COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN CONSIDERS REPORT OF MAURITANIA
3 July 2014
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined second and third periodic reports of Mauritania on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Presenting the reports, Lemina Elghotob Ould Moma, Minister for Social Affairs, Children and Family, said that Mauritania spared no effort to strengthen the rule of law and democracy and had in place an institutional framework to improve the situation of women and to combat the scourges of slavery and poverty. Slavery and torture had been criminalized in 2013, while a Commission had been established to combat gender-based violence and female genital mutilation. Gender perspectives were integrated in national development strategies on fighting poverty, promoting women, and reproductive health, among others, and in April 2012, a bureau had been set up to speed up the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals related to reducing child mortality, improving maternal health and combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
Committee Members welcomed the lifting of Mauritania’s general reservation to the Convention, and progress in the political representation of women. Persistent harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation, early and forced marriage, polygamy and forced feeding were of great concern, as was the limited impact of the 2005 law criminalizing female genital mutilation on a girl child. Referring to the very small number of slavery cases brought before the courts, Experts stressed the crucial importance of combating impunity in order to eradicate this practice and raised concern about the slavery-like situation suffered by the Haratin women and women from other minority groups. Other issues included the definition of discrimination in the national legislation and the definition of rape in the draft law on violence against women, measures to fight trafficking in persons, and the low enrolment and retention rates for girls in primary education.
The delegation of Mauritania included representatives of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Children and Family, Ministry of Justice, Directorate of Human Rights and the Permanent Mission of Mauritania to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
Harouna Traore, Chargé d'Affaires in the Permanent Mission of Mauritania to the United Nations Office at Geneva, in his closing remarks acknowledged a certain inconsistency in the laws as well as the resistance of society to change, and reiterated the commitment to effective and consistent reform with the view to improve the lives of women on a daily basis.
Ms. Ould Moma, also in closing remarks, reiterated the commitment to change the mentalities, eliminate all the obstacles on the path of women and enable women to live their dreams.
Nicole Ameline, Committee Chairperson, in her concluding remarks noted the priority Mauritania accorded to combating violence and discrimination and encouraged it to continue to look into lifting the remaining reservations to the Convention.
The Committee will reconvene on Friday, 4 July at 10 a.m. to consider the second periodic report of Syria (CEDAW/C/SYR/2).
The combined second and third periodic reports of Mauritania can be read here: CEDAW/C/MRT/2-3.
Presentation of the Report
LEMINA ELGHOTOB OULD MOMA, Minister for Social Affairs, Children and Family of Mauritania, introducing the reports, said that despite all the challenges, Mauritania had spared no effort to strengthen the rule of law and democracy. A National Independent Electoral Commission had been set up to ensure that the 2013 legislative, municipal and presidential elections were free and transparent. Women represented 50.7 per cent of the population; seven out of 30 ministers were women, and women held the posts of the Commissioner for Human Rights and Humanitarian Action, the President of the National Human Rights Commission and the Permanent Representative to the United Nations Office at Geneva. The institutional framework aimed to improve the situation of women and to combat the scourges of slavery and poverty. Mauritania was ready to criminalize all practices that undermined the human rights of women: it had amended the Constitution to ensure the principle of equality between women and men and in 2013 had criminalized slavery and torture as crimes against humanity. With regard to gender-based violence, Mauritania had set up a Commission to combat this scourge, including female genital mutilation and an observatory to coordinate the work of non-governmental organizations engaged on those issues. Local and regional offices had been set up to promote family negotiations and the importance of family relations in order to fight gender-based violence. Gender perspectives were integrated in national development strategies such as those to combat poverty, promote women, and develop the private sector, reproductive health, and the fight against corruption, among others.
Media channels were being used to actively inform the population of the laws and initiatives for women and raise awareness about the rights of women, children and youth. Legislation on discrimination against women was in place, and Mauritania observed norms of Islamic law to protect the dignity of women; sexual tourism, paedophilia, pornography and other crimes were severely punished. The Government’s efforts also aimed to ensure access to health care; maternal mortality rates were 626 deaths for 100,000 live births, and 77 per cent of births were medically assisted in 2013. In April 2012, a bureau had been set up to speed up the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals related to reducing child mortality, improving maternal health and combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. Mauritania had taken significant steps which had allowed it to shoulder its various responsibilities, particularly in the areas of combating poverty and improving infrastructure and economic growth; improving access of women and girls to education, health and employment; and in developing institutions to ensure cohesion, stability and security. Mauritania had lifted the general reservation to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and replaced it with a specific reservation to Article 13 paragraph (a) and Article 16 of the Convention.
Questions from the Experts
A Committee Expert expressed satisfaction to see that Mauritania had implemented its recommendations to lift the general reservation and asked about the status of other recommendations and concluding observations related to the adoption of the law to prohibit harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation, forced marriages, polygamy, forced feeding and others; introduction in the legislation of the definition of discrimination based on Article 1 and 2 of the Convention; and whether Mauritania intended to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention.
Another Expert asked about the national machinery for the advancement of women and whether mandates and responsibilities had been clarified and adequate human and financial resources provided, including for the Ministry of Social Welfare, Children and Family. The Expert also inquired about the specific responsibilities and coordination between all ministries in the work for women and asked the delegation whether there were plans to establish a Ministry dedicated to women and also to provide further information about the draft national gender policy.
The Chairperson took up the issue of access to justice, and inquired about harmonization between customary and national law, and how Mauritania ensured that all women were reached.
Responses by the Delegation
Regarding the prohibition of harmful traditional practices, the delegation said that until 2004, violence against women had been a taboo, but since 2007, significant progress in this area had been made. Several measures had been taken including developing standard operating procedures and the setting up of the National Programme for female genital mutilation, which favoured the voluntary abandonment of this practice by communities, rather than its criminalization. The National Action Plan to combat all Forms of Violence 2014-2018 was in place, under which the global strategy to combat all forms of violence, including female genital mutilation, would be developed. Religion was perceived as the main cause of female genital mutilation and a religious fatwa had been developed by religious leaders to this end to stop it. Article 12 of the Order 2005 provided for sanctions for the practice of female genital mutilation, and the framework law on all forms of violence was being elaborated, and would include prevention, followed by sanctions if prevention was not sufficient, and finally the care for victims and the prosecution of perpetrators; the draft law should be adopted by the end of 2014.
The Ministry of Social Affairs, Children and Family as a whole was responsible for women’s issues, and the delegation did not see the need for the establishment of a Ministry dedicated specifically for women. The Ministry was in charge of coordinating all the ministries working on the promotion of the rights of women; its budget had been increased five-fold since 2007. A strategy to institutionalize gender issues, to be adopted this year, proposed the creation of a range of mechanisms, including the National Council for Gender chaired by the Prime Minister, while a gender database was already in place. Women were the pillar of the family and the lynchpin of the society; all issues related to women needed to be brought together under the auspices of one department to allow that they were dealt with in a comprehensive manner.
The draft law on discrimination was based on the National Action Plan for combating all forms of discrimination including discrimination against women. Mauritania had used the relevant articles of the Convention in crafting its definition of discrimination. Access to justice for all was an absolute priority and that was why Mauritania had developed locally-based traditional mechanisms of access to justice. Official legal aid and pro bono schemes were available to ensure access to justice for women and the rural poor.
Mauritania was committed to a policy of the promotion and protection of women’s rights and the ratification of several treaties and the lifting of the general reservation was an evidence of that commitment. The law in Mauritania comprised of personal status laws and positive laws, and there were no discriminatory provisions against women contained therein. It was a monist legal system and the dispositions of the Convention prevailed upon the national law. Mauritania would examine the possibility of ratifying the Optional Protocol.
Questions from the Experts
The Committee had made many recommendations to Mauritania in 2007 concerning temporary special measures, and the Expert noted the positive impact they had on the situation of women in this country, and particularly their representation in political and public life which could give a fresh impetus to the efforts to improve the rights of women. Positive actions taken in the framework of temporary measures should in fact become policies to alter the view of society on the rights of women and foster political change.
Concerning the comprehensive draft law on violence against women, an Expert noted that currently rape was not defined by the law which made it difficult to punish perpetrators and rapes were often amicably settled between families. The delegation was asked to inform the Committee on the status of the new draft and the timetable for its adoption, how it defined rape, about measures to encourage women to report violence, and about capacity building of law enforcement officers on the provisions of the law. The 2005 law criminalized female genital mutilation on a girl child, but not all circumstances of the practice were included: only female genital mutilation that resulted in harm to the girl child was criminalized. How did the draft law on female genital mutilation deal with practitioners of female genital mutilation? What preventive measures had been taken to address forced feeding?
As far as slavery was concerned, an Expert noted the low number of cases that had been brought to the court and stressed the importance of combating impunity in order to eradicate this practice. The Expert also asked the delegation to comment on the planned overhaul of the 2003 act which was supposed to criminalize and sanction forced labour, and noting that Mauritania was the regional hub for trafficking in persons, stressed the importance of working with others and the development of a national strategy plan to combat this phenomenon.
Another Expert took up the issue of prostitution and noted that prevention strategies did not work. No woman voluntarily became a prostitute, stressed the Expert and noted that 78 percent on women in Mauritania worked without being paid; further, prostitution was also deeply connected with the patriarchal ideology which placed women in the position of submission to men. Did the Government intend to decriminalize prostitution, which did not mean its legislation, and help women from becoming prostitutes?
Responses by the Delegation
It was true that Article 9 of the Criminal Code did not define rape, but it did provide sanctions for rape; being an Islamic country, Islamic law was very clear on that rape was a sexual relation without consent and was imposed on the victim. Depending on the evidence provided, the public prosecutor decided whether a rape had taken place. The draft bill was the result of an exchange among all stakeholders, human rights defenders and women non-governmental organizations, and it included a definition of rape and its different forms. Concerning female genital mutilation, a member of the delegation said that Article 12 stated that any attack or attempt to attack a girl child, which also included a harmful practice, were prohibited; the second part of the article 12 on resulting harm was connected to damages and compensation provided to the victim.
Islamic law punished all attacks on the dignity and integrity of a human being and it was impossible to ignore prostitution; women could be considered victims and the law targeted pimps and people who gained a living from this form of exploitation. Prostitution was a crime in itself and carried a sanction of six months to five years imprisonment; pimps fell under a different category of crime which carried a sentence of five years up to life imprisonment.
The 2003 law criminalized trafficking in persons, further aggravated if women or children were involved. Trafficking in persons was just the tip of the iceberg of transnational organized crime which was also involved in arms trafficking, irregular migration, and others. Mauritania also had in place a National Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Persons.
Forced feeding was a traditional practice inherited from the past, and it was no longer practiced even in rural areas because everyone wished to be thin, svelte and elegant. Several campaigns had been undertaken to combat this and the practice of female genital mutilation.
Slavery was outlawed as a crime against humanity which carried extremely harsh sanctions. No efforts were spared to eradicate it, including through the creation of dedicated courts, and adoption of the 2012 instrument to clamp down on domestic work by girls and young women.
The head of the delegation stressed that the status of women in Mauritania was different from the region: women had access to services and employment, including in the army, and women were not submissive to men. Women had a sacred status and were not discriminated against in access to employment or in wages.
Questions from the Experts
Political participation of women was one area where Mauritania had made important progress and more women were postulating over and above the number of quotas. Mauritania should start thinking about making further progress in the public administration and in the judiciary, and also to apply the success to other areas as well. Was there discrimination against women in the law on nationality and what measures were being taken to remove obstacles to nationality? The Committee also inquired about refugees and the number of women who applied for nationality.
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation noted that 30 per cent of seats in parliament were held by women, 21 per cent in the National Assembly, and in the ministries Mauritania went above and over the 30 per cent quota. There was a need to increase the number of women ministers and the representation of women in the justice system.
The nationality legislation had been adopted in the 1960s and contained a certain number of measures, including the prohibition of dual nationality. Nationality was awarded to a foreign woman married to a Mauritanian man after residing in the country for five years, and to foreigners who resided in the country for over 10 years; since 2010 it was possible for naturalized Mauritanians to keep their nationality at birth.
The rules of nationality and naturalization had been reviewed during the registration of the population which had been conducted for security purposes; the delegation clarified that children of Mauritanian mothers and foreign or stateless fathers could, at the age of 18, decide whether they wanted the nationality. At the end of 2013, some 74,000 Malian refugees had crossed the border, most of whom were women and children; to date, no refugee had been deported. The Government had met their basic needs such as water, health and sanitation, while most refugees had been registered using biometric methods.
Questions from the Experts
Only 39 per cent of girls were enrolled in primary education and only half of women and girls aged 15 and above were literate; retention rates for both girls and boys in primary education were low, mainly because of the quality of education and the lack of adequate and separate water and sanitation facilities. Experts asked about precise measures being taken to combat those challenges, about measures to ensure that lack of registration did not keep children out of school and to enforce the law on early marriage; they also asked about the uptake of girls in vocational education. Only 12.4 per cent of economically active women were employed, which indicated the need for a national training and education strategy linked to the labour market.
With maternal mortality rates at 686 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2007 and persistent high child mortality, Mauritania was far from achieving the Millennium Development Goal N°5; what specific measures were in place to further address persistent maternal mortality, high incidence of fistula cases, and the lack of access to basic health services, especially in rural areas and for women of non-Arabic origin? What was the impact of the national HIV/AIDS strategic plan and what was the state of abortion in the country?
Responses by the Delegation
As far as education was concerned, Mauritania was committed to guaranteeing the right to education, which was evident in the 2001 Act guaranteeing six years of primary education, and the existence of a national strategy of education which was based on improving the quality and relevance of education, improving governance in the sector and increasing the education budget to up to 15 per cent of the national budget. Other measures included teacher training programmes, school canteens and scholarship programmes. Because of the historic context, the representation of women in employment was lower than men, but it was important to note the preponderant role of the informal sector in society, in which many women were engaged.
There was no discrimination in access to health care or education and this principle of non-discrimination was enshrined in the Constitution; Islam was used as an inspiration and it promoted equality for all. Education was open to all and there was nothing that prevented a parent from enrolling their children. There were four main areas in the poverty reduction papers: growth, developing human resources, improving governance and capacity building.
With regard to maternal mortality, the delegation corrected the rate quoted by the Committee and said that in 2012, it stood at 626 deaths per 100,000 live births. A number of steps had been taken, including the increase in the health budget from 3.9 per cent of the national budget in 2012 to 4.4 per cent in 2013; the Presidential Initiative on acceleration of achievement of the Millennium Development Goals related to maternal and child mortality; a roadmap to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality; development and implementation of three national strategies on reproductive health; specialist obstetric and paediatric training; and subsidies for prenatal and post-natal consultations and delivery.
In terms of the Millennium Development Goal on infant and child mortality, Mauritania had in place an early childhood survival programme; it had increased resources dedicated to the implementation of this goal and also introduced the integrated management of childhood diseases at all levels, including the home and family. The National Commission to Combat HIV/AIDS was in place and had activities in key areas such as case finding, awareness raising, provision of anti-retroviral, and prevention of transmission from mother to child; prevalence rates were rather low.
Questions from the Experts
Experts raised questions concerning the access of women to microcredit, and the participation of women in cultural life and in sports; they stressed that all issues raised so far affected rural women to a greater extent. The situation of Haratin women was of concern because of the slavery-like situation they found themselves in, as was the situation of other women from minority groups.
The delegation was further asked to comment on the withdrawal of the general reservation and the promulgation of family law to ensure equality in marriage and divorce that the Committee recommended during the previous review of Mauritania in 2007; on forced marriages and their link with slavery; and the compatibility of traditional practices with Islamic law. The Committee noted that 43 per cent of women married before the age of 18 and 19 per cent before the age of 15 and said that this pointed to the problems in the implementation of the law; equality was important not only in law but also in practice. There was no contradiction between Sharia and the rights of women and Mauritania was encouraged to look into best practice from other Islamic countries.
Response by the Delegation
Women enjoyed equal treatment by banks and equal access to various microcredit schemes, some of which were even interest-free. Access to land and property was enshrined in laws without distinction and discrimination based on sex. The Haratin women were not in formal employment but were remunerated in kind, while other minority women had equal access to land rights.
The family was protected by the State as a fundamental unit of Mauritanian society. The Code of Personal Status, which had undergone a 10-year evaluation in 2012, set the age of marriage at 18, and girls who were married early could ask for dissolution of the marriage, payment of damages and sanction for the offender. Married women had the right to their property and the right to freedom of movement, to education and to employment. There was a need to develop an implementation mechanism for the Code of Personal Status. With regard to the general reservation, the delegation stressed the need to move gradually to equality and to raise awareness that advancing the right of women was beneficial for the whole society.
The head of delegation corrected the figure on early marriages and said that in 2011, 16 per cent of girls married before the age of 18 and five per cent before the age of 15.
HAROUNA TRAORE, Chargé d'Affaires, Permanent Mission of Mauritania to the United Nations Office at Geneva, in his closing remarks thanked the Committee for their kind cooperation and said that this exercise had made it possible to highlight the progress made since the last review, and also outline the way forward. Mauritania had adopted several measures to eliminate discrimination against women which had made it possible to significantly improve the situation of women and ensure the equality of genders. Mr. Traore acknowledged a certain inconsistency in laws and the resistance of society to change, and reiterated the commitment to effective and consistent reform with the view to improve the lives of women on a daily basis. Mauritania was looking forward to receiving technical assistance and cooperation for the implementation of the forthcoming recommendations by the Committee.
LEMINA ELGHOTOB OULD MOMA, Minister for Social Affairs, Children and Family of Mauritania, in her closing remarks thanked the Committee and reiterated the commitment of Mauritania to change the mentality, eliminate all the obstacles on the path of women and enable them to live their dreams.
NICOLE AMELINE, Committee Chairperson, in her concluding remarks, thanked the delegation for all the information provided throughout the day and the efforts made to answer the Experts’ questions and noted the priority Mauritania accorded to combating violence and discrimination. Mauritania should continue to look into lifting the remaining reservations to the Convention.
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