N’DJAMENA (14 December 2017) – A United Nations expert group on discrimination against women today welcomed the development of important laws to help protect women in Chad, but warned that deep-set barriers still blocked women’s quest for full equality.
“Chad has a strong constitutional framework for equality which includes the State’s obligation to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women, and has made some progress towards achieving women’s right to equality, even in a very precarious socio-economic and fragile environment,” said the UN Expert Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice*, at the end of an official visit to the country.
UN human rights experts Alda Facio, who currently heads the expert group, and Meskerem Geset Techane said: “Chad has taken the necessary legislative measures to ban female genital mutilation and child marriage. Unfortunately, these laws will only have a positive impact on the lives of Chadian girls, if fully enforced. Despite some progress in reducing FGM prevalence, women and girls continue to be tortured through this horrifying practice and girls are married, sometimes by force, as soon as they enter puberty.”
In spite of the improvements noted in the participation of women in political and public life, the Expert Group regrets that only 28 women are currently in parliament out of 188, ranking 140 out of 193 countries globally, with only 4 women ministers out of 28, and 0 out of 23 governors.
The experts noted that rural women remain significantly disempowered in public decision-making and suffer from increased exclusion in all areas of their lives.
“We are deeply concerned that despite the fact that the law provides for equal inheritance rights and the right to own land, the practice is very different,” they said. “Most women do not inherit and own land. In some instances, they have partial use of the land but not the ownership. Widows continue to be evicted by their in-laws. Given that most of the economy is dependent on agriculture, women’s limited access to land hinders their economic empowerment and independence.”
The experts also argued that poverty fails to explain girls’ limited access to education. “What does explain it are all the myths and ideas about the deeply entrenched gender roles and stereotypes,” they said. “The expectation is that boys will ultimately take care of their own families while girls will go off to another family through marriage. This perpetuates the overall discrimination against women.”
The group said it was shocked by the prevalence of sexual violence, including rapes against girls of a very young age, and the widespread impunity enjoyed by perpetrators. Although the stigmatization and silencing of the victim contributes to this impunity, reconciliation efforts to maintain family honour and unity and the non-enforcement of the law by state agents is the main cause, the experts said.
The experts also said limited access to justice for women was an additional obstacle in the fulfilment of their rights. Some people complained of external interventions in favour of persons detained for acts of violence against women, thus leading to the release of perpetrators, they said. We are also disturbed by the number of women in lengthy pre-trial detention without due process.
The UN Expert Group said it was appalled by the high maternal mortality rate in the country (856 per 100,000 live births) which is caused by a combination of poor health infrastructure and harmful cultural pressures as illustrated by the need to get husbands’ permission even before an emergency caesarean or use of contraceptives. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that Chad has a restrictive law which does not allow doctors to terminate a pregnancy in case of rape, even for minors. The high rates of sexual violence and the existence of unsafe abortions continue at the risk of girl’s and women’s lives, the experts said.
“While we heard so often about the yoke of poverty and culture, none of these should justify the oppression suffered by all women in Chad,” the experts said.. “We hope that the Government will continue its efforts on the path to women’s empowerment.”
*The UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice was created by the Human Rights Council in 2011 to identify, promote and exchange views, in consultation with States and other actors, on good practices related to the elimination of laws that discriminate against women. The Group is also tasked with developing a dialogue with States and other actors on laws that have a discriminatory impact where women are concerned. The Working Group is composed of five independent experts: current chair
Alda Facio (Costa Rica),
Meskerem Geset Techane (Ethiopia),
Melissa Upreti (Nepal),
Ivana Radacic (Croatia), and
Elizabeth Broderick (Australia).
The independent experts are part of what is known as the
Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.