COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN MEETS WITH NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS
Hears Statements from Non-Governmental Organizations on the Rights of Women in Lesotho, Chad, Kuwait and Côte d’Ivoire
10 October 2011
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon met with non-governmental organizations to discuss the situation of the rights of women in Lesotho, Chad, Kuwait and Côte d’Ivoire. The reports of the four countries will be reviewed by the Committee this week.
Representatives of non-governmental organizations in Lesotho said that the critical issues facing women and girls in the country were the forced marriage of minor girls, the inability of women to inherit property, the situation of rural women and the trafficking of women. The high rate of violence against women in Lesotho remained a serious challenge as domestic violence to women by their partners was culturally accepted and there was no legislation against it.
Speakers from non-governmental organizations in Chad told the Committee that the main issues were access to water, health services, access to education for girls, the trafficking of persons and discrimination against rural women. To reduce the social, economic, political and human rights issues associated with the violence, the speakers said that the Committee needed to back the State in preventing the spread of small arms which caused so many deaths of women and small children. Furthermore sexual violence including rape, female genital mutilation and early and forced marriages continued to be a widespread phenomenon across the country.
Representatives of the non-governmental organization Musawah said that their report on Kuwait was only based on secondary sources, as it had not been possible to contact women’s rights non-governmental organizations on the ground in Kuwait. Research had revealed that numerous areas of inequalities existed between women and men in Kuwait on issues related to marriage and family relations. Musawah raised the possibility of reform of Islamic Shari’ah family law, with respect to precedents set by other Islamic countries.
Representatives of non-governmental organizations from Côte d’Ivoire told the Committee that there had been serious violations of human rights in general and rights of women in particular committed during the electoral and post-electoral crisis in Côte d’Ivoire. The new Commission on Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation must serve as a tool to engage Ivorian women in the peace and reconstruction process of their country, while the issue of violence against women and impunity needed to be addressed urgently.
Speaking during the discussion were representatives from Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organizations, Lesotho Federation of Women Lawyers, Association des Femmes pour Développement et Culture de la Paix au Tchad, Amnesty International, Musawah and Femmes Africa Solidarité.
When the Committee reconvenes on Tuesday, 11 October at 10 a.m., it is scheduled to begin its consideration of the combined initial, second, third and fourth periodic reports of Lesotho (CEDAW/C/LSO/1-4).
Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations
MABOLAE MOHASI, Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organizations, said that she was jointly presenting the report on behalf of a coalition of 14 non-governmental organizations in Lesotho. Ms. Mohasi said that the coalition welcomed the Legal Capacity of Married Persons Act of 2006, which recognized married women’s status as independent citizens of Lesotho, as well as the introduction of a 30 per cent quota for participation of women as local counsellors. However, the coalition remained deeply concerned about the Government of Lesotho’s reservation to Article 2, and urged the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) to ask the Government to fulfil its obligations under the CEDAW Convention and remove all reservations. The critical issues facing women in Lesotho were the forced marriage of minor girls, the inability of women to inherit property, violence against women, the situation of rural women and the trafficking of women.
On the issue of forced marriage of minor girls, the Marriage Act of 1974 gave the Government Minister power to consent to a marriage of a girl below the age of sixteen. In giving the Minister such power, the Act was creating a non-conducive environment for the realization of human rights of the girl-child, which not only denied her the autonomy and decision-making in relation to her own life and body, but also rendered all her rights, including that to education, health and work, extremely vulnerable. The coalition urged the Government of Lesotho to repeal that provision. Regarding the inability of women to inherit property, under the customary laws of Lesotho inheritance only went along the male line. To date, women remained the victims of discrimination, as there were no laws that entitled them to inherit property. The Government of Lesotho had failed to honour its obligation to guarantee women property rights flowing from inheritance.
TANKISO MOTIPI, Federation of Women Lawyers, who jointly presented the report on behalf of the coalition of 14 non-governmental organizations in Lesotho, said that the high rate of violence against women in Lesotho remained a serious challenge. Violence against women and girls was an everyday reality. Domestic violence to women by their partners was culturally accepted, particularly in the rural areas where there was a lack of awareness of women's rights. There was no law that specifically addressed domestic violence and so there was no deterrence for men to refrain from abusing women. There were no shelters for survivors of violence, and women had no place to escape the violence. Most cases went unreported, and despite there being some data available with the Child and Gender Protection Unit, the State had not engaged with the available information. Rural women lacked access to basic health services, education, access to clean water and sanitation. The Government had neither provided nor improved the infrastructure in rural and remote areas in order to provide those services to rural women. No real economic opportunities were specifically created for rural women, who remained highly disadvantaged and more vulnerable to violence, poverty and human trafficking. The Government had enacted the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2011 as a measure to combat trafficking. However without any policies and programmes in place creating job opportunities, the Act on its own could not address the problem of trafficking. Trafficking should be treated as a multi-lateral issue where the responsibility of the destination countries should also be indentified, to ensure full protection for the moving populations.
CELINE NARMADJI, Association des Femmes pour Développement et Culture de la Paix au Tchad, said that the Government of Chad had not recognized the advantages of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. As a post-conflict State, Chad still had issues of insecurity, especially caused by the widespread use of small arms, which caused migrating populations. To reduce the social, economic, political and human rights issues associated with the violence, the Committee needed to back the State in preventing the spread of small arms which caused so many deaths of women and small children. Resolution 1325 was far from being implemented, partly because of socio-economic factors and traditional values. The main issues today in Chad were access to water, health services, education, the trafficking of persons and discrimination against rural women.
Over 70 per cent of the population of Chad did not have access to drinking water, including many living in the capital city N’Djamena. Access to water was the most critical issue of all in Chad, and its impact on the lives of women was real. Healthcare access was very poor, especially for rural women, despite Government promises to improve access. Rural women often travelled more that 15 kilometres to get to a healthcare centre. Access to education had been severely affected by the security and impoverishment of the population. Trafficking of persons was very common among the population. The majority of victims were young girls who were taken to urban areas, including N’Djamena. Those responsible use the impoverished situation and naivety of parents – usually the father - to persuade them to accept such practices of their daughters. However, the Empowerment of Rural Women project had been effective. Run in association with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), it had strengthened many women and reduced poverty in rural areas, although various development actors still did not know about the project. Despite the presence of women in the economic sector, women were often ignored in the decision-making process.
CHRISTIAN MUKOSA, Amnesty International, said that women and girls continued to experience gender based discrimination and other violations and abuses of their rights in all parts of Chad. The situation affected many areas of Chad, including the east of Chad, and especially the Darfur region between Chad and Sudan. Sexual violence including rape, female genital mutilation and early and forced marriages continued to be a widespread phenomenon across the country. The successive destruction of houses and forced evictions taking place in the capital city N’Djamena since February 2008 had affected the rights of women and girls. The situation had caused considerable disruption in schooling for children, especially girls, as their parents feared to leave them to travel to school alone, and most parents therefore prioritized sending boys to school instead of girls. Women victims of human rights violations rarely had access to justice. Impunity for human rights violations remained a major concern in Chad, but the situation was worse when the victims were women and or girls. Perpetrators were rarely brought to justice. The rights of women who were detained in prisons in Chad were not respected. Some women were detained together with their babies and young children in unsanitary conditions, compromising their health, while pregnant detainees were left without adequate medical attention. Their security was generally jeopardized in prisons including by the presence of male guardians.
Amnesty International recommended the Chadian authorities urgently ensured women and girls’ rights to equality and non-discrimination were respected in line with international and constitutional obligations. The authorities should also develop a comprehensive strategy to address the causes of discrimination against women and girls in laws, policy and practice. The Government should also ensure that the legal protection provided to women and girls was effective and raise public awareness of cases of discrimination against women and girls in the country in order to tackle the cultural acceptance surrounding the issues. Barriers to access to justice for women and girls in Chad must be addressed, as well as the causes of recruitment and use of girls by armed forces and groups. Secondary education and vocational opportunities in eastern and northern Chad must also be provided. Finally the Government was urged to ensure that rape and other sexual violence cases were investigated and prosecuted, while providing effective reparations to the victims.
JANINE MOUSSA, Musawah, regretted that the report was based only on secondary sources as there had been great difficulty getting in touch with activists or non-governmental organizations on the ground in Kuwait. Ms. Moussa said that her organization’s research had revealed that numerous areas of inequalities existed between women and men in Kuwait on issues related to marriage and family relations. The report highlighted four of those areas and made recommendations for reform.
Ms. Moussa said that Kuwait currently held reservations to Article 9 (2), which granted women equal rights with men with respect to passing on their nationality, and Article 16 (f) which granted women the same rights and responsibilities as men on issues such as guardianship and custody of children, inasmuch as it conflicted with the provisions of Islamic Shari’ah. Musawah urged the Committee to recommend that those reservations be lifted without delay. The minimum age for marriage in Kuwait was 15 for women and 17 for men; Sunni Muslim women required the consent of their walis (guardians) to marry, and polygamy was still permitted and practiced. Musawah urged the Committee to recommend that the Government of Kuwait set an equal marriage age for men and women at 18, eliminate the requirement of guardianship and recommend that the practice of polygamy be abolished. Marital rape remained an unrecognized crime in Kuwait, and the Committee was urged to recommend to Kuwait that marital rape be criminalized. Kuwaiti women were still unable to inherit equal shares of property as their male counterparts, and the Committee was asked to recommend the inaction of equal inheritance laws, as well as to reject any justifications for such inequality based on notions of reciprocity for several reasons, including the rise of women-headed households and duel income families.
Ms. Moussa said that Musawah firmly believed that equality in the Muslim family was both necessary and possible. It was possibly because Shari’ah law was not divine, rather it was based on centuries-old, human-made rules called fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) which themselves were founded on realities of a vastly different historical, social and economic context.
KHADIDIA BA, Femmes Africa Solidarité, commended the Government of Côte d'Ivoire for being the first African country to adopt a National Action Plan on United Nations Security Council resolution 1325, and called on the Government to provide the necessary human, financial and material resources to the Ministry of Family, Women and Social Affairs to ensure the full and timely implementation of the Action Plan. Femmes Africa Solidarité appealed to the Government to continue working with the Government of the Mano River Union to develop and implement a Regional Action Plan on United Nations Security Council resolution 1325. The Mano River Women were highly mobilized and engaged in the process and regional Governments were encouraged to strengthen their collaboration with women’s organizations.
There had been serious violations of human rights in general and rights of women in particular committed during the electoral and post-electoral crisis in Côte d’Ivoire. Femmes Africa Solidarité reiterated its support to the Commission on Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation which was established in early September by the Ivorian Government. That Commission must serve as a tool to engage Ivorian women in the peace and reconstruction process of their country. In particular the Commission must address the issue of violence against women and impunity, namely by prosecuting the perpetrators of the crimes that had been committed by all parties involved in the conflict.
Finally, following the report under consideration, the Government was urged to support the domestication and dissemination of CEDAW, as well as of other human rights instruments. State Bodies and Civil Society Organizations working to promote human rights should be supported. It was by fighting the widespread ignorance on those instruments that its proper implementation and reporting could be achieved.
Questions by Committee Members
Regarding the issue of forced marriage, a Committee member asked about the fact that a Minister in Lesotho could consent to marriage of a girl below the age of 16, and whether the Minister could also prevent such a marriage: what extent was their power?
The Lesotho organizations said that consolidation of laws was needed. To what extent would consolidation amend the situation on inheritance, especially among those with a customary way of life?
Was female genital mutilation a practice in Lesotho and what other harmful traditional practices were prevalent in Lesotho? What was the law in terms of female genital mutilation, was it illegal? If not, had there been any efforts to ban female genital mutilation?
The severe sanctions for the rapist of a child in Chad were reserved to only one category – what category was that? Also regarding customary law relating to family issues in Chad, what timeline was there for updating those laws? Regarding violations against women, how should the Committee prioritize its questions to the State – what were the most important topics to raise?
A Committee member asked Amnesty International to elaborate on the prison conditions for women in Chad, and also on the forced evictions of women in Chad.
A Committee member asked about family law in Kuwait, and in particular guardianship over minors in Kuwait, in that only fathers and male family members had the right to guardianship over children. Was it possible to explain the priority of family law-related issues in Kuwait?
In Côte d'Ivoire were organizations of civil society represented in the new Commission on Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation (established September 2011), and were they being consulted in the enquiries being carried out, such as the enquiry by the International Criminal Court. When would that commission be likely to start, and had any women been appointed to it? Also would there be an effective representation of women in the 2012 elections?
Responses by the Non-Governmental Organizations
Concerning forced marriages in Lesotho, a Minister could decline to give his consent. However it should not be possible for a child to be married in the first place, and there should be no possibility that any authority could agree to that marriage. Regulating laws on property rights needed to be consolidated in the spirit of CEDAW. The 2011 anti-trafficking law had been enacted but nothing had happened yet, so it was not possible to say the problem had been answered. Female genital mutilation was still practiced by a few groups in Lesotho, but not at a prevalent rate. There was no law banning female genital mutilation, but the Government view had been that the practice was dying a natural death. That could be true, as there was a very low rate of the practice.
Chadians exempt from the law on child rape were those protected by the political party in power, they were persons exempt from any crime. The Muslim Brotherhood wanted to be seen as being on the side of the Koran, and so did not take into account the separation of church and State, which had an impact on the laws.
Regarding the priority of questions for the Committee to raise with the State, it was recommended that the main problem of insecurity should be raised. The Chadian Government had said that the United Nations peacekeeping forces were controlling security issues, but the Government must explain how that had been done in the East. Elaboration of strategic policies was not dependable and sometimes policies were never actually implemented.
The rights of women detained in Chad were not respected, and those women had no access to medicine, food or even to primary healthcare. The same applied to women who, for reasons not needing to be explained, were living with their children in prison: many had spent over a year living in prison with their children. That was due to the fact the Chad authorities did not use alternative solutions to a custodial punishment. The crime most women had committed was to steal some food, for example maize. For that they were thrown into prison for years.
Concerning expulsions, the Chadian authorities were destroying homes, for example 64,000 people were expelled from their homes in D’Jamena, for reasons that were not defensible. Most of those people were women, and many homes housed small businesses. Once made homeless women were far more exposed to other violations of their rights – including their right to life - than men were.
The speaker said that they felt as much at a loss about the priorities of family law reform as the Committee member who asked the questions. However the speaker started by saying that the main message was that laws based on Islam according to those Governments should be questioned, looked at critically, and dissected further. Much of what was deemed to be Islamic law today was actually human-made variations of the law, verified and diverse. There was no monolithic law governing Islamic relations. The Government and civil society needed to ‘unpack’ to find out when a law was divine and immutable, and when it was man-made.
Once again Musawah had not reached the activists on the ground in Kuwait. Provisions must be made that would lead to the economic independence of women in Kuwait, such as abilities to inherit, to dissolve a marriage and then claim maintenance payments, and also the child marriage and guardianship issues, related to a woman’s abilities to fend for herself as well as autonomy of self to allow her to choose when and who to marry.
The Truth and Reconciliation Committee had very clear objectives with a goal to recreate social fabric within the Government and also within the country, which had been destroyed by the extremely long conflict. There were only four to five women members of that Commission, and those women were either Government employees or former Government employees. It was hoped that women members of non-governmental organizations, both local and international, would be involved and allowed to make recommendations. Also the Mana River Woman Peace network, which had done a tremendous amount of good things regionally, would hopefully be able to make their recommendations as well.
SILVIA PIMENTEL, Chairperson of the Committee, in concluding remarks, thanked the non-governmental organizations for their valuable contribution and looked forward to their involvement towards the conclusion of the session.
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