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COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN CONSIDERS THE REPORTS OF BOLIVIA

14 July 2015

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined fifth and sixth periodic reports of Bolivia on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Introducing the report, Virginia Velasco Condori, Minister of Justice of Bolivia, said the quest for the construction of a just society, without discrimination or exploitation, and with full social justice was reflected in the new National Plan for Equality of Opportunities “Women Constructing Bolivia for Living Well”. The Integral Law to Guarantee Women a Life Free of Violence had been adopted, which put in place mechanisms and policies of prevention, attention, protection and reparation to women victims of violence and introduced the prosecution of perpetrators.

Also introducing the report, Nardi Suxo Iturry, Permanent Representative of Bolivia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that Bolivia had halved the rate of extreme poverty in 2009 and continued to provide free education at all levels. Gender-based discrimination was prohibited by the Constitution, while femicide was criminalized and sanctioned with 30 years’ imprisonment. Bolivia was the second country in the world in terms of political participation of women, and the first in Latin America, with women making up 49 per cent of representatives in legislative bodies. The new National Action Plan for Human Rights 2015-2020 had been elaborated, and it contained responses to recommendations issued to Bolivia by various treaty bodies.

Committee Experts recognized the significant effort of Bolivia to reform its legislative and gender equality framework and pointed at disparities in the gap between the law and practice, particularly in access to justice for women. The new National Plan for Equality of Opportunities “Women Constructing Bolivia for Living Well” was very broad and included justice, economy, education, health, political participation and other sectors, but there was a concern about the lack of human and economic resources dedicated to its implementation. The political will of Bolivia to achieve a harmonious and just society was extraordinary and Experts urged greater use of temporary special measures to accelerate the progress in achieving gender equality and eliminating patriarchal attitudes which still dominated the scene in the economy, the Government, and the judiciary. Violence against women remained a serious problem, Experts said, and expressed serious concern about the ten-fold increase in the trafficking in persons over the past 10 years, and the fact that 70 per cent of victims of trafficking were children, adolescents and women, trafficked for prostitution and labour.

In concluding remarks, Ms. Condori said that in cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Bolivia had defined indicators for health, education, housing, the right to live free from violence and access to justice, which made it possible to quantify the progress achieved. The dialogue with the Committee demonstrated that a lot remained to be done, and Bolivia was open to that work. Ms. Condori reiterated the huge political will to continue work and efforts to end discrimination against women.

The delegation of Bolivia included representatives of the Ministry of Justice and the Permanent Mission of Bolivia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 15 July, when it will start its consideration of the combined fourth and fifth periodic reports of Croatia (CEDAW/C/HRV/4-5).

Reports

The combined fifth and sixth periodic reports of Bolivia can be read here: (CEDAW/C/BOL/5-6).

Presentation of the Reports of Bolivia

VIRGINIA VELASCO CONDORI, Minister of Justice of Bolivia, said that action against discrimination against women was fully incorporated into the National Development Plan of Bolivia, which contained the principle of “living well” and the construction of social equality of women and men in harmony with nature and through change in patterns of production and consumption. The Constitutional Assembly had been installed in 2006, in which 88 women were members, including indigenous women who had been at the forefront of the movement against neo-liberalism. In 2009, a new Constitution had been adopted by a referendum, and the new transitional electoral regime had been set up, through which the entire Bolivian population of a voting age had been registered and elected Evo Morales Ayma as the President. The Constitution defined decolonization as an instrument of construction of a just society, without discrimination or exploitation, with full social justice; this was reflected in the new National Plan for Equality of Opportunities “Women Constructing Bolivia for Living Well”. Women constituted 50 per cent of the population, but had been made vulnerable and fragile by the neo-liberal system. The Integral Law to Guarantee Women a Life Free of Violence had been adopted, which put in place mechanisms and policies of prevention, attention, protection and reparation to women victims of violence and introduced prosecution and sanctioning of perpetrators.

NARDI SUXO ITURRY, Permanent Representative of Bolivia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that Bolivia had in place the National Plan for Equality of Opportunities which was been implemented at each level, and that following the latest elections, 50 per cent of electoral titles had been won by women. Women’s right to land had been comprehensively covered in the Constitution which guaranteed the ownership regardless of marital status. The programmes My Water, My Water 2 and My Water 3 had increased coverage with access to drinking water to 88 per cent, and access to sanitation to 51 per cent. Bolivia had halved the rate of extreme poverty in 2009 and it continued to provide free education at each level, and was the second leading country in Latin America with regard to investment in education and culture. Gender-based discrimination and discrimination on other grounds were prohibited in the Constitution and in the Act against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination, which prohibited discrimination, while a special force to combat gender-based violence had been set up. In terms of the political participation of women, Bolivia was the second country in the world and the first in Latin America, with women making up 49 per cent of representatives in legislative bodies. The national health care system was in place which provided universal insurance to children, mothers and the elderly. Bolivia was in the process of setting up the integrated system of prevention and elimination of gender-based violence, and femicide was criminalized and sanctioned with 30 years of deprivation of liberty. Thanks to income distribution programmes, food insecurity had been reduced from 38 per cent to 19.5 per cent. The Law on Mining guaranteed the right of indigenous peoples to participate in the benefits of exploitation of natural resources in their territories and the collective right to prior consultation. The new National Action Plan for Human Rights 2015-2020 had been elaborated, and it contained responses to recommendations issued to Bolivia by various treaty bodies.

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

Questions from the Experts

A Committee Expert recognized the significant effort of Bolivia to reform its legislation and bring it in line with international standards and the recommendations issued by this Committee in 2009, and for the ratification of several important international instruments. The Expert inquired about the key changes that needed to occur to step up the transformation proposed by the Constitution which would eliminate discrimination that women historically suffered, and whether the resources needed for this purposes were available, particularly with regard to indigenous women.

Another Expert commended Bolivia for legislative and Constitutional reforms and for bringing its laws in line with the provisions of the Convention, but also noted disparities between the laws and the factual situation of women, particularly in access to justice. The Law 348 which guaranteed women a life free of violence allowed the setting up of special courts, but there were reports that their operation was being hampered by corruption. What measures were in place to mainstream gender into the justice system?

Responses by the Delegation

The Gender Division had been set up in the Ministry of Justice and it had launched activities to ensure that women were aware about the legislation protecting their rights and how they could claim those rights. Cooperation was in place with alliances of women to disseminate laws and roll out the State strategy in this regard. In order to ensure the effective implementation of Law 348 to guarantee women a right to life free of violence, the Government had undertaken an assessment on the situation of women in rural areas, which would serve as a basis for a new programme on preventing violence against women and ensuring that all forms of discrimination were prevented.

Special courts for combatting violence against women would be set up in all provinces; at the moment, the courts were present in several provinces and were composed of judges and prosecutors seized with the issue of violence against women. Bolivia was aware of the shortcomings, and recognized the need for more judges trained in providing services to women and girls victims of violence, but was committed to set up the courts and so provide access to justice for women throughout the country.

Responding to follow up questions Experts asked, a delegate recognized that a weak point in the country was its justice system, and that was why it had set up the Justice Summit to discuss the issues, and was committed to the implementation and setting up of an effective justice system. Highly trained and empowered professionals were needed, and Bolivia had the School of Judges and it implemented various judicial training programmes; the justice system that it had inherited was broken and inefficient and it required time and effort to put the new system in place. The Constitution recognized absolute equality between women and men, and the anti-discrimination law which prohibited all forms of discrimination, and this also applied to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.

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

Questions from the Experts

A Committee Expert commended Bolivia for the significant progress made in building a gender equality framework and system, and expressed concerns about some aspects of its functioning, including the lack of prioritization in the National Plan for Equality of Opportunities “Women Constructing Bolivia for Living Well”, which was very broad and included not only justice, but economy, education, health, political participation and others. There was a gap between the Plan and the human and economic resources dedicated to the implementation of the Plan. Were there plans to create a Ministry of Women or similar high-level authority with sufficient resources and mandate to implement the National Plan?

Putting in place temporary special measures could help facilitate and accelerate discrimination against women and the realization of gender equality through targeted and focused implementation of laws and policies. Bolivia, with its extraordinary political will to achieve a harmonious and just society, could use more temporary special measures to change the situation and accelerate the progress in achieving gender equality and eliminating patriarchal attitudes which still dominated the scene in economy, government, and the judiciary. Violence against women remained a major problem and the role of the police and judiciary was crucial, but reports indicated that police itself was a discriminatory institution, with women representing only a small percentage of the workforce and still suffering various forms of discrimination in the workplace. How many indigenous women had benefitted from temporary special measures to accelerate their access to university education?

Responses by the Delegation

The Department of Equality of the Ministry of Justice had an Office for the Prevention of All Forms of Violence against Women, a mechanism in charge of protecting the rights of women. Bolivia was aware of the weakness of the system and was in the process of preparing a proposal for its strengthening. In March 2015, an inter-sectorial Council for a Life Free of Violence had been set up with the participation of all agencies and bodies working on women’s issues and it aimed at strengthening the operative mechanism for the protection of women’s rights.

The participation of women in the police and the army was on the increase and this was a result of efforts and the fight that had been waged hand in hand with civil society, which opened new opportunities for women. A bill had been announced which would deal with violence and discrimination against women in police stations, and there would be incentives to denounce discrimination against women in police institutions. With regard to the participation of indigenous women, the delegation stressed that many were represented in the Government, including in ministerial positions.

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

Questions from the Experts

A Committee Expert said that Bolivia had in place an education policy which aimed to change gender stereotypes and asked how it would help women change their status and position in life, and whether specific policies to change gender stereotypes and address harmful traditional practices were in place.

Another Expert noted that more than 10,000 complaints for violence against women had been lodged but very few had led to prosecution, and asked about the funding and capacity building for the police force set up to combat gender-based violence. Considering that a register of violence against women was in place, was the State able to assess the extent of violence against women in the country? The delegation was also asked about a mechanism to ensure the protection of victims and about measures to prevent and eradicate all forms of violence against women.

A Committee Expert expressed serious concern about the ten-fold increase in the trafficking in persons over the past 10 years, and that 70 per cent of victims were children, adolescents and women, trafficked for prostitution and labour. Was this increase due to a growth in the phenomenon, or its reporting? What measures were being taken to address this situation, were they sufficiently gender-sensitive and were sufficient resources provided to ensure effective implementation of policies? Women in rural areas and in areas with extractive and mining operations were increasingly falling victims to trafficking; what was being done to raise awareness and address the phenomenon? Prostitution was a serious problem in the country, with girls entering sex work at 16 years of age on average; what mechanisms were available for their protection and for those women who wished to leave prostitution?

Responses by the Delegation

Globalization had brought greater mobility, with women and men searching better opportunities and incomes, and many falling victims of trafficking. In order to address this problem, Bolivia had enacted the Law on Trafficking in Persons, developed cooperation with border countries, and set up a mechanism for preventing trade and trafficking in persons, which aimed to identify trafficking routes and rescue victims. Issues related to prostitution came under the auspices of public health policies. Trafficking in persons was a very complex, transnational and trans-border issue, and Bolivia called upon the Committee to share all information it had on best practices in fighting the scourge of human trafficking.

The Law 348 to guarantee women a right to life free of violence, prohibited reconciliation in the context of violence against women, and it also prohibited those receiving the complaint or dealing with the complaint to promote reconciliation. The law further stated that security measures must be put in place to ensure physical, psychological and sexual safety of the victim. The Family Code stipulated the age for marriage at 18, and exceptionally at 16 years of age pursuant to parental consent. Pursuant to the Law on Children and Adolescence, a minimum age for work was set at 10 years; this regulation was being negotiated with the Ombudsperson for Children and its legal outcome was still pending.

With regard to the situation of women deprived of liberty, a delegate said that many of those working on human rights issues in Bolivia would like to do away with women prisons, but institutionalization for now must be done. It was important to say that the Law on Pardoning disproportionately focused on women and in particular those with children. A Presidential Decree 2131 had broadened amnesty and pardon with a view to reduce overcrowding in prisons; since April 2015, over 1,700 inmates had been pardoned.

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

A Committee Expert congratulated Bolivia for the significant representation of women in the legislative branch, but was concerned about their low representation in other branches of the Government, including at local levels; what steps were being taken to increase women’s representation in the executive branch and in municipalities on equal terms with men? The Law on Political Harassment was a commendable achievement, and the Expert asked about its practical implementation. What measures were in place to increase the political representation of indigenous women?

Replies by the Delegation

Bolivia was one of the first countries which had adopted the law against political harassment which protected women in public and political spheres; the focus in the implementation of the law was on administration, criminality and constitution. A major obstacle was reporting of cases and this was a subject of an amendment to the law, which would soon be adopted. It was true that the representation of women in the executive needed to be improved, and this might be a subject of temporary special measures, but it was important to say that the current situation represented significant progress and success. The participation of women was significant, including in high-ranking positions, and an increase had been seen in the political representation of indigenous women in the Government, economy, and trade unions.

It was regrettable that there were no women in international positions, and Bolivia hoped to soon have an opportunity to increase its representation of women in international institutions.

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

A Committee Expert asked the delegation to comment on the reports indicating that the pluri-national nature of society was not reflected in the educational system, the profile of students and out-of-school students, and measures to close the gap in enrolment and completion rates for various population groups. Even though completion rates for girls were higher than for boys, the Committee was more interested to know which girls were completing primary and secondary schools, and the profiles of those who dropped out. The efforts to combat racism and all forms of discrimination in the education system were commendable and the Expert asked about measures to specifically combat gender-based discrimination.

The economy was performing well and was growing, but it had not translated into equality between women and men; poverty still disproportionately affected women and in particularly indigenous women. Issues that remained of concern were the treatment of domestic work, child labour, and forced labour.

The delegation was asked about the coordination of the law on traditional medicine with the public health system, how traditional practices which jeopardized women health were confronted, and the life expectancy for men and women and the leading cause of death for each. Experts inquired about the reasons behind the high rate of teenage pregnancy, and how the strategy to prevent it took into account prevention for sexually transmitted diseases, about the maternal mortality rate in the country, and about access to abortion and access to emergency contraception.

Responses by the Delegation

In 2010, the Education Law had been passed which increased access to girls and women to mainstream and alternative education, while the 2013 Law guaranteed the protection of childhood from discrimination. In order to reduce the rate of drop outs, a stipend had been introduced for primary school attendance, the school on foot programme and in some instances transport, and school infrastructure was being improved. The national literacy programme Yes I Can 2006-2009 provided literacy classes to more than 800,000 beneficiaries, of whom 560,000 were women.

In order to prevent unwanted pregnancies, Bolivia was working on the pluri-national plan to prevent pregnancy among adolescents and young women, while abortion for pregnancies resulting from rape had been authorized.

The Government had applied a number of measures to address poverty, including though income redistribution and nationalization of main industries, but poverty still existed in the country, as a result of inter alia, lack of education, training, or employment. It was important to keep in mind that Bolivia had just emerged from illiteracy, and educational goals were high on its priority. Since the adoption of the new Constitution, land could be registered in the name of women, and today, more women than men were landowners.

Today, maternity benefits were provided to all women, regardless of whether they were employed in the formal or informal sector. Health care was free and available to all, but women employed in the informal sector still had problems to access all social benefits. The current Government had been in power for nine years and was working diligently to address the wrongs of the previous 30 years of governance.

Further Questions from the Experts

Bolivia was a country rich in resources and Experts asked how it ensured that the population was informed and actively participated in the benefits of the exploitation of natural resources, and how it ensured that the benefits of economic growth were equally distributed in the society. Rural and indigenous women, especially Guaraní women, were particularly vulnerable, and the delegation was asked about policies to support migrant women and the universal pensions for the elderly. With regard to women in detention, an Expert asked whether Bolivia applied the Bangkok Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders.

Responses by the Delegation

A special bank had been created to improve access to credit, particularly for rural women, to support their entrepreneurial activities. The Dignified Return Plan was in place to facilitate and provide incentives for migrant workers to return to Bolivia; it was important to say that today, there were more Europeans migrating to Latin America then vice versa. All elderly people could access the so-called dignity pension, while provisions were in place to additionally support persons with disabilities, including a four per cent employment quota.

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

Questions from the Experts

A Committee Expert commended Bolivia for the adoption of the very impressive Families Law, which was to enter into force this August, and asked how awareness about this law was being raised and how women were informed about their rights guaranteed by this law. Customs often preferred men and compromised access and inheritance of land by women; did this mean that it was customary law and not civil law that governed the land ownership for women? How was the concept of recognizing unremunerated domestic work recognized in the distribution of property in case of divorce?

Responses by the Delegation

In Bolivia, divorce proceedings lasted many years, sometime 10, because of property that needed to be divided. The Families Law, which would enter into force on 6 August, introduced an advantage of a public notary declaring a divorce in cases where there were no children or no inheritance.

Concluding Remarks

VIRGINIA VELASCO CONDORI, Minister of Justice of Bolivia, thanked the Committee for the respectful tone of the dialogue and the engagement with Bolivia and said that in cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Bolivia had defined indicators for health, education, housing, the right to live free from violence and access to justice, which made it possible to quantify the progress achieved. The dialogue with the Committee demonstrated that a lot remained to be done, and Bolivia was open to that work. There was a huge political will of the Government which had led to significant achievements, and it was hoped that this dialogue would inspire the continuation of the work and efforts to end discrimination against women.

YOKO HAYASHI, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue and encouraged Bolivia to take all necessary measures to address the various recommendations made by the Committee.


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CEDAW15/024E