Header image for news printout

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women considers Angola's report

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination
  against Women

27 February 2019

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the seventh periodic report of Angola on the implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Presenting the report, Ruth M. Mixinge, Secretary of State in Charge of the Family and Promotion of Women of Angola, said that the report illustrated steps taken to further the gender equality in the country, including to institute social protection for informal workers, protect the rights of women in cohabiting unions, and strengthen sanctions for crimes against women.  The national gender equality policy was in place since 2013, resulting in the increased representation of women in decision-making positions; today, women made up 30.5 per cent of Members of Parliament, 19.5 per cent Ministers, 16.4 per cent of Secretaries of State, 11 per cent of Governors, and 40 per cent of the foreign service staff.  Angola remained firmly committed to preventing and combatting gender-based violence, and key concerns were sexual abuse and violence against girls, forced marriages, and early pregnancies.  The My Family, My Inspiration initiative promoted a change of behaviour and attitudes towards women, the Born with Registration project aimed to expand birth registration in rural areas, while the campaign for responsible parenting I support targeted fathers in particular.  The Ministry of Social Action, Family and Promotion of Women had been created in 2017 with a view to promoting integration of actions in which woman and the family were fundamental pillars.

In the interactive discussion that ensued, Committee Experts praised the efforts to rebuild the country after 27 years of civil war, but remained concerned that 48 per cent of the population still lived in poverty and risked being excluded from development processes.  Additional concern was the gendered nature of poverty since most of the poor were women, and rural women in particular.  They welcomed the ground-breaking legislations, especially the revision of the Criminal Code, and discussed customary laws which tended to exclude and discriminate against women and perpetuated patriarchal norms and social and cultural practices.  Such norms and gender stereotypes were detrimental to gender equality and underlined practices such as child marriage or criminalization of abortion, and held women pigeon-holed into traditional roles.  Experts noted that such a young population as in Angola, with 70 per cent of its people under the age of 18, was a great hope but presented challenges too.  Of particular concern were access of girls to education including to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and all forms of violence that often excluded them from education and other opportunities.  Experts further pointed out the deficiencies and discrepancies in the matter of microcredit, legal protection on inheritance and property, as well as the prevailing practice of dowry.

In her concluding remarks, Ms. Mixinge said that the Committee’s recommendations would be valuable in empowering Angola to fulfil its obligations under the Convention.

Hilary Gbedemah, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the dialogue that had shed further insight on the situation of women in Angola.

The delegation of Angola was composed of the representatives of the Ministry of Social Action, Family and Promotion of Women, Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Social Communication, Ministry of Culture, Office of the Attorney-General, Ministry of Education, Civil Bureau of the Presidency of the Republic, Office of the Ombudsman, Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Public Administration, Labour and Social Security, Ministry of the Environment, and the Permanent Mission of Angola to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of Angola at the end of its seventy-second session on 8 March.  Those, and other 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 28 February to consider the fourth periodic report of Serbia (CEDAW/C/SRB/4 ).

Report

The Committee is considering the seventh periodic report of Angola (CEDAW/C/AGO/7).

Presentation of the Report

RUTH M. MIXINGE, Secretary of State in Charge of the Family and Promotion of Women of Angola, said that 52 per cent of the country’s people were women and that in order to promote gender equality and equity, Angola had approved a national gender equality policy in 2013, approved the legal regime for cohabiting couples in 2015, passed the legislation for domestic work and social protection in 2016, and put in place the national action plan for the implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.  The new Criminal Code instituted in January 2019 prohibited discrimination on the grounds of race, sexual orientation, and religion, and increased sanctions for crimes committed against women.  Angola’s national development plan 2018-2022 contained specific actions for the advancement of women’s rights, including the programme for the promotion of gender and women empowerment, support to victims of gender-based violence, and community restructuring focused on women.

The implementation of the national policy for equality and gender equality had resulted in the increased representation of women in decision making positions: 30.5 per cent of Members of Parliament, 19.5 per cent of Ministers, 16.4 per cent of Secretaries of State, 11 per cent of Governors, and 40 per cent of the foreign service staff.  Angola, the Secretary of State continued, was firmly committed to preventing and combatting gender-based violence.  1,893 cases of domestic violence had been reported in 2018, she said, adding that victims without sufficient means were entitled to legal aid.  During the 2017-2018 period, 1.8 million birth registrations had been issued.  The Born with Registration project, launched in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund and the European Union, aimed to expand the registration programme in maternity wards and in rural areas, while the campaign for responsible parenting I support aimed to raise awareness about the importance of registering their children, particularly among fathers.

Another priority for the Angolan State was the inclusion of women and girls in the education system.  During the 2013-2017 period, net enrolment rates for both sexes stood at 71 per cent in primary school; in secondary school, the rates were 43 per cent for boys and 37 per cent for girls.  The My Family, My Inspiration initiative had been launched to promote a change of behaviour, attitudes, and practices towards women, both within the family and in the communities.  Among the key concerns were sexual abuse and violence against girls, forced marriages, and early pregnancies.  There were currently 65,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Angola, including from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who had fled the conflict in the Kassai in 2017.  As for trafficking in persons, Angola has joined the Blue Heart Campaign and the Southern African Development Community Database, and had undertaken more than 60 investigations over the last four years, while an Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings was under development.

There were 542 non-governmental organizations and 16 foundations operating in the country, Ms. Mixinge said, and interventions to promote women rights were developed and implemented in partnership with churches and organizations promoting gender equality.  In order to coordinate interventions and monitor the implementation, a number of mechanisms had been put in place, including councils on social issues and the Provincial Human Rights Committees, which signalled that there was political will in Angola to address the rights of women and vulnerable groups.  The Ministry of Social Action, Family and Promotion of Women had been created in 2017 with a view to promoting integration of actions in which the woman and the family were fundamental pillars.

Questions from the Committee Experts

At the beginning of the dialogue, Committee Experts praised the Government’s efforts to rebuild the country after 27 years of civil war which had only ended in 2002, and asked about the impact of the policies for women and businesses, given that a large part of the population still lived in poverty and risked being excluded from development processes.  Experts raised concern about excessive violence, and even killings, against 330,000 returnees by security forces.

Welcoming the ground-breaking legislations, especially the revision of the Criminal Code, they remarked that the definition of discrimination against women in the Constitution did not match the Convention, while the privileging of customary law, especially in matters of inheritance and property, tended to exclude women. 
  
In terms of access to justice, how did the customary law, which prevailed in rural areas, affect the application of the Convention?  The Experts also inquired about the coverage and impact of the out of court dispute settlement system centres and how the family councils’ decision making-processes could be made objective, since in such a context patriarchy prevailed.  What was the representation of women in the judicial system and were there any trainings on the Convention provided to those sitting in customary councils?
 
Responses by the Delegation

In response to Experts’ questions, a delegate said that the Constitution protected the rights of every person in the Angolan territory, regardless of their citizenship, and explained that the norms of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women were directly applicable by the courts, which could use its provisions in their judgements.  The Convention was considered an integral part of the domestic law, which meant that the question of conflict did not arise.

Customary law had to be viewed as a source of law; it respected the culture and did not infringe upon fundamental rights.  In rural areas, family councils played a key role in mediating domestic disputes.  State intervention was required once the fundamental rights were violated in such contexts, and more work could be done in this regard.  Overall, customary laws and such localised councils were complementary to civil legal systems.

There were currently nearly 400 judges in courts across the country and one third were women.  The delegation noted a certain trend towards the feminisation of the judiciary, with more than 50 per cent of women enrolled in law schools.  Angola had put in place laws against violence against women, which included psychological violence, domestic violence, sexual violence, and abuse.  Extreme physical violence could carry imprisonment of up to 24 years. 

The advancement of gender equality required greater awareness and knowledge of the Convention, including by civil society or churches.  The human rights education curriculum had been incorporated into training institutes, and the Convention was being distributed to community groups. 

Women’s access to justice through the out of court dispute settlement system centres was largely concentrated in the capital city at present.  However, magistrates in the 18 provincial divisions were advised to provide informal conciliatory services and the decisions were being monitored in such cases of informal dispute settlements.  Those not satisfied by customary informal dispute settlement systems, could still avail formal channels.  Family courts had decentralised presence, including at the commune level, and all disputes between men and women were settled in keeping with human rights principles. 

Questions from the Experts

Committee Experts congratulated Angola on efforts taken to promote gender equality and women representation and remarked on the gendered nature of poverty in the country, since most of the 48 per cent of the poor were women, and mainly rural women.  Gender stereotypes influenced prevention of child marriages or led to marginalisation, violence and criminalisation of abortion.  They asked about the gender equality mechanisms that had been instituted, including gender equality plans and budgets, plans to generate more reliable data, and the efforts to mainstream gender equality. 

Angola had instituted the Office of the Ombudsman but the status of the latter is not known nor was there evidence of cases consistent with the Convention.  Measures to promote gender equality seemed to be limited to certain sectors, they remarked and asked about temporary special measures to accelerate the advancement of women, including women with disabilities.

Responses by the Delegation
Responding, the delegation said that the Constitution provided for equality of rights between men and women.  In recognition of the importance of women in society and in order to streamline resources, in 2017 the Angolan Government had merged the Ministry of Family and Women's Promotion and the Ministry for Social Assistance and Reintegration, creating the Ministry of Social Action, Family and Promotion of Women.  There were efforts to ‘municipalise’ programmes and initiatives in order to better reach women through their local and integrated services and structure.  The advisory centres were not state-run but were operated by civil society groups, while the national social council which worked with civil society bodies was in place.

In terms on gender budgeting, the delegation explained that this methodology was still to be included in the public budget and added that budgetary allocation to sectors of a particular relevance to women, such as health hand education, could be better indicators of how resources were used to achieve gender equality.

The Constitution in its Article 192 enshrined the Office of the Ombudsman, with non-discrimination based on gender one of its founding principles.  Angolan Parliament appointed both the Ombudsman and the deputy.  Because land and labour disputes tended to make the majority of women’s complaints, those cases were referred to the relevant authorities, however, the Office continued to monitor the process. 

There have been efforts to improve the statistical data, the delegation said, noting that the Statistical Institute had prepared the base report for the Sustainable Development Goals.  Analytical gender reports would be prepared in the near future, and there was a recognition of the need for more and better data on women with disabilities.

Questions from the Experts

A Committee Expert commended efforts to create community monitoring centres for domestic violence.  However, progress had been slow to address patriarchal norms in family and social structures.  She inquired about the measures taken to combat gender stereotypes that may be hindering other efforts at addressing gender discrimination and violence, and asked about the progress of initiatives to curb forced and early marriages and early pregnancies. 

Another Expert pointed to the lack of convictions for human trafficking cases, lack of victims’ protection centres and shelters as well as the failure to adopt the national action plan on the issue.  What strategies were in place to deal with challenges such as the links between impunity and corruption in trafficking networks?  The delegation was asked about prevention and protective measures, shelters for victims of trafficking, and exit channels for women and young girls forced into prostitution.

Cases of domestic violence had increased, and explanations for this was requested.  Non-governmental organizations and civil society voices had been central to the reports, but it was curious that the Committee has not been able to have much dialogue with such groups.  The Expert further inquired why this had been the case, and expressed concern for fear of reprisals, lack of resources and registration processes and so on.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation responded on the issue of early marriage and early pregnancy and recognised its link to cultural stereotypes and poverty.  The prevalent practice of forced marriages was a key concern.  Municipal bodies had been entrusted with the responsibility to handle these issues, while steps such as the creation of a single register to identify vulnerable persons had been taken.  Greater awareness and education about cultural practices that infringed upon women’s human rights was needed. 

There had been 529 cases of domestic violence, which probably did not reflect the realities due to the non-reporting of cases.  Many victims of domestic violence did not want to leave their homes and live in shelters, thus support centres that provided advice and training to women locally would be much more practically feasible and effective.  Lack of education would have to be mitigated in partnership with civil society and the Church for long term removal of obstacles to efforts.  The European Union-funded pilot projects for integrated social services for mothers and for children were running on a pilot basis in three provinces.  In cases where a woman or child for instance had to be removed from their homes for protection, there were centres and a hotline.

The Angolan Government recognised that the country was a source as well as destination of trafficking in persons, and given the long history of slavery from Africa, the state took the matter seriously.  There were regional platforms to combat the practice, and mechanisms for the protection of victims and witnesses had been put in place, including foreign ones who often wanted to return to their country of origin; the approach was centred on the victim rather than the prosecution.  Of the 60 prosecuted cases, nine had been judged and sentenced.  Training and dissemination of knowledge was an important strategy for there was a thin line between human trafficking and the existing cultural practices – for example, it was normal to hand over a child to relatives for care.  The issues if trafficking in persons were a part of the human rights education curriculum, which was integrated in the training of the police, prosecution, and the judiciary.  Local agents received training in identification of victims of exploitation.

Questions from the Experts

In the next round of questions, Committee Experts congratulated the delegation on the participation of women in decision-making and asked about the specific support systems and training for women to be able to participate in social and entrepreneurial life, including quotas and grants to boost their participation in decision-making positions and ensure better distribution of women across professional sectors where they were not pigeon-holed into traditional roles.  The Experts welcomed the efforts to modernize the citizenship legislation and solidify the civil registry, and asked about concrete initiatives to increate birth registration rates.

Responses by the Delegation

In terms of efforts to promote women’s participation in the business sector, which along with their political participation was a Government’s priority, the delegation said that numerous initiatives were in place to provide training and capacity building, often in partnership with banks, non-governmental organizations, and churches.  One such initiative was the provision of professional ‘kit’ for women to open a new business, which included advisory and accounting support. 

In terms of quotas, the so-called Zebra System was applied whereby one woman was appointed for every two men, and the Government would compel the political parties to apply this system at the upcoming local authorities’ elections.  Representation of women in in diplomatic services had been increased from 29 to 40 per cent. 

Birth registration had been made free of charge and the Government was in favour of universal registration.  However, birth certificate was not a document of citizenship.  Births were being registered in maternity wards across 164 municipalities in an effort to increase rates, and barriers in terms of costs had been removed.  Midwives had been trained to register birth of children delivered at home, using guidelines for registrations developed for the purpose.

On the relations with civil society, the delegate said that their number had grown from 188 in 2015 to 547 in 2018, as the preference in the county was towards legal formalization of associations.  The Government provided some support but could not support all of them, therefore provisions for fiscal exemption had been put in place.

Questions from the Experts

The population in which 70 per cent were under the age of 18 was a great hope, but represented challenges too, Experts said in the next round of questions, stressing in particular that girls were particularly vulnerable to discrimination, violence, and abuse that often excluded them from education and other opportunities.  The delegation was asked about the state of progress in the implementation of the national educational plan and inclusion of girls, initiatives to increase their access to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, and access to study programmes abroad.    

Responses by the Delegation

One of the Government’s key priorities was ensuring universal and free access to education and reducing the number of out-of-school children.  In that vein, the education budget had been significantly increased over the past several years, and the construction of 5,000 primary schools, each with 12 classrooms had started, to accommodate six million children; 12 secondary schools were also being built, but construction was paralysed due to lack of finances.  Now that the number of children in schools had increased, the focus had shifted to provision of quality in education, including through teachers’ training and several other programmes in collaboration with European and other African countries.  One was a postgraduate study in Norway for 300 best undergraduates.  The Government recognized the need to ensure gender sensitive curriculum, and it supported technical and professional preparation of women to enter the workforce, said the delegate and stated that there was no gender discrimination in the entry criteria for higher education. 

Questions from the Experts
In terms of women’s participation in the labour market, the Experts asked about measures in place to allow women to migrate from informal to formal economy and temporary special measures to promote female entrepreneurs.  They speculated about the possibilities to create professional policies that brought private sector and international businesses together, and inquired about the measures to accommodate better participation of women in these sectors, especially vulnerable women.  There had been recorded violations in upholding labour and maternity rights and thus Experts asked if there was data about prosecutions. 

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that legislation was in place to formalise domestic professions.  Training was underway.  There was a need to also recognise informal work as a category so that rights, protections and privileges could be accorded within this sector.  The delegation affirmed that there was no salary discrimination in the labour market, and positive discrimination provisions for women had been instituted.  Working women had the right to three months of maternity leave and one hour of paid breast-feeding leave for 18 months.  Some of the initiatives to formalize the informal economy and increase social protections for its workers included exemptions from licensing requirements for vendors, business incubators, as well as microcredit programmes and increased access to bank loans. 

Questions from the Experts
Committee Expert welcomed the announced increase in the health budget of ten per cent next year, and noted with concern that maternal and child mortality rates remained high.  The delegation was asked about the impact of endemic diseases like malaria, HIV, and tuberculosis.  Given the very high fertility rates, what were the State policies in terms of access and use of methods of family planning, especially in terms of broadening the use of modern contraceptive devices.  Abortion was criminalised, they noted and asked whether the law could be brought to international norms.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation explained that in 2019, the health budget had been increased by two per cent and that further increases were planned down the line.  Sexual and reproductive health programme was in place, together with the programme providing quality health for teenagers and youngsters, including awareness and information about early pregnancy.  Data showed a decrease in number of teen pregnancies, from 20,748 cases in 2015 to under 16,000 in 2018. 

With regard to HIV/ AIDS, the prevalence in Angola was among the lowest in the region, and a number of initiatives and programmes were in place to prevent the transmission, including the one launched by the First Lady to bring an end to HIV/ AIDS particularly among children.  Access to condoms and anti-retroviral drugs were free of charge, and a range of awareness raising and education programmes on the disease and its prevention, such as debates on television and peer-to-peer education.

Malaria was one of the endemics that has affected a great number of people in Angola.  Mosquito nets, pulverizations and partnerships with neighbouring countries on this matter were some of the steps taken.

The international perspective on abortion could have been considered in the law, the delegate said, adding that there was a brief period of time when mothers had been given the scope to decide on abortion.  Abortion was dealt with under the provisions on the protection of life, therefore the penal code upheld the prohibition.  The law provided for exceptions in three cases: when the life of the mother was in danger, the pregnancy was a result of a rape or incest, or the foetus was not viable.

Questions from the Experts

Committee Experts remarked that most microcredit schemes for small agricultural producers were not very user-friendly, and limited access to credits and loans held women back from substantially participating in economic and social life.  The delegation was asked about social protection for the elderly women and women with disabilities, and in the light of women’s heavy domestic workload, about women’s participation in cultural activities and social gatherings to support cohesion among women. 

Rural women comprised a large part of the agricultural workforce in Angola, and among the poorest in the society.  Did civil society organizations participate in poverty eradication programmes and what explained women’s low participation in cooperatives?  The Government had registered land owners, remarked Experts, asking what had been done to promote women’s equal rights to land.  The delegation was also asked about sexual violence against refugee women in camps.

Responses by the Delegation

The Government attached particular importance to women in rural areas, and offered the diversified training support through over 800 centres in villages across the country, and literacy campaigns were in place.  The poverty reduction efforts targeted over 59,000 families in rural areas.  Data was not available on sexual violence in refugee settlements, the delegation said and added that the United Nations Refugee Agency had supported some associations that worked on the issue of violence against refugee women.

Angola sought to bring to an end to the extraction and exploitation of diamonds, and voluntary repatriation of a large number of refugees, especially from the Democratic Republic of the Congo was part of this important process.  A delegate spoke about irregular migration in the border regions and specially protected areas, such as those with natural resources like diamonds.  The Government was concerned about the environmental costs of this extractive activity, and had intervened and ceased the operations, which had prompted the return of thousands of irregular and undocumented migrants to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The State provided some support to returning irregular migrants, such as food, transportation, and exemptions from paying fees. 

Questions from the Experts

In the final cluster of questions, the delegation was asked about the revision of the Family Code and the timeline, and the possibility to outlaw dowry.  In terms of inheritance, the Experts remarked that property and land were usually not inherited by women, and in instances they did, women would often be required to relinquish the rights in favour of men kinfolk.  What kind of legal support was provided to women? 

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation affirmed that the review of the Family Code was a priority in order to improve its compatibility with human rights standards.  There was a process of public consultations but no set timeframe.  Angola had approved a legal regime for unmarried cohabiting couples to protect the rights of the members of the union in case of separation or death, especially with regard to division of property.  Under this law, women in cohabiting unions enjoyed the same rights as married women in the event of death of the spouse. 

In traditional marriages, the family was always involved in the process of ‘the request’, which involved some forms of dowry gifting, said the delegate, and the authorities were looking into the possibility of returning of these properties in the event of annulation of the marriage.  Person who worked on the land was entitled to holding a legal title to that land.  The focus at present was on community management of land and encouraging the role of women within these, who otherwise were often socially marginalised in these situations. 

Concluding Remarks

RUTH M. MIXINGE, Secretary of State in Charge of the Family and Promotion of Women of Angola, in her concluding remarks stated the significance of strengthening of dialogue with the international community to continue to promote human rights.  The Committee’s recommendations would be a valuable in empowering Angola to fulfil its obligations under the Convention.

HILARY GBEDEMAH, Committee Chairperson, concluded by thanking the delegation for a constructive dialogue that had shed further insights on the situation of women in Angola, and invited this country to accept the proposed amendments on Article 20 as well as the recommendations of the Committee.  She reminded the delegation that immediate follow up on selected recommendations would have to be provided by the stipulated deadline.  

_______

For use of the information media; not an official record
Follow UNIS Geneva on: Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube |Flickr