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COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN CONSIDERS REPORT OF SEYCHELLES

COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN CONSIDERS REPORT OF SEYCHELLES
10 October 2013

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined initial to fifth periodic report of Seychelles on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Presenting the report, Vincent Meriton, Minister for Social Affairs, Community Development and Sport, said Seychelles may be one of the smallest nations on earth, with a population of less than 90,000, but it was a nation of strong women and men who continued to prove their strength in today’s harsh realities.  It had the world’s fifth highest proportion of women in a national parliament.  As a small island developing State, Seychelles had a very high level of human development and was considered a high middle income country.  It was on target to achieving most of the Millennium Development Goals and was considered to be a leading country in Africa with regard to gender equality and the advancement of women.  Priority areas were tackling gender-based and domestic violence, teenage pregnancy, promotion of gender parity and equality in decision making, and the economic empowerment of women.

Committee Members congratulated Seychelles on topping the barometer for the whole region in terms of advancing the rights of women and girls, including having the fifth highest proportion of women in a national parliament in the world.  They asked several questions about what was being done to tackle gender-based violence, including about the new law on domestic violence.  Trafficking in persons, prostitution, teenage pregnancy and the HIV rate were discussed.  Issues including how climate change impacted upon women, discrimination against women in employment, and measures to tackle traditional stereotypes were also raised.

Mr. Meriton, in concluding remarks, said the Seychelles had the will to eliminate all discrimination against women at all levels of society, and strongly believed ‘actions spoke louder than words’.  Seychelles would seek the Committee’s support in accessing support from other international organizations in order to fully implement the Convention. 

In concluding remarks, Ismat Jahan, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue, commended the State party for its efforts and encouraged it to address the Committee’s recommendations for the benefit of all women and girls in the country. 

The delegation of Seychelles included the Minister for Social Affairs, Community Development and Sport and representatives of the Department for Social Affairs and the Gender Secretariat.  

The Committee has now completed all country reviews on its agenda and will next meet in public at 5 p.m. on Friday, 18 October 2013 for the closing of the session.

Report

The combined initial to fifth periodic report of Seychelles can be read via the link: (CEDAW/C/SYC/1-5)

Presentation of the Report

VINCENT MERITON, Minister for Social Affairs, Community Development and Sport of Seychelles, apologised for the 18 year delay in the submission of Seychelles’ first report to the Committee, following its ratification of the Convention in 1992, which was due to heavy reporting obligations and limited human capacity and resources.  He said Seychelles may be one of the smallest nations on earth, with a resident population of less than 90,000, but it was a nation of strong women and men who continued to prove their strength in today’s harsh realities.  Its culture, geography, religion and colonial history had moulded its concepts of gender.  As a small island developing State, Seychelles had a very high level of human development, enjoyed a decent standard of living, and was considered a high middle income country.  It was on target to achieving most Millennium Development Goals and was considered to be a leading country in Africa with regard to gender equality and the advancement of women.  However, the Minister said despite its big achievements given its small size, Seychelles suffered from many of the same challenges as other countries.  Its history of putting people at the centre of development and its heavy and sustained investment in the social sector had left Seychelles one of the most highly indebted countries in the world. 

The Minister outlined the current national gender priorities, the first of which was adoption of the proposed Domestic Violence Bill to tackle the rise in gender-based violence, which remained one of the most common and pervasive forms of discrimination and was a daily reality for far too many women and girls; and tackling the long delays in the justice system.  With the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Seychelles had launched a Plan of Action 2014 to 2016 on Promoting the Rule of Law and Human Security, which included measures to tackle sexual and gender-based violence.  A One-Stop Centre for victims was planned, as well as training and enhanced capacity for police, prosecutors and the judiciary to investigate and prosecute cases of gender-based violence.  Awareness-raising included United Nations and national campaigns such as the Secretary-General’s international campaign ‘UNiTE for Peace to End Violence Against Women’, Orange Day and United Nations Women’s global ‘COMMIT’ initiative.  Trafficking in women and girls was another priority area, and a draft bill and national strategy on that issue was currently in the final processes of validation.  Seychelles was working with UNODC more widely to tackle transnational organized crime, including training law enforcers on best practices regarding trafficking in persons. 

Other priority areas included the promotion of gender parity and equality in decision making.  Following the 2011 parliamentary elections, Seychelles was happy to have the fifth highest proportion of women in a national parliament in the world, surpassed only by Rwanda, Andorra, Cuba and Sweden.  The proportion of women holding leadership roles in Government, the judiciary and the public sector had been substantially increased.  Teenage pregnancy was another issue of concern, and the Government proposed to harmonize the laws on age of access to medical treatment, including reproductive health services and HIV testing to the age of sexual consent, which was 16 years.  The economic empowerment of women was recognized as a national economic necessity and lever for change for improving not only women’s status but the community.  Progress had also been made in eradicating discrimination against women in the workplace, such as sexual harassment, and in supporting working mothers and increasing access to decent childcare.   Gender mainstreaming and the strengthening of sex-disaggregated data and gender statistics were also vital and the Government hoped to soon adopt a draft National Gender Policy and National Gender Plan of Action to that end.  The vision was for every woman and girl to be empowered with the opportunity to choose their future and live their dreams free from fear of violence or other forms of inequality. 

Questions by the Experts
 
An Expert commended Seychelles for topping the barometer for the whole region in terms of advancing the rights of women and girls, and welcomed the delegation to the first review by the Committee.  Regarding the application of the Convention, an Expert complained that there was no definition of discrimination of women in line with the Convention in national legislation, or a definition of discrimination based on sex.  How was the Convention invoked within Seychelles’ duellist legal system?   The State party was commended for its ratification of the Optional Protocol in 2011, and an Expert asked how it was implemented.  How did the Government work with civil society and non-governmental organizations, an Expert asked, did they involve them in carrying out policies, or provide them with any funding? 

Women’s access to justice was raised by an Expert, who asked in particular about access to legal aid, and whether specific training on the Convention and the Optional Protocol was given to law enforcement officials and the judiciary.  An Expert asked whether the National Human Rights Commission had applied for international accreditation, whether it was functioning, and what the current status of the Office of the Ombudsman was, especially since the Chairperson of both the Commission and the Ombudsman was the same person. 

Response by the Delegation

In response to these questions and comments and others, the delegation said that there was still a long road to travel to ensure that gender mainstreaming was very much part of governance, not only at the highest levels of Government but in society in general.  There was political will to do that, but resources and expert support was needed.   The Convention did indeed need to be more visible, but people’s mentalities also needed to be changed.  The report was long overdue, the head of delegation regretted, and that was due to a lack of human resources and eligibility for technical support.  He assured the Committee that the State party would address all the gaps highlighted in its next report. 

Regarding the definition of discrimination, a delegate said there was a case in the Supreme Court that invoked the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that referred to the internationally accepted definitions.  The Constitution did refer to discrimination in its preamble, and also upheld the rights of all persons, just not specifically women. 

A delegate spoke about the various versions of the National Plan of Action on Gender 2010 to 2011, including its budget, resources and indicators used.  The Gender Secretariat within the Department of Social Affairs was now ready to implement the Committee’s forthcoming recommendations in the next National Action Plan on Gender. 
A delegate said they would provide a reply on the accreditation of the National Human Rights Commission as soon as possible.  The Office of the Ombudsman was running, and investigated any complaint received; women were aware of how to access its services as well as the justice system. 

Regarding women’s access to justice, a delegate spoke about the progress made in reducing the considerable backlog of court cases by use of a fast-track system.  There was a pool of legal aid lawyers who were paid from the legal aid fund, and a claimant could choose another lawyer if unhappy with the performance of the one allocated.  Eligibility requirements for legal aid were loose, but generally anybody who could not afford a lawyer was given legal representation.  Training courses for the police did include teachings on both the Convention and Southern African Development Community Protocol on Gender and Development. 

Questions by the Experts

Temporary special measures were raised by an Expert, who noted that the report referred to ‘positive discrimination’ used to improve the position of disadvantaged groups.  Could the delegation explain when positive discrimination had been used, not just in politics but in all spheres of society?  The State party stated in the report that any use of quotas could prompt a political backlash, but had it considered using other forms of temporary special measures, such as targeted recruitment or allocation of resources to certain vulnerable groups of women, such as women with disabilities? 

Harmful stereotypes acted as a barrier to the Government’s many initiatives and policies, despite its obvious goodwill to promote women.  Quotas were certainly a very effective answer to stereotypes, as seen in many other countries in the region.  There was no doubt that women played an important role in the society of Seychelles, with much significance placed on education and the family. 

The situation of elderly women was raised, as it seemed that women over the age of 50 were virtually absent from the labour market, which was certainly a form of discrimination.  It seemed that elderly women were not regarded as a valuable resource, their image was poor and the simple fact that women over 50 were considered to be elderly was not exactly lavishing them with praise!

Seychelles was a small island developing State with a very small population; it was also a middle income country with good economic development, and the Committee congratulated them on that.  However, that raised obligations in terms of tackling violence against women.  How could gender-based violence be so high and increasing?  To be blunt, why was it so difficult for the Government to tackle the issue when it had resources available?  Was it down to a lack of political will? 

Response by the Delegation

Responding, the delegation said there was a general, unwritten feeling that a quota system could prompt a backlash as people may view a person given a position via a quota system as someone who did not achieve that post on their own merit.  As the President of the Seychelles said last month, they had achieved 44 per cent of women in the National Assembly not through a quota system but through the continuous empowerment of women.  There were other forms of special measures in place for other vulnerable groups, such as maternity benefits, special provisions for the elderly, and forms of financial assistance to those who needed it.  That could be considered a form of positive discrimination because allowances were made for those special groups. 

There was political will to tackle stereotypes, the head of delegation said, although he understood the Committee’s approach and argument.  It was important to have more women participating in the leadership and governance of the country, in all sectors throughout the nation.  The new Social Renaissance Programme would promote the important role of women to the whole of society and all stakeholders, from Government to private sector to local communities to civil society to faith-based organizations. 

Concerning the position of elderly women, a delegate agreed that the Government absolutely wanted to promote their value to all spheres of society.  The Social Renaissance Programme aimed to empower women, the people who governed families, but it was not just women who were targeted by awareness-raising programmes – the Government also focused on reaching men.  The Government relied on people who were retired, on their experience and know-how on how to address challenges.  Although their skills were a few decades old that group often adapted their skills.  So much change had happened in society.  They used the internet to access all sorts of things.  Elderly people were needed to advise the young on what path to take.  A delegate added that it was incorrect that women aged 50 and above were not in employment, and there was no policy as such.  Perhaps 50 years olds were not entering the employment market at that age. 

Questions by the Experts

Regarding legislation on gender-based violence, an Expert complained that the 2000 Family Violence Act was limited to the domestic context, as was the new bill on domestic violence, which also covered all members of the family.  Why was legislation limited to the private sphere?  Ninety two per cent of gender-based violence victims were women.  Why were there no shelters for victims?  What cases of gender-based violence had been brought to court? 

An Expert noted that mediation was sometimes used to resolve cases of domestic violence.  The Committee believed that mediation was a completely unacceptable response to human rights violations, such as cases of gender-based violence.

Response by the Delegation

The new act on domestic violence would criminalize domestic violence, a delegate confirmed.  Currently a perpetrator could be charged under the Penal Code for offences such as assault or battery.  The increase in reporting of domestic violence cases was in some ways seen as a success, as the Government had been working to break the silence around domestic violence and make it less of a taboo subject.  It meant that more people were complaining about assaults, asking for support and redress from the authorities.  Cases were referred to the Family Tribunal, and if necessary to the Supreme Court.  The overall domestic violence strategy took the approach of concentrating on the perpetrator, especially in order to reduce the number of people who were imprisoned.  Sanctions at the Family Tribunal for domestic violence were a fine of up to €30,000 or three years imprisonment. 

The need for shelters for victims of domestic violence was recognized, but in cases of gender-based violence currently families would step in to help a victim in distress. Nevertheless the Government hoped to have a place it could use as a shelter for victims of gender-based violence by 2014.  The new domestic violence bill had a set of basic procedures for the police to follow, including in the collection of evidence.  That would improve the police’s capacity to respond effectively and in an integrated manner in domestic violence and child protection cases. 

Regarding mediation and domestic violence, a delegate said there was a need to counsel families on what had happened, to reconcile families and children after an act of violence.  Sometimes a man may be away from the family home, subject to a restraining order, for six months, or a year. 

Questions by the Experts

Seychelles had ratified the Palermo Protocol on trafficking in persons and had a draft law on trafficking, as well as a plan of action, recapped an Expert.  The State party was also aware of new forms of trafficking using modern technology such as the internet, which were increasingly impacting upon young people.  Did the State party plan to have shelters for victims of trafficking, and what protection and rehabilitation was given to victims?
 
Regarding prostitution, an Expert noted that there was no data available on women engaged in prostitution, but asked about the results of a 2009 study financed by the Ministry of Finance.  The Penal Code stated that any woman ‘of immoral character’ and under 21 years old could be criminally charged for selling sex.  Did that mean that a woman over the age of 21 years old could legally act as a prostitute?  How did the Government support sex workers, especially those who wished to leave prostitution and re-integrate into society.  Sex tourism was an important issue, as it was in many tourist destinations.  Did the Government take measures to tackle that?  Furthermore, many young women ended up in prostitution as a result of drug addictions.

Response by the Delegation

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime was assisting the Government in drafting its new law on trafficking in persons, and in technical capacity, the delegation confirmed, which held various provisions for the rehabilitation of victims.  The Plan of Action contained measures to train all of the relevant professionals, from law enforcement to border guards to social workers. 

Several studies had been carried out on prostitution.  A very clear link between commercial sex work and drug use was found, particularly injecting heroin.  Young girls of Seychelles were vulnerable to illicit drug use, and those girls then became vulnerable to prostitution, and then violence.  Most of the girls interviewed had a history of being victims of violence in their homes, especially domestic violence.  All forms of healthcare were free to sex workers.  The Government was working to create a centre, or shelter, for sex workers along with victims of trafficking. 

The issue of sex tourism was important, the head of delegation agreed, saying that in 2012 over 200,000 tourists visited the Seychelles, and given the aggressive marketing campaign a 10 per cent increase on that was anticipated for 2013.  That meant that Seychelles were prone to be a destination for sex tourism.  To prevent Seychelles from falling into that pitfall extensive training had been provided to all relevant parties to prevent sex tourism and ensure that tourists only visited Seychelles to enjoy the beautiful country and help its development.

Questions by the Experts

An Expert congratulated Seychelles on having the fifth highest proportion of women in a national parliament in the world, which was indeed a great achievement especially for a small island developing State.  She also congratulated the State party on work done so far to promote women into decision-making roles in political and public life.  However, there were some gaps that required attention.  Despite women being more than 50 per cent of the ruling party, none of the top leadership positions were taken by women, and the report itself stated that political parties favoured men.  She asked about the ‘Young Leaders Programme’, a very commendable initiative, although it must be noted that out of 29 participants in the first group 14 were men and nine were women.  That suggested that the pool of potential young leaders in the next generation was already imbalanced. 

Response by the Delegation

Regarding the promotion of women in decision-making roles, the majority of young people were studying overseas, and the ‘brain drain’ was part of the problem.  The Government was seeking to provide tertiary level training at home, but it had to use that pool of overseas students to find future women leaders.  The Government indeed wanted to train its young women to work for Seychelles, but those young women had their own personal ambitions to work in other parts of the world.  Seychelles were proud when one of its young women was elected World Trade Organization chief for Africa, but at the same time lost out. 

Questions by the Experts

An Expert asked about women’s lack of representation in traditionally male-dominated subjects at the tertiary level of education and gender segregation in the career choices of women; were they due to stereotypes and had the State party considered temporary special measures to remedy the situation?

The teenage pregnancy rate was between 12 and 16 per cent and was a barrier to girls’ development, an Expert said.  In 2002, 50 per cent of school drop outs were because of pregnancy; there was a policy that teenage mothers had a right to return to school to complete their education but very few did after having a child.  How did the Government address the issues of lack of finance, shame, expectations on girls as mothers and other main reasons for school drop-outs?  Also was sex education given in schools?

Response by the Delegation

Regarding education and the employability of young girls, there were discussions on going between Ministries of Education and Human Resources, and the private sector, to ensure they educated and trained people based on the needs of the private sector and job market.  Employers did need to be sensitized, but the resources being poured into education had to be value for money and provide the requisite skills for the labour market to maximise economic development. 

Tertiary level enrolment did show clear gender stereotyping but improvements were being made, a delegate said.  Today 24 per cent of students at the maritime training centre were women, many of whom were taking advanced certificates in fisheries.  Courses at the National Institute of Health Studies continued to be female dominated, but 60 per cent of students at the Agricultural College were women.  However the Institute of Technology was male dominated, with only five per cent of women, although the diploma in construction had 30 per cent women enrolled. 

A new policy was being drafted to help young girls to avoid teenage pregnancy and be empowered to make good informed decisions regarding their sexuality.  No current data was available on the return to school rate for pregnant girls.  However, teenage mothers had the choice to attend evening classes where they could take their school exams.

As recommended by the Committee on the Rights of the Child at the last review, sexual education was on the curriculum in schools, included within the personal and social education topic.  Furthermore the Ministry Of Health gave frequent lectures to secondary-level students on sexuality and risky sexual behaviour.  Seychelles had a policy of inclusive, mainstream education as much as possible for children with disabilities.  One school had special classes for deaf children. 

Questions from the Experts

What was the status of the draft Employment Act, and did it make any provisions for maternity pay, an Expert asked?  She also enquired what was being done to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.  The State party was commended for having ratified International Labour Organization Resolution 100 on equality in employment; did it provide for the concept of equal pay for work of equal value in national legislation, and was there any assessment of the pay gap in the private sector? 

The cycle of poverty could not be broken until women received fair wages; the pay gap also led to occupational segregation, with women tending to work in certain low-paid sectors, in lower-ranking positions.  The State party was commended for its efforts to establish more childcare day centres, and the Expert asked what it was doing to reverse the limited involvement of fathers in child-raising, including through paternity leave and flexible working, which obviously held women back in the workforce.

Response from the Delegation

The Ministry for Employment had developed a forum for human resources managers from the private sector to sensitize them as to employment laws on equality in the workplace.  There was collaboration with the private sector to look at what measures were feasible, what the limitations were and what needed to be done.  Amendments were still being made to the draft Employment Act, including articles on sexual harassment, a delegate said, and it was hoped that the act would be adopted in 2014, the same year as the Domestic Violence and the Anti-Trafficking acts. 

Terminating the contracts of pregnant women was a form of discrimination the Government was fighting against; that and other issues of discrimination in the public and private sector against women workers were being addressed.  There was an on-going exercise to close the gender pay gap in the public and private sector.  However, in some areas of the private sector, especially the financial sector, there were cases of cash bonuses to certain employers that the Government could not influence.  Migrant workers were protected under specific legislation.  The national minimum wage covered all workers.  The childcare issue was important, as currently most mothers usually stayed at home with their young children, until the children were of an age to not need full-time childcare.  There was a programme to open more early-years childcare facilities, and the private sector was being encouraged to include crèches in the workplace as well. 

Questions by Experts

The Government was commended for its focus on healthcare as a national priority, its impressive indicators, low infant and maternal mortality, eradication of many communicable diseases and high uptake of vaccines.  The main area of concern was teenage pregnancies; the majority of pregnancies were unplanned and unwanted and that had led to an increase in abortions. 

Regarding access to contraception, an Expert commended the State party for making access to reproductive healthcare free for all women, but it was a concern that adolescents of 15 were not allowed to access contraceptives without parental consent, despite the age of sexual consent also being 15.  It was alarming that the category with the largest increase in HIV infections was adolescent girls.  It was clear that sexual education in schools was not working; adolescent girls were a very vulnerable group and needed to be educated on how to avoid transmission of HIV AIDS.

Abortion was legal up to 12 weeks of gestation on health grounds only, to be determined by three medical practitioners of the healthcare board.  Illegal abortion carried a penalty of seven years imprisonment.  Self-performed abortions were also illegal, and three people had been convicted for that in recent years, one of whom received a two-year suspended sentence.  Despite those restrictions the illegal abortion rate was rising: abortions had been pushed underground, and the rate of abortion-related death was also increasing.  There was evidence that in countries where abortion was legal the rate of abortion-related deaths decreased. 

The rights of rural women, particularly in the agricultural sector, were discussed.  An Expert asked about the impact of climate change, which the Seychelles, as a small island country, was very vulnerable to.  Had there been any study on the impact of climate change on women and had women’s views been taken into account in disaster management plans?

The age of marriage for girls was 15, which was way below the international standard, while it was 18 for boys.  The law stated that ‘in grave circumstances’ a minister could allow a girl younger than 15 to marry.  Could the delegation give more information on that?  Was there a concept of children born out of wedlock, who were ‘illegitimate’?  That was important as 2002 data showed that more than one fifth of the female population were co-habiting, which was a relationship outside of marriage. 

Response by the Delegation

Seychelles was an anomaly on the African continent as HIV AIDS had a male face rather than female as men made up 60 per cent of the HIV population.  The prevalence of HIV infection was one per cent of the population.  There was a lack of legislation to prevent discrimination against people living with HIV AIDS but a draft strategy was being formulated.  To prevent the spread of HIV among adolescents the Government was mainly disseminating information on how they could protect themselves from HIV and teenage pregnancy.  It wanted to be able to make reproductive health services, such as tests, counselling and resources, available without parental permission. 

The Government was concerned about the rates of illegal abortion, and was strengthening its mechanisms to provide young girls and women with adequate information so they could make informed decisions about their sexual activity.  Sentencing for carrying out an illegal abortion was usually lenient, a delegate added.  The Government planned to harmonize the laws to reduce the teenage pregnancy rate, such as by increasing the age of sexual consent to 16; many parents would consent for their 16-year-old daughters to receive contraception. 

Agriculture played an important role not only in the economic development of Seychelles but also in the food security aspect.  At the June summit in Addis Ababa African leaders committed to ending hunger in Africa by 2025, especially in light of the looming threat of climate change.  The Government was in the final stages of developing its own national plan on how to optimize its scarce arable land, given that Seychelles was a very hilly and mountainous country.  There was a need to meet the demands of the hospitality industry, and for the agricultural sector to benefit from the tourism sector.  There was a lack of gender disaggregated data, the delegate said.  Seychelles was leading a number of initiatives to be able to have a voice in the international arena with regard to how small island states could be supported in boosting agricultural production in the light of climate change.  The tropical storm disaster earlier in the year cost almost US$100 million in damage, so disaster management was a key issue. 

There were discussions to get rid of all the outdated laws, such as the ones on the age of marriage, a delegate said; the issues were already on the table and were being addressed.  Of course the marriageable age should be 18, on a par with boys.  De facto unions were recognized, a delegate said, but agreed that the law on ‘common law’ marriages needed to be updated, particularly with a view to a woman’s right to inherit the property upon the death of her partner.  There was political will to make that reform. 

Concluding Remarks

VINCENT MERITON, Minister for Social Affairs, Community Development and Sport of Seychelles, thanked the Committee for the frank discussion; its comments and recommendations were taken in the positive way in which they were meant.  The Government of Seychelles had the will to eliminate all discrimination against women at all levels of society, and strongly believed ‘actions spoke louder than words’.  Seychelles would seek the Committee’s support in accessing support from other international organizations in order to fully implement the Convention.  The proposal to introduce temporary special measures was well noted. 

ISMAT JAHAN, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue, and said it would await the submission of additional written information by noon tomorrow.  She commended the State party for its efforts and encouraged it to address the Committee’s recommendations for the benefit of all women and girls in the country. 
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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