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COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN REVIEWS THE SITUATION OF WOMEN IN RWANDA

23 February 2017

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined seventh to ninth periodic reports of Rwanda on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Esperance Nyirasafari, Minister of Gender and Family Promotion of Rwanda, introducing the reports, said that the Constitution attributed at least 30 per cent of posts in decision-making bodies to women and prohibited discrimination and propaganda on the basis of gender.  The political commitment to gender equality at the highest level was evidenced by the appointment of President Kagame as a Champion for the HeForSHe campaign.  Rwanda had adopted a gender-based violence policy, while a legal amendment to criminalize it was underway.  A mechanism to provide support to victims - Isange One Stop Centres - had been established in 28 district hospitals, with another 17 centres in the pipeline.  The health system had been strengthened, and as a result, the infant mortality rate had dropped from 107 to 32 per 1,000 live births and maternal mortality rates from 1,071 to 210 per 100,000 during the 2000 to 2015 period.  Various legislative measures had been taken to ensure the political representation of women.  Today, women held 64 per cent of the seats in Parliament, 41 per cent in the Council of Ministers, 46 per cent in the judiciary, and 50 per cent of provincial government seats.  Following the 2016 elections, the number of women mayors went up from 10 to 15 per cent, and deputy mayors from two to 20 per cent.

In the dialogue that followed, Experts commended the progress made in advancing full gender equality over the past several years and said that Rwanda was a model for others in the promotion of the political participation of women.  Experts welcomed the adoption of laws prohibiting discrimination against women and girls in various areas of life, but were concerned about the differential treatment of rape and marital rape in the penal code as this perpetuated negative stereotypes that existed in the society.  What was being done to counter negative traditions and patriarchal attitudes that perpetuated violence against women and girls, and to encourage reporting of violence against women, particularly in rural areas? 

Abortion was legal only in the case of rape, forced marriage, incest and risk to the mother’s life, but access to legal abortion was hampered by administrative barriers, namely the requirement to present a medical or judicial authorisation for abortion, which many women could not obtain in time.  Experts were also interested in hearing what steps Rwanda was taking to ensure accountability for alleged grave human rights violations committed on the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s soil in the 1990s, as recommended by the United Nations report, which Rwanda contested.

In her concluding remarks, Ms. Nyirasafari reiterated the strong commitment to promoting gender equality in Rwanda.

The delegation of Rwanda included representatives of the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, Ministry of Justice, and the Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the United Nations Office at Geneva.


The Committee will reconvene in public on Friday, 24 February, at 10 a.m., to consider the combined initial to third reports of Micronesia (CEDAW/C/FSM/1-3).

Reports

The combined seventh to ninth periodic reports of Rwanda can be read here:
CEDAW/C/RWA/7-9.

Presentation of the Reports

ESPERANCE NYIRASAFARI, Minister of Gender and Family Promotion of Rwanda, said that the principle of equality was enshrined in the Constitution of Rwanda; the Constitution attributed at least 30 per cent of posts in decision-making bodies to women and prohibited discrimination and propaganda on the basis of gender.  The current policy gave women an important role to play in all domains of life and the socio-economic development of the country, which was a reflection of the political will at the highest level.  It was not a surprise therefore that President Kagame had been appointed by United Nations Women as one of 10 Heads of State champions for the HeForSHe campaign which aimed to eliminate all obstacles to gender equality.

Gender-based discrimination was prohibited by a range of laws in all sectors of national life, including by the Constitution, the anti-discrimination law, laws governing family relations, and laws on marriage, divorce and inheritance.  An institutional framework for the coordination of all interventions to help families, mothers and women included the Ministry of Gender and Promotion of Family, which was responsible for drafting gender policy and strategy; the National Women Council which was a forum for women responsible for carrying advocacy for women’s rights and gender equality, mobilizing women and carrying out capacity building; and the Gender Monitoring Office, responsible for the follow up and the implementation of gender policies and ensuring that gender was mainstreamed in all areas of life and that obligations arising from regional and international treaties that Rwanda had ratified were strictly respected.  In addition, the national technical working group on gender aimed to support actions to promote gender equality; it was made up of State institutions working on gender issues, civil society organizations, and the private sector.

Rwanda had established free mandatory education up to the age of 12, and had put in place a number of measures to encourage the education of girls: it had built new schools bearing in mind the principle of proximity, built girls rooms, put in place school feeding programmes, and offered scholarships for the education of girls beyond mandatory education.  Rwanda had committed in 2007 to tripling the number of girls in professional and vocational training, and had effectively doubled the rate from 21 per cent in 2007 to 46 per cent in 2015.  A gender-based violence policy and a mechanism for helping victims known as Isange One Stop Centres had been established in district hospitals, which offered medical, social, psychological and legal help to the victims; 28 such centres were already operational, while an additional 17 were in the pipeline.  The amendment to the criminal code which would punish gender-based violence was underway.  Measures taken to strengthen the health system had resulted in the reduction of the birth rate from 6.1 children per woman in 2005 to 4.2 in 2015; between 2000 and 2015, the infant mortality rate had dropped from 107 per 1,000 live births to 32; and maternal mortality rates had declined from 1,071 per 100,000 to 210. 

Various legislative measures had been taken to ensure the political representation of women.  Today, women held 64 per cent of the seats in Parliament, 41 per cent in the Council of Ministers, 46 per cent in the judiciary, and 50 per cent of provincial government seats.  Following the 2016 elections, the number of women mayors went up from 10 to 15 per cent, and deputy mayors from two to 20 per cent.  The electoral law guaranteed a minimum 30 per cent quota for women in all elected positions.  In order to reduce women’s economic dependence and enable them to take part in public and political life, equal rights for women and men to land ownership were guaranteed in the law, and this facilitated access to loans and credits.  Rwanda was aware of challenges that remained, in particular negative patriarchal stereotypes; limited skills and competences of women to fully engage in the labour market and in particular in decision-making; and the insufficient engagement of men in the promotion of gender equality. 

Questions from the Experts

A Committee Expert commended the steps taken to adopt laws which promoted gender equality and removed discrimination against women and girls and asked about the
intention concerning the repeal of remaining discriminatory legal provisions.

The Expert was concerned that the 2015 constitutional amendment, which had placed the Convention in the third place in Rwandan legal order, had effectively weakened the application of the Convention in the country.

How many cases of discrimination had been brought to the court and how many sentences had there been since the anti-discrimination amendments to the penal code were implemented in 2012?  Was there a legal definition of discrimination against women, and if not, what definition was being used by judges in court cases?

Did Rwanda intend to revise its legal aid law to strengthen access to justice for women living in poverty?

What steps were being taken to investigate and ensure accountability for alleged grave human rights violations committed by the Rwandan National Patriotic Front on the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s soil in the 1990s, as recommended by the United Nations report, which Rwanda contested?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation affirmed that the 2016 law governing the family replaced the 1998 law, removed all discriminatory provisions it contained, and now guaranteed full gender equality as stipulated in the Constitution.

As for the place of the Convention in the domestic legal order, the delegation explained that it held the third place, after the Constitution and organic laws, and that this did not weaken the Convention in any way.

With regard to the criminalization of discrimination in the penal code, the Committee was informed that the prohibition covered all forms of discrimination.  The definition of discrimination existed in the law, and there had been judicial cases and sanctions rendered for discrimination, principally for ethnic discrimination, and there had been cases on discrimination based on gender.

The policy on legal aid ensured equal access for women and men to access justice and legal aid.  All those who did not have the means to access justice could apply for legal aid, and the priority was given to women and children.

With regard to human rights violations committed in the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including accusations of rape, the delegation said that the allegations were false.  There had been isolated cases of human rights violations which had been duly prosecuted.  Rwanda rejected the allegations against the Rwandan armed forces.

In follow-up questions, the delegation was asked whether laws had been reviewed to ensure their conformity with the Convention, and about measures taken to address the high prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence in refugee camps.

Responding, the delegation said that there were ongoing discussions on amendments to the penal code, including on marital rape; the amendment should soon be presented to Parliament for adoption.  Rwanda had an inventory of all laws which might contain discriminatory provisions; all laws that contained discriminatory provisions in the past had been amended, with the most recent amendment being the law governing the person and the family. 

The Gender Monitoring Office assisted the Government in evaluating the impact of its policies; the Office assessed the gender impact of those polices, and reported to the Government, with recommendations for change. 

The Convention could be invoked and cited in courts as it was a part of the legal arsenal.  All the provisions of the Convention had been integrated in the national laws, which meant that it was applied in Rwanda.

Rwanda was in the process of adopting a policy on large refugee movements.  Measures to address gender-based violence in refugee camps included an awareness-raising campaign, regular visits to camps by the police, a help line, and persons of confidence that refugee women could contact for support, while plans were in place to set up one stop centres as  had been done in the rest of the country.

Questions from the Experts

A Committee Expert commended the progress made in advancing full gender equality over the past several years and said that Rwanda was a model for others, particularly in promoting the political participation of women.

How was the report prepared, did the civil society participate, and was Parliament involved?  Would the Committee’s concluding observations be presented to Parliament to take action in the form of legislation and allocation of resources?

What coordination mechanism was in place between the gender equality institutions, and who was responsible for the follow-up to concluding observations?

The delegation was asked to provide examples of temporary special measures introduced by women members of Parliament and the Cabinet of Ministers which aimed to eliminate barriers to education and the participation of vulnerable women. 

Which steps were being taken to eliminate disadvantages by women subjected to multiple forms of discrimination, including widows, refugee women, women with disabilities, women in camps, and minority women such as Batwa?

Which temporary special measures - apart from legal ones – were being taken to increase the representation and participation of women in the private sector, academia and employment, and to promote the education of girls? 

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that the report had been prepared by the Ministry of Gender and the Ministry of Justice, with the participation of the task force in which representatives of civil society were members.  The Committee’s concluding observations would be presented to the national technical working group on gender, which was a part of the national gender machinery; the group was made up of State institutions working on gender issues, civil society organizations, and the private sector.

The Government continued to raise awareness and increase the confidence of women to encourage them to participate in the political life at the district level.  There were still cultural barriers to overcome.  There were activities to get men to become agents of change in the drive for gender equality.

With regard to the situation of women with disabilities, the delegation said that women could get involved in the work of the national commission for persons with disabilities that was in place, and there was an awareness among local governments about the special needs of those women.  Women with disabilities were given priority in accessing various social programmes.

Women were indeed poorly represented in the private sector.  A strategy had just been drafted which integrated a gender dimension in the private sector; once adopted, it would promote the involvement of women in the business world.  There was gender parity at the primary and secondary levels of education; girls were under-represented at the university levels and in vocational and professional training.

The forum of Parliamentary women had initiated the legislation on the prevention and punishment of gender-based violence, and on the augmentation of paid maternity leave from 1.5 months to three months through the creation of a special fund.

Questions from the Experts

In the next series of questions, Experts congratulated Rwanda on its efforts to empower women and promote gender equality; however, the differential treatment of rape and marital rape in the law was an issue of concern, as it perpetuated negative stereotypes that existed in the society. 

What was being done to counter negative traditions and patriarchal attitudes that perpetuated violence against women and girls?  What was being done to encourage the reporting of violence against women, particularly in rural areas?

Could the delegation provide a breakdown in cases coming to one stop centres and the support provided, countrywide?  When would the integrated data collection system on violence against women be established countrywide?  What programmes were in place to sensitize personnel coming in contact with victims of violence against women, such as health personnel, police and social workers?  

An Expert remarked that Rwanda needed to intensify efforts to combat human trafficking and address the criticism it had received on the issue, starting with adopting the anti-trafficking law and the national plan of action.  What was the status of the draft anti-trafficking law and how had it been developed; did it include the principles of the Palermo Protocol?

The law criminalized prostitutes and their clients in the same manner; would Rwanda consider changing the law to decriminalize prostitutes and how would it support women wishing to leave prostitution?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation explained that the penal code would soon be revised in matters of rape, including marital rape; the details of the proposed amendment were not known at the moment. 

Victims of gender-based violence were helped and supported, but more needed to be done, from increasing financial allocations to the programmes, to supporting social and family reintegration of victims.

Human trafficking was a global issue, said the delegation, adding that the national plan of action had been based on the Palermo Protocol.  The Gender Monitoring Office worked on the identification of victims of trafficking.  There was a lot of misinformation about human trafficking and there were programmes to raise awareness about it.

Fear was the key factor in the low reporting of the rates of violence, and until recently, women did not have any legal resources and were not recognized as legal persons.  Women were also afraid that if reported violence led to a divorce, children would remain with the husband, and women would have to return to their family of origin, where they had no rights.

Rwanda planned to conduct a study into the root causes of human trafficking, which would be used to develop actions to combat this global scourge.  The law indeed punished a woman who refused to testify in a marital rape case; this would be addressed by the amendments to the penal code which were currently being prepared.

Questions from the Experts

A Committee Expert drew attention to the General Recommendation 23 on the political and public participation of women, and asked the delegation to provide information about the representation and leadership of women in trade unions, governing boards, professional associations and agricultural cooperatives.  What was being done to address cultural impediments to stronger participation in those areas?

What steps were being taken, including temporary special measures and affirmative action, to integrate women from vulnerable groups into decision-making at local and national levels?  Women represented 23 per cent of the Foreign Service staff – what measures were in place to promote the advancement of women there, and greater participation in regional and international organizations?

Responses by the Delegation

Responding, the delegation said that there was a place in Parliament for persons with disabilities who represented the national organization of persons with disabilities and could be a woman or a man.  People with disabilities, including women, had a priority in accessing social services.  There were no specific programmes for women with disabilities but they were regarded as a vulnerable group, which had certain entitlements and social rights. 

Rwanda was a contributing country to peacekeeping, and women were part of the force, while all peacekeepers were trained in gender issues. 

Questions from the Experts

A Committee Expert raised concerns about the performance of girls in education, and the persistence of barriers to education, including attitudes of parents and inadequate conditions in schools.  What steps were being taken to prevent sexual harassment and violence against girls in schools?

With regard to pregnancy during schooling, girls could reintegrate into school after the mandatory one year of childcare, however, this provision could actually postpone the continuation of education for two years.  Why was this provision in place, while paid maternity leave was only three months?

What were the barriers to effectively increase the number of female teachers?

What was the state of education of schools in refugee camps, and how were they transitioned to educational institutions outside of camps?  Could the delegation inform about inclusive education, and steps to integrate disadvantaged girls and girls with disabilities?

What special measures were adopted to prohibit the hiring of minors in domestic work, and protect girls from exploitation and abuse?

How many complaints had been received by the Ombudsmen Office for labour violations?

What strategy was in place to aid labour insertion of former female combatants?

The Committee commended major advances made in increasing access to health care and the important reduction in maternal and infant mortality rates, as well as a reduction in AIDS transmission rates.

A continued worry was the legislation on abortion, which was only legal in case of rape, forced marriage, incest and risk to the mother’s life.  However, access to legal abortion was hampered by legal and administrative barriers in place.  Abortion in case of a risk to the mother’s life could be accessed only based on a doctor’s opinion, while judicial authorisation was needed for abortion in case of rape, forced marriage and incest.  However, it was often not possible to obtain authorisations in time to allow abortion in the first 12 weeks, partly because of distances and partly because of the low presence of doctors in rural areas.

It seemed that a quarter of the female prison population was jailed because of illegal abortion.  Would the amendment to the penal code which was currently being prepared address this issue?

Replies by the Delegation

Responding to the questions and comments made by the Committee Experts, the delegation said that measures had been adopted to address the phenomenon of school drop-out among girls and boys alike.  Girls often dropped out because families wanted them to work; additionally, there was a lack of school classes.  New school classes and change rooms for girls had been constructed, school cafeterias had been opened, and girls also received sanitary napkins.

The reason behind the mandatory one year of child care for girls re-joining school after pregnancy was to allow the girl enough time to rest, and to enable the child to spend time with its mother.  Children with disabilities were integrated in mainstream schools, unless their disability was serious, in which case they attended special schools.

Rwanda was putting in place a gender management information system which would also collect data on gender-based violence.

Former female combatants received information about the possibilities and policies in place in a number of sectors, including in employment, and they were helped to develop their own economic projects and were provided with the necessary resources.  A gender needs assessment was underway, which would soon inform the Government about the needs of refugee women, including former combatants.

There were no specific programmes for Batwa women, but they were considered a vulnerable group and could access services as such.
 
Abortion was only legal in the four cases stipulated in the penal code and it was true that women were incarcerated for illegal abortion.  A presidential pardon had been issued to women serving sentences for illegal abortion.  All the issues that Experts had raised about abortion were being discussed in the framework of amendments to the penal code.  Rwanda was convinced of the need to prevent unwanted pregnancies through awareness raising, education and appropriate health services.

Questions from the Experts

In the next round of questions, Experts inquired about measures taken to promote the economic involvement of women, including the provision of child care and the promotion of sharing domestic work.  Which measures to increase economic development and reduce poverty to benefit women were contained in the Vision 2020?   With regard to the decentralization policy, which main actions were planned to allow women to achieve the same economic involvement as men?

Experts noted that 69 per cent of the population lived in rural areas, agriculture accounted for 36 per cent of gross domestic product, and 79 per cent of economically active women were engaged in agriculture, representing 66 per cent of agricultural self-employed workers.  The Committee was concerned about the social protection of those women who were engaged in unpaid and unremunerated work.  What proportion of land titles was held by women?  Was the policy of one cow per family successful?
 
Experts recognized the sensitivity surrounding the issue of ethnicity in Rwanda and noted that certain ethnic groups, such as Batwa, had suffered historic marginalization.  What specific programmes were targeting this community?

What was being done to protect refugee women from exploitation, and also which measures were in place to protect elderly women?

Responses by the Delegation

Provisions had been put in place for the provision of child care and each local unit provided care for children under the age of six to enable women to go to work.  The one cow per family programme was successful and had a very positive impact on the nutrition of the family, and the income from the sale of surplus milk.  The programme would continue as it successfully reduced poverty.

With regard to marginalized women, the delegation said that it could not be said that Batwa were the only ones who were marginalized.  They were integrated in the society in which there were many non-Batwa women who were also poor and vulnerable.  Rwanda wanted to help all women who were in need, on the basis of the need.

In response to Experts’ follow-up questions, the delegation said that one-stop-centres for victims of violence would be established in each district hospital and would therefore be set up in rural areas.  At the moment, there were 44 centres nationally which delivered medical, social, psychological and legal services.

It was true that Rwanda had entered reservations to article 26 of the 1951 Refugee Convention on freedom of movement, but the reservation was actually not being applied.  The delegation would inform the Committee in writing as to its intentions concerning the lifting of the reservation.

In terms of institutions providing loans and credits, the delegation explained that those could be accessed through cooperative banks and microfinance schemes; in addition, there was a Business Development Fund which provided guarantees through which larger credits could be obtained from banks for the development of small- and medium-sized enterprises.  An increasing number of women and men were accessing those financial instruments, and the proportion of applications between women and men was the same for loans for rural-based economic activities.

A programme was in place to provide monthly pensions to elderly women and men; the programme worked well and would continue.

Questions from the Experts

A Committee Expert commended Rwanda for adopting laws guaranteeing women’s equal right to inheritance, to conclude contracts, enjoy the same judicial proceedings, and access the ownership of land.  However, persistent traditional stereotypes held women back from fully enjoying those rights, particularly in terms of land ownership. 
   
Were there plans to harmonise laws to address gaps in property rights of women in marriages and in registered unions, and to prevent men from having several registered unions?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation reiterated the commitment to continue taking measures to change attitudes and beliefs.  There was no intention to legislate de facto unions, but Rwanda would continue to promote marriage and encourage de facto unions to register. 

In case of conflict over jointly acquired property, each spouse had the right to demonstrate to the authority what they had individually contributed towards the purchase of the property.  Children of de facto unions had the same rights as children born in wedlock.

The new law on marriage ensured that the wife and the husband had the same responsibilities in a marriage and were considered equal; in divorce, joint property was split in half between the two.

In follow-up questions, Experts noted very onerous procedures for the registration of national and international non-governmental organizations and asked what had been done to provide a more enabling environment for non-governmental organizations, particularly those working in the area of women’s rights. 

The delegation said that polygamy and adultery were crimes punishable by the penal code.  The law on registration of non-profit associations and international non-governmental organizations was in place and its procedures must be followed.  


Concluding Remarks

ESPERANCE NYIRASAFARI, Minister of Gender and Family Promotion of Rwanda, thanked the Committee for the dialogue and reiterated Rwanda’s strong commitment to promoting gender equality.

DALIA LEINARTE, Committee Chairperson, commended Rwanda for its efforts and encouraged it to address various recommendations which the Committee would issue with the purpose of the more comprehensive implementation of the Convention throughout the State party.



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CEDAW17/011E