COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN CONSIDERS REPORT OF THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
12 July 2013
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined sixth and seventh periodic report of the Dominican Republic on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Introducing the report, Alejandrina German, Minister for Women of the Dominican Republic, said economic growth had prompted high-impact programmes on poverty reduction, and this had impacted on women’s lives. Illiteracy rates had fallen and women were represented politically and in the judiciary. Steps and programmes were in place to educate and legislate against domestic violence and the Criminal Code recognised feminicide as a crime. Guidelines had been created for prosecuting violent acts against women. Tackling illiteracy was a national priority. A number of programmes tackled teenage pregnancy through education and the provision of health services. Abortion was legal for therapeutic purposes. Social security provision was universal and systems were in place to ensure persons with disabilities enjoyed their rights. Women were offered support through micro-credit. Better coordination was needed to deal with future challenges, laws needed to be harmonised with the constitution and a budget was needed across government ministries to implement gender policies.
Committee Experts raised several issues of concern, including the right of birth registration for the children of female aliens, outlining concerns about the availability of documents and the impact this might have for such children on their access to education. The situation of Haitian women was also noted regularly, where Experts asked about their access to health and education. It was further noted that the State party was a key departure country for victims of trafficking and the provisions for victims of this crime were questioned. The measures in place for tackling and dealing with the high number of teenage pregnancies were also discussed. More information was asked about whether lawyers were trained and educated about the provisions of the Convention. How was multiple discrimination addressed, like that suffered by black Haitian women? Was legal aid available to women?
In concluding remarks, Ms. German said the process of coming before the Committee enriched the work of the Dominican Republic in facing its challenges. Gender equity and equality had a cultural and education aspect, and like many countries the Dominican Republic based its policy on the views of the public. The work of the Ministry for Women was ongoing and tireless in building attitudes, values and beliefs that translated into the experience of citizens on the ground.
Also in concluding remarks, Nicole Ameline, Committee Chairperson, thanked the State party for its efforts and answers and encouraged it to take all measures to address the concerns of the Committee.
The delegation of the Dominican Republic included representatives of the Ministry for Women, the Central Election Board, the Deputy Prosecutor for Women, the Ministry of Economy, Planning and Development, the Cabinet of Social Policy of the Vice-President and the Permanent Mission of the Dominican Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public on Monday, 15 July, at 3 p.m., for an informal meeting with non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions from Cape Verde, the United Kingdom, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, whose reports are to be considered next week.
Report of the Dominican Republic
The combined sixth and seventh periodic report of the Dominican Republic is available here (CEDAW/C/DOM/6-7).
Presentation of the Report
ALEJANDRINA GERMAN, Minister for Women of the Dominican Republic, said economic growth in the country had had an impact on poverty reduction and poverty inequality. Given the context of the global economic crisis, high-impact programmes had been created for the most vulnerable parts of the community, including women. The illiteracy rate had fallen. Differences between access to education for men and women were disappearing. Women were represented at high levels. Discussions were ongoing about political parity. The number of female judges had increased and half of the country’s civil servants were women, though only 15 per cent were in management positions.
Efforts had been made to combat domestic violence. A project was running which helped women and families to overcome the damage created by violence, and promoted non-aggressive masculinity. Another project supported micro-enterprises by providing support to single mothers and entrepreneurs by offering credit. A project provided comprehensive care for young children to promote economic empowerment for women. The school day in rural areas was now eight hours long. A law which sanctioned violence against women had been rescinded and the Penal Code now offered sentencing for feminicide. State bodies were carrying out activities to combat violence, including a free helpline for women whose lives were being threatened. In 2012, 388 persons who were in imminent danger of violent death were cared for by refuges. Guidelines had been created by the public prosecutor to deal with such cases and software had been created to register complaints. The national commission to prevent or combat interfamilial violence had been created as a result of the UNIT campaign against violence. A policy had been adopted whereby students spent 60 hours of study on social issues to tackle violence and teenage pregnancy. On combating trafficking, over 100 victims had been rescued and a safe house had been set up, there was a complaints phone line and a funding programme for survivors. The first conviction had been handed down for trafficking.
On education, the elimination of illiteracy was a main national priority, with 4 per cent of GDP being spent on pre-university education. Adult literacy was also addressed. Efforts were made to ensure that women with disabilities could enjoy their rights. Maternity provisions were in place, as were breastfeeding benefits. Primary health units had been created to address maternal and child health issues, though they were for the benefit of the entire population. A national plan was in place to prevent teenage pregnancy. Abortion was decriminalised when the life of the pregnant woman was threatened, though not yet in cases of incest and rape. Women entrepreneurs were supported by a special unit and women were encouraged into non-traditional roles. A road map was in place to try and rid the country of child labour. There was universal coverage in social security.
Many challenges remained ahead and coordination between actors was needed, scaling up efforts to ensure that the concept of equality was widely understood. Laws needed to be harmonised with the constitution. Inter-institutional coordination was needed to implement gender policies. Strengthening the reproductive policies was also needed, and education on this needed to be improved. Rights that had been acquired needed to be confirmed in the Labour Code. There was also an issue of budget to ensure that gender equality policies in all ministries could be implemented.
Questions by Experts
An Expert asked to what extent the constitution was implemented. How was knowledge of the rights enshrined in the constitution communicated to the people, particularly the security forces? Was the Convention ever cited in national court proceedings? Was information on the Optional Protocol disseminated? How were the children of illegally resident women being dealt with in terms of nationality and registration? How many people were working on the gender mainstreaming strategy? What steps were being taken to hasten the decriminalisation of abortion?
Response by the Delegation
A member of the delegation said that as the constitution of the Dominican Republic was new it was not yet well disseminated and understood. Many actors were involved in the process of changing the abortion laws, though it was difficult because as a society the Dominican Republic was heavily influenced by churches. However, therapeutic abortion was now legal. The next piece of work on this was to bring the Senate onside to support the decision of the lower house.
There was a bill being debated on putting mandatory quotas in place to ensure that women were placed on lists for political and municipal positions.
Dominican nationality could not be given to persons in transit according to Dominican law, though it was possible to register the birth of their children to ensure that statelessness did not occur. Stress was placed throughout the constitution on the rights of women, mentioning the right to employment, and issues linked to maternity and the protection of the family. The country had been undergoing a major reform process of its internal machinery and was adopting strategies to make constitutional principles complete. All plans and policies should mainstream gender. Significant training courses had taken place so that government staff could do this with the policies they implemented. Work was being undertaken to look at the indicators of gender equality to discover what work needed to be done to improve provisions.
It was necessary to set up a package of protected programmes within the Ministry of Women, though some policies were run by other ministries so they did not sit just under that Ministry’s budget heading. Efforts had been made to increase social expenditure, such as in education and social security, despite the low level of taxation in the country. Budgetary restructuring was being considered to look at which resources were allocated to women’s rights across the entire public administration. Work had been carried out with civil society, as well as different levels of government and the judiciary to implement the gender strategy, and monitoring and follow-up was being coordinated by the Ministry for Women.
Questions by Experts
An Expert asked if the recommendations of the Committee went to Parliament for their consideration. What was the relationship between non-governmental organizations and the other Ministries dealing with gender equality issues? Were remedies provided in law for the Convention? Was there education for lawyers on the Convention? Was there a strategy to address the multiple discrimination suffered by black and Haitian women? Was equity considered a compliment, but not a replacement, for equality? How was it ensured that all persons could practice their religion freely without it being an impediment to their rights under the Constitution? Was legal aid available for women?
Response by the Delegation
The delegation said that red tape in the legal structure was a problem, and it was an issue that needed to be addressed so that people did not drop out of pushing for conviction. There was a department for legal assistance for victims and witnesses, and this was provided free-of-charge. The law schools did include gender as a cross-cutting issue in their training, as well as forensic doctors and other professionals. A unit had been created at the government level to target discrimination. The relationship with non-governmental organizations was truly commendable. There was a fund for assistance for victims of trafficking. The Ministry for Women had set out coordinated actions to move forward on actions with large institutions and civil society on health care and sexual health. A body had been created to work on the issue of combating violence which worked hand-in-hand with civil society. Efforts were being made to improve the school curriculum on women’s rights. Solidarity and joint work between women from the Dominican Republic and Haiti had been carried out to drive forward equality in both countries. In the last year a series of mechanisms had been created which used information communication technology to ensure people could have fast access to information and advice. Increasing the rate of complaints dealt with in the judicial system and its general effectiveness had also received attention. The Dominican Republic was moving towards equality, and it was thought that equity went hand in hand with this. The church would continue to play a role in society, though it would eventually find its own niche as the country settled into a secular way of life. A team of lawyers from the Ministry of Women could support women that were victims of violence.
Questions from the Experts
An Expert asked again about measures taken against multiple discrimination. Despite frameworks put in place and high levels of education, women’s participation in politics was still low. The Ministry for Women was fighting to ensure that the 2001 Criminal Code was not passed into law, what likelihood was there that this matter would not be subject to setbacks? What proportion of complaints that reached the judiciary were specifically connected to violations of women’s rights? Were there any analytical studies that used a gender perspective on cases that had come to the courts? Women in the Dominican Republic were regularly trafficked for sexual exploitation, and women came into the country from Haiti for similar purposes. What were the outcomes of the national plan on human trafficking? Had steps such as campaigns in schools and the media taken place? What support was available for victims of trafficking? Was prostitution illegal? What measures were in place to assist sex workers?
Response by the Delegation
A member of the delegation said the Prosecution Service had patterns of procedure to support women so that they did not drop their cases. All members of staff that formed part of the chain of care for victims were trained in an ongoing manner to ensure that women were not revictimised. Procuring sex was a crime. There was a special unit to tackle trafficking. The Electoral Board was aware of the fact that there were real difficulties in getting women to stand for election. A plan to think about this situation had been adopted, bringing in all actors to create a culture of inclusiveness. The training school of the election board needed to play a role in closing the gap between the number of male and female election candidates. There was no state policy of discrimination against any group. The Ministry of Women had 52 offices across the country, and each had a focal point for trafficking. Victims received psychological support. An inter-institutional committee also looked at trafficking. Trafficking was a key issue for the country and it was trying to tackle the root causes through education. Victims were brought into programmes which gave them the chance to be self-employed. The Criminal Code had been adopted by the lower house and much lobbying was being done to support its passage through the upper house. The approach to prostitution was zero tolerance.
Questions from the Experts
An Expert asked if there was a legal system to ensure that women who suffered a violation of their civil rights could get legal assistance. Were judges and lawyers well trained on the rights of women? Again, were there analytical studies of cases brought to court? How many shelters for trafficked women were there in the country? Evidence had been offered that Haitian women were subject to discrimination, what measures were being undertaken to prevent this?
Response by the Delegation
In response to these questions and comments and others, the delegation said there was a system of free legal aid in place. Cross-cutting training on gender issues in the police force and judges was being completed. An analysis had been completed to look at whether judgments handed down considered gender issues. The issue of violence against women was one of citizen safety. Feminicide and the homicide of women were considered as two different crimes under law. A manual had been drafted on training for the judiciary to allow staff to have a clear understanding of the gender-based perspective. A national strategy to combat HIV/AIDS had been created. Measures had been taken to offer training to actors in the tourism sector to eliminate sex tourism. Two safe houses had been created to support victims of trafficking, and there were 17 care units where complaints could be made and social support accessed. Social and cultural issues underlay issues of violence against women, and campaigns were in place to let women know they could complain and get help. For issues related to the situation of Haitian women, girls were allowed to attend school and registration of births was possible. Investment had been put in place to help Haitian children to get documentation to continue their education. Regardless of whether a woman could provide identity documents she could still give birth in Dominican Republic hospitals. Postnatal care was free to all. Services were given to foreign citizens, often Haitian, on a regular basis.
Questions from the Experts
An Expert asked if measures were being taken to increase the number of women in managerial posts in public services. Had the system of the placement of women as vice-mayors cut their decision-making capacity? Which Committees did female members of Congress participate in? What role did women have in the diplomatic service? There was clearly an issue for some people in obtaining registration and documentation, what steps were being taken to resolve the situation for descendents of Haitians? How many people would be covered by the special condition allowing regularisation? Would this process bring a final solution to the problem?
Response by the Delegation
The delegation said the 33 per cent requirement laid out in the law for municipal elections had been respected and representation was increasing accordingly. It was easier for men to garner votes, and they had more resources than women so better measures were needed to improve female participation. The President of the Republic appointed members of the diplomatic corps and he had previously shown his dedication to appointing women to high-levels, such as the current Vice-President. Women were at the head of six parliamentary committees.
A circular had been issued saying that birth registrations should be freely accepted, from citizens or otherwise, until the status of the person was properly decided. A proposal had been made by the President to cooperate with Haiti and provide support to Haitian nationals living in the Dominican Republic. There was also a national plan for regularisation to cover those women that had come to the country for specific reasons, such as having children. Progress had been made on political representation, and research by the Ministry of Women looked to how women could be more engaged. Elections themselves were not enough to guarantee the rights of women and training in the Congress had had an impact in this. Women had served as Vice-President to two committees. Efforts needed to be made in better parity in political parties.
Regularisation would cover all persons in an irregular situation in the Dominican Republic. This plan would entail carrying out a census of all foreigners and setting out the conditions such persons would need to meet. The Central Electoral Board had a proceeding where cases of people in an irregular situation were put before them to decide if they should be considered regular. There was a problem though, Haitians often arrived with no documentation, and this meant they could not register their children. There was a need for a strategic plan to tackle this issue.
Questions from the Experts
An Expert asked what measures were being put in place to stop girls from dropping out of school. Was there provision for the teaching of sexual and reproductive rights in education? What were the specific figures on how many Haitian girls dropped out of school? What measures were put in place to ensure children with disabilities enjoyed education? Could steps be taken to move women towards studying science and technology, where their participation was currently low? What was the situation with regard to the attendance of pregnant girls, were they expelled? Could specific information on the gender mainstreaming tool used in curriculum be provided? Were new materials decreasing the transmission of stereotypes? How was training changing the behaviour of teachers in the classroom?
The Dominican labour market was still affected by inequality. What was being done to encourage women into employment? The principle of equal work for equal value was not respected. The programme for social security did not cover domestic workers. Women without proper documentation were allowed to access healthcare, though problems were reported. What was the true situation in regard to this? It had been reported that there were issues in the prevention of vertical transmission of HIV (mother to child) due to a lack of treatment. Also, it had been notified to the Committee that women with HIV were sterilised after birth. What was being done about these situations? Lesbian and transgender women were also reported to be discriminated against, in particular in the provision of health services, was this the case? With what frequency were sex education lessons given? Could more details on the programmes delivered be given? What measures had been taken to look at the kind of work women did?
An Expert asked if women were able to easily access condoms and birth control pills. Were children of HIV-positive mothers expelled from schools? Which groups of girls were not in school?
Response by the Delegation
The delegation said there were four levels of education. Research recently carried out showed that the school dropout rate for girls was less than that of boys. There was parity in the numbers of boys and girls that dropped out in the initial and basic levels. Women were in the majority in terms of university enrolment, a fact mirrored in the technical schools. There had been a rise in women in non-traditional jobs as a result. The budget allowed for four per cent of GDP to be spent on pre-university education. Policies were in place to discourage people from dropping out of schools and to raise the effectiveness of schools. An online baccalaureate was available. Children with disabilities benefitted from 120 teachers, and centres for diversity had been created to cater for children with special needs.
In terms of catering to get women back into employment, jobs had been created for women, though the number of women choosing to join the labour force was greater than the number of posts available. Anti-retrovirals were given to HIV positive women and replacement milk could be given to those unable to breastfeed. There was a system of voluntary sterilisation and for a long time this was the best method of contraception available. This situation had improved and women had better options available to them. No cases of forced sterilisation had been reported. Women were asked for their nationality when giving birth, though this was not a barrier to them receiving care or to create profiles of alien women.
The constitution of the State party recognised that all situations impeding the dignity of Dominicans should be prohibited. A human rights body had been created to follow up on infringements of the rights of all persons, including members of the lesbian, bisexual, gay or transgender community. The State party had committed to a road map for the eradication of child labour. It was hoped that the system for social security cover would soon allow domestic workers to join the contribution-based system. Currently provision was made for such workers through a subsidised system.
Statistics from the Dominican Republic showed women taking employment in less traditional sectors. Education was being delivered in schools in the provinces about teenage pregnancy. There was also a system of teen educators to raise awareness among their peers. It was true that women had less access to employment, though funding for women to operate micro-enterprises was one way of getting women into the formal sector. The curriculum in force in Dominican schools included gender education at all levels of the education system. Teachers were taught to indentify attitudes that were discriminatory to women. A fast-track system of education, which could be delivered by distance or part time, was available for adults.
Children of HIV-positive mothers were not expelled from school, and neither were pregnant teenagers. However, stigma in the family might mean girls were removed from their studies, or it could be the case that following pregnancy they are too old to rejoin their studies in their year group so they decided not to return. As noted, efforts were being made on increasing the scope of abortion. The country was in a good position in terms of the procurement of contraception, and many non-governmental organizations assisted in the distribution of these.
Questions from the Experts
An Expert said informal workers faced many challenges and no single programme could assist them. Could an answer be provided about the rules against sexual harassment? There was a large gap in land ownership between women and men. What were the main obstacles that blocked women’s land ownership? Poverty was an issue for female-headed households, which programmes specifically targeted these and other vulnerable women? What concrete measures were in place to eliminate violence against women in rural areas? What was the situation in regard to women’s access to micro-credit?
An Expert asked whether women could enjoy a fair share of the assets of the marriage after divorce or after the separation of a de facto relationship. Was it the case that there was a nine-month gap after divorce before the process was final? Was this the same for men? If there needed to be an announcement ahead of a marriage, under what circumstances could this lead to a situation where the marriage could not take place? Were there still hearings to allow members of the public to block marriages?
Response by the Delegation
In response to these questions and comments and others, the delegation said that 638,000 homes had received funding, and 66 per cent of these were female-headed households. There was a literacy programme which held women as its main focus, more classrooms were available in rural areas and a programme offered unconventional forms of micro-credit. The figures for the number of persons lifted out of poverty could be communicated separately. Women were given an equal share of land owned by families and produced most of the crops for sale at the market. The man might own the land but the women benefitted. Safe houses had been created for women at risk of violence. The new labour code would better encompass the requirements of the ILO Conventions to which the State party was party to.
Reforms had introduced arrangements to recognise de facto partnerships. The nine-month waiting period following divorce was an inheritance of the Napoleonic Code and society had moved on significantly since then. Women, however, were supposed to wait, though a dispensation could be given by a court.
The Land Institute looked at who was working the land and normally the person asking for the title received it. This was often the man so he received it. If a woman asked it could be given to her.
NICOLE AMELINE, Chairperson of the Committee, thanked the State party for its efforts and encouraged it to take all measures to address the concerns of the Committee.
ALEJANDRINA GERMAN, Minister for Women of the Dominican Republic, thanked Experts for their efforts. Any question that had not been answered could be answered in writing. The process of the Committee enriched the work of the Dominican Republic in the challenges it faced and how to overcome them. Gender equity and equality had a cultural and education aspect and like many countries the Dominican Republic worked with what was espoused by the public. The work of the Ministry for Women was ongoing and tireless to build attitudes, values and beliefs that were translated into what was experienced by citizens on the ground. A commitment had been made to continue moving in this direction.
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