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Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women meets with non-governmental organizations

Committee on the Elimination
of Discrimination against Women

30 September 2013

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon met with representatives of non-governmental organizations to hear information on the situation of women in the Republic of Moldova, Colombia, Benin and Andorra, whose reports will be considered during the first week of the session.
In their presentations to the Committee, non-governmental organizations from the Republic of Moldova raised issues including domestic violence, poor access to reproductive healthcare, and discrimination faced by women with disabilities and also by older women.  The particular situation of women in the Transnistria breakaway region of the Republic of Moldova were also discussed.

The impact on women of the on-going armed conflict in Colombia was raised by non-governmental organizations, who said women suffered from a perpetuating cycle of violence, high levels of gender violence and femicide and a climate of impunity.  The situation of indigenous women, including the right to land and the impact on them of the mining and extractive industries, was widely discussed.  The situation of women of African descent, and the forced sterilization of women not only with disabilities, but also with HIV, were also raised.

Non-governmental organizations from Benin spoke about women’s poor representation in political decision making and public life and about high levels of domestic violence.  A speaker said there was a HIV epidemic in Benin, where women suffered double the infection rate of men, and faced wide discrimination and stigmatization. 

The representative of a non-governmental organization on Andorra spoke about how the Government should do more in promoting the human rights of women through its website and social media connections.  As the United Nations said, the internet was an important empowerment tool for women.  Andorra had some of the most advanced internet technologies in the world, with 86 per cent of the population online, and it should do more. 

Following the presentations by non-governmental organizations, Committee Members held an interactive dialogue with them, asking follow-up questions on the issues raised. 
The statements made by non-governmental organizations at today’s meeting are available on the Committee’s website. 

The Committee will reconvene on Tuesday, 1 October at 10 a.m. when it will start its review of the report of the Republic of Moldova.  

Presentations by Non-governmental Organizations

Statements on the Republic of Moldova

Human Rights Information Centre said there was a lack of institutional framework regulating gender equality and non-discrimination in the Republic of Moldova.  Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons faced discrimination.  The Republic of Moldova took an important step forward in 2008 when it adopted a law on preventing and combating domestic violence, but the overall law of awareness of the legislation by police officers and prosecutors hampered progress and there was no dedicated sustained source of funding for victim services.  The representative said women in the Transnistria region of the Republic of Moldova, which had a population of 555,347, suffered especially from the lack of infrastructure for response to domestic violence cases.

NGO Rezonans, Transnistria spoke about the Transnistria breakaway region of the Republic of Moldova, which had quite a different situation to that of the rest of the Republic of Moldova, and where women faced many challenges in realizing their rights.  There was a lack of support and justice for victims of domestic violence and where police often took the attitude that issues of domestic violence were simply family matters that were not their concern.  Other issues included discrimination faced by women of reproductive age and young mothers in the employment process.  Access to reproductive healthcare was poor: abortion was widely considered as a method of birth control, and 40 per cent of pregnancies ended in abortion, while 60 per cent of women said the main reason for not using condoms was the refusal of their male partner.  Reproductive health education was urgently needed. 

HelpAge International said women with disabilities faced widespread and systematic discrimination in health, housing, judiciary, employment and other areas.  Women with disabilities could not find jobs because there were no mechanisms to enforce legislation made in that area.  Women who were carers or mothers of persons with disabilities especially faced the risk of poverty.   Older women, who made up the majority of the older population of the Republic of Moldova due to higher life expectancy, suffered from inadequate social security and healthcare.  The level of pensions was inadequate in the Republic of Moldova, and women often received lower pensions than men because they had worked in lower paid jobs during their working lives.  The Government should provide sufficient access to healthcare and affordable good quality medicine. 

Questions for Non-governmental Organizations from the Republic of Moldova

An Expert asked about trafficking in persons, particularly given the great increase in the phenomenon between Europe and Russia, which included the Republic of Moldova.  How were victims given support to return to society?  The Expert also asked what impact the European Union had on promoting political freedoms and human rights in the Republic of  Moldova.

Response to the Questions

A speaker said the issue of migration in and out of the Republic of Moldova was a worrying one, and Moldovan women working in European countries suffered from a lack of regulation and support.  The Government only had bilateral agreements with the Czech Republic, Austria and Romania.  Migrants, particularly women, were not protected.  The speaker said they could provide data on trafficking in persons to the Committee after the meeting. 

Statements on Colombia

Colombia Diversa spoke about the on-going armed conflict in Colombia, which was in some areas getting worse, and which was causing a perpetuating cycle of violence for many women.  The actions of the military, paramilitary, armed groups and others had a huge impact on women with high levels of gender violence and femicide.  The situation fed into a climate of impunity, with victims becoming victims again and again.  There were low levels of political participation of women in Colombia; there had never been more than 16 per cent of women in Congress and women played no part in the on-going peace negotiations.  Sexual and reproductive rights had been strengthened by recent court decisions on the right to a family, and on abortions, but the Executive did not properly implement the court decisions.  There was a lack of provision of condoms which had led to an increase in HIV AIDS.  Furthermore, a high number of women with HIV were sterilized when they gave birth.  Women with cognitive disabilities also faced sterilization and forced institutionalization.  Other areas that had a negative impact on women were the use of natural resources, such as mining, by multinational corporations.  Women needed preferential access to land guaranteed.  Forced prostitution and sexual violence had to be tackled in areas where mining took place.  Colombia was not implementing the Committee’s recommendations, and the situation of women in the country was not improving.

Fuerza Wayuu said that as indigenous women, it was very important for them to be here in Geneva at the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today.  In the view of indigenous peoples, the land was female and that was why it was known as ‘mother earth’.  The representative said there were 102 indigenous communities and mega-projects linked to the mining and extractive industries, as well as the continuing armed conflict, caused multiple discrimination towards indigenous women and a massive impact on their lives.   Indigenous women were suffering and they were seriously concerned about their situation.  The Committee should ask Colombia to give indigenous women consultative status, in order to have a say about issues that impacted upon their daily lives. 

MADRE spoke about women of African descent, who were particularly concerned that Colombia had not fulfilled the guiding principles of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.   Women of African descent faced multiple discrimination.  They were especially affected by internal displacement caused by the armed conflict.  There was a lack of gender disaggregated statistics using the criteria of race, the representative said.  The rights to land, and to food, were also threatened. 

Questions for Non-governmental Organizations from Colombia

In the questions following the statements, a Committee Expert asked if there had been an increase in cases of sexual violence, or rather that more cases were being reported.  If there had been an increase, could any organization explain why?  The Expert also asked if there was a strategy to combat female genital mutilation, and what indigenous women thought about female genital mutilation in their communities. 

An Expert asked about forced sterilization practised on women with disabilities, which the Committee had previously been informed about, but asked about a speaker’s assertion that forced sterilizations had been carried out on women living with HIV.  She also asked about trafficking in persons, and about women’s right to land.  Another Expert asked about reparations for women victims of the conflict. 

Response to Questions

A representative said cases of sexual violence were certainly increasing, from 17,000 in 2011, to 19,000 in 2013; there had been a slow increase over the last decade.  The State must stop saying the increase was due to better reporting, as there was clearly an increase in cases and many were connected to the armed conflict.  Women were not involved in the peace process, and therefore were not able to contribute to combating impunity for sexual violence in conflict.  Regarding support to victims, the last thing women wanted was more laws, they just wanted the existing legislation to be complied with. 

Regarding the law on the right to land and how it impacted upon women of African descent, a representative said there continued to be prevailing violence in regions where Afro-descendent people lived and against women of African descent, but as statistics were not gathered by race, it was impossible to document.  Another speaker spoke about Government loans to help women buy land, saying that the loans carried such high interest rates that many women who had taken them out had sunk into debt while repaying them and ended up selling the land.  There was no protection of ancestral knowledge of food growing, which was part and parcel of the right to land. 

Cases of trafficking had been tried in Colombia and some trafficking networks had been dismantled, a speaker said, but the problem was a lack of reporting, especially as very often people involved in trafficking had long criminal records which made it difficult to prosecute them.

Responding to the question on forced sterilization, a speaker said that concerning women with psycho-social and other mental and physical disabilities, there had been many cases when women who were being sterilized had not even been informed that the procedure was being done to them as it was authorized by their guardians.  Nor did they have access to information to know what the consequences of the procedure would be.  Sterilization did not just affect women with psycho-social disabilities, the speaker said.  Although they did not have specific proof that HIV positive women had been sterilized, a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) study found that the average sterilization rate of 18 per cent showed that over 60 per cent of women with HIV were sterilized at the point of giving birth.  It could be that pregnant women were being pressurized to be sterilized.

There was no space created by the State for indigenous women to discuss issues facing them, a speaker said, in answer to questions about indigenous women’s attitudes to cultural issues such as female genital mutilation and sexual violence.  The speaker said that within their communities they worked on awareness-raising of cultural issues, and used their own congresses and negotiating proceedings.  Sexual violence was used as a strategy to fill indigenous communities with fear and make them afraid to speak out.  A woman leader for the indigenous communities, who spoke out on human rights issues, suffered when her husband was murdered. 

An indigenous woman said that her people did not want to continue patriarchal cultures, particularly when it came to their own bodies.  Although the State had implemented some programmes, there was no point having a one-year programme when indigenous women carried wounds – including those inflicted on their own bodies – for generations.  Indigenous women in Colombia faced a situation where they truly faced extermination, particularly by the armed conflict.  That their bodies were being raped meant their communities were being wiped out.  While female genital mutilation was a very important issue, it was on the back-burner compared to the daily realities of life in Colombia, when the priority of indigenous women was simply to stay alive.  The Government must set out appropriate budgets and action plans to enable indigenous women to stop such degrading practices. 

Statements on Benin

Association des Femmes Juristes du Bénin, on behalf of six non-governmental organizations and networks, spoke about discrimination and the incorporation of the principles of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on domestic law.  The word ‘discrimination’ was not defined as such in law, and while other laws incorporated the Convention, they were not very well known.  Gender mainstreaming in policies and programmes was not a reality.  Turning to women’s role in decision making and public life, the representative said there was a paradox between measures taken under the Convention and what happened in practice.  Nine out of 83 Members of Parliament were women, one of 77 Mayors was a woman, and only one High Court Judge was a woman.  Domestic violence was a serious issue, with 69 per cent of women in Benin saying they had suffered from it.  Men widely considered women to be inferior, and despite a new law against domestic violence, it continued, partly due to a lack of free legal aid, of centres for victims, of dissemination of laws and of education of the police and judiciary. 

Benenese Network of Associations of People Living with HIV said there was a generalized epidemic in Benin.  Since 2002 the prevalence of HIV AIDS, as measured by the network system of non-governmental organizations, showed that in 2006 the prevalence of infection through the population was 1.2 per cent: for men it was 0.8 per cent while for women it was 1.5 per cent, almost twice the infection rate of men.  Women living with HIV faced wide discrimination and stigmatization.  The new decree on HIV AIDS was supposed to take into account gender issues but had still not been voted on by the Parliament, and nor had the revised law on HIV been accepted by Parliament.

Questions for Non-governmental Organizations from Benin

In ensuing questions, a Committee Expert asked for more information on the situation of rural women in Benin, as they made up the majority of women in Benin.  Another Expert asked about State subsidies of certain medicines such as anti-retroviral drugs, and whether it was United Nations donors or the State providing the subsidies.  The Expert also asked about the new decree on HIV AIDS, and about political quotas for women. 

Response to Questions

Rural women frequently faced early and forced marriage.  They worked in agriculture and processing of crops; agriculture was by no means completely mechanized in Benin, and those women often lived in poverty.  Women in Benin had no access to land, and could not even inherit land bequeathed to them by their parents.  They had to rent land in order to farm it. 

Regarding subsidies for medicines, generally it was technical and funding partners who provided that money, the Government only provided a tiny amount.  Regarding the law, a decree came from it that was supposed to set up a fund to help people living with HIV pay for treatment, medicines and essential bills.  However, that decree had not been enacted.  The revised law on HIV provided for gender-mainstreaming and empowerment activities for women, and also dealt with HIV in prisons. 

A speaker said that, regarding political quotas, a bill to oblige political parties to include women representatives had been drafted but the bill had been shelved.  There were very few women in decision-making positions, and those women had to fight to get the positions.  Non-governmental organizations continued to lobby to have that draft bill put before the Parliament again. 

Another speaker said female genital mutilation was a degrading practice, and a 2003 law sanctioned the practice.  It used to take place in public ceremonies, but it now continued as a hidden and secret practice, taking place in the bush.  There had been a great regression in the issue. 

Statement on Andorra

The Advocates for Human Rights said it believed Andorra could do much more in promoting the human rights of women through its website and social media connections.  As the United Nations said in a report launched last week, access to the internet was an important empowerment tool for women.  There was very little human rights information available on the official Andorran Government websites, and little information on Andorra’s treaty obligations.  The Geneva Permanent Mission website had a table listing multilateral treaties to which Andorra was a party, but it was only a long list without further information.  Turning to the report of Andorra, although in it the Government claimed it had made the widest possible dissemination of local-language versions of the Convention and related documents, no copies could be found.  Andorra had some of the most advanced internet technologies in the world, with 86 per cent of the population online and 74 per cent with mobile phone access, so Andorra should do more to promote human rights through its digital channels. 

The Committee’s concluding observations will be made available at http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/SessionDetails1.aspx?SessionID=812&Lang=en on Monday 21 October.

To learn more about the Committee on the Elimination of the Discrimination against Women, visit: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cedaw/

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