7 October 2013
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon met with representatives of non-governmental organizations to hear information on the situation of women in Cambodia, Tajikistan and Seychelles, whose reports will be considered during the second week of the session.
In their presentations to the Committee, non-governmental organizations from Cambodia spoke about access to justice and corruption, about the forced evictions of rural women, women’s underrepresentation in politics and public life, discrimination faced by women living with HIV AIDS, violence against women in Cambodia, and support and compensation for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence during the Khmer Rouge regime. The situation of women migrant domestic workers was also discussed.
Non-governmental organizations from Tajikistan spoke about concerns including weak national machinery and ineffective mechanisms for the implementation of gender policies, as well as a lack of genuine political will to advance gender equality in Tajikistan. The lack of political participation by women and discrimination faced by women migrant workers and by women living with HIV AIDS were also raised. Illegal actions by the police against sex workers, including blackmail, assault and sexual abuse, and humiliation techniques were also discussed.
The representatives of a non-governmental organization from Seychelles spoke about inadequacies of the national machinery for the advancement of women, cultural stereotyping of women’s roles and responsibilities in society, issues faced in the workplace by women including sexual harassment, family-friendly policies, and the impact on work of domestic violence. The lack of support for young girls engaged in prostitution, which was illegal, was also raised.
Following the presentations by non-governmental organizations, Committee Members held an interactive dialogue with them, asking follow-up questions on the issues raised.
The statements made by non-governmental organizations at today’s meeting are available on the Committee’s website.
The Committee will reconvene on Tuesday, 8 October, at 10 a.m. when it will start its review of the report of Cambodia.
Presentations by Non-governmental Organizations
Statements on Cambodia
Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights said they spoke on behalf of a wide-range of non-governmental organizations and human rights institutions working for women’s human rights and monitoring the implementation of the Convention in Cambodia, and for their colleagues who had been silenced, whether imprisoned or deceased. The statement focused on access to justice; corruption, incompetence and lack of an independent judiciary meant the justice system was widely perceived as irrelevant, and the Convention was not applied in the domestic legal system. Rural women were vulnerable to being forcibly evicted from their land and property, resulting in the cultural extinction of traditionally matriarchal indigenous communities. Women’s underrepresentation in politics and public life was also discussed, as was the access to health for women living with HIV AIDS and discrimination faced by them. The organization made recommendations to the Committee on each issue.
Legal Support for Children and Women spoke about violence against women in Cambodia, quoting United Nations statistics from 2013 that showed that 32.8 per cent of men reported committing sexual or physical violence against a partner, and over 50 per cent had committed emotional or economic violence. There were currently no Government programmes to address the harm suffered by survivors of sexual and gender-based violence during the Khmer Rouge regime, and impunity of those responsible for crimes of rape, forced marriage and sexual torture during that period: the Khmer Rouge Tribunal had a limited mandate and so could not and would not punish perpetrators. The speaker expressed concern about a lack of protection for women in the workplace, especially domestic workers, who were often vulnerable and uneducated girls from remote areas. She also said women migrant domestic workers were invisible and often victims of trafficking to Malaysia and Singapore.
Questions by Experts on Cambodia
An Expert asked about women in elected positions, noting that 20 per cent were elected to the parliament. Regarding the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, were women’s organizations consulted on that and were restitution and compensation programmes envisaged for women victims? Another Expert asked whether national legislation made any reference to the Convention or Security Council resolution 1325 on crimes against humanity?
Response to the Questions
Regarding counselling for victims of gender-based crimes of the Khmer Rouge regime, a representative said no compensation or support had been provided by the Government. National legislation did not refer to the Convention or Security Council resolution 1325. Regarding the investigation of other crimes, the court had not expressly said it would not investigate crimes of sexual violence, but it has not happened so far. Furthermore, forced marriage was not investigated, and nor was rape, as investigators simply found that soldiers had a code of conduct not to rape women and were satisfied with that. The latest election was in July, and 25 out of approximately 300 seats were held by women. Three out of 27 ministers were women.
Statements on Tajikistan
Coalition of non-governmental organizations in Tajikistan, spoke on behalf of more than 100 public organizations in Tajikistan that jointly drafted three shadow reports. Issues included the weak national machinery and ineffective mechanisms for the implementation of gender policies, as well as a lack of genuine political will and commitment to advance gender equality in Tajikistan. The new law on the prevention of domestic violence was a positive reform but needed to be disseminated and enforced. The lack of political participation by women and the lack of temporary special measures was a further issue of concern, as women constituted less than 30 per cent of civil servants, and only one woman held a high-level Government position (the Vice Prime Minister on Social Affairs).
Human Rights Centre spoke about discrimination faced by women migrant workers, and said there had been a notable growth of female labour migration from Tajikistan during the last three years. The Government strategy on labour migration did not take into account the growth of women migrant workers or family migration and the organization made several recommendations for the Committee to pass on to the State party. Discrimination faced by women living with HIV AIDS was also raised, especially given the significant increase in the number of HIV-infected women in recent years, with a growth of HIV cases among pregnant women being of particular concern.
NGO Etibor (Dignity) said sex work in Tajikistan was penalized and punishable by law. Penalization was a root cause of discriminative and violent practices against sex workers by both State and non-State actors in the country. Illegal actions by the police against sex workers were widespread in Tajikistan, and the police regularly abused its power as it was unaware of the unprotected status of sex workers. The police regularly blackmailed, beat, sexually abused and arrested women without reason. Women sex workers were publically humiliated by shaving their heads and being exposed, while the media promoted the idea of ‘correction’ of sex workers by jailing them. Furthermore the police carried out forced HIV testing of sex workers and often disclosed the results in front of other detainees and police staff.
Questions by Expert on Tajikistan
An Expert asked in what way the 100 non-governmental organizations from Tajikistan had been consulted by the Government in the drafting of the report. She also asked about the situation of women refugees from Afghanistan living in Tajikistan, women victims of sexual violence during the civil war, and stateless women, especially the so-called ‘border wives’ who married Tajik men but lived in neighbouring countries.
Response to the Questions
In recent years partnerships between non-governmental organizations and the Government had decreased, a representative said. Organizations had submitted their shadow reports to the Government but they had hardly been involved in the drafting of its report. Most stateless women lived in border areas, and for example were women from Uzbekistan who married Tajik men, but had not been given the right to Tajik citizenship, which was a difficult and timely process. Women lived with uncertain status for up to 20 years and in many cases could not even get a long-term residency permit. Women who went to Uzbekistan before Tajikistan was even created could not get Tajik citizenship upon their return. It was a major problem. The civil war lasted from 1991 to 1998, a speaker said, during which time the Ministry of the Interior registered 718 cases of rape, 434 femicides and 484 suicides of women. There were no figures on how many perpetrators were prosecuted. There was only anecdotal evidence of sexual violence being used as a weapon of war. The organization said it did not have information on hand about women refugees from Afghanistan but would submit it to the Secretariat overnight.
Statements on Seychelles
Gender Commission: Liaison Unit of non-governmental organizations, speaking on behalf of several Seychelles-based non-governmental organizations, spoke about national machinery for the advancement of women, stereotyping, women in employment and sex workers. There was concern that issues concerning women were not given prominence in development plans and the existing organs set out for the advancement of women’s issues were not effective. The Government had done little to tackle existing stereotyping of women’s roles and responsibilities in society and the Government should take special measures to eliminate it, particularly via secondary education and the use of quotas in key areas.
A second speaker for Gender Commission: Liaison Unit of non-governmental organizations, speaking on behalf of several Seychelles-based non-governmental organizations, raised issues faced in the workplace by women. Domestic violence affected women’s employment by decreasing their work performance and leading to an increase in absenteeism. Sexual harassment in the workplace was a common practice, and not illegal. The Government needed a national breast feeding action plan to support mothers who returned to work while still breastfeeding their infant. Prostitution was illegal in the Seychelles but many young girls were engaged in prostitution; they were harassed by the police and given no support in seeking decent work alternatives.
Questions by Expert on Seychelles
An Expert asked whether the Government had consulted any non-governmental organizations in the drafting of the report, and also whether the Convention could be invoked directly before the courts. The organization recommended quotas be raised with the Government, and the Constitution did provide for that, had quotas been used in other areas?
Response to the Questions
The Government had consulted the umbrella organization of non-governmental organizations for its report but only in a workshop format. A court of the Seychelles had never quoted a word of the Convention, a representative confirmed. The quota system was not used, she also confirmed, as men and women were said to have equality. Women in decision making roles were always given ‘soft’ mandates, such as health or women’s affairs, never stronger areas such as finance, trade or the economy.
The Committee’s concluding observations will be made available at http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/SessionDetails1.aspx?SessionID=812&Lang=en on Monday 21 October.
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