The violation of women's reproductive rights must be socially unacceptable and condemned by society as a whole, the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Nafis Sadik, told the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon. Briefing the Committee on the efforts of the UNFPA in the advocacy for women's rights, Ms. Sadik said many political leaders found it easy to acknowledge women's reproductive rights at national conferences, but were "as quiet as mice when they returned home". While people spoke of women's health, they did not always make the leap to include women's reproductive rights, and unless leaders spoke out on the issues, there would not be any changes. In follow-up comments, experts stressed the importance of the Roundtable of Human Rights Treaty Bodies on Human Rights Approaches to Reproductive and Sexual Health Rights, held last month in Glen Cove, New York. The three-day meeting made some 30 recommendations, including a call for the treaty- monitoring bodies to strengthen their working relationship to foster a gender- integrated human rights perspective in their programmes. The Roundtable focused on women's right to health, particularly reproductive and sexual health in relation to the struggle for gender equality and women's empowerment. The Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Carol Bellamy, said that since women now held the key to effective development, there was a growing recognition of the organic link between the rights of women and children. The UNICEF was developing partnerships with countries and helping governments to strengthen policies and programmes that focused on both children's and women's rights issues. She said the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which monitors the Convention on the Rights of the Child, had agreed to share information on working methods, encourage countries to remove reservations and work on common themes, particularly that of girls. However, the closer working relationship between the two Committees was important not only to avoid duplication, but because they could learn a great deal from each other.
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In follow-up comments, experts stressed the importance of a close relationship between UNICEF and Committee to help women understand their rights. The UNICEF should maintain its relationships not only with government agencies, but also establish contacts with national institutions that dealt with women's issues, one expert said. The identification of critical issues that affected both men and women was vital and the linkages between children's and women's rights helped highlight them, another expert said, adding that, for example, girls also suffered from domestic and sexual violence.
Also this afternoon, the Committee concluded its comments on Slovenia's initial report on its implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Noting the declining number of Slovenian women taking part in the political process, one expert emphasized that true democracy meant full and equal political participation. Even at the local level in the last election, women's participation had decreased. Therefore, true democracy had not been achieved, she said.
Since women appeared to be better represented in appointed positions, the experts asked whether structural factors in the electoral system worked against women or if it was due to such factors as a lack of political education, stereotyping, or employment requirements. They stressed the need for affirmative action to increase women's political participation above the current 10 per cent level, and the importance of political will on the part of political parties to institute such action.
The experts also expressed concern over the high rate of abortions and the correspondingly low rate of contraceptive use among women. There was a danger of an otherwise good law, which constitutionally protected a woman's right to choose, making women more vulnerable, one expert said.
Experts emphasized that the transition to a market economy usually involved a number of adverse effects on women, particularly in unemployment. Increased economic demands placed upon women by a market economy often led to women seeking employment in the informal sector, with a corresponding loss of social security and other benefits. Also, an expert asked if the existence of "temporary employment" was not another possible means to exploit women.
The Committee decided to hear an exceptional report on the situation of women in Zaire by a delegation from that country on the afternoon of Thursday, 16 January. The initial report of that country, originally scheduled for the current session, had been removed from the agenda due to a breakdown in communications between Kinshasa and New York. The oral report will be heard with the understanding that the regular report will be rescheduled by the Committee for future consideration.
The Committee will meet again at 10:15 a.m. Thursday, 16 January, to take up the combined initial, second and third periodic report of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
Committee Work Programme
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was scheduled to conclude its general commentary and questions regarding the initial report of Slovenia (document CEDAW/C/SVN/1), submitted under article 18 on that country's implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Countries that have ratified or acceded to the Convention are legally bound to put its provisions into practice. They are also committed under article 18 of the Convention to submit national reports, one year after becoming a State party and then at least once every four years, on legislative, judicial, administrative and other measures they have taken to comply with their treaty obligations. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women reviews the report and formulates general recommendations to the States parties on eliminating discrimination against women.
The introduction of the report by the Director of the Office of Women's Politics and the Permanent Representative of Slovenia focused on the lack of equal participation by women in the political decision-making process, and the difficulty of overcoming traditional stereotypes of women's role in the family and in the workplace. Experts posed questions on implementation of the first five articles of the Convention.
The Committee was also scheduled to hear statements by the Executive Directors of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on implementation of the Convention and on the relationship between the specialized agencies and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
Reports by Specialized Agencies
CAROL BELLAMY, Executive Director of UNICEF, said a great deal of progress had been made over the last year towards a closer working relationship between the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Committee on the Rights of the Child which monitored the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child. In January 1996, the UNICEF Executive Board, in its mission statement, approved children's rights and women's rights as one of the areas for follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995). To do that, UNICEF was developing partnerships with countries and helping governments to strengthen policies and programmes that focused on the rights of children and women. However, UNICEF's focus on rights issues did not mean it was moving away from its traditional work. Rather, that focus only enhanced it.
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Ms. Bellamy said UNICEF had participated in the first joint meeting in Cairo last November between the two Committees. That meeting had recommended that United Nations agencies and bodies do the following: network and cooperate to promote women's and children's rights; disseminate information and mobilize public opinion and awareness; facilitate coalitions among non- governmental organizations; and enlist media support and linkages with parliamentarians.
She said the two Committees had also agreed to share information on working methods, encourage countries to remove reservations and work on common themes, particularly that of girls. The Committee on the Rights of the Child had decided to strengthen its focus on issues related to the elimination of gender discrimination and women's status. Similarly, the Committee to Eliminate Discrimination against Women had decided to strengthen its focus on girls. Subsequently, at several meetings, UNICEF and the two Committees explored key areas for cooperation, such as ways in which programming guidelines could further address issues related to girls and women in UNICEF- related programmes.
In follow-up comments, several experts commented on specific-country programmes that furthered the rights of women and girls, and asked Ms. Bellamy to support them. One expert said UNICEF must not only maintain its relationships with government agencies, but also establish contacts with national machinery and institutions that dealt with women's issues. She noted that, too often, resources and focus that could benefit women and girls were scattered.
Another expert said the organic link between women and children's rights would be brought out more clearly by a close relationship between the Women's Committee and UNICEF. Establishing a complementarity between the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women would help women to overcome the lack of identity they suffered from in certain countries.
It would be helpful if the Convention on the Rights of the Child could be translated into national languages and promoted in the schools, and its principles included into school curriculums so boys and girls could both become aware of the rights of the girl child, an expert said. Further, another expert added that the identification of critical issues which affected both men and women was vital, and the linkages between children and women's rights helped highlight them. For example, the girl child also suffered from domestic violence.
In response to the experts' comments, Ms. Bellamy said that the link between UNICEF and the Women's Committee was evolving not just because of an executive order from UNICEF headquarters, but because of a greater understanding of the organic nature of the link between women's and children's
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rights. In the past, UNICEF efforts had focused on achieving universal ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, as most States had ratified the Convention, the agency's focus had shifted to implementation, and it realized that women now held the key to effective development.
She said it was, therefore, only natural that thinking about the rights of children in a development context involved thinking about the rights of women. Although interventions might differ from country to country depending on different local conditions, partnerships with local, State and national governments, as well as with non-governmental organizations, was important. Therefore, the link between the Committee and UNICEF was important, not only because of the need to avoid duplication, but because both organizations could learn a great deal from each other.
Report of Slovenia
When the Committee returned to its consideration of Slovenia's report, the questioning was directed at specific articles of the Convention. Concerning article 6 on trafficking in women and prostitution, an expert said the report acknowledged that the information on the number of cases brought to court concerning trafficking in women did not reflect the actual situation. What measures were being undertaken to explore the problem and determine the extent of prostitution and other forms of exploitation? she asked. Was information provided to migrant and immigrant women on the threats of prostitution and trafficking? In most countries, there was a general lack of public knowledge about the issue, and the police were often the only ones who had extensive knowledge of the situation.
Another expert referred to increased procurement for prostitution in nightclubs in eastern European countries. If sexual services were treated as an economic activity, efforts should at least be made to see that criminal elements were not involved, she said. Slovenia, with an increased urban population and increased migration, had an increased possibility of trafficking in women. More information was needed in that area.
On article 7 dealing with women in political and public life, several experts expressed concern that, under the new regime, political participation by women in Slovenia had dropped off dramatically. What was the source of the decline and what measures were being implemented to reverse the trend? one expert asked.
A Committee member emphasized that true democracy meant full and equal political participation. Yet, even at the local level in the last election, the participation of women in political life had diminished. Therefore, true democracy had not been achieved. The number and efforts of non-governmental organizations working on behalf of women's rights were impressive, but the
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Government's efforts seemed to be inadequate. Were the non-governmental organizations concerning themselves with the participation of women in political life?
An expert asked for more information concerning women's representation in the legal profession, particularly in the judiciary. Women appeared to have better representation in appointed positions, she said. Was there any kind of structural factor in the election system that worked against women? Regarding the use of quotas by political parties, an expert asked what standing those parties had in terms of strength of representation in the Government.
In the transition to democracy, one expert said the turn away from the focus on the State to a focus on family might reinforce traditional stereotypes and patriarchal attitudes. Another member suggested that the laws on equality should make more specific references to women, since the best law was one that gave rise to no ambiguous interpretation. What was the level of cooperation among government offices concerned with women's issues? Did the Office of Women's Politics have sufficient weight to affect government decisions?
Reference was made to the need for affirmative measures to recruit and promote women in the government ministries, such as in the judiciary. Legislation might be necessary to institutionalize such affirmative action, an expert said. Had any analysis been done to determine why women were not achieving more political representation? Was it due to a lack of political education, stereotyping, a lack of child care or employment requirements? Was there any information on voting behaviour? Some non-governmental organizations should take the lead in encouraging women's involvement in politics. Affirmative action was necessary to go above the 10 per cent level of political participation, and political will was required, specifically within the political parties, to institute that affirmative action.
Turning to article 8 on women's representation at the international level, an expert noted that only one woman served as a diplomat for Slovenia. What measures were being taken to encourage wider participation? she asked.
On article 10 concerning equal rights in education, an expert asked about the teaching of women's rights in the educational system. Another Committee member expressed concern over the declining participation of women in legal and economic education. Were there obstacles that might impede women in choosing to pursue certain areas of education? she asked. Some experts singled out the report's reference to a kind of "positive discrimination in favour of women". Were all schools co-educational?
An expert pointed out that the reported gap in technical training for women could lead to a greater gap in employment, since women would not have
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access to higher paying jobs in the future. Another expert asked if all vocational training was done in schools, or was part of it being done by businesses. Career counsellors needed government support, training and encouragement to promote opportunities for women. A question was also posed about the existence of women's studies in the educational system.
Concerning article 11 on equal employment opportunities, one expert asked about steps to address the rising rate of unemployment among women. Was there discrimination against women because they could become mothers or because they were mothers? an expert asked. The transition to a market economy usually involved a number of adverse effects on women, particularly in the area of unemployment. Increased economic demands placed upon women by the market economy often led to women seeking employment in the informal sector. That often led to a loss of social security and other benefits. What were the statistics on participation by women in the informal sector? Did the Government have a policy concerning the informal sector?
Higher unemployment among women and particularly among young women and first-time job seekers was a problem, an expert said. As for "temporary employment", did it represent another means to exploit women? A question was also asked about the concept of job-sharing. What recourse did women have who were facing employment discrimination? an expert asked. Were labour unions playing any role in training or re-training of women who were unemployed?
An expert asked if there were government programmes for first-job seekers. Affirmative action was necessary in that sector to promote employment opportunities for women. Was work at home or part-time employment recognized? she asked. What was the attitude of trade unions towards affirmative action and equal work for equal pay?
Another expert pointed to the use of gender references in announcements of job vacancies as a barrier to equal opportunity for women. Equal pay for work of equal value was a difficulty in a segregated work force, an expert said. Often, the use of different job titles was a means of pay discrimination when the actual jobs were the same. Why did women retire five years earlier than men? Did earlier retirement determine a lower rate of pension for women? On maternity or parental leave, an expert suggested a kind of affirmative action to encourage fathers to take leave for a required period of time.
Regarding article 12 on access to health care, an expert referred to the high rate of abortion in light of the guarantee of that right in the Constitution. Contraception was readily available, yet there was not a high rate of contraceptive use, an expert said. Had the Government considered a programme for promoting the use of contraceptives to curb the growth in the number of abortions? What kind of counselling did pregnant women receive on abortions? There was a danger of an otherwise good law, which protected a woman's right to choose, making women more vulnerable. The extensive use of
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abortion as a method of contraception could be used by opponents of free choice. In addition, human rights education needed to extend to the medical field, for example, in the area of domestic violence. Was the issue of domestic violence part of the training of health care professionals? an expert asked.
Transitional economies were often faced with a cut in government health services, an expert said. It then gave rise to such services in the private sector. What programmes took care of people who could not afford the compulsory health insurance? she asked. Were there two levels of coverage? What effect did the transitional process have on health insurance and the health-care system as a whole?
An expert asked if any attention had been given to men in the area of occupational hazards to reproductive health. In addition, more gender- segregated information was requested concerning occupational health areas, in light of the occupational health law. A number of requests for more specific information in the area of reproductive health care were made, including data on infertility and sterilization. What was the level of women's involvement in medical research? an expert asked. Had there been an analysis of why women were relying on abortion and not contraception?
On the pension system, an expert asked if the wife had access to the husband's pension and vice versa. Did maternal and parental leave affect the level of pension? Also, an expert drew attention to the need to give proper value to the domestic work of women, particularly in rural areas. There was a great disparity in living conditions between urban and rural women in Slovenia. A clearer picture was needed of the situation of rural women, particularly in such areas as their access to credit.
NAFIS SADIK, Executive Director of the UNFPA, said that both the International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, 1994) and the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995) stated that international human rights treaty bodies implied recognition of a series of reproductive rights. The Conference consensus agreements showed that the world community now accepted that States were responsible and accountable for respecting and protecting reproductive and sexual rights and enabling women to enjoy them.
She drew attention to the Roundtable of Human Rights Treaty Bodies on Human Rights Approaches to Reproductive and Sexual Health held at Glen Cove, New York, in December 1996, which was sponsored by the UNFPA, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights/Centre for Human Rights and the Division for the Advancement for Women. The Roundtable aimed to strengthen working relations among United Nations organizations, the human rights system and non-governmental organizations and, thus, a better integrate gender concerns within the human rights system and the human rights perspective in United Nations operations.
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It had been the first time experts from all six human rights treaty bodies, along with the representatives of United Nations agencies and non- governmental organizations, had been brought together to address a thematic issue, she continued. They focused on women's right to health, including reproductive and sexual health, in relation to the struggle for gender equality and women's empowerment. the Roundtable also examined the interpretation of human rights treaty norms and addressed the need to develop methodologies and indicators to promote, implement and monitor reproductive and sexual-related rights. The three-day meeting made some 30 recommendations. Notably, it called on the treaty-monitoring bodies to strengthen their working relationships, so as to foster a gender-integrated human rights perspective in their respective programmes.
The UNFPA had already taken a step in that direction by asking the Division for the Advancement of Women and the Human Rights Centre to discuss a follow-up, she said. Another priority was to identify the kinds of information on women's health that States should include in their periodic reports to treaty-monitoring bodies. The Roundtable also recommended that the annual meeting of treaty bodies' chairpersons devote one day to thematic issues, such as HIV/AIDS.
The right to reproductive and sexual health was far from realized in many countries, she continued. More than 120 million women still did not have the means to limit or space their pregnancies. More than 585,000 women died each year from pregnancy and maternity-related causes. Many of those lives could be saved by relatively low-cost improvements in reproductive health care. It was estimated that more than 120 million living women had undergone some form of genital mutilation, and at least 2 million girls each year were at risk of mutilation. An estimated 25 million women had an unsafe abortion each year, and some 70,00 women died as a result. A large proportion of abortions could be avoided if safe and effective contraception was available. The rates of pregnancy and infection were increasing among adolescents. In addition, many thousands of refugee women and others in emergency situations were victims of systematic violence, including rape and being deprived of their reproductive rights.
In follow-up comments, experts stressed the importance of including the human rights approach to women's rights and the contributions of the Roundtable meeting held in Glen Cove, New York. One expert noted that some treaty bodies thought they had nothing to do with women's issues, but by the end of that meeting they had their "eyes opened". While people spoke of women's health, they did not always make the leap to include women's reproductive rights. There was a need for an advocacy at the national levels -- an area in which the UNFPA could play an important role, even when there were already in existence laws on reproductive rights.
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In response, Ms. Sadik said that there was a need for governments to understand that "one little project for women was not enough". Women's concerns must be mainstreamed and half of the resources must go to women. Their concerns must be addressed as part of the norm and not as just some "add on".
Advocacy for women's rights was needed and the UNFPA had been undertaking training in that area at its field offices, she continued. Many political leaders found it easy to acknowledge women's reproductive rights at national conferences, but were "as quiet as mice when they returned home". It was not enough to make the right statements. The violation of women's reproduction must be socially unacceptable and condemned by society as a whole. There was a lot of lip service, but intellectually and socially the commitment was not accepted. Unless leaders spoke out on the issues, there would not be any changes.
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