The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was this afternoon briefed by representatives of civil society on the situation of women’s rights in Greece, Oman and the Central African Republic, whose reports will be reviewed by the Committee this week.
The Committee will also review the report of Djibouti this week, but there were no speakers taking the floor to brief on that country.
In relation to Greece, speakers raised concerns regarding gender-based violence, the push-back and mistreatment of female asylum seekers, and women in the labour market.
On Oman, speakers addressed issues concerning discriminatory stereotypes, domestic workers, and Omani women’s ability to pass on citizenship.
Non-governmental organizations speaking on the Central African Republic raised issues concerning the situation of sexual and gender minorities, women’s under-representation in political life, and discrimination against Muslim women.
The Greek National Commission for Human Rights spoke on Greece, as did the following non-governmental organizations: Greek Helsinki Monitor on behalf of the joint NGO report, Border Violence Monitoring Network, and Federation of Western Thrace Turks in Europe.
The Oman Human Rights Commission spoke on Oman, as did the following non-governmental organizations: Musawah and Do Bold.
The following non-governmental organizations spoke on the Central African Republic: Association Centrafricaine pour l'égalité des Droits et la lutte contre le Sida,Association des Femmes Juristes de Centrafrique, and Coordination des Organisations Musulmanes de Centrafrique.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s eighty-seventh session is being held from 29 January to 16 February. 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, 6 February, to consider the combined eighth and ninth periodic report of Greece (CEDAW/C/GRC/8-9).
Opening Remarks by the Committee Chair
ANA PELÁEZ NARVÁEZ, Committee Chairperson, said this was the second opportunity during the session for non-governmental organizations to provide information on States parties whose reports were being considered during the first week, namely Greece, Oman, Djibouti and the Central African Republic. The Chair said it was regretful that no non-governmental organizations were in the room to discuss the situation in Djibouti.
Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations
Concerning Greece, speakers, among other things, said gender-based violence was Greece’s major human rights problem related to the mandate of the Convention, in view of the great number of victims and the low rate of criminal prosecution for the perpetrators. Victims often did not file complaints because they could not, or because they were afraid of the consequences. Roma women were the most discriminated against group of women because of the prevalence of early marriages, which meant a high school dropout rate before the completion of secondary education.
Speakers also said that in cases where women were attempting to come to Greece to seek asylum but were pushed back by coast guard authorities, there was a large prevalence of rape or other forms of sexual or other physical violence. Testimonies described Greek border officials committing physical assault, forced undressing, invasive body searches, and sexual violence. Of the 217 documented instances of pushbacks by Greek authorities, 122 of them included the use of forced undressing. The evidence showing that pushback survivors were also being subjected to sexual assault by Greek authorities was very concerning. Testimonies recalled incidents where Greek authorities used body parts and objects to violate asylum seekers.
Greece needed to implement a comprehensive action plan to help Roma understand why they should comply with the ban on early marriages and with the obligation that both boys and girls complete compulsory education through the age of 15, speakers said. The Committee was called upon to thoroughly investigate the crime of push-back and put an end to these blatant violations of the Convention. The Committee should also call upon Greece to restore the autonomy of the Turkish community in Western Thrace in accordance with the status and rights granted by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.
Speakers said it was concerning that discrimination against women continued to exist in the private sphere in Oman, and family laws remained fundamentally patriarchal. Oman retained discriminatory stereotypes regarding the roles of women and men in society and in the law, whereby in return for maintenance and protection from her husband, a wife was expected to obey him and look after the children. Oman also required women to obtain the approval of their guardian (wali) to sign a marriage contract, and allowed men to marry up to four wives at one time. There was no recognised joint matrimonial property regime in Oman’s family law, and priority was given to the father in the case of child guardianship.
In Oman, domestic workers were not covered by the labour law. Domestic workers faced a troubling practice known as "release money," where employers demanded fees, regardless of living or working conditions, to allow workers to return home. This practice lacked regulation and oversight; it had become normalised, widespread and accepted. There were also significant deficiencies to reporting grievances, using State mechanisms, which were inaccessible or counterproductive. Oman continued to make no effort to investigate or prosecute any traffickers of migrant workers for forced labour, although human trafficking of domestic workers in Oman was widespread.
It was recommended that the Committee urge the State party to clearly reflect the status of women as full rights holders with the same honour and dignity as men in their legal frameworks; to amend all provisions in the personal status law 1997 in contradiction with the values of justice, equality and dignity upheld in the Qur’an; and to leverage its robust framework of equality in its basic law 2021 to ensure full legal equality and empowerment of Muslim women, in the public sphere and their private lives. In response to Oman’s report, it was important to note that domestic workers could not terminate their contract or change employers. The majority worked with no day off and they could not leave the country without their employer’s permission.
Central African Republic
Speakers said the situation of sexual and gender minorities in the Central African Republic was struggling to change. There were recurrent assaults against transgender women and men. The Central African Republic voted against the resolution establishing the mandate of the Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity at the United Nations in 2016. No draft law against discrimination and violence on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity was on the agenda. Attacks on sexual and gender minorities still went unpunished, and complaints of discrimination or violence on the basis of sexual orientation never made it to court. Access to health care services for sexual and gender minorities, and sex workers remained limited.
Furthermore, the Government had not taken the necessary steps to address sexual and gender-based violence or to ensure that victims had access to justice. Most of the help to women was only provided by non-governmental organizations, not by the Government, resulting in a lack of legal, economic, psycho-social and health support. In the National Assembly and other senior public offices, women's representation was low, and women faced significant barriers during elections. The 2016 Constitution had provided for quotas for women in the Constitutional Court and the High Council for Communication, but unfortunately the new Constitution of 2023 abolished these quotas. Muslims in the Central African Republic faced religious discrimination and were disproportionately targeted for arbitrary detention, torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions. These violations were often compounded for Central African Muslim women.
Speakers requested that the Committee recommend that the State party revise article 294 of the Penal Code to include sexual and gender minorities, as well as sex workers in their full protection against discrimination; support civil society efforts to educate the general public and change attitudes about sexual and gender minorities; and establish facilities for reception, guidance and psycho-sociological and judicial care for sexual and gender minorities who were victims of violence, among other measures.
To promote justice and prevent sexual and gender-based violence, the Government of the Central African Republic should train the police, security officers, security personnel and judicial officers in the review and management of gender-based violence cases, and on gender sensitivity and the elimination of prejudice. Women's access to and participation in decision-making spheres should be promoted and the quotas for women in key positions should be reinstated in the Constitution. The State should also investigate and prosecute all cases of extrajudicial executions and arbitrary detentions and torture of Muslims, in accordance with international human rights standards.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert asked about the problems of accessibility to the labour market in the Central African Republic? Could these be elaborated on?
Another Expert asked if the National Human Rights Commission of Oman had the competency to discuss the withdrawing of reservations? Were there ongoing discussions about this?
A Committee Expert asked if there was a specific figure of Roma women in Greece; reports ranged from 100,000 to 300,000 Roma women. What was the volume of child marriages? Was there any evidence to be added to the record to pursue the issue with the State party?
An Expert asked for clarity around two Royal Decrees pertaining to Oman.
Another Committee Expert asked why the speakers focused on forced labour, and if other forms of trafficking prevailed in Oman, such as trafficking for sexual purposes or organ trafficking?
A Committee Expert asked why mental health for domestic workers was an issue in Oman? What happened when a domestic worker was raped? What was her status?
Another Expert asked the Central African Republic where non-governmental organizations received their funding? Was there disaggregated data about education for those in the Muslim community? How did they participate in the labour market?
A Committee Expert asked Oman about the “release money”; could more clarification be provided? Had this information been received through complaints?
An Expert asked about the revision of the Penal Code? What was going on with the draft bill regarding the harassment of women and girls in the workplace?
A Committee Expert asked if there were any specially disadvantaged groups of women in Djibouti? What was the situation of women and girls with disabilities in Djibouti?
Responses by Non-Governmental Organizations
Non-governmental organizations from Greece and the Central African Republic said they would respond to the questions in writing.
Non-Governmental organizations from Oman said most trafficking in Oman was forced labour, but there was also sex trafficking and organ trafficking. Since COVID-19, domestic workers had been affected by mental health issues, mainly due to the fact they did not have any days off. Release money was a practice which was essentially paying for someone’s freedom. The worker or the family paid a certain amount of money to the employer, to be able to terminate their employment or enable them to leave the country. There was no law which said anything about how this should be regulated and it was a widespread practice. This money not only contributed to forced labour but was also fuelling a business of human trafficking.
A representative from a non-governmental organization on Oman said they would be able to relay the questions from the Committee on Djibouti to non-governmental organization representatives in Djibouti.
Statements by National Human Rights Institutions
Greek National Commission for Human Rights said Greece was among the few countries in the world that had achieved full equality under the law. However, there were still considerable challenges in the implementation of such equality. The Commission had completed its first ever report on the status of women in the country, to be used as a benchmark and a reference point, and which would incorporate the recommendations of the Committee. During the past decade, Greece had consistently demonstrated the lowest scores in all fields of gender equality compared to the rest of Europe. Despite an increase of five per cent in elected representatives, Greece still had one of the lowest percentages of women in positions of power in Europe.
There had been several recent developments, including the presence of women in the labour market, however, the unemployment rate for women remained high, mostly due to practices that confined women to low paid work without social benefits. Of particular importance was the balance between personal and professional life. The Commission expressed serious concern about the deficit in childcare services, which kept women out of the labour market. The Commission called on the State authorities to invest in policies to support women so that they could enter, re-enter and remain in the labour market.
There had been a marked increase in domestic violence incidents in the past few years. The low rates of crime reporting, and the almost zero compensation claims by victims led to the conclusion that the implementation measures of the Istanbul Convention were barely in place. Greece was a significant destination country concerning migration flows. There was still a clear need to build capacity on the early identification of victims of all forms of trafficking, to increase the extent and impact of measures of support to victims. The Commission remained committed to support the State while it carried out its obligations under international law.
Oman Human Rights Commission said a Royal Decree, which established an evolving mechanism for the appointment of the Chairman and Vice-President of the Oman Human Rights Commission, to be elected through a free electoral process, represented a turning point in the work of the Commission. It was important to ensure that Omani women married to non-Omanis could pass on citizenship to their children. Authorities should ramp up education and awareness raising campaigns on health and legal issues, including recourse for victims of female genital mutilation, in line with civil society organizations.
The Commission called on authorities to ramp up efforts to eradicate stereotypes, and to pursue further education opportunities for persons with disabilities. It was also recommended that authorities set up a national protection mechanism for women, which would help to beef up efforts by the State party to protect women from gender-based violence. Oman should adhere to International Labour Organization Convention 190 on preventing harassment in the workplace. It was hoped that the Committee would duly take these recommendations into account and include them in recommendations to Oman.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert asked if there were concrete possibilities for Greece to implement electoral lists for different political parties?
Another Expert asked about the gap between good laws and implementation; why was there a lack of evaluation and monitoring? Had investigations been conducted into the reports about women and girls in detention?
A Committee Expert asked if there was a mandatory quota for Commissioners in Greece? Did elected women face any challenges? What was Greece’s peace agenda?
Another Expert asked if the Oman Human Rights Commission would encourage the State to ratify the International Labour Organization convention on domestic workers?
A Committee Expert asked Oman why there was no Commission specifically for women in the country?
Responses by a National Human Rights Institution
Greek National Commission for Human Rights said the Commission was concerned that although quotas had been in place for more than 30 years, the results had been appalling. Greece used to have one third participation in the ballot paper, not the final position. Instead of finding out what was wrong, Greece just increased the quota from one third to 40 per cent. Greece had created a video on campaigns which had raised awareness on the issue. All the parties were trying to come up with proper numbers and proper electable candidates. Migratory flows were important in Greece. A report on the status of refugees had been compiled. The situation had really improved compared to 10 years ago. It was important to know what was happening inside these facilities.