05/06/2002
Press Release
WOM/1340



Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

Twenty-seventh Session

553rd and 554th Meetings (AM & PM)


WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE TAKES UP ST. KITTS AND NEVIS;


PRAISES NATIONAL MACHINERY ESTABLISHED TO PROTECT WOMEN’S RIGHTS


Experts Say Women Must Be More Visible in Public Life;

Domestic Violence, Teenage Pregnancy Among Other Issues Addressed


During a two-meeting review of St. Kitts and Nevis' efforts to create conditions that would enhance women’s full social, cultural, economic and political advancement, experts of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today said they were encouraged by the country's "pioneering" national machinery used to ensure that both men and women enjoyed equal rights.


The experts -- charged with monitoring implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women -– also praised the Government's high commitment to implementation of the principles of gender equality.


They regretted, however, the late submission of the country’s combined initial, second and third periodic reports.  Article 18 of the Convention obliged States parties to submit their initial reports within one year after ratifying the Convention, and subsequent reports every four years thereafter.  St Kitts and Nevis ratified the Convention in 1985.


Presenting his country's reports, Rupert Herbert, Minster for Social Development, Community and Gender Affairs said that shortly after St. Kitts and Nevis' first female Parliamentarian had been elected in 1984, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs was established.  A five-year National Plan on Gender and Development was subsequently elaborated to address five critical concerns identified in the Beijing Platform for Action:  violence, poverty, institutional mechanisms, health and leadership.


He said the Government had also embraced the notion of gender mainstreaming as the most practical means of ensuring women’s equal participation in national development.  To that end, a national Gender Budget Initiative had been initiated. He added that a host of agencies, including the National Advisory Council on Gender Equity and Equality, and an inter-ministerial Committee, had been created to help further strengthen the national women’s machinery.


Mr. Herbert added that although St. Kitts and Nevis was slowly beginning to reflect gender balance in its leadership -- current statistics showed that

36 percent of senior positions in the sector were now held by women –- women were still largely absent from decision-making and political bodies.  No women had ever been appointed an ambassador in the country.  The Government was aware that traditional beliefs limited women to reproductive roles which often hindered broader participation in society.  Joint projects were under way to promote women’s training in governance and constitutional matters. 


As the experts began their examination of the reports, they stressed that St. Kitts and Nevis, although small, played an important leadership role in its region.  It was vital, therefore, that women became more visible in the public life of the country, particularly in decision-making positions.


Several experts went on to express concern about apparent discrepancies in the report concerning women’s participation in the country’s decision-making machinery.  In particular, the delegation was asked if initiatives were being considered to enhance women’s involvement in public and political life.  The experts urged, among other things, the enhancement of efforts to ensure that men took up domestic and parenting responsibilities, in order to allow women to further their own overall career development. 


Concern was further expressed that the generally aggressive nature of the politics often hindered women’s participation, for it was not easy for men to accept women as equal partners.  The experts wondered how men had responded to the call to increase the decision making power of women in politics.  Were there agencies working within Government to change negative attitudes towards increasing the number women within their ranks?  Empowerment of women should include measures to increase their knowledge of politics and encourage them to enter the social arena.


The issue of violence against women also received much attention, with one expert saying that the relevant provisions of the Convention should be strictly applied.  Wonderful programmes targeting violence against women had been introduced in the country, but some troubling obstacles still needed to be addressed.  For instance, there were no shelters for victims of violence, except for the “safe rooms” referred to in the document.  In its new undertakings, the country should be guided by the Committee’s general recommendations on the implementation of the Convention, a speaker said.


Also addressed during the debate were the problems of domestic violence, teenage pregnancy, illegal abortion, credit access for women, their legal capacity to administer property, and family planning. 


As a country presenting its reports for the first time, St. Kitts and Nevis will be given an opportunity to respond to today’s comments and questions on

13 June.


At 10 a.m. Thursday, 6 June, the Committee will take up Ukraine’s combined fourth and fifth periodic reports.


Background


The Committee had before it the combined initial, second, third and fourth period report of St. Kitts and Nevis (document CEDAW/C/KNA/1-4).  According to the report, since St. Kitts and Nevis ratified the Convention in 1985, women have realized significant material gains.  Much remains to be achieved, however, to improve the perception of women.  Regarding national machinery, St. Kitts and Nevis was one of the first governments in the region to establish a Ministry of Women's Affairs.  The national women's machinery includes the Ministry of Health, Labour and Women's Affairs, which was established in 1984.  The Ministry of Women's Affairs works closely with the media to disseminate information and educate the public on issues related to family life, health, education and legislation.


To protect the human rights of women, the Government has passed a series of laws, including the Law Reform Act, which provides stiffer penalties for rape, incest, sodomy, indecent assault or any offence involving children.  The Act prohibits reporting or broadcasting matters which would identify the defendants in sexual offenses cases, which is especially significant in a small society such as St. Kitts and Nevis.  There has also been significant law reform to support special measures to accelerate the equality between men and women.  Before 1980, unmarried women who became pregnant while working in the public service were automatically dismissed.  Government policy and the Constitution now safeguard the jobs of all women.  Women have also been given greater legal protection in seeking child maintenance.  Due to the lack of legal aid and the time consuming nature of the legal process, however, many women feel it a "useless and humiliating burden" to take a man to court for maintenance. 


According to the report, legal and other measures have been taken to change the social and cultural patterns that reinforce negative stereotypes of women.  Special measures include gender training for teachers, the introduction of a "Family Life" curriculum in the primary and secondary school curricula and the establishment of gender sensitive programmes by the teachers union and guidance officers.  It would be premature to say, however, that the battle has been won.  The goal of gender equality is an uphill climb.


Regarding violence against women, the report says that law enforcement officers have made positive changes in the treatment of victims of sexual assault.  Training on the issue of domestic violence, which was begun in the 1980s but was discontinued, was reintroduced in 1997.  Special measures have been taken to raise awareness and inform law enforcement officials of the issue of violence against women, particularly within the home.  There is, however, a general impression that violence against women is on the rise.


On the issue of political and public life, the report says strong extended family networks have enabled women to participate in public life and more recently, political activities.  Unfortunately, the breakdown of family networks due to migration and single parent households has meant that traditional support services for women also collapse.  Women have had the right to vote since the early part of the century.  In 1993 elections, 8,024 women voted compared to

7,480 men.  While women have a strong voice in shaping the political direction of the country, women are not found commensurate with their numbers in decision-making positions.


Addressing the article of the Convention on employment, the report says that that a 1994 survey found a high percentage (some 47 per cent) of female-headed households with dependent children under the age of 15.  Only about 43 per cent of the female-headed households were gainfully employed.  Males head some 56.1 per cent of all households and women head about 43.9 per cent.  [Female headed households as a percentage of the total household in various Caribbean countries range from a low of some 20 per cent in Suriname to a high of about 43.9 per cent in St. Kitts and Nevis.]  Although female employment has increased from 1980 to 1991 by some 10 per cent, the high proportion of female-headed households and the significant unemployment rates of women cause the employment of women to be a critical concern.


Introduction of Reports


RUPERT HERBERT, Minster for Social Development, Community and Gender Affairs of St. Kitts and Nevis introduced his country’s reports.  The Government, he began, was committed to ensuring that men and women enjoyed the equal rights enshrined in the country’s supreme legal framework -- its Constitution.


He said commitment to gender equality had been further demonstrated through the Government’s policy to provide conditions that enhanced the full social, educational, cultural, economic and political development of women and girls.  Shortly after the country’s first female Parliamentarian was elected in 1984, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs was established.  A National Plan on Gender and Development (1996-2000) had also been approved.  That plan addressed five of the  12 areas of critical concern identified in the Beijing Platform For Action, namely violence, poverty, institutional mechanisms, health and leadership.


The Government had also embraced the notion that gender mainstreaming was the most practical means of ensuring women’s equal participation in the national development of the country.  To that end, a national Gender Budget Initiative had been initiated.  The Women’s Affairs Ministry hosted a national conference on violence against women and children in 1996 at which the participants -- including 90 representatives from non-governmental organizations, religious and private sector groups -- signaled the need for action in the areas of judicial and legal reform, and education programmes that would change attitudes and reduce violence.


Out of a series of national meetings held by the Ministry in the mid- and late-1990s a National Advisory Council on Gender Equity and Equality emerged, as well as an inter-ministerial committee, among other initiatives, all with the aim of strengthening the national women’s machinery and increasing budgetary allocations and human resource capability in that regard.  He said that although St. Kitts and Nevis had made tremendous progress in the areas of women’s participation in various areas of development, women were still largely absent from participation in decision-making and political bodies.  Moreover, he added, no women had ever been appointed ambassador in the country. 


He said the Department of Gender Affairs had recognized that the widely-held view the women should continue their reproductive roles often hindered their participation in other areas.  To that end, St. Kitts and Nevis was currently collaborating with Antigua and Barbuda, and Guyana in a project aimed at enhancing women’s political participation.  Participants in that project would receive training in the areas of democracy, governance and constitutional matters.  He added that, in the public sector, the country was slowly beginning to reflect gender balance in its leadership, as current statistics showed that 36 per cent of senior positions in the sector were now held by women.


Mr. Herbert said his country had achieved greater success in the area of violence against women and children than in any other area.  The Department of Gender Affairs had a memorandum of understanding with other key Government agencies and, since 1995, had successfully recommended and facilitated the inclusion of gender-based violence awareness courses in police training schools. Training programmes for public health workers and counselors had also been initiated.  He added that the criminalization of domestic violence had been a major indication that the country was making serious efforts to end the scourge of violence against women.


In 2000, he continued, the Domestic Violence Act had been passed.  Gender Affairs had made use of print, visual and audio media to get the message out that violence against women was a crime and would not be tolerated.  Weekly radio programmes addressed issues related to women, children and families and, in

1997 and 1998, Zero Tolerance and Life Free of Violence campaigns had been launched.  And two months ago, a Women’s Empowerment Conference had been held for victims of domestic abuse, as well as abuse counselors.


Turning to the area of education, he said gender balance in that sphere was outstanding.  Enrolment statistics for 2001 indicated that, at all levels except in primary schools, more women were enrolled than men.  He added that a past discriminatory practice that had prevented teenage mothers from returning to school had been effectively abolished, largely through public awareness and intense debate.  In the health sphere, he went on, much effort had been extended to reduce maternal mortality rates.  The Minister of Health had been working to bring the rate as close to zero as possible.  Indeed, as vitamin A deficiencies and anaemia rates had been significantly reduced, there had been no recorded pregnancy-related deaths between 1997 and 2000.  A post-natal health-care programme to ensure optimum services was also in place.


He said that the Government employed two obstetricians to provide free health care for mothers with high-risk pregnancies.  He noted that statistics had shown that between 1992 and 1995, 17 to 24 per cent of babies had been born to teenage mothers.  While abortion was illegal, women with access to finances could still procure such services.  He added that workshops provided by Family Health Care Centers made information available on HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, as well as free cancer screenings and information on parenting skills.


As for equality before the law, he said St. Kitts and Nevis articulated the right of very citizen to a life free from discrimination.  Women, therefore, enjoyed equal access to credit, courts and legal aid services.  Turning to other areas, he noted that while women were outperforming men in the education sphere, that same level of achievement had not been translated into economic returns for women.  Women still tended to be concentrated in jobs that paid the least, and many were solely responsible for the care of their children.


To address that issue, he said, Gender Affairs had initiated skills training programmes with entrepreneurial components in local communities with the aim of enhancing women’s skills.  Those programmes also promoted the notion of self-employment for women.  Aware of the dual role that women played in society, various agencies provided large modern day care centres in order to facilitate their working lives.  Programmes to promote and increase women’s participation in the workplace were closely related to initiatives aimed at reducing poverty.


Moving on to address issues related to girls and women’s inter-relationships with men, he highlighted the Social Development Ministry’s pilot parenting programme aimed specifically at fathers.  That three-year programme benefited men, women and children, since raising men’s awareness about the importance of their role as nurturers would facilitate the wider mainstreaming of gender issues in domestic policy.  Later this year, a National Fatherhood Symposium would be held with the aim of launching a National Fathers Association. 


He said that St. Kitts and Nevis was one of the few territories in the region that had made a policy decision affirming the right of school-age mothers to complete their education.  Further “Project Viola”, with the main objective of creating enabling environments in which teenage mothers could complete their education, had been launched last November. 


Experts’ Comments


At the opening of the discussion, several experts congratulated the delegation for its presentation of a well-structured and comprehensive document and expressed appreciation that the country had acceded to the Convention without reservations.  The high commitment of the Government to the implementation of the Convention received high praise.  It was regrettable, however, that the presentation of the country’s reports had been delayed, for it was its fifth report that was due this year.  Several speakers also urged the country to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention.


Although small, St. Kitts and Nevis played an important role in its region, and Committee Members hoped that women would become more visible in the public life of the country, including its Parliament, Government and foreign service.


The issue of violence against women received much attention, with one expert saying that the provisions of the Convention should be strictly applied in that regard.  Wonderful programmes targeting violence against women had been introduced in the country, but the remaining obstacles also needed to be addressed.  For instance, there were no shelters for victims of violence, except for the “safe rooms” referred to in the document.  In its new undertakings, the country should be guided by the Committee’s general recommendations on the implementation of the Convention, a speaker said.


The country had made significant achievements in the elimination of negative stereotypes, another speaker said, but its society was still very patriarchal. There was an impressive list of statutory and political measures for the protection of women, but prejudices persisted.  It was surprising that violence against women still persisted, but women were reluctant to testify in case of sexual and physical abuse.  The prevalence of domestic violence testified to the fact that measures undertaken by the Government were still not sufficient and that its policies were not effective.  An explanation was required for the fact that

70 per cent of child victims of violence were girls.


Also mentioned in the discussion was the need to establish hotlines for victims of violence and to target men and boys in efforts to prevent violence and change the traditional negative attitudes towards women.  Overall, there should be a “division of labour” and cooperation between the Government and non-governmental organizations in providing support to victims and fighting violence. 


The reports referred to women’s unwillingness to testify against their husbands, an expert noted, as well as pressure on behalf of family members in cases of incest.  That was a source of great concern, for it was against the law, and she wanted to receive more information in that regard.  Another expert also wondered if there was a correlation between violence and alcohol and drug consumption.  Perpetrators of violence should be held responsible.


It was pointed out that education was, undoubtedly, key in transforming the traditional attitudes towards women.  Numerous questions were asked regarding the dissemination of information about the provisions of the Convention and its practical application, as well as national machinery for gender equality.  What was the role and composition of the ministerial committee on gender issues and the national advisory council, for example?  Had the Government conducted an evaluation of the implementation of the national plan of action?


Several questions were posed on the legal system of St. Kitts and Nevis.  Was there a plan to modernize antiquated laws in such areas as payment equalization and regulations governing women’s and men’s names after marriage?  Was there legal recognition of de facto unions between men and women?


Concern was expressed over a high number of adolescent pregnancies and abortions, as well as the high rate of emigration from the country.  What viable alternatives were being given to teenage girls who became pregnant?  What preventive measures were being taken?


Was there an official policy to accelerate women’s promotion in civil service? an expert asked, as the Committee turned to special temporary measures to advance women.  Had the Government explored the private sector and other players to introduce quotas and other measures?  She urged the country to explore various legal and political possibilities in order the increase women’s access to decision-making.


According to the report, the Government was well aware of the weak representation of women in politics, a speaker said.  There was a long way to go, and it was important to take measures in that regard.  She wanted to know if the three female members of Parliament had been elected, or appointed.  Another speaker wondered if the elimination of the practice whereby a pregnant civil servant would be sent on a leave of absence could be considered a special measure to accelerate equality. 


Regarding trafficking in women, it was said that the country had no legislation to protect women and girls against that offence.  Was any legal action envisioned to rectify that situation?  Was emigration from the country connected with the phenomena of sexual exploitation of women and prostitution? 


Another expert focused her comments on the effects increased tourism had on trafficking, prostitution and other forms of exploitation of women and children, as well as the drug trade in many regions of the world.  Did the statistics hold true for St. Kitts and Nevis?  Several experts expressed concern about apparent discrepancies in the report concerning women’s participation in the country’s decision-making machinery.  One asked if positive initiatives were being

considered to enhance women’s involvement in public and political life.  Another asked if the Government provided funding for the National Women’s Council or other agencies that worked to increase women’s national presence.  St. Kitts was urged to enhance efforts to ensure that men took up domestic and parenting responsibilities, in order to allow women to further their own overall career development.  


Concern was expressed about the aggressive “mud slinging” nature of the political sphere that was often an obstacle to women’s participation.  What had been the response of men in the political sector to calls to increase the decision-making power of women?  Were there agencies working within Government to change negative attitudes towards increasing the number women within their ranks? One expert wondered if the Government was considering any changes to ensure fairness throughout the country’s electoral system.


An expert urged the Government to put in place policies, strategies and programmes so that girls did not get pregnant.  While applauding the country’s efforts to ensure day care facilities, another expert urged the Government to explore the notion of increasing such services, as more and more women entered the workplace.


The situation of women in the labour market was also an area of concern for the experts, particularly in light of evidence of persistent stereotyping of women’s roles.  Several asked for statistics on women’s participation in the public, private and informal sectors.  The Government was urged to look closer at the situation of rural and farm workers when employment reforms were initiated. Other experts expressed concern that the report had largely not addressed the issue of discrimination against women in the workplace, particularly regarding rates of pay and opportunities for promotion.  Clarification was also requested on pension schemes, maternity leave, part-time work and unemployment insurance.  


While welcoming the decrease in maternal mortality, several members of the Committee pointed out that illegal abortion presented a serious problem.  What kind of educational and family planning programmes were available to women who wanted to avoid unwanted pregnancies? they asked.


Family planning should not be placed exclusively on women’s shoulders, an expert said, wondering what was being done to involve men in those issues.  Did school programmes include sex education for boys?


The report contained no information on drug and substance abuse, a speaker said.  There was also little information about mental health and disabled persons’ situation.  Also, women needed their husband’s consent to be sterilized; did men require their wives’ permission to do the same?


Questions were also posed about social benefits for widows, credit access for women and their legal capacity to conclude contracts and administer property.


According to the reports, legal advisory services had been put in place, and lawyers in private practice provided pro bono legal advice to women.  It was important for the experts to receive further information in that regard, to see if women could effectively exercise their legal rights.

Had the Government considered legislative action to prevent banks from requiring a husband’s signature for a woman to acquire credit? an expert asked.  That issue was particularly important in the light of the large number of female-headed households in the country.  Experts inquired about the reasons for such a phenomenon and wondered if female heads of the family received assistance from the State. 


Several speakers noted that, legally, women had the same rights as men as far as property was concerned.  According to custom, however, it was only men who could manage property and dispose of it.  That situation was disturbing.  Priority action was needed to rectify the situation and change the perception of women’s and men’s roles.  The Government should be commended, however, for eliminating the notion of illegitimate children, giving equal rights to children born in and out of wedlock. 


Empowerment of women should include measures to make them knowledgeable about political participation and to encourage them to enter political life.  They should also have the courage to enter the social arena, for it was not easy for men to accept women as equal partners there.  That required a change in attitudes.  What was the Government doing to eliminate discrimination in public and political life?


There was increasing awareness of the impact of natural disasters on the development of small island States.  Were the specific needs of women taken into account in disaster mitigation and prevention efforts?


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