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COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN HEARS FROM CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANIZATIONS FROM THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO, AUSTRIA, CABO VERDE AND GUYANA

8 July 2019

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon met with representatives of civil society organizations from countries whose reports will be examined this week, namely the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Austria, Cabo Verde and Guyana.

Speakers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo raised concerns about the growing problem of trafficking in persons, driven by the country’s geographical position and the persistence of armed conflict. Improving the situation of women human rights defenders and adopting a law in line with international human rights standards that would take into account gender specificities was essential, they said. The proliferation of small arms and the lack of adequate laws on monitoring small arms and light weapons were among the key factors that fed into the violence in the country, especially sexual violence against women and girls, which continued with impunity, especially in conflict-affected provinces. The situation for women and girls was aggravated by the fact that domestic violence and marital rape were not criminalized, which prevented victims from obtaining justice.

Speaking were Groupe d’Action pour les Droits de la Femme and IPAS, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Maat for Peace, Solidarité Feminine pour la Paix, Centre d’Aide Juridique et Judiciaire, and Programme Intégré pour le Développement du Peuple Pygmée. A statement from UMANDE was read out.

The National Human Rights Commission of the Democratic Republic of the Congo also spoke and raised concerns about the national mechanism for the promotion of women, women’s access to justice, including reparations for harm done, and the precarious situation of rural women. Efforts undertaken by the Government were still insufficient to enable millions of women in the country to feel the genuine impact of gender parity.

The NGO Coalition and StopIGM said that the last Austrian Government’s agenda had reduced and cancelled public funding, especially for women’s organizations, which had restricted the rights of the most vulnerable and marginalized them even further. Extensive restrictions on legal access to abortion were being discussed at the parliamentary level, such as the introduction of mandatory counselling and a waiting period, and there was a general tendency to focus on sanctions instead of victim protection. The Social Welfare Enabling Act constituted discrimination based on gender, as more women than men relied on these welfare payments. Single parents, children, women with disabilities, as well as refugee and migrant women were particularly affected. Intersex children born with so-called “ambiguous” genitalia continued to be submitted to unnecessary genital surgeries, advocated and paid for by the public health system.

Women of Cabo Verde Coalition drew the Committee’s attention to gender-based violence, and related access to justice, assistance and victim protection; domestic employment of women; health, notably with regard to HIV/AIDS; rights of women with disabilities; and lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women. The victims support centres that had been implemented under the special law on gender-based violence were not available in all municipalities and did not provide multidisciplinary services capable of responding to victims’ needs. The HIV/AIDS prevalence rate was higher for women than for men, especially women with disabilities.

South Rupununi District Council said that, to achieve true gender equality and eliminate gender discrimination, Guyana must consider the particular case of Wapichan and other indigenous women and intersecting forms of discrimination they endured. Most of the traditional lands were unrecognized and untitled, a result of the failure to recognize the collective territorial rights of indigenous peoples, thus perpetuating land tenure insecurity. Mining activities took place in indigenous territories without prior, informed and free consent, and without the participation or agreement of indigenous peoples. Women seeking employment had limited opportunities, and work in the mines was often exploitative.

Hilary Gbedemah, Committee Chairperson, reiterated the importance that the Committee accorded to cooperation with civil society organizations and thanked all for their valuable contributions.

The Committee’s reports and all other documentation, including the agenda and the programme of work, can be found at the session webpage. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/. Meeting summaries in English and French are available at the News and Media page of the United Nations Office at Geneva website.

The Committee will reconvene in public at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 9 July to review the eighth periodic report of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (CEDAW/C/COD/8).

Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations from the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Groupe d’Action pour les Droits de la Femme and IPAS raised concerns about the growing problem of trafficking in persons in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which was driven by its geographical position and the persistence of armed conflict. Women, men and children were trafficked for purposes of sexual exploitation or organ trafficking. The Committee should urge the Democratic Republic of the Congo to examine the root causes of human trafficking in depth and adopt a national action plan to combat the phenomenon. Improving the situation of women human rights defenders and adopting a law in line with international human rights standards that would take into account gender specificities was essential. Abortions were the second cause of maternal mortality in the country, due to the lack of access to information about safe abortion, lack of knowledge about the Maputo Protocol, particularly in rural areas, and the high rate of illegal abortions.

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom said that the proliferation of small arms and the lack of adequate laws on monitoring small arms and light weapons were among the key factors that fed into the violence in the country, especially sexual violence. The Committee should urge the State party to urgently ratify the Arms Trade Treaty and implement the national action plan 2019-2020 on women, peace and security, and provide it with necessary resources

Maat for Peace raised concerns about the continued sexual violence against women and girls and denounced the fact that domestic violence and marital rape were not criminalized. The Democratic Republic of the Congo should put in place a mechanism for reporting of sexual exploitation, adopt zero tolerance for sexual violence by bringing perpetrators to justice, and strengthen the legal framework on the issue.

Solidarité Feminine pour la Paix said that sexual violence was on the rise in conflict-affected provinces, where impunity prevailed. Today, sexual violence against women and girls exceeded the conflict and was present in their daily lives, perpetuated not only by soldiers and armed individuals. The Government must attach greatest importance to the case of the premeditated rape of a 13-year-old girl by a politician’s son and his friends. The lack of a specific criminal provision against domestic violence and marital rape prevented victims from obtaining justice. Electoral laws must be harmonized with gender parity law in order to ensure women’s participation in elections and political life.

Centre d’Aide Juridique et Judiciaire denounced the exclusion of women from decision-making in the mining sector, which had a direct impact on their livelihoods and means of subsistence. Communities living in the mining areas were often displaced from their lands by the mining companies, without prior consultation or adequate and just consultation. Women were particularly affected; in small-scale mining sites, women and girls were often confined to sorting work, which was very toxic and very harmful to their health. The Government should ensure the effective implementation of the law on environmental protection by extractive industries.

Programme Intégré pour le Développement du Peuple Pygmée said that the Democratic Republic of the Congo was a party to a number of legal instruments for the promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples. Due to the lack of attention to the situation of indigenous women and girls, 99 per cent of Pygmy women and girls did not have access to education and were illiterate, while their access to health, including vaccination and preventive actions, was extremely limited. The Democratic Republic of the Congo should implement special measures to combat discrimination against indigenous women and promote their healthy lives.

A speaker read a statement on behalf of UMANDE, a non-governmental organization that worked to promote and protect the rights of sex workers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and whose staff were denied visas for Switzerland. The lack of legal recognition of sex work promoted numerous human rights abuses by State actors – police, security services, and the courts, as well as by communities influenced by stereotypes. The Government should fight against impunity by police, the army, and the security services, and initiate a national dialogue on the issue of legislation for the protection of the rights of sex workers.

Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations from Austria

NGO Coalition said the last Austrian Government’s agenda had reduced and cancelled public funding, especially targeting women’s organizations. It had restricted the rights of the most vulnerable and marginalized them even further; women and girls were amongst the most affected. On sexual self-determination, extensive restrictions on legal access to abortions were being discussed at the parliamentary level, such as the introduction of mandatory counselling and a waiting period. From a victims’ protection perspective, it was doubtful that harsher penalties would be effective, and yet the minimum sentence for rape had been increased from one to two years. Last week, external sex education specialists had been prohibited from providing courses in Austrian schools even though sex education was not an obligatory component of the training of teachers.

Further, there was a general tendency to focus on sanctions instead of victim protection. The postponement of the draft act on violence should strengthen comprehensive victim protection. On social assistance, the Social Welfare Enabling Act constituted discrimination based on gender, as more women than men relied on these welfare payments. Single parents, children, women with disabilities, as well as refugee and migrant women were particularly affected. On labour market policies, the goal of allocating 50 per cent of the active labour market’s budget to women had been removed, specific support for migrants had been deleted, and women were now less likely to receive the highest level of support. The decision to transfer the legal advice provision and representation services to a State-owned agency generated an obvious conflict of interest, which breached the fundamental right to due process.

StopIGM said that, in Austria, intersex children born with so-called “ambiguous” genitalia continued to be submitted to unnecessary genital surgeries -- including partial clitoris amputation, sterilizing procedures and human experimentation. Such surgeries were based on societal and cultural stereotypes of what constituted female or male bodies, and were nevertheless advocated and paid for by the public health system. To this day, rather than combat, investigate and monitor intersex genitalia mutilations, the State party refused to disclose statistics on this matter, and had tried to misrepresent this practice as supposedly genuine health care, despite the severe pain and suffering it caused.

Statement by a Non-Governmental Organization from Cabo Verde

Women of Cabo Verde Coalition acknowledged and congratulated the State of Cabo Verde on progress achieved towards the implementation of the Convention and the Committee’s recommendations. And yet, concerns remained regarding, mainly, gender-based violence, including related access to justice, assistance and victim protection; domestic employment of women; health, notably with regard to HIV/AIDS; rights of women with disabilities; and lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women. The victims support centres that had been implemented under the special law on gender-based violence were not available in all municipalities and did not provide multidisciplinary services capable of responding to victims’ needs. The Government should approve the regulations included in the domestic work law which it had been handed over six months ago.

It was concerning that the prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS for women was higher than for men, and that many women living with the virus had had difficulty continuing the retroviral treatment due to a lack of means of subsistence. Women with disabilities faced many difficulties: access to sexual and reproductive health care was conditioned by the lack of accessibility; health care professionals did not receive sign language training; the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate was higher amongst women with disabilities than it was for women in general; and their access to job advertisements was difficult. Discrimination against lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women took various forms: young women reported episodes of violence, bullying, and discrimination within their families, at school, at the hands of the police, in hospitals and health centres, in the media and when they were seeking and applying for employment. The Government must take immediate and effective measures to address all these issues, in line with its obligations under the Convention.

Statement by a Non-Governmental Organization from Guyana

South Rupununi District Council outlined the pressing issues and intersecting forms of discrimination faced by Wapichan and other indigenous women in Guyana and stressed that the Government must consider the particular case of indigenous women in order to achieve true gender equality and eliminate gender discrimination. Indigenous peoples faced long-lasting land tenure insecurity since the Government left most of the traditional lands unrecognized and untitled, a result of the failure to recognize collective territorial rights of indigenous peoples and the shortcomings in the legislation, such as the Amerindian Act. Land tenure insecurity forced indigenous peoples to compete for resources with outsiders, such as those seeking large-scale agricultural leases or miners seeking gold.

Mining activities took place in indigenous territories without prior, informed and free consent, and without the participation or agreement of indigenous peoples. One such case was the mining concession granted at Marutu Taawa, or Marudi Mountain, which had special spiritual value to the people. Indigenous peoples enjoyed subsistence economies based on farming, fishing, hunting and gathering, a lifestyle increasingly difficult when land rights were not recognized and then natural resources were destroyed and polluted by activities such as mining or commercial agriculture. Women seeking employment had limited opportunities, and work in the mines was often exploitative. Public service jobs, teaching for example, required leaving home and living elsewhere, which was not an option for women with families.

Discussion

Committee Experts asked for confirmation that 34 per cent of rural women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo held titles to the land and that this proportion was declining. What were the possibilities for women’s political participation and representation at local, provincial and national levels, and how did women participate in defining strategies for future engagement with mining industries?

In Guyana, did the possibility for collective landownership, typical for indigenous lands, still exist and if not, which mechanism was in place to allocate the collective land? What was the situation of indigenous peoples coming to Guyana from Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of)? Did indigenous peoples have nationality and identity documents? The Experts raised concern about the high rate of suicide among girls, and asked about efforts to collect data on communicable diseases, and to ensure the equal distribution of health personnel across the country in order to reduce maternal mortality rates.

The Experts noted that Cabo Verde had a legal electoral system and that the participation of women therein would be possible only after the approval of the gender parity proposal, and asked the non-governmental organizations to comment on the political participation of women, including in diplomatic service. Tourism was the main economic activity, but not on all the islands – what were women’s economic activities on those islands?

Responding, the speakers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo said that the Constitution stipulated that the soil belonged to the State, and the State was the one which regulated the ownership. Women did not have access to loans or credits, as they often lacked collateral. The country was undergoing land reform and it was essential to adopt a law guaranteeing land rights and ownership of the Pygmies.

In Cabo Verde, women had the right to vote; in 2016, of the 72 members of parliament, women held 17 seats, while three ministers were women. Women’s participation and representation in political and public life, including in civil society organizations, was limited by lack of child care. The parity law called for at least 40 per cent of women’s participation in parliament.

Indigenous peoples in Guyana had identification cards, but banks required passports or driving licenses in order to issue loans, which indigenous peoples did not have. For almost 50 years, indigenous peoples had been advocating with the Government to allocate them the rights over customary land, where most of farming, fishing, hunting and gathering took place.

Discussion with National Human Rights Institution from the Democratic People’s Republic of the Congo

MWAMBA MUSHIKONKE MWAMUS, President of the National Human Rights Commission of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said that the Government had made up for the delay in submitting its report despite the difficult political context marked by various changes which had occurred in several institutions. The Commission’s concerns remained, notably as regarded the national mechanism for the promotion of women; women, peace and security; women’s access to justice, including reparations for harm done; temporary special measures for women; education and employment of women; and the precarious situation of rural women. Efforts undertaken by the Government were still insufficient to enable millions of women in the country to feel the genuine impact of gender parity. Therefore, the Commission remained concerned and encouraged the Government to take more practical measures before its next review. It notably recommended that the Government accede to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance; put in place specific measures to implement its strategy on gender-based violence, which was adopted in 2018; ensure that digital gender parity was effective at all levels of public life; ensure that existing structures were operational and provided with appropriate resources to implement parity; amend article 13.3 of the electoral law to ensure parity representation was effective and binding; take measures to reduce the gender pay gap; and take all necessary measures to ensure free access to justice, including the implementation of legal aid.

In the discussion that followed, Committee Experts asked if regional offices for the Commission should be envisaged. On the draft bills, they pointed out potential effects on political and civil rights and asked if the Commission had participated in their elaboration. What was its position on these laws? Experts pointed out that the Government did not provide up-to-date, reliable data on various issues, such as the employment rate for men and women. Could the Commission comment on the Government’s failure to integrate the Maputo Protocol, as regarded the draft law on health?

Speakers from the National Human Rights Commission of the Democratic Republic of the Congo replied that there was a legal obligation for the national human rights institution to be established in all provinces, and the Commission had indeed offices in all 25 provinces as well as in the capital. Much remained to be done, however, to ensure that it was present in the country’s towns and territories. The draft bill on human rights defenders was prepared in consultation with civil society. The Senate’s version protected human rights defenders, but the National Assembly’s did not. The Commission had therefore acted to block the adoption of the latter version. Non-governmental organizations should be able to work in total freedom.

On the law on access to information, there had been a lack of understanding of this issue, notably in the Senate, which wanted to include this law in the general law on the freedom of the press. Access to information did not solely bear on media outlets; it also concerned women’s organizations, and indigenous peoples’ organizations, for instance. The Commission had identified obstacles preventing the collection of data, and it was drawing up a programme to address this issue. It had sought the help of international experts to that end. On the law on health, there had been several problems related to various legal definitions – a reality which could not be ignored until the criminal code was amended.

Concluding Remarks

HILARY GBEDEMAH, Committee Chairperson, in her concluding remarks, reiterated the importance that the Committee accorded to cooperation with civil society organizations and thanked all for their valuable contributions.


For use of the information media; not an official record

CEDAW19.019E