to promote gender issues and combat stereotyping, including in sports, the police, the fire department, and in the correctional facilities.

Questions from Experts

The State party had reported that the police, customs and immigration authorities did not have any records of cases of trafficking and prostitution. Although a group allegedly named the Sell’Em Squad had once been investigated, there was no eyewitness to prove the trade of cash and sexual activity.

What were the plans to introduce specialized training for police officers involved in the fight against trafficking?  Were the police monitoring the so-called Sell’Em Squad? 

Nauru laws were silent on prostitution.  Were there plans to adopt legislation in that regard?  What linkages and coordination mechanisms were in place between different agencies?  What measures were in place for the rehabilitation of children who had been sold, abducted or trafficked? 

Would the State party consider implementing awareness raising campaigns on violence against women, build capacities, and developing a strategy to combat violence against women, including trafficking?

Responses by the Delegation

There had been a lot of activity in terms of training for the border control officers.  In addition, the police force had also been working with members of the Australian police force in relation to refugees and asylum seekers.

The Sell’Em Squad girls were not aware they were engaged in prostitution.  The delegation assured the Committee that the Sell’Em Squad was of concern for the Government, and that the Government would treat as a serious issue.

Follow-up Questions and Answers

Experts reminded the delegation that if no cases of human trafficking had been recorded, it did not mean that trafficking had not occurred.  Trafficking was an organized transnational crime and it had to be stopped.  Were there any programmes to sensitize the local communities and the general public on these issues?

What specific measures or programmes had the State party adopted to promote women’s participation in political life?  Could data be provided on female political leaders or parties?  What were the channels to get women’s voices heard?

In response, the delegation said that there were plenty of opportunities to hear the voices of women through the National Women’s Day and media, and reiterated that there were no barriers to the promotion of women and girls.  The highest qualified person in Nauru, the Secretary of Education, was a woman, and she was the only PhD in the country.

Referring to the non-proactive attitude that prevailed, the delegation said that it was difficult to inspire women to work hard and be ambitious.  For example, there were scholarships for female students to study in Morocco, but not a single woman had applied for them.  They preferred to go to Fiji and Australia, which was a safe choice.  This was a mentality that the Government was trying to change.

Equally, there was nothing stopping a woman from running for the Parliament or running for other positions.  Yet, there was only one woman in Parliament.  Men were not leaders but partners in Nauru’s society.   

Questions by Experts

In the next round of questions, the Experts asked how the Government intended to extend cooperation with local non-governmental organizations?

Nauru women were discriminated against in the matter of nationality, they remarked and inquired about stateless children.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation responded that every child automatically inherited the citizenship of its parents.  Chinese mothers who were unable to give birth in China due to the one-child policy continued to give birth in Nauru.  In 2016, all Chinese children born in Nauru had been granted the citizenship of Nauru.  The Government was currently reviewing the issue of nationality.

The delegation agreed that there was a need to strengthen the civil society sector and increase the cooperation with the civil society organizations; it was particularly important for the communities to understand the limits of the Government and that they needed to do their part. 

Questions from Experts

As for the enrolment rates in schools, girls’ attendance was lower in certain counties because they were expected to help with household chores.  In Nauru it seemed that girls were dropping out while boys were not.  Only a little more than half the girls enrolled completed their education.  What was the reason for that situation?  Clearly early pregnancy was one of the reasons.  One out of every six young girls up to 16 years of age was a mother.  Were there any sensitizing and awareness raising programmes to ensure that girls did not drop out of school?

What were problems in attendance of teachers?  Had there been training of teachers?

There was also a problem of stereotypical occupation areas for girls.  Allegedly, girls were excluded scientific areas, unless they were guided by their teachers.  How was the right to education of asylum seekers and refugees safeguarded?

Could the delegation provide information on sexual harassment in schools, and was that possibly a reason for the high drop-out rate among girls?

Responses by the Delegation

In the field of education, an allowance program aimed to combat early school leaving, which was common among adolescents, and against early pregnancy, the delegation said.  The problem was that parents often did not consider schooling of children as essential.

In reference to the questions on teachers’ attendance, the delegation explained that in Nauru, 90 per cent of the teachers were expatriates, and this had been the case for a long time.  A delegate added that schools were sometimes reticent to integrate refugee and asylum seeking children; this problem was being addressed via regional processing centres which discussed the welfare of asylum seeking children and monitored their attendance and problems that arose in schools.

The reason for non-return to school by girls after child delivery was related to stigmatization.  Nauru was currently working on the issue of textbooks.

Questions by the Experts

An Expert stressed that, in matters of nationality, women in Nauru were being discriminated against under the Constitution therefore a Constitutional amendment, and not the passing of a text of law, was required to address this problem.

Other Experts noted that it was understandable and realistic that teacher training was needed to deliver reproductive health and sexual education, and wondered whether the Education Act was gender sensitive.  How many women graduate from university, and what proportion of university graduates did they represent?

The Public Service Act only covered the public sector services, Experts noted and wondered how women could complain about discrimination in the work place in the absence of an anti-discrimination law.  The delegation was asked about the salary of women in maternity leave and the possibility of working reduced hours before the maternity leave and following the pregnancy.

Responses from the Delegation

Women on maternity leave received a salary as if they were on leave.  The delegation was not aware of men having sought paternity leave.  This could be explained by the fact that people were not aware of this possibility.

Referring to unemployment in Nauru, the delegation replied that this scourge existed all over the world.  Job prospects had improved in recent years, while unemployment had been very high before.  Opportunities for more employment for women were being created due to the refugee crisis and through the processing centre.  New job opportunities, such as “life saver” had been created, for example.

Questions by the Experts

An Expert commended Nauru for positive steps taken in the area of health including the provision of free medical services, and raised the concern about the need for a consent by the spouse for women seeking reproductive health services.

Thirteen percent of teenage girls were pregnant, and such a high rate of teen pregnancy was probably related to the fact that contraceptives were not available.  The delegation was asked whether there were other root causes of high teenage pregnancy rates and to inform on steps taken to reduce the rates and provide counselling services to pregnant teens. 

Experts urged Nauru to decriminalize abortion and raised concern about the high rates of cervical and breast cancer.

Responses from the Delegation

The delegation explained that contraceptives were only available at the hospital, and that, as the fear of HIV/AIDS dissipated, condom use was less common and it was not unusual to go to a date without a condom.  

Abortion was a crime and its decriminalization would take a lot of work.

There were indeed significant gaps in mental health care.  Médecins sans Frontières had opened an antenna on the island. 

The health care of refugees and asylum-seekers was not the responsibility of the Nauru authorities, which had opened a "Treatment Centre" (Refugee Processing Centre) on behalf of Australia.   The Centre was fully managed by Australia.

All citizens of Nauru had to have bank account in Nauru.  The delegation noted that lending and borrowing was not in the culture of Nauruan citizens, firstly because Nauru had not had bank services until fifteen years ago, and also because many foreigners had left without ever paying back their local workers, and there were still many people who were owed money which they would never recover. 

Women opportunities and schemes for business were available, including a small business set-up loan.  All women played bingo and sold food and drinks.  This was a way for them to make extra income.

Sports were being promoted as old traditions, and there would be many sports activities in 2018 on the fiftieth anniversary of Nauru.   This was a celebration that highlighted the existence and non-extinction of the Nauru peoples.  Weightlifting was a particularly popular sport.

In terms of land, the island, the area of which was only 21 square kilometres, did not allow the development of agriculture.  It was divided into plots and the ownership was passed by only by inheritance.  The State could possibly use land provided the land was rented.  This was the case of the future stadium of the island sponsored by the Australian Government, which involved the payment of rent to the owners of the land on which it would be built.

Questions from the Experts

An Expert was rather concerned about the situation of migrants and refugees, and the description of female migrants by the delegation.  Would Nauru continue to accept this illegal situation, whereas Papua New Guinea had decided that it was illegal and unconstitutional?  Would Nauru host the refugees from the Manus Island?

Did Nauru have a climate change policy and framework?

Response by the Delegation

The head of delegation noted that refugees and migrants were in good care and that their accommodation and welfare were taken care of, contrary to how it was being portrayed in the international media.  The State party had invited people from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to come to Nauru and see for themselves.  The agreement between the Australian Government and Nauru was coming to an end, and this would give rise to new opportunities.  The Nauru Government had let it be known to the Australian Government that Nauru was in charge. 

At this point in time, it was not known whether the people from the Manus Island wanted to come to Nauru in the first place, said the delegation and stressed that the Manus Island camp was illegal.  In Nauru, people were not detained like on the Manus island but were rather in an open camp.

There was a climate change action plan in place, and it included gender dimensions.

Questions from the Experts

In the final series of questions, Experts addressed the issues of family relations and marriage and noted that a number of laws still remained to be aligned with the Convention, including equal division of property and the best interest of the child in divorce situations.  Nauru should carry out a complete review of all family legislation to allow alignment with all international obligations, including the Convention, and Experts recommended the adoption of a concentrated umbrella law was preferable, to be drafted by women.

A clear reform was needed regarding the Maintenance Order, which seemed to clash with other provisions.   Allegedly many women hesitated to apply for maintenance out of sympathy for former husbands.  Would the States party consider amending the Family Law in this respect?

Did the Family Court have sufficient resources and were its judicial officers trained in family matters?  Were domestic violence cases handled by the Family Court or the Magistrates Court?

Regarding property matters, the Expert was concerned that a battered or abused wife could be forced to occupy the home of an abusive husband.  What was being proposed to ensure that women who were in an abusive relationship were not forced to live under those conditions?

Response by the Delegation

The new Family Law Bill was something that all looked forward to in Nauru.  The Government would ensure that it removed all archaic laws, and included more provisions form the Convention.  Assistance from regional donor partners was provided in this respect.  The same applied to laws for the Maintenance Act and the Matrimonial Act. 

Regarding Family Courts, the judicial officers were fully competent and trained in terms of gender sensitization.  Under the Domestic Violence and Family Protection Act, cases of domestic violence were handled by the Magistrates Court.

Concluding Remarks

CHARMAINE SCOTTY, Minister for Home Affairs of the Republic of Nauru, in concluding remarks, thanked the Committee for having listened to the delegation and said that they would go home with sincere appreciation of the recommendations and guidance given by the Committee.

AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, Committee Vice-Chairperson, encouraged Nauru to implement the Committee’s recommendations, which would be sent to the State party through the Permanent Mission in New York. 

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