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CEDAW hears from Civil Society Organizations on the situation of Women in Latvia, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Eritrea

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women

CEDAW/20/2
10 February 2020

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon met with representatives of civil society organizations from Latvia, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Eritrea, whose reports on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women will be considered this week. 

In Latvia, speakers highlighted concerns related to the rights of women with disability, Roma women and aging women.  Women over 40, especially those over 50, were the first ones to be targeted by layoffs, including in the private sector and finding new employment was almost impossible.  Latvia should update law enforcement statistical system to better capture data on discrimination cases in the workplace, including sexual harassment, recognize marital rape as a separate crime and ratify the European Council Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.

On Pakistan, concerns were raised about the shrinking space for debate and dissent, civil society and human rights defenders - many non-governmental organizations had been shut down and many had to suspend their work.  Special efforts were needed to improve inadequate women’s political participation in all constituencies.  Speakers called for legal reforms to protect women’s rights in the family and to guarantee basic rights to women and girls with disabilities and those belonging to religious minorities.  Because custodial torture was endemic, Pakistan should urgently pass a law defining and criminalizing torture, specifically sexual violence during investigation, arrest or while in custody. 

Speakers from Zimbabwe denounced the persistently low numbers of women in public enterprises and in the private sector.  The deteriorating health system negatively impacted the right to basic healthcare and “backyard abortions” continued.  Sex work was criminalized and sex workers were profiled and targeted for arbitrary arrest and detention.  Despite legal changes, almost no progress had been made in implementing Universal Periodic Review recommendations on gender based violence, especially as regarded the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and queer community.

Naome Chimbetete, Zimbabwe Gender Commissioner, said that the national legal framework contained the core component of a gender sensitive framework and that the Government should translate legal provisions into practical benefits for women.  Structural barriers to gender equality and gender-based discrimination still persisted, rooted in historically unequal power relations between women and men and further reinforced through patriarchy and socialization.  This called for sustainable mechanisms for women to claim their rights as provided by the Constitution. 

Eritrea was governed by one-party system without a constitution and rule of law, where the absence of democratic institutions gravely affected every aspect of the rights of women and girls, speakers said.  National military service, first declared 26 years ago to last only 18 months, turned out to be indefinite in 2002 and women could only be demobilized if they got pregnant.  Since the lifting of sanctions and the peace agreement with Ethiopia, nothing had changed, especially for women - young girls and adults continued to be forcibly conscripted and sexual violence against women prevailed.

Speaking on the situation in Latvia were Women’s NGO Cooperation Network of Latvia and MARTA Centre.  Shirkat Gah, Nation Forum for Women with Disability, Justice Project, Forum for Dignity Initiatives, Shirakat-Partnership for Development and Aura Foundation addressed the situation in Pakistan.  Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe, ZIMSWA and Pakasipiti Zimbabwe spoke about Zimbabwe.  The situation in Eritrea was discussed by the Network of Eritrea Women.
All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage.  The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings is available on http://webtv.un.org

At 10 a.m.  tomorrow, 11 February, The Committee will consider the combined fourth to seventh periodic reports of Latvia (CEDAW/C/LVA/4-7).

Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations

Latvia

Women’s NGO Cooperation Network of Latvia highlighted concerns related to the rights of women with disability, Roma women and aging women.  The speaker also commented on the national gender equality machinery and inadequate resources available for women’s organizations.  Women over 40, especially those over 50, were the first ones to be targeted by layoffs, including in the private sector; finding new employment was almost impossible.  Women with disability particularly suffered from marginalization and isolation, especially in rural and remote areas where social and health services were scarce. 

A more systemic approach and adequate resources were needed to improve the situation of Roma women and girls, including investing in fighting gender and ethnic stereotypes, said the speaker.  The gender equality mechanism in place was not inclusive: the most vulnerable women were not represented in policy discussions.  In order to support full implementation of the Convention, women and their organizations must be involved in policy development related to all spheres of life.

MARTA Centre drew the Committee’s attention to an outrageously sexist street poster created and displayed by a street sports and culture movement called “Ghetto Games”.  The Government should update law enforcement statistical system to better capture data on discrimination cases in the workplace, including those on harassment, including sexual harassment, and extend the crime of sexual harassment to other public spheres outside the workplace. 

Marital rape should be recognized as a separate crime and risk assessment questionnaire needed to be implemented.  There was a need for a systematic education of the first responders on the nature of domestic and gender-based violence.  The speakers called on Latvia to ratify the European Council Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, criminalize the purchase of sexual acts and develop programmes to support those who wish to exit prostitution.

Pakistan

Shirkat Gah expressed concerns about the shrinking space for debate and dissent, civil society and human rights defenders.  All non-governmental organizations had to register with the Economic Affairs Division, despite already complying with their respective registration authorities.  Many non-governmental organizations had been shut down and many had to suspend their work.  Furthermore, rising inflation was increasing the number of people sliding below the poverty level, which disproportionately impacted women heads of households.

Nation Forum for Women with Disability said a uniform policy and legal reforms were needed to protect women’s rights in the family.  Women and girls with disabilities and those belonging to religious minorities were deprived of basic rights such as education, health, and adequate standards of living.  The State had continuously failed to protect Dalits, minority women and girls from kidnapping, forced conversions, forced marriages and human trafficking.  The Government had ignored the recommendations of the United Nations treaty bodies and the Gojra Judicial Inquiry, and failed to address the abuse of blasphemy laws affecting minority women.

A speaker for Justice Project explained that custodial torture was endemic in Pakistan.  There was an urgent need to pass a law defining and criminalizing torture, specifically sexual violence during investigation, arrest or while in custody.  The brunt of the absence of such law was borne by women, who were subjected to a specifically gendered nature of torture in police custody.  Genital mutilation was performed on intersex children, who could not provide consent.  These procedures could lead to life-long impairments and continuous need for medical treatment.

Forum for Dignity Initiatives said there was no youth-friendly healthcare facilities nor any budgets allocated to provide easy and safe access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services, including abortion, to young unmarried women.  There was an estimated 2.25 million abortions in Pakistan in 2012, the majority of which had been carried out “backdoor”, thus contributing to the country’s high maternal mortality rate.  Existing laws only allowed for abortions when the women’s life was in danger and only for married women.  They did allow abortion in cases of rape or incest.

Shirakat-Partnership for Development said that 23 loans form the International Monetary Fund, supported by the World Bank, had had a negative impact on women’s lives.  Rising costs of services such as transport, electricity and petrol had a devastating impacts on households costs, pushing many women back into poverty and potentially increasing time spent on unpaid care work.  Overall, the national poverty ratio had been projected to increase from 31.3 per cent to 40 per cent by June 2020. 

Aura Foundation, addressing women’s political participation, said there had been 12.5 million less women than men on electoral rolls during the 2018 general elections.  Current strategies did not suffice and special efforts were needed to improve the situation in all constituencies.  The quota for seats reserved for women still stood at 17 per cent in the National Assembly, provincial assemblies and the Senate.  There were no quotas for women in the Islamabad Capital territory.  Women’s presence in local governments was being reduced, gender ratios in public offices was low and there was no quota for women judges.

Zimbabwe

Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe highlighted that the State party had not undertaken any measures to address the persisting low numbers of women in public enterprises and in the private sector.  There was a lack of measures to prevent incidents at the hand of the Security Services.  Zimbabwe had a deteriorating health system which negatively impacted the right to basic healthcare enshrined in Section 56 of the Constitution.  The Government had also failed to review the Termination of Pregnancy Act, even though “backyard abortions” resulted in increased vulnerabilities for women and girls.

ZIMSWA said sex work in Zimbabwe was criminalized: sex workers were profiled and targeted for arbitrary arrest and detention.  Trafficking and exploitation of female sex workers was fuelled by the high costs and inaccessibility of travel documents.  Economically disadvantaged sex workers were forced to illegally migrate to neighbouring countries.  Due to the nature of the banking system which did not recognize sex work as employment, sex workers were discriminated against in accessing loans.

Pakasipiti Zimbabwe remarked that despite legal changes, almost no progress had been made in implementing Universal Periodic Review recommendations on gender based violence, especially as regarded the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and queer community.  The police targeted and profiled lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and queer activists, who were being detained under fabricated charges or even without any charges at all.  Intersex women and girls often lived hidden lives to prevent discrimination and hate speech.  There had been cases of infanticides, children being confined at home and children being abandoned and disowned for being intersex.

Eritrea

Network of Eritrean Women said that Eritrea was governed by a one-party system without a constitution and rule of law.  The absence of rule of law and democratic institutions gravely affected every aspect of the rights of women and girls.  National military service had been first declared 26 years ago to last only 18 months but turned out to be indefinite in 2002.  Women could only be demobilized if they got pregnant. 

For women, the only way to escape this situation was to leave the country illegally by crossing borders, risking their lives.  Being raped by the military and human traffickers while fleeing was expected and many young women took contraceptives before leaving the country.  Since the lifting of sanctions and the peace agreement with Ethiopia, nothing had changed, especially for women.  Young girls and even adults were still being forcibly conscripted and sexual violence against women continued to prevail.

Discussion with non-governmental organizations

One Expert asked about the abortion law in Pakistan.  What there any positive dialogues to expand the grounds for abortion?  She also requested information about HIV/AIDS and the status of female refugees.  Another Expert sought information on temporary special measures and inquired about existence of monitoring measures on the implementation of quotas.  She requested information on marriage laws.

Concerning Zimbabwe, the Committee asked about the use of temporary special measures to increase women’s political participation and land ownership by women.  On Eritrea, an Expert asked about the adoption of the Constitution and its impact on women’s rights, and the absence of international non-governmental organizations in the country.

Responding to questions, non-governmental organizations from Pakistan said that there were no ongoing positive dialogues about abortion; non-governmental organizations were being harassed and shut down.  On marital affairs, in the absence of common civil courts where people could register marriages, some communities were still not protected by any laws.  Despite the Committee’s recommendations, the Government had failed to amend the Christian Marriage and Divorce Act.  While there were sanctions for non-compliance with electoral quotas, it was a matter of concern that female candidates were asked to run for seats they were unlikely to win.

Non-governmental organizations from Zimbabwe explained that in 2019, 63 per cent of sex workers experienced violence.  On quotas, the Government did not regulate political parties and there were no sanctions for parties that failed to meet the requirements outlined in the Constitution.  On access to land, the Government should carry out an independent and comprehensive land audit to identify inequalities, to allow the distribution of land to landless women.

Non-governmental organizations from Eritrea, said the country was governed by presidential proclamations and expressed hope that the Constitution would be revived and implemented.  The Government had declared that all able-bodied Eritreans aged 16 to 40 would had to serve in the military and young people continued to be forced to do a military service even after the peace agreement with Ethiopia.

Discussion with the National Human Rights Institution of Zimbabwe

NAOME CHIMBETETE, Commissioner at the Zimbabwe Gender Commission, said that the national legal framework contained the core component of a gender sensitive framework and that the Government should translate legal provisions into practical benefits for women.  Structural barriers to gender equality and gender-based discrimination still persisted, rooted in historically unequal power relations between women and men and further reinforced through patriarchy and socialization.  This called for sustainable mechanisms for women to claim their rights as provided by the Constitution. 

The Zimbabwe Gender Commission was a foundational building block and a mechanism to ensure that the Constitution was delivered to women.  However, the financial resources it received in 2020 represented only 0.004 per cent of the total national budget and was far inadequate to allow the Commission to implement its mandate and decentralise to all the provinces.  Seven years after the Constitution had been adopted, very few laws with gendered impact had been passed.  There was also a pressing need to strengthen gender equality law through a specific legislation that dealt with gender issues, stressed Ms. Chimbetete.

The National Gender Policy was a guiding framework without legal force, so both public and private institutions were still deliberately failing or neglecting to implement gender equality provisions in the Constitution.  This included section 17 which provided for gender balance in appointments to decision-making positions in the public sector.  It had proved to be a mammoth task for the Zimbabwe Gender Commission to enforce constitutional provisions without a legally enforceable instrument and an implementation framework for gender equality, she concluded.

In the ensuing discussion, the Experts asked about the relation between the Zimbabwe Gender Commission and the national gender equality machinery, and about the body that carried out regulatory functions for the implementation of the National Gender Policy.

Responding, Ms. Chimbetete said that the Zimbabwe Gender Commission was one of five independent commissions, such as the Human Rights Commission.  Its mandate focused on issues related to gender; it had the right to carry out hearings and seek redress, amongst other functions.  There was an interface and interactions between the two commissions, such as a thematic working group on gender at the Human Rights Commission, on which Gender Commission sat.  While there could be some overlap, it was minimized, thanks to an ongoing dialogue between the two bodies. 

On the National Gender Policy, Ms. Chimbetete recommended that provisions of the Constitution pertaining to gender equality be translated into a regulatory framework, such as a Gender Equality Act. 

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