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Civil Society Organizations Brief the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on the Situation of Women in Bhutan, the Philippines, Jamaica and Guatemala

09 October 2023

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was this afternoon briefed by representatives of non-governmental organizations and a national human rights institution on the situation of women’s rights in Bhutan, the Philippines, Jamaica and Guatemala, the reports of which the Committee will review this week.

In relation to the Philippines, speakers raised concerns regarding gender-based violence, discrimination, and vulnerabilities faced by women, including in the context of the “war on drugs”, and made calls for legal and policy reforms to protect women's rights and well-being.

On Bhutan, speakers addressed gender-based violence, reproductive rights and the empowerment of women, as well as concerns about the reduced effectiveness and autonomy of relevant State institutions.

Non-governmental organizations speaking on Guatemala raised issues including the high degree of gender inequality; poverty; discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals; violence against women and impunity for perpetrators, and the lack of data on such violence; legal protections for persons with disabilities; women's reproductive rights, including the abortion ban; as well as forced evictions and land ownership issues, particularly regarding the indigenous population.

On Jamaica, speakers discussed gender equality, legal reforms, gender-based violence and the need for education and awareness to address these challenges.

The Commissioner for Gender Equality and Women’s Human Rights Center spoke on the Philippines, as did the following non-governmental organizations: Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau, Nationwide Organisation of Visually-impaired Empowered Ladies, Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights, Society of Trans Women of the Philippines, Center for Migrant Advocacy, Purple Action for Indigenous Women’s Rights and No Box.

The following non-governmental organizations spoke on Bhutan: Respect Educate Nurture Empower Women and Tarayana Foundation.

WMW Jamaica/CEDAW 2023 NGO Working Group spoke on Jamaica.

The following non-governmental organizations spoke on Guatemala: El Movimiento de Mujeres Indígenas Tz’ununija’Sindicato de Trabajadoras domésticas similares y a cuenta propiaColectiva de Mujeres con capacidad de soñar a coloresRed de la No Violencia contra las Mujeres-REDNOVI and Plataforma para la Defensa de la Tierra y el Territorio en Guatemala – ILC.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s eighty-sixth session is being held from 9 to 27 October. All documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage. Meeting summary releases can be found here. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed via the UN Web TV webpage.

The Committee will next meet in public at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 10 October to consider the tenth periodic report of Bhutan (CEDAW/C/BTN/10).

Opening Remarks by the Committee Chair

ANA PELÁEZ NARVÁEZ, Committee Chairperson, thanked the CERMI Women’s Foundation for the generous support to make available during today’s meetings with non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions international sign language interpretation and captioning. This would enhance the accessibility of the Committee’s work for persons with disabilities. She said that during the present session, non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions would provide country-specific information on the implementation of the Convention by the States parties whose reports would be considered during the first week of the session, namely Bhutan, the Philippines, Jamaica and Guatemala. The second meeting with non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions would take place on Monday, 16 October 2023 from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m., when they would be invited to provide country-specific information on the States parties whose reports will be considered during the second and third weeks of the session, namely France, Albania, Malawi, Uruguay and Nicaragua.

Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations from Bhutan, the Philippines, Jamaica and Guatemala

The Philippines

Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau said that different kinds of gender-based violence had escalated during the past decade in the Philippines. Gender stereotyping was taking place. 99.5 per cent of the entire population had biases regarding women, according to one study. All forms of gender stereotyping should be abolished.

Nationwide Organisation of Visually-impaired Empowered Ladies said that one in four women aged 15 to 49 experienced physical violence and one in 13 experienced sexual violence. Misogynistic practices had worsened during the pandemic. There was no policy nor law addressing abortions or pregnancies resulting from rape. The Government should ensure justice for all.

Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights said at least three women died daily due to restrictive abortion regulations. Policies related to HIV transmission ignored the needs of trans populations, women who were using drugs, and other groups. Full implementation of the Committee’s recommendations regarding contraception, abortions and other important domains was urgently needed.

Society of Trans Women of the Philippines said that lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women experienced lifelong, cumulative and structural discrimination in the Philippines. They continued to face barriers in access to legal gender recognition, marriage equality, education, employment, healthcare. Victims of gender-based violence, transfemicide and hate-motivated crimes also faced barriers in seeking redress. Harmful gender stereotypes exacerbated these issues further. The organisation called on the Government to pass a comprehensive anti-discrimination law that covered discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics in public and private setting; pass legislation for legal gender recognition for trans and intersex women through a simple administrative procedure affirming the rights to dignity, self-determination and bodily autonomy and adopt legislation providing marriage equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex couples.

Center for Migrant Advocacy said that women farmers and women with disabilities were especially exposed to vulnerabilities. Such women earned less between 16 and 20 per cent than men. They had reduced access to social protection. The Center asked for intervention in that regard from the Government, including through awareness-raising campaigns and education.

Purple Action for Indigenous Women’s Rights stated that thousands of women had been red-tagged, vilified and attacked in the Philippines. Since 2016, 66 women human rights defenders were victims of extrajudicial killing, seven were victims of enforced disappearance and 162 were political prisoners. To this day, not one State actor had been punished. The organization appealed to the Committee to conduct an official assessment on the systemic violations of the Philippine Government of its commitments to the Convention and recommended immediate corrective measures to uphold women’s human rights; to pursue its 2016 recommendation for the Philippines to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance; to amplify Philippine women's demands for the revocation of the Anti-Terror Law and Executive Order 70 and for greater legal and social protection for women human rights defenders; and to conduct follow-up inquiries with the present administration on the implementation of the 2023 recommendation on “comfort women”. It also urged the Philippine Government to fulfil its obligations under the Committee’s general recommendation 39 on the rights of indigenous women and girls.

No Box said that the Philippines’ so-called “war on drugs” undermined women's access to essential healthcare, with harm reduction services notably absent despite the continuing rise in HIV cases. The Philippines also had one of the highest rates of female incarceration globally, with most women imprisoned for low-level drug activities that included drug use and personal possession. Already among the most disadvantaged in economically neglected communities, these women faced additional hardships due to Philippine drug policies. The organisation urged the Committee to recommend that the Government of the Philippines to uphold the rule of law and cease immediately extrajudicial killings; investigate and prosecute cases of extortion and violence against women whose lives include drugs; urgently close compulsory drug rehabilitation centres that only exacerbate harm; implement gender-responsive harm reduction services to address distinct health and safety concerns facing women; reform Philippine drug law, and prioritise decriminalisation as a matter of social justice and human rights; implement the Bangkok Rules and poverty alleviation programming specifically for women impacted by the Government’s so-called “war on drugs”.


Respect Educate Nurture Empower Women addressed violence against women and reproductive rights. Women in Bhutan enjoyed more equality comparing to other neighbours. Gender-based violence was one of the country’s most pressing issues. The National Commission for Women and Children was established in 2004. It also had a function to empower women. It carried out capacity-building programmes, monitoring and trainings. The Ministry of Education was now in charge of this domain. Civil society organisations were concerned regarding the downgrading of the Commission to the level of “department”. The Government needed to strengthen the capacity of this institution and grant it autonomy.

Tarayana Foundation said that Bhutan was making progress in the domains of protection and prevention of violence against women and children. Two out of every five persons had experienced sexual or other forms of harassment. In a recent nation-wide study, six per cent of respondents said they were sexually abused, including when they were children. There were increasing numbers of cases of sexual violence. Persons who committed marital rape were punished with only one year of imprisonment. Acts adopted during the past decade needed to be amended. It was imperative that psychologists, protection officers and others were available. Women and children protection units should be mobilised to provide access in all areas of the country. Rural populations were at greater risk and needed access to social services and justice.


WMW Jamaica/CEDAW 2023 NGO Working Group said that Jamaica continued to grapple with issues of gender inequality and violence against women and girls. The Government needed to sign and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention. Not doing so would mean that Jamaican women would not have an avenue for redress beyond local parameters. Progress had been made in legislation regarding women and children, however, further updating of local legislation was needed. The organization required a clear timeline for when important and long-overdue updates would be made to the Child Care and Protection Act, Sexual Offences Act, Offences Against the Person Act and Domestic Violence Act. It also appealed for a clear timeline for the implementation of the current sexual harassment legislation. Also necessary was an effective public education programme to raise awareness of how persons could fully access and benefit from this legislation. The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms also needed to be updated to make it fully inclusive. Further, along with ensuring that existing laws were updated and were in keeping with human rights treaties to which Jamaica was a signatory, it was also important for the Government to ensure that there was consistent training on these matters for persons within the judiciary. Negative gender stereotypes continued to be drivers of prejudiced and discriminatory beliefs and practices concerning the roles and identities of women and men in Jamaican society. There were concerning age discrepancies across laws designed to protect children and minors, which continued to impact adolescents’ access to important health services. The Committee’s 2006 recommendation to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 years had not been heeded, leaving a legal loophole that exposed adolescent girls between 16 and 17 years of age to abuse. There were also still contradictions between different laws with regard to the age of a minor, which in some legislation was 18, contrasting with the age of consent, which was 16. An adolescent could consent to sex at 16 years old, but could not legally access contraceptives without parental consent until they were 18 years old.

Human rights training was needed in the judiciary to help change societal attitudes. Gender stereotyping continued in Jamaica. Governmental support was required to change the opinions of the general public. The Government of Jamaica had tried to target these aspects, but more should be done. Necessary resources were also needed. The rights of household workers were infringed too often. The Government needed to provide adequate support and educational opportunities to these workers and guidance and education to their employers. It also needed to increase monitoring and ensure prompt investigation of reports of breaches of women’s rights, including rights to maternity leave and the minimum wage. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the increased presence and easier access to all forms of technology made the occurrence of technology-facilitated and school-related gender-based violence more likely which had significant negative effects for women generally, and schoolgirls in particular. To decrease the likelihood of victimisation, it was vital that the Government took action to increase the awareness of students, parents, school personnel.


El Movimiento de Mujeres Indígenas Tz’ununija’ said that Guatemala was the second most unequal country in Latin America. 33 per cent of women lived in extreme poverty. Women’s rights receded during the eras of recent administrations and as a consequence of COVID-19.

Sindicato de Trabajadoras domésticas similares y a cuenta propia said that lesbian, homosexual, non-binary people suffered discrimination in all domains. There was a policy promoting discrimination against women and sexual minorities. There was no statistical data register acknowledging the existence of such discrimination. The budget for institutions dedicated to women only represented 0.02 per cent of the national budget. There was also no law regarding people with disabilities.

Colectiva de Mujeres con capacidad de soñar a colores said that the public and the Government did not pay enough attention to violence against women, leading to impunity for perpetrators. There was also no statistical data documenting the facts of such crimes properly. Within legislation on sexual violence, guarantees of non-repetition were insufficient. Guatemala prisons were overcrowded, and the needs of women in those facilities, including regarding their reproductive rights, were not addressed.

Red de la No Violencia contra las Mujeres-REDNOVI said that the State’s electoral law and political practices continued to be racist. Political violence against women was institutionalised. Criminalisation and persecution of activists had intensified. Regression was taking place. There was no protection of women workers. The Government was not applying International Labour Organization convention 190 to protect women’s rights. Not enough information existed on reproductive health and other rights.

Plataforma para la Defensa de la Tierra y el Territorio en Guatemala – ILC said that abortion was still penalised and continued to be the primary cause of death for mothers. Vertical transmission of HIV persisted; there was no national agenda in that regard. Agrarian conflicts also persisted, and local communities could not obtain access to land. 150 women from one region had been violently evicted from their land.

Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee Expert asked whether, in Guatemala, 3.8 per cent of the national budget was spent on women, and whether about 0.02 per cent of the national budget was allocated to the State’s gender desk? She also asked for additional information on ownership of rural lands.

Another Committee Expert said that, according to information from other sources, the Philippine Government had issued a joint memorandum entitled “Promotion of health for mothers deprived of liberty”, which provided guidelines for the local implementation of the Bangkok Rules. Was this information wrong, or were the provisions simply not applied?

Another Committee Expert asked for further information on legal developments in Jamaica, as well as on discrimination of the lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex community.

Another Committee Expert asked whether draft laws on sexual and reproductive health and rights, including legislation on abortions, were in force or pending in Jamaica. How many shelters were there in Jamaica and how were they operating?

Another Committee Expert whether Jamaica had gender responsive budgeting in every sector, and whether it had met its targets in that regard.

Statement from a National Human Rights Institution

FAYDAH M. DUMARPA, Commissioner for Gender Equality and Women’s Human Rights Center from the Republic of the Philippines said that the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines acknowledged the passage of key legislations protecting women and girls’ rights, and recognised the State’s increased ranking from 19 to 16 in the Global Gender Gap Index. However, the Commission remained concerned with the persistent challenges in the de facto enjoyment of women and girls’ human rights. It continued to express grave concern regarding the continued attacks against and criminalisation of women human rights defenders, the most recent of which was the alleged fake surrender of two women environmental defenders. It was also concerned about the continuing barriers faced by women and girls in accessing remedies in cases of gender-based violence, and about the lack of critical participation of marginalised and vulnerable women and girls.

Further, attacks and criminalisation of women human rights defenders persisted. Since the Commission’s inquiry revealed systematic attacks against human rights defenders, reports of violations continued to pour in. The Commission was also concerned about the recurring pattern of women human rights defenders facing baseless charges and later being acquitted. These acquittals were welcome developments, but did not erase threats to security and liberty, the trauma inflicted and the impact of the pattern of criminalisation. The Committee needed to seek commitment from the State to strengthen accountability against malicious prosecution and other human rights violations, ensure the expeditious resolution of women human rights defenders’ cases, and the review and amend the Anti-Terror Law and Executive Order 70.

The Commission was concerned that crucial legislation on women’s human rights remained pending. The Committee needed to urge the State to review the regulations on third party consent in accessing sexual and reproductive health and rights services and the continuing criminalisation of abortion; to expedite the passage of the law on divorce, the Magna Carta of Workers in the Informal Economy, the Human Rights Defenders Bill, the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Bill and the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression Equality Bill, which had been pending for 23 years. It also called for the passage of the Commission’s Charter, which would promote full compliance with the Paris Principles.

The Commission also expressed concern regarding resistance in the implementation of the law prohibiting child marriage and the Safe Spaces Act. The Committee needed to call on the State to ensure full implementation of these laws, especially within the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and in indigenous cultural communities. The Committee also needed to ensure swift delivery of adequate and effective remedies for the Malaya Lolas.

State responses to gender-based violence fell short in addressing the specific needs of survivors, especially those with intersecting identities and vulnerabilities. There were reports of insensitivity from service providers to the needs of women with disabilities. Stigma against women of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics, prostituted women and women living with HIV prevented access to remedies. The perpetuation of gender-based myths and stereotypes among duty bearers led to biased treatment and victim-blaming. The Committee needed to urge the State to institutionalise survivor-centred and intersectional responses to gender-based violence; to act with due diligence in responding to cases of gender-based violence, ensure accountability for duty bearers and enhance support for women with disabilities and other community women.

Over the past few years, the Commission had worked with survivors of trafficking, indigenous women and girls, women with disabilities, adolescent girls, women in the informal sector, women deprived of liberty, women and girls in street situations, solo parents, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people and migrant workers. The State needed to ensure the participation and recognition of all these groups.

Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic had exacerbated the impact of existing inequalities and the country was likely to encounter similar crises, thus, the State was urged to institutionalise and localise gender-responsive and intersectional responses to health crises and other emergencies and ensure access to services and information.

Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee Expert asked whether the State’s commitment to shoring up the rule of law seemed to be a positive step towards a better understanding of the Convention.

Another Committee Expert asked how the institution responded to court proceedings against female journalists.

Another Committee Expert asked whether the institutions had a presence in all parts of the country. How did it impact the position of women?

Responses by the National Human Rights Institute

FAYDAH M. DUMARPA, Commissioner for Gender Equality and Women’s Human Rights Center from the Republic of the Philippines said that there were still gaps between legislation and its implementation in the Philippines, especially regarding women and girls. The Commission was monitoring implementation of this legislation.

The institution conducted investigations into reports of abuse of the rights of female journalists, including Maria Resa. It also initiated investigations motu propio, that is, in absence of formal complaints. They issued statements on these cases and called for expeditious judicial solution. The Commission had 16 regional offices in the Philippines, allowing it to cover the entire nation.