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CEDAW DISCUSSES WITH CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANIZATIONS THE SITUATION OF WOMEN IN NEW ZEALAND, TURKMENISTAN, AND STATE OF PALESTINE

9 July 2018

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon met with representatives of non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions from New Zealand, Turkmenistan, and the State of Palestine whose reports, together with the report of the Cook Island on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, will be considered this week.

Civil society organizations from New Zealand said that gender-based violence was the top human rights issue affecting women in New Zealand, which had the highest rate of domestic violence in countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.  They raised concerns about patterns of discrimination and violence against women, especially Maori, Pacific, migrant and refugee women, which was expressed through the denial of human rights, an unfair burden of poverty, and unequal access to health, justice and social service.  Women continued to be financially penalized throughout their lives, in employment, superannuation and welfare law, and a persistent gender pay gap.

A speaker from Turkmenistan said that women in Turkmenistan had virtually no rights, particularly non-Turkmen women, due to rife ethnic discrimination.  Women had no independence and autonomy, and decisions for them were taken by the President based on what he thought was best for Turkmen women.

The State of Palestine had failed to introduce an integrated legal system to reduce gender-based discrimination and eliminate all violence against women and girls, or to adopt policies to change traditional attitudes and modify social and cultural patterns.  Personal status law continued to discriminate against women, including in divorce, inheritance, and child custody.  Child marriage remained a significant problem, especially in the West Bank where girls aged 14.5 and boys aged 15.5 were allowed to marry.  Discrimination against women must not be tackled with only one piece of legislation, such as the family law, but this required the harmonization of all laws to ensure equality, and this must be enshrined in the Constitution. 

Speaking in the discussion were, from New Zealand, the Pacific Women’s Watch, Shakti Community Council, National Council of Women of New Zealand and New Zealand Council of Trade Unions in a joint statement, Rural Women in New Zealand, and National Council of Women of New Zealand and Aotearoa Youth Leadership, in a joint statement; from Turkmenistan, the Rights and Freedoms of Turkmenistan Citizens; and from the State of Palestine, the CEDAW Women Coalition, the Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling and Human Rights Watch in a joint statement, and the NGO’s Forum to Combat Violence against Women (Al-Muntada).

The Committee also dialogued with the national human rights institution from the State of Palestine, the Independent Commission for Human Rights, and with the New Zealand Human Rights Commission.

All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage.  The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings will be available via the following link: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/.


The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 10 July, to consider the fifth periodic report of Turkmenistan (CEDAW/C/TKM/5).


Discussion with Non-Governmental Organizations

New Zealand

Pacific Women’s Watch drew attention to patterns of discrimination and violence against women, especially Maori, Pacific, migrant and refugee women, expressed through the denial of human rights, an unfair burden of poverty, and unequal access to health, justice and social services.  The election of a new coalition Government in September 2017 had changed the political landscape.  Health disparities for Maori women were visible through barriers in accessing health, and the fact that they had the highest rate of breast cancer in the world, at 28 per cent.

Shakti Community Council said that New Zealand had the highest rate of domestic violence in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, but 76 per cent of incidents were not reported to the police.  One in three women experienced physical or sexual violence from a partner in their lifetime.  It was a matter of concern that government agencies were driving a language change around domestic violence towards the concept of “family harm”, which diminished the severity of the problem and masked the gendered nature of domestic violence.  Also of concern was structural discrimination against migrant and refugee women in domestic violence responses, while forced and underage marriages continued to occur in the country, despite the Committee’s recommendations to New Zealand to intervene.

National Council of Women of New Zealand and New Zealand Council of Trade Unions raised the issues of financial penalization of women throughout their lives in New Zealand, especially in employment, superannuation and welfare law.  New Zealand must legislate the agreed equal pay principles as soon as possible and ensure that women were paid a fair wage.  Female-dominated industries were poorly understood and regulated, leading to a disproportionate impact on the health, financial position and employability of women.  Women were also penalised in social welfare programmes, particularly single mothers who did not declare the father of the child.  Of the 13,000 solo parents whose financial support was limited, contrary to the best interest of the child, 97 per cent were women and 52 per cent were Maori women.  The Government no longer had a national action plan for women with targets, including gender budgeting.  There was no strategic direction, timeline or accountability across the Government for improving the outcomes of women.

A speaker read out a statement on behalf of Rural Women in New Zealand, which welcomed the Government’s guidelines to help policy makers address the challenges faced by rural women by “rural proofing”, and urged the Government to ensure that those guidelines were monitored and implemented.  To date, very little significant gains had been made in addressing challenges that rural women faced in access to health, education and employment, including in accessing the Internet, and midwifery and maternal health services.  Victims of violence against women must be supported, including through reporting incidence of violence and providing shelters.

National Council of Women of New Zealand and Aotearoa Youth Leadership said that women in New Zealand continued to experience sexual harassment and bullying in workplaces that regularly went unnoticed, unreported and ignored.  There was insufficient data about how prevalent sexual harassment was, but it was also very rife in various industries, including the New Zealand Police, Defence Force, the Human Rights Commission, the medical and legal professions, and others.  While sexual harassment was prohibited by the Human Rights Act 1993 and the Employment Relations Act 2000, those laws were not being enforced.

Turkmenistan

Rights and Freedoms of Turkmenistan Citizens said women in Turkmenistan had virtually no rights, particularly non-Turkmen women, due to rife ethnic discrimination.  A non-Turkmen woman was not able to get a good job, including in the lucrative oil sector.  Another problem the Committee should pay attention to was corruption, as well as sexual harassment.  Divorced or widowed women had to have a guardian, and many such women who had children were often dismissed from their jobs.  Women did not have any rights, did not have independence and autonomy, and could not take decisions.   It was the President who took the decisions for women, what he thought was best for Turkmen women.

State of Palestine

CEDAW Women Coalition, composed of 43 Palestinian organizations, stressed that discrimination against women must not be dealt with in only one piece of legislation, such as the family law, but required the harmonization of all laws to ensure equality, and this must be enshrined in the Constitution.  The Government must publish the Convention in the official gazette without any delay and so make it a part and parcel of national law.  Furthermore, women were politically underrepresented at all levels, thus the Government must adopt a law of 30 per cent quotas for the political participation of women, and must also urgently adopt a national action plan on women, peace and security.  A small increase of the representation of women in the judiciary was not sufficient – women represented only 23 per cent in the West Bank and 10 per cent in the Gaza Strip, and most were judges in family courts which were first instance courts.

Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling and Human Rights Watch noted that the State of Palestine had ratified the Convention without any reservations, however, it was maintaining personal status laws which discriminated against women in matters of divorce, inheritance, and child custody; they could not travel abroad without their husband’s permission, and men were allowed polygamy.  Child marriage remained a significant problem.  In the West Bank, the minimum age of marriage was set at 14.5 years for girls and 15.5 for boys; in Gaza, it was 17 for girls and 18 for boys.  Sharia courts had the discretion to allow younger children to marry if they believed that it was in their best interest.

NGO’s Forum to Combat Violence against Women (Al-Muntada) said that violence against women in the Palestinian society reflected the outcome of imbalance in power relationships between women and men.  The State of Palestine had failed to introduce an integrated legal system that could reduce gender-based discrimination to eliminate all violence against women and girls.  No policies had been taken to change traditional attitudes and modify social and cultural patterns.  Such gender-based discrimination was expressed through high rates of domestic violence by intimate partners, and increasing rates of femicide, many of which were so-called “honour” killings which had an important place in the society, also as a pretext to deprive women of their legal rights.  Marital rape was not penalized, while in case of incest, the law viewed both parties to the sexual act as guilty without taking into account power relations and male domination within the family.  Abortion was criminalized and women could be sentenced to three to six years’ imprisonment for having an abortion, even in the case of rape.  The Committee should urge the Government to adopt the draft penal law of 2011 and the family protection law.

Discussion

On the State of Palestine, the Experts took noted of the concerns and issues raised in relation to the legal discrimination against women, and asked what more could be done to ensure the harmonization of laws, and coordination between different human rights mechanisms.  What could be done to enhance the capacity of women to ensure their greater participation in the mainstream economy, rather than the marginal one?  Due to the absence of a parliament or the Palestinian Legislative Council in the country, what mechanisms were in place to ensure that new laws were passed or previous ones amended, and what were the possible civil options to family laws that could change the situation on the ground?

An Expert remarked that a lot of information contained in the New Zealand report referred to the situation under the previous Government and asked whether some positive changes were being already felt under the new coalition Government.  The Committee was well aware about the inequality of women in the economic areas, including pay, and asked whether the situation was regressing.

Speakers from New Zealand said that they would submit their replies to the Committee’s questions in writing.

Representatives of Palestinian non-governmental organizations said that the Palestinian Legislative Council had been absent for 11 years, but the President could invoke it any day.  Women must be represented in the Constitutional Committee, said a speaker, stressing that there had been an agreement between civil society and the Government on the drafting of a penal code since 2011, and which had not yet been adopted.  Such a law could be adopted by a presidential decree, the first step in the economic empowerment of women would be legal protection in the labour law for the informal sector, as most of informal economy workers were women.  Further, minimum wage law must be adopted, adequate budgets for women empowerment allocated, while challenges that women working in agriculture faced due to Israeli occupation and patriarchy must be monitored. 

Considering that the State of Palestine had not entered any reservations to article 16 of the Convention, it was possible, even in the absence of the Palestinian Legislative Council, to amend the personal status law that was compatible with the Convention, and took into account the diversity of the Palestinian society.  Many such changes could be implemented through presidential decrees, speakers stressed, underlining that discrimination against women was not only a result of laws but also of curricula in schools which promoted gender stereotypes and promoted gender inequality and discrimination against women.

Discussion with National Human Rights Institutions

KHADIJA ZAHRAN, Director of Policies and Legislation Department, Independent Commission for Human Rights of Palestine, said that the Commission, established in 1993 to safeguard the rights of the Palestinian citizens, was a full member of the Global Alliance for National Human Rights Institutions.  The fact that the coalition Government established in 2013 did not control the Gaza Strip impeded the implementation of laws, decisions and international treaties that the State of Palestine was a party to.  The same applied to the West Bank, which was under Israeli occupation.  In addition, political developments in the first part of 2018 clearly showed that reconciliation could not be completed in the short run, thus it would not be possible for the Government to take control of the Gaza Strip in the near future.  Ms. Zahran noted that since its accession to the Convention, the Government had not made any declarations that showed its intention to ratify the Optional Protocol, nor had it published any agreements in the official gazette, including on the Convention.  Despite the existence of the adaptation committee, and the elaboration of the adaptation plan for 2018, which planned to harmonize the legislation with the Convention, including through amendments to codes of criminal procedures, personal status laws, and election laws, several laws had been recently passed that represented an impediment to women’s rights, in violation of the Convention, including the law on electronic crimes which constrained women’s freedom of expression through media outlets.

JACKIE BLUE, Equal Employment Opportunities and Women’s Rights Commissioner, New Zealand Human Rights Commission, said that gender-based violence remained the most significant human rights issue affecting women in New Zealand, and it was a matter of concern that the strategy for addressing gender-based violence had changed multiple times over the past 20 years.  Each new government started “from scratch”, but none had improved the extremely broken system which required a long-term, coherent policy and strategy with measureable milestones, developed in dialogue with all women in New Zealand, especially women with disabilities, and Maori and ethnic minorities who represented most victims.  Equality for women in the workforce or seeking employment had not improved, and progress for marginalized women continued to be slow. 

Ms. Blue welcomed the launch last week of the Gender Pay Principles which aimed to achieve zero gender pay gap in public services by 2021, and urged the Committee to impress upon the Government to ensure that those were implemented across all workplaces, and to take meaningful steps – including temporary special measures – to address the lack of women in leadership roles.  In this, said Ms. Blue, the Government must establish measurable strategies and goals to allow this to happen, and affordable high-quality childcare must be prioritized as an enabler.  In terms of exploitation and trafficking, none of the Committee’s previous recommendations had been progressed, thus updating the plan to prevent trafficking in people, which had not been done since 2009, must be done urgently.    

Discussion with Committee Experts

Committee Experts asked about the current situation concerning the independence, staff and financing of the national human rights institution from the State of Palestine, as well as whether the national human rights institution’s complaint mechanism was accessible to migrants in New Zealand.

Independent Commission for Human Rights of Palestine said that since its establishment in 1993, its activities had been funded by donors, rather than from the public budget; in 2011, a budget line in the public budget specifically for the Commission had been introduced, to the tune on $ 100,000.

New Zealand Human Rights Commission said that the Human Rights Act at the moment did not include migratory status as a prohibited ground of discrimination.  There were some ongoing debates on the issue, but no progress could be reported at the moment.


For use of the information media; not an official record 

CEDAW18/19E