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COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN REVIEWS THE SITUATION OF WOMEN IN SAINT VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES

20 July 2015

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined fourth to eighth periodic reports of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Zoila Ellis Browne, Consultant and Adviser, Ministry of National Mobilization, Social Development, Family, Gender Affairs, Persons with Disabilities and Youth of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, said that the country continued to design and implement programmes in the pursuance of poverty reduction as its overarching developmental objective.  There had been a significant drop in abject poverty.   It was recognized that much remained to be done in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal 3 – the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.  A National Gender Action Plan on ending gender-based violence existed and was being implemented.  A social protection policy to support women and children from vulnerable groups was being developed.  A major development was the opening of a women’s shelter for women victims of domestic violence. 

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts asked questions about the issue of domestic violence and actions taken by the State party in that regard.  Related questions raised included sexual harassment, provision of protection centres for women victims, trafficking in persons, sexual abuse of children and the way prostitution was addressed in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.  The Experts also wanted to learn more about the high rates of teenage pregnancies and the legality of abortions, and sought further information on the prevalence of so-called back-street abortions.  Other issues raised included payment of maintenance for children, promoting technical and vocational education and less traditional employment opportunities for women, de facto unions, age of marriage, property rights, conditions of rural and indigenous women and gender mainstreaming.

In concluding remarks, Merissa Finch Burke, Director for Social Development at the Ministry of National Mobilization, Social Development, Family, Gender Equality, Persons with Disabilities and Youth of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, stated that the delegation was grateful for the constructive dialogue.  There was always work to be done.  Some issues, including special temporary measures, had been clarified and the State party could soon start to implement them.  Saint Vincent and the Grenadines had done a lot of investment in social development since 2010, which would be reflected in its subsequent report. 

The delegation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines included representatives of the Ministry of National Mobilization, Social Development, Family, Gender Affairs, Persons with Disabilities and Youth.

The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 24 July at 3 p.m. to adopt its concluding observations and recommendations on the reports of Senegal, Spain, the Gambia, Viet Nam, Bolivia, Croatia, Namibia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, whose reports were reviewed during the session, and close its sixty-first session.


Reports

The combined fourth to eighth periodic reports of the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines can be read here: CEDAW/C/VCT/4-8

Presentation of the Reports

ZOILA ELLIS BROWNE, Consultant and Advisor, Ministry of National Mobilisation, Social Development, Family, Gender Affairs, Persons with Disabilities and Youth of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, said that the report had been prepared with full appreciation of the seriousness and importance of the obligations which Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was required to fulfil under the terms of the Convention.  It was the second report since Saint Vincent and the Grenadines had become party to the Convention; the previous report has been submitted in 1997.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was an archipelagic State consisting of 32 islands, of which only seven were inhabited.  The implications of such geography could not be overstated since it presented specific challenges in terms of the delivery of services.  Nonetheless, there had been significant improvements in transportation, communication and outreach of basic services, such as health, education and social services.  The current population was estimated at 109,000, with almost even sex distribution.  The population was still predominantly rural, and one third was under the age of 15.  The external shocks of the global economic crisis and the impact of several hurricanes had had an adverse effect on the economic situation in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. 

Ms. Ellis Browne said that the country continued to design and implement programmes in the pursuance of poverty reduction as its overarching developmental objective.  There had been a significant drop in abject poverty.  The 2013 National Economic and Social Development Plan 2013-2025 was a comprehensive strategy document.  Poverty in the State party continued to be gendered: 53 per cent of the unemployed were young females.  Women also continued to have disproportionate responsibility for caring work such as care of the household, the elderly and the sick.  The preparation of the current report provided an opportunity for stocktaking and reenergizing in preparation for the ongoing work of strengthening programmes for women.

It was recognized that much remained to be done in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal 3 – the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.  Increased community-based training and education programmes carried out by the Gender Affairs Division and other Government departments were taking place.  In relation to gender and violence, the Government was working on improving the legislative and regulatory framework, improving support to women victims of gender-based violence, and improving access and quality to women in education and health.  Saint Vincent and the Grenadines had conducted a sensitization campaign for the Domestic Violence Model Bill of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States.  A National Gender Action Plan on ending gender-based violence existed and was being implemented.  A social protection policy to support women and children from vulnerable groups was being developed.  The Government was also working on strengthening efforts in gender mainstreaming to increase access to women in male-centred fields of study.

A major development was the opening of a national crisis centre – the women’s shelter for women faced with domestic violence.  The Government was intending to develop a victim-support centre, as well as comprehensive social protection measures to support women and children in vulnerable environments.  At the 2012 national conference, the National Council of Women, the main non-governmental organization for women’s rights, had called on the Government to take a number of progressive steps to improve the conditions of women.  The dialogue between the Government and the Council continued.

In fighting poverty, women and girls had been taking more advantage of increased access to education and training at the secondary and tertiary level.  The completion of the Argyle International Airport, a major development project, was expected to provide increased employment for women.  Through the Family Court, women were able to apply for and secure maintenance orders from the fathers of their children.  There still remained the need to conduct an in-depth gender analysis of poverty in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Articles 1 and 2: Defining Discrimination and Obligations of States Parties

Questions from the Experts


An Expert asked about the reasons why it had taken so long to draft the current report.  Was it because of the lack of national capacity?  How could the Committee assist the State party in that regard?

What was the status of the constitutional bill, the Expert asked?

The State party had not ratified the Optional Protocol, the Expert noted.  Were there plans to do so?

The Expert asked what specific actions would be taken to provide for the dissemination and implementation of the conclusions and recommendations of the Committee.

What was the role of the Parliament in combatting discrimination and gender-based violence?  Were there plans for the introduction of a national human rights commission?  

What was the legal status of the Convention in the domestic legal order, another Expert asked?  Were judges trained in the Convention, and had there been cases when the Convention had been invoked?

Another Expert asked whether there was a definition of discrimination in the legislation.  That was central and critical in the implementation of the Convention. 

There was a need for the consolidation of the State party’s legal foundations to provide women with comprehensive protection, an Expert stressed.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that the Government had worked collaboratively with UN Women on the preparation of the report.  The State party would welcome further assistance and guidance in that regard.  The Government had been working on many fronts since 1998, with the focus being on education policies and delivery of services.  Resources were always an issue, which could help explain such a lengthy delay in reporting.

There was no constitutional bill underway or an indication that it would be raised again soon, after it had been rejected in 2009, the delegation responded.

The delegation would revert in writing on the issue of the ratification of the Optional Protocol.

All efforts would be made to disseminate the concluding observations among all the seven inhabited islands.

When it came to combatting discrimination, the delegation said that the regulatory framework was being harmonized.  Laws referred to both women and children.  The State party was using best practices from the Organization of East Caribbean States.

There were currently no pieces of legislation in the Parliament that would affect women as such.  In any case, the Government would be the one to initiate laws.

There was no national human rights commission, or a national governmental human rights association.  No measures were previsioned to develop one at this time.

The State party had a dual system, and the Convention had to be domesticated, which had not been done yet.  The delegation could not provide an indication when that could be done.  Judges of high courts were shared with other Organization of East Caribbean States.  Some judgments had already utilized the Convention since 2010.  

Since the 2009 constitutional referendum, there had been no action on encompassing discrimination with one comprehensive definition.  There might not be moves to make amendments until another constitution was adopted one day. 

Articles 3 and 4: Appropriate Measures and Temporary Special Measures to Combat Discrimination

Questions from the Experts


An Expert asked why the Gender Affairs Division had such a tiny budgetary allocation.  What was its status within the governmental architecture?

Could the delegation provide more information on whether the gender mainstreaming measures had started and what their results were?

Another Expert recalled the Committee’s earlier recommendations on temporary special measures.  There seemed to be a lack of full understanding by the State party of what such measures involved.  It was important to understand that the Committee understood them as very wide administrative, policy and social measures, which often offered remedies for past discrimination against women.  What would the State party do to increase their application?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation stated that the role of the Gender Affairs Division had been reinforced, and that body dealt with gender mainstreaming. 

There had been a serious redress in programmes for women and children, with the focus on women and children in vulnerable settings.  Single parents were deemed the most vulnerable and they were now being focused on.

The National Council of Women did not represent an umbrella body, but the Government was helping that non-governmental organization through subsidies.

Gender mainstreaming was, inter alia, aimed at avoiding duplication, and reducing acts of violence and discrimination over time.  Gender budgeting still represented somewhat of a challenge across the region, and training would be undertaken in that regard.

A delegate explained that there was no quota system in the country.  Such a proposal could be made upon the delegation’s return.  Educating policy-makers in that regard would be the next step.

Follow-up Questions

Training for gender budgeting could not replace real gender budgeting tools.  Could gender-budgeting analysis help in the genderizing of public policies?

Another Expert stressed that while parliamentary quotas would be an important temporary special measure, they were far from being the only one that the State party could take.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation informed that the question of quotas had been brought up in the economic sphere as well.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines had cooperated with other countries in the region when it came to child and gender-sensitive budgeting.  Results should be seen in the next fiscal budget.  The Ministry of Social Development was the leading agency in that regard, and the mainstreaming of gender was endorsed at the central level.

Articles 5 and 6: Modifying Social and Cultural Patterns and Suppressing Exploitation of Women

Questions from the Experts


An Expert wondered about the prevalence of women who maintained relationships without being married and young girls getting pregnant.  There was a correlation between tolerated stereotypes and violence against women.  Which policies were applied to change stereotypes? 

Was marital rape legally recognized, the Expert asked. 

The Expert wanted to know about free legal aid provided to women in need of it.  Were there plans to extend the services of the crisis centre?

Another Expert invoked the concern expressed by the Committee for the Rights of the Child over the reported sexual abuse of children and asked how girls could be protected against that. 

The issue of prostitution and sex tourism was raised by the Expert.  How was the Government working with media and tour operators in order to limit prostitution of minors?  Who was sanctioned – women involved in prostitution or those using their services?

What was being specifically done to combat trafficking of women and girls?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that the Government had conducted sensitization campaigns in schools on teenage pregnancies.  The need for such programmes to be long-term was recognized.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines applied the same model of defining domestic violence as other countries in the East Caribbean.  For domestic violence to be recognized, there was no need for the couple to be married or live together.  A large percentage of women were in common-law unions.  There was a provision that intimidation of victims was a criminal offence and punishable as such.

The Family Court was very prompt in dealing with protection orders.  Women, for economic reasons, sometimes would not have court orders enforced, the delegation noted.    

A national action plan to combat trafficking in persons was being currently implemented. 

Responding to the questions on stereotypes,  the delegation said that male empowerment initiatives had started. 

Because of the economic situation, there were sometimes incentives for families to accept financial compensation if their young girls had been sexually abused by outsiders.  Families would then decide not to pursue the case with the police. 

There was no mass tourism in the State party; it was rather high-end tourism.  Prostitution was not visible and there was no data on that matter.  There was no data on so-called “women mules”, and there had not been any arrests in the recent past, a delegate said.

Follow-up Questions

An Expert noted that high-end tourism could also be connected to prostitution.  The Committee was concerned about the possible exploitation of prostitutes.

Did the new law on domestic violence make it obligatory to provide free legal aid to women victims? When there was a legislative change, how was it ensured that it was disseminated and women knew about it?

An Expert stressed that domestic violence seemed to be a serious issue in the State party.  Why would it move towards a broader definition?  Could women access shelters based on court orders only?

Responses by the Delegation

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines had seen an increase in drug smuggling by men in boats.  Women might still be doing it, but now men were increasingly involved.

The delegation said that the new law on domestic violence had passed in April, and it was too early to discuss the related regulatory framework.  It was explained that rape was addressed in the legislation, but femicide was not specifically identified as such.

The police had the discretion not to proceed with investigating domestic violence cases if they found that fit.  

The delegation said that women and children could go to the shelter before, during or after the protection order – they did not have to wait for the protection order to be issued. 

Articles 7 to 9: Equality in Political and Public Life at the National and International Levels and Equality in Nationality Laws

Questions from the Experts


An Expert commended the State party for having several women in high positions, but noted that only 13 per cent of the Members of the Parliament were female.  No quotas had been instituted for women in public office or other spheres.  What measures were envisioned in that regard?  Were there any plans to mentor women and promote women’s leadership in the public sector?

On the issue of nationality, another Expert noted that women could not automatically pass on nationality to their husbands.  More information was sought about the issuance of passports to children, and whether the father’s signature was necessary.  

Responses by the Delegation

Women were still underrepresented in the Parliament, the delegation said.  A quota system would be looked into.  There were not as many women as men in the foreign service; there were currently two female Ambassadors.  Responsibilities at home made it more challenging for women to stand for public office; the roughness of political campaigning in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was another factor.  The lack of sex-desegregated data was a continuing concern, the delegation said.

The Government would look into nationality issues in the post-2015 agenda.  A reply to the question on the issuance of passports for children would be provided subsequently.

Articles 10 to 14: Equality in Education, in Employment and Labour Rights, and in Access to Health Facilities, Finance and Social Security, and Rural Women

Questions from the Experts

An Expert asked whether the impact of certain measures undertaken in the educational sector been assessed, and whether the attendance of girls had increased.

Adolescents counted for 20 per cent of all births between 2012 and 2015.  Were measures being taken to ensure the return of young mothers to schooling?  What measures were being taken to curtail such high rates of teenage pregnancies?  Was sexual education addressed in schools?

The labour force participation rate for females stood at 55 per cent, as opposed to 78 per cent for men.  What was the State party doing to address unequal employment opportunities and the absence of women from certain professions? 

Did the information provided in the report cover the Grenadines as well, the Expert inquired.

What was being done to increase female participation in the non-traditional sectors of the economy, another Expert asked.  How about night work for women?  Would the State party consider implementing special temporary measures in that regard?

On the issue of sexual harassment, what plans were in place to criminalize it in all settings? Had research been carried out on that phenomenon?  A law would provide comprehensive definitions.

An Expert raised the question of tubal ligation and whether women could do it without the agreement of their husbands.

Abortion was reportedly not offered to women who were victims of rape and incest, the Expert said, and asked for details on when abortion was authorized.  Had the State party conducted any surveys to study abortion cases, including back-street abortions?

Accessibility of contraceptives, especially for adolescent girls, was also raised.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that some interventions had taken place after the submission of the report, with the view of better mapping of households.  The Government now had a better idea of which families needed stronger protection.  Social coverage and school attendance had consequently improved.

Responding to the questions on teenage pregnancies, there were reporting procedures in place for staff in schools, who could report absenteeism or visible effects of students being pregnant.  The Government was cooperating with the United Nations Children’s Fund on developing a policy for adolescents, which would, inter alia, address truancy.

The delegation stated that an awareness programme was to start in cooperation with schools and planned parenthood associations.  It would include information on the use of contraceptives and would complement health education programmes.

Even though girls were more successful academically, their unemployment rates were higher, the delegation noted.  Career fairs were being organized, but behavioural changes did not occur over night.

The data included in the report represented data from both Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.  The Experts’ request to have that data disaggregated in the future was noted.

On the question of sexual harassment, the delegation said that the law had just been passed, and implementation procedures were just underway, so no further details could be provided. 

Night work did not occur to a large extent as there was no significant manufacturing sector.  Data would still need to be collected on that. 

There were programmes for training women for jobs in the so-called non-traditional professions; if there was a gap between girls performing well at school and their higher unemployment rates, that phenomenon ought to be further studied.  Many women were security guards, for example, which showed that women were no longer constrained to take any job that they wished.  Women were also trained to find work in other Caribbean countries, including in nursing.

Universal access to secondary education was now ensured, the delegation said.  Girls could receive certain technical, vocational qualifications, which would help them immediately access labour market. 

The delegation said that the Government was now providing financial support for child care centres, which used to be private; as a result, the child-rearing burden on women should decrease.

There was no information on back-street abortions.  Abortion was still criminalized, which was something policy-makers continued to insist on.

Follow-up Questions

An Expert asked for further clarification on sexual harassment at the workplace.  Domestic violence laws normally did not look comprehensively at sexual harassment.

What kind of work were women from the State party doing in other countries of the region, the Expert asked?

Responses by the Delegation

On sexual harassment, the delegation explained that it was defined as one of the types of domestic violence.  It might not cover comprehensively sexual harassment in the work place, which was not specified and singled out as such.

Access to the data on women working abroad was possible, the delegation said.  Large numbers of nurses and teachers, for example, had gone to Trinidad and Tobago. 

The delegation informed that in April 2015, the Government had started to look into ways of enticing women to less traditional professions, such as construction, and technical and vocational training in colleges was being promoted.

Further Questions from the Experts

An Expert asked how women were benefiting from the overall economic development in the State party.  Could more information be provided about cash-transfer programmes?  How many women had been affected?

Did rural women have access to loans, housing, electricity and sanitation?  More information was also sought about the condition of indigenous women

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that human and social development were being enabled through increased employment and poverty reduction.  The country gender assessment had been funded by the Caribbean Development Bank, which had also funded the National Action Plan to Combat Gender-Based Violence.  UN Women had also assisted in that exercise. 

Social protection schemes had been going thorough reforms since 2014.  There was now reduced duplication of efforts; a database was designed for some 80 per cent of programmes.  The toolkits were designed for sex-desegregated data.  Needs of families were comprehensively assessed over time.  Such a system in place helped recognize that most single-parent households were headed by women, and they were the ones mostly asking for assistance.  A single mother protection programme had also been introduced in 2013.  Rent subsidies were also provided to women who wanted to move into independent living following exposure to domestic violence.

A social investment fund was in place to protect those working in rural industries, especially in banana growing.  Women’s living conditions had been positively reflected as a result.  Women had been granted small loans, of up to $ 15,000.  Women had the right to own land and use their land as collateral.  Women had also been given an opportunity to have households and land transferred under their names. 

The delegation informed that sanitation projects, including desalination, covered most of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.  A great deal of attention was being paid to designing responses to natural disasters, including floods and volcano eruptions.  There were provisions to ensure that women and children were not adversely affected by disasters.
Indigenous women were not being given particular attention as compared to general support provided to rural populations.

The delegation agreed with an Expert that fragmentation might still seemingly exist between social protection tools and economic empowerment for women in the rural sector.  Having said that, one clear tool was now available.  A second poverty assessment exercise had not been done yet, which was why it was difficult to assess the effectiveness of the tool.  Since 2010, the country had been affected by the global economic crisis and several natural disasters.

Articles 15 and 16: Equality in Legal and Civil Matters and in Family Law

An Expert noted that de facto unions constituted more than 50 per cent of all unions in the State party.  Could clarification be provided for the work of the Family Court?  Were there plans in place to provide for registration of such unions?

What was the legal basis for granting child maintenance to children born outside of wedlock?  Were any measures previsioned to protect such children?  More information was sought about legal provisions for ensuring that fathers paid their dues.

Was polygamy prohibited, the Expert asked?  The age of marriage was raised by another Expert.

Responses by the Delegation


The delegation explained that the Family Court was the only court authorized to decide on maintenances for children born in and outside of wedlock.  The same application was used for both groups of children, who enjoyed the same status under the law.  The Court made decisions based on the evidence brought forward by both parents. 

The police could be asked to locate the father not paying maintenance and bring him to the Family Court, the delegation said.

Social research had not yet been conducted to explain high rates of de facto unions.  There were no plans to have them formally registered.

The delegation confirmed that polygamy was prohibited in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Property in the State party was gender neutral and could be held by any person regardless of their status.  Married women could hold property in conjunction with their husbands or on their own.

On the issue of the age of marriage, the delegation stated that it had been raised by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, but had not been addressed by the State party.  The delegation would revert at a later stage.

Concluding Remarks

YOKO HAYASHI, Committee Chairwoman, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue.  The Committee commended the State party for its efforts and encouraged it to implement its concluding recommendations for the benefit of all women and girls in the country.

MERISSA FINCH BURKE, Director for Social Development at the Ministry of National Mobilization, Social Development, Family, Gender Equality, Persons with Disabilities and Youth of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, stated that the delegation was grateful for the constructive dialogue.  There was always work to be done.  Some issues, including special temporary measures, had been clarified, which the State party could now start to implement.  Saint Vincent and the Grenadines had done a lot of investment since 2010, which would be reflected in its subsequent report. 


For use of the information media; not an official record

CEDAW15/027E