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CEDAW DISCUSSES SITUATION OF WOMEN IN ISRAEL, KUWAIT, KENYA AND OMAN WITH CIVIL SOCIETY REPRESENTATIVES

30 October 2017

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon met with representatives of non-governmental organizations from Israel, Kuwait, Kenya and Oman, whose reports on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women will be considered during the second week of the session.

Representatives of non-governmental organizations from Israel delivered oral reports in which they expressed concerns about institutionalized gender-based discrimination in the family law system. The family law was under the exclusive jurisdiction of religious law, and there was no civil alternative, and like much of traditional religious law, it favoured men. Speakers raised the issue of arbitrary revoking the citizenship of Palestinian Bedouin citizens of Israel, which left this already marginalized group more vulnerable, and the particularly vulnerable situation of Palestinian women citizens of Israel who should be recognized as a distinct national minority subgroup in need of special legal protections.

In Kuwait, discrimination against women in matters of nationality, in education and in employment remained of concern, as did the continued legal qualification of honour killings as a misdemeanour. Kuwait must adopt a comprehensive law against violence against women and provide strict criminal sanctions for perpetrators, while the Personal Status Act which governed matters of marriage and divorce for the majority Sunni population consistently treated women as inferior, and permitted polygamy and child marriage. Such discriminatory laws and practices could not be justified in the name of religion and must be changed to ensure equality and justice for women.

Gender equality in Kenya remained formal and not substantive, said speakers from non-governmental organizations, and urged the Committee to address in the dialogue with the State party issues of the inadequate participation of women in public and political life, lack of a codified Muslim family law, high maternal mortality rates, and the fact that in Kenya, 45 per cent of women experienced violence and 21 per cent were victims of sexual violence, especially in informal settlements. The Experts should also ask about access to justice for women.

Oman had made very little progress in removing discrimination from marriage and family related law and practice, while numerous forms of discrimination remained in the Personal Status Law. Oman had adopted a legal framework that placed women under male authority, allowed polygamy and child marriage, and granted a man the right to unilaterally divorce his wife at his will, without her knowledge let alone her consent.

Speaking during the discussion were non-governmental organizations from Israel: Rackman Centre for the Advancement of the Status of Women in Israel at Bar Ilhan University, Nivcharot, the Working Group on the Status of Palestinian Citizens of Israel, Adala: the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Palestinian Working Women Society for Development, and Women Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling; non-governmental organizations from Kuwait: Human Line Organization, Abolish 153 and Musawah; Federation of Women Lawyers, National Adolescent and Youth Organization, International Commission of Jurists-Kenya, and CLEAR from Kenya; and Musawah on the situation of women in Oman.

When the Committee reconvenes in public on Tuesday, 31 October at 10 a.m., it will begin its consideration of the sixth periodic report of Israel (CEDAW/C/ISR/6).

Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations

Israel

Rackman Centre for the Advancement of the Status of Women in Israel at Bar Ilhan University drew the Committee’s attention to the institutionalized gender-based discrimination in the family law system, which affected all women regardless of religion or socio-economic status. In Israel, family law was under the exclusive jurisdiction of religious law, and there was no civil alternative; like much of traditional religious law, it favoured men. Women could not serve as judges or directors in religious courts, and could not be elected to ultra-religious parties. Jewish women in Israel faced a unique problem: the validity of a Jewish divorce was dependent on the husband freely granting a bill of divorce, and this power gap led to husbands refusing to grant divorce unless women conceded to their demands, including abandoning property rights, custody or financial extortion.

A representative of Nivcharot spoke about the Charedi community, an ultra-orthodox Jewish idealistic group in Israel, in which women were the main and only providers for families as Charedi men were committed to Torah learning. Charedi women did not have political representation and were formally denied the right to be elected for parliament. If Charedi women dared to challenge the situation, even in a local non-Charedi party, they were exposed to threats and violence.

Working Group on the Status of Palestinian Citizens of Israel took the floor and said that the Palestinian women citizens comprised some 10 per cent of Israel’s population; their national minority status should be reflected in the Committee’s questions and should not be conflated with other groups of disadvantaged women. This terminology was particularly important given Israel’s lack of constitutional protection for the right to equality, and its ongoing refusal to recognize the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel as a national minority, and recognize Palestinian women citizens of Israel as a distinct subgroup that might require special legal protections.

A speaker for Adala: the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel drew attention to Israel’s arbitrary revoking the citizenship of Palestinian Bedouin citizens of Israel. The citizenship was the basis of other basic rights in the State and its revocation further marginalized an already vulnerable group and stripped it of fundamental constitutional protections.

Palestinian Working Women Society for Development spoke of Palestinian women who faced grave human rights violations because of the illegal Israeli occupation and highlighted the discrimination under family reunification which denied spouses from the occupied Palestinian territories who were married to Israeli citizens or permanent residents the opportunity to acquire Israeli citizenship or residency rights. At least 12,000 people had no legal status in Israeli because of this law. The non-governmental organization also raised concern about the situation of Palestinian female prisoners.

Women Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling highlighted three alarming issues that Palestinian women experienced as a result of the Israeli prolonged occupation in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza, including Israeli military night raids on homes, which were terrifying and humiliating experiences, during which women sometimes had to suffer degrading bodily searches and witness their young children being beaten, arrested or taken aware. Also of concern was the continued construction of Israeli settlements and settler violence, with reports indicating a dramatic 88 per cent increase of settlers’ violence in 2017 compared to 2016.

Kuwait

A representative of Human Line Organization raised concern about discrimination against women in the Kuwaiti nationality law, as women married to non-Kuwaitis had less privileges than men married to non-Kuwaiti women. Women also suffered discrimination on the basis of legal capacity, and the lack of a mental health law put women detained in psychiatric institutions in danger. In some public hospitals, women still required an approval by a husband or a male relative before undergoing surgery, while the husband’s signature was a requirement for all obstetric and gynaecologic surgeries. The non-governmental organization also raised concern about discrimination against women in matters of education and employment, and spoke of the violations that domestic workers suffered.

A speaker for Abolish 153 drew the Committee’s attention to honour killings in Kuwait and said that Article 153 of the penal code considered the so-called “honour killing” of a female kin or her lover as a misdemeanour. This law was unjust, inhumane and a serious violation of human rights. There was a need to abolish other discriminatory legal provisions in the country, including article 182 of the penal code commonly known as the kidnap and marriage law and article 29 which sanctioned domestic violence in the name of discipline. Kuwait must adopt a comprehensive law against violence against women and provide strict criminal sanctions for perpetrators, and shelters for female survivors of gender-based violence must be established.

A representative of Musawah said that there was no family law that was uniformly and equally applicable to all citizens. The Kuwaiti Personal Status Act governed matters of marriage and divorce for the majority Sunni population, but no codified law for Kuwait’s Shi’a minority existed, leading to arbitrary and unpredictable standards of justice. The Kuwaiti Personal Status Act consistently treated women as inferior in the context of marriage and family; Sunni women did not even have to be present during a marriage ceremony and could potentially be married off without their knowledge. Child marriage continued to be recognized and permitted; the Personal Status Act did not stipulate a minimum age of marriage and permitted registration of marriages for girls as young as 15 and boys as young as 17. Such discriminatory laws and practices could not be justified in the name of religion and must be changed to ensure equality and justice for women.

Kenya

Federation of Women Lawyers, National Adolescent and Youth Organization, and International Commission of Jurists-Kenya, delivered a joint statement on behalf of 34 Kenya based non-governmental organizations.

Federation of Women Lawyers said that gender equality remained formal and not substantive, and was often recognized in law but not implemented in practice. The Committee should recommend that Kenya repeal any law articles which perpetuated discrimination against women, and deliberately plan for full implementation of the family laws in accordance with the Constitution. Family matters affecting Muslim women were governed by the Sharia law, but Kenya still did not have a codified Muslim family law which was an impediment to access to justice for women.

A representative of National Adolescent and Youth Organization said that women represented over 51 per cent of the population and 47 per cent of registered voters in Kenya but this numerical strength was not reflected in the representation of women in public life in general and political leadership in particular. The Constitution provided for temporary special measures to increase the representation of women, but the State had failed to enact the legislation that gave effect to the requirement that not more than two-thirds of the members of elective and appointive public bodies should be of the same gender. The Committee should urge Kenya to implement a law to actualize the two-thirds gender principle in the 2017 National Assembly and Senate.

A speaker for International Commission of Jurists-Kenya drew attention to maternal mortality rates in Kenya, where 16 women died every day due to pregnancy and child birth complications. Women were exposed to obstetric fistulae due to early marriage, female genital mutilation and lack of maternal health services. The Committee should urge Kenya to increase its health care budget to facilitate accessible, affordable and quality reproductive healthcare services for all women in the country. The Government should also address high rates of violence against women, as 45 per cent of women in Kenya had experienced violence and 21 per cent were victims of sexual violence, especially in informal settlements.

CLEAR urged the Committee to ask the delegation from Kenya about the pilot national legal aid project in six regions and in particular about types of legal aid provided and the eligibility criteria. With regard to national machinery for the advancement of women, the Committee should inquire about the existing framework for collecting sex disaggregated data, and recommend that all government agencies, including law enforcement, collected data disaggregated by sex, age, ethnicity and disability pertaining to all areas covered by the Convention.

Oman

A speaker for Musawah drew attention to the very little progress made in removing discrimination from marriage and family related law and practice in Oman, and to the continued numerous forms of discrimination that remained in the Personal Status Law. Oman had adopted a legal framework that placed women under male authority, allowed polygamy and child marriage, and granted a man the right to unilaterally divorce his wife at his will, without her knowledge let alone her consent.

In the twenty-first century, this discriminatory legal framework was untenable, and yet, there was still a great deal of resistance to the idea of reforming Muslim family laws and practices because of the notion that they were divine. It was a high time that Oman, Kuwait and Kenya recognized the ground-breaking progress made in scholarship, activism and law reform in the Muslim world – Governments could not continue to hide behind the shield that those discriminatory laws were God’s laws, and therefore infallible and unchangeable. Much of what was deemed to be “Islamic law” or Sharia’ah law by those States parties, was in fact fiqh – jurisprudence thus it was not divine law, it was human-made, fallible and changeable.

Questions by Committee Members

An Expert took up the issue of the Bidoun, the stateless population in Kuwait, and the percentage of women among this population who had been regularized. What would the nationality of a child born to a Kuwaiti woman married to a stateless Bidoun be? Could a husband take a second wife without prior approval of the first wife? Could the non-governmental organizations speak about legal access to abortion?

As for Oman, there was a royal decree that allowed women to obtain a passport without a husband’s permission – how was this being implemented in practice?

A Committee Expert asked about sexual violence in Israel and what the legal system said about sex-based segregation. What was the access to social rights that Palestinians married to Israeli citizens had? What could religious courts in Israel do to limit the abuse of divorce proceedings?

In Kenya, the non-governmental organizations were asked about the best approach to pass the two-third gender representation principle. An Expert remarked that a law allowed for a registration of customary marriages and asked how this law was being implemented in practice. How were women protected from political violence during elections and how much did stereotypes play a role in women’s reticence to run for elections?

Responses by Non-governmental Organizations

Representatives of organizations took the floor to respond to questions posed by the Committee on Israel and said that the political will was lacking to stop the regression in the situation of the rights of women. The rabbinical court could “force” a husband to give the get, a divorce to the wife, but this was not being used often enough. The practice of segregation between the sexes existed in Israel, in schools, universities or public transport. Sexual harassment was a taboo in the Jewish society which was still largely traditional, so anyone speaking out was victimized all over again.

The nationality law of Kuwait discriminated against women, and defined the passing of nationality by blood of the father. Mothers were unable to pass their nationality to their children, which deprived children of a full spectrum of social and political rights. It was not known what constituted a valid legal abortion.

A representative from non-governmental organizations from Kenya provided some additional information about the registration of customary marriages.

In Oman, it was not clear whether the royal decree was being implemented, but it was certain that guardianship was a requirement for women to obtain any other documents. Oman should stop treating women as perpetual minors.



For use of the information media; not an official record

CEDAW/17/34E