Members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women expressed concern this afternoon that many of the proposed laws to improve the status of women in Venezuela, including a bill on sexual and family violence, had not yet been adopted. They also noted the wide discrepancy in wages for women and men and the marginalization of women into lower paid, stereotypical work.
The Committee, which monitors the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, was responding to the third report by Venezuela which was presented this morning. One expert cited decreased government funding for health care and said figures for budgetary health allocations were very important to monitor compliance with the Convention. She was troubled with the decrease in spending in the face of increased maternal mortality rates and asked whether women were being disproportionately affected because of economic adjustment policies.
One expert described the country's abortion laws as the most restrictive in Latin America. Another asked if the Government paid for abortion in cases of incest or rape and why teenagers needed parental consent to obtain contraception.
In response to the experts questions, Carmen Teresa Martinez, a representative of Venezuela, said that doctors had gone on strike recently to protest the low wages, and the Government would be allocating more money for health care.
Responding to questions as to why the Ministry of Women was no longer in existence, Tanya Guzman, of the National Council for Women of Venezuela, said it had been replaced by the Council, which had more power to advise government ministries and non-governmental organizations. It had its own budget, could implement policy and was autonomous, reporting directly to the President, she added.
One expert said Venezuela was one of the first countries in Latin America to set up a Ministry for Women's Affairs, and its women supported the national machinery established to implement the Convention and follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995). States parties had the sovereign right to decide on the type of machinery they wanted to promote women's rights. It was more important for the Committee to examine each country's achievements and how the various institutions implemented the Convention, than focus on the type of institutions.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Friday, 24 January, to hear a report by Denmark.
Committee Work Programme The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this afternoon to continue its questions and comments on the third periodic report of Venezuela, which was presented this morning (document CEDAW/C/VEN/3).
Countries that have ratified or acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women 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 to comply with their treaty obligations. The Committee of experts, who serve in their personal capacity, reviews the report and formulates general recommendations to the States parties on eliminating discrimination against women.
The report summarizes government efforts from 1989 to 1995 to implement the provisions of the Convention, which Venezuela ratified in 1983. It says there is a lack of comprehensive, social policies directed at women as individuals and not merely as mothers or heads of households; a disregard for training and skills development to achieve higher literacy rates and proficiency in non-traditional women's occupations; and an absence of programmes to develop women's self-esteem as a tool for their personal and social development.
Administrative and legislative measures to implement the Convention include the establishment of the National Office for Women's Affairs in 1984 and the appointment in 1989 of a woman Minister for the Advancement of Women to coordinate and implement programmes to promote women's participation in all fields. In 1990, the second Venezuelan Women's Congress approved the National Women's Council whose objective is to achieve full de facto and de jure equality between men and women in conformity with the Convention's provisions. In September 1993, the Equal Opportunities for Women Act provided for the establishment of the National Women's Institute. (For a summary of the report, see Press Release WOM/940, issued today.)
Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 3 - Press Release WOM/941 324th Meeting (PM) 22 January 1997
Comments by Experts
An expert said that the bill on family violence had not yet been adopted. She disagreed with another expert's comments regarding the levels of women in the cabinet and her questions on the role of the National Council for Women's Affairs and the National Institute for Women. Venezuela was one of the first countries in Latin America to set up a Ministry for Women's Affairs, which later became the Ministry for the Family. Venezuelan women supported the national machinery established to implement the Convention and follow-up on the Fourth World Conference for Women (Beijing, 1995). It was a sovereign right of every country to decide on the type of machinery it wanted to promote women's rights. It was more important to examine each country's achievements and how the various institutions implemented the Convention.
Another expert said, according to the Beijing Platform for Action, the Committee was mandated to take into account efforts to revoke restrictions against abortion. Venezuela seemed to have one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Latin America even in cases of rape and incest. She noted that the law did not allow teenagers to use contraception without parental permission. Did the same citizenship laws apply to men and women marrying foreigners? she asked.
Venezuela's next report should include information on the number of children in child-care centres, as well as the numbers of women taking tests for cervical cancer and mammography. It seemed those medical services were expensive and, therefore, not readily available to all women regardless of income. How many women had access to higher education? she asked.
Another expert asked about the kind of jobs women who migrated to cities did. She said provisions in the employment organization act to protect maternity and family did not apply equally to adoptive mothers and fathers. She also drew attention to the discrepancies in pay for women and men, especially for those on minimum wage. Were there any penalties for those who did not pay minimum pay to their workers? she asked.
An expert said she had difficulty following all of the answers by the Venezuelan delegation. Her questions focused on health care for women. She asked for clarification on the percentage of the government budget allocated to health care. The figures about budgetary allocations for health were very important in order to monitor compliance with the Convention. She was troubled with the reported decrease of 2.3 per cent in health funding compared with the previous year, given the increase in maternal mortality rates.
According to the report, there was a shortage of contraception due to decreased government spending, and non-governmental organizations were meeting that need, she said. However, the situation was unsatisfactory. Were women being disproportionately affected by lower spending on health care because of
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economic adjustment policies? And did the Government cover the cost of abortion when a woman's life was at risk? she asked.
Another expert asked for more information on the wage discrepancies between men and women. Were women being exploited by being paid below minimum wages? Were there any mechanisms to monitor the problem, and were there any sanctions or penalties for those who violated minimum wage laws?
CARMEN TERESA MARTINEZ (Venezuela), in answer to questions concerning decreased spending on health care, noted that doctors had gone on strike in Venezuela to protest the low wages. The Government would be allocating more money for health care. There was a cultural and educational problem in getting women to go to doctors for breast- and uterine-cancer screening. They tended to go to midwives.
TANYA GUZMAN, of Venezuela's National Women's Council, responding to questions about government mechanisms to promote women's affairs, said the National Institute for Women was not yet in operation, but would be when the equal opportunity and salaried bill was adopted by the National Congress. However, the National Council for Women was in operation and was advising government ministries and non-governmental organizations.
In answer to questions regarding why the Ministry for Women was no longer in operation, she said it was not an effective mechanism and did not even have its own budget. On the other hand, the National Council for Women, which replaced the Ministry, had its own budget and legislative initiative, could implement policy and was autonomous, reporting directly to the President.
An expert referred to a comment by the delegation this morning that "women often accepted lower wages". She hoped that comment did not reflect government policy in Venezuela. Women took lower wages because no alternative was offered to them. It was well known that in many countries women's work was exploited and was not valued in either the home or the labour market. States parties to the Convention had the obligation to monitor the situation so that women received equal pay. They also had to evaluate salaries and address why industries dominated by women paid low wages.
The Committee Chairperson, SALMA KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, said many of the proposed laws to reform the status of women in Venezuela had not yet been implemented. Some of the Committee's main concerns were the wide wage differences between men and women and the marginalization of women in stereotyped jobs. They were also concerned with the lack of progress since the last report. It had been hoped that in a democracy like Venezuela, women would have better opportunities and more equality.
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