15/07/2004
Press Release
WOM/1458



Committee on Elimination of                                      

 Discrimination against Women                                    

658th & 659th Meetings (AM & PM)


DOMINICAN REPUBLIC PRESENTS FIFTH PERIODIC REPORT ON EFFORTS TO COMPLY


WITH WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION CONVENTION


Trafficking in Women, Prostitution

Among Issues of Concern for Committee Experts


The Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee today urged Government representatives from the Dominican Republic to

target the country’s sex industry, as well as trafficking in women, and other phenomena that fuelled prostitution and violence against women, in their efforts to fully implement the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women.


Acting in their personal capacities, the Committee’s 23 expert members monitor compliance with the Convention, often

referred to as an “international bill of rights for women”.  Having ratified the Convention in 1982, and the Optional Protocol in 2001, the Dominican Republic’s delegation was presenting its fifth periodic report.


During their article-by-article review, the experts expressed concern about discrepancies between existing

legislation in the Dominican Republic and the requirements for gender equality under the Convention.  Experts also called for a review of discriminatory elements in its immigration and citizenship policies, as well as a study of the situation of women working in free-trade zones.  They were also troubled by negative portrayals of women in the media, and suggested that hiring more women and promoting gender mainstreaming in the media industry would be a sure way to reverse stereotypes and raise awareness about the Convention.


Introducing the country’s report, Yadira Henriquez de Sánchez Baret, Minister of Women’s Affairs, said that her

country was facing an economic crisis and heavy debt, but was nevertheless greatly concerned about plight of the most vulnerable citizens, particularly women and low-income families.  The Dominican Republic had created a package of programmes that would address the needs of its poorest women.


She said the Secretary of State for Women had presented a set of poverty eradication proposals in 2001, which were

already starting to bear fruit.  One such plan had established the Office of Gender Equity, which was guiding sectoral work in social and economic development.  Another initiative had been aimed at women and families living in extreme poverty.  That Office had also led the campaign to create laws to protect and rehabilitate women and girls who had been victims of trafficking, as well as prosecute criminal networks involved in the trade.


As for legislation, the Code of Criminal Procedure had been approved last year, and the civil and penal codes were

being reviewed with a view to amending them, she said.  The State Secretariat for Women had drawn up proposals for amending the penal code to ensure the inclusion of measures to promote gender equity.  Women were primary victims of family violence, she continued, and the Government was actively working with law enforcement and judicial officials to seek ways of breaking down the gender prejudice that was prevalent in Dominican culture.  Various care centres had been set up for abused women and five specialized Government offices were coordinating work in that field.


While pointing out the critical necessity of doing more to address women’s poverty and increasing their

representation in political life, it was what experts perceived as the Dominican Republic’s permissive attitude towards the illegal sex trade that drew the most concern.  One expert said that she had never before read a report, from any country, that had presented sex work and prostitution as if “women being used by five or ten men a day was a normal occupation”. 


Even more regrettably, while there appeared to be some form of loosely-based worker’s union for women in the sex

trade, no such organization existed for women in agriculture or any of the country’s other informal sectors.  If, as the delegation admitted, there were some 100,000 women engaged in that trade, a conservative estimate would set the number of male clientele at somewhere around 1 million.  Was the Government taking any serious steps to address the sex trade? 


Altagracia Balcacer, of the State Secretariat for Women, said prostitution affected the country at the international,

national and local levels.  As to why they were referred to as sex workers in the report, there was a union of sex workers in the country that demanded recognition of the occupation as decent work.  Prostitution was a social phenomenon needing a great deal of attention, since many prostitutes had no other opportunity to generate income.  The country had tried to develop initiatives to combat trafficking in women by providing information on laws that protected them, so that they could make informed decisions.  Training programmes were underway in consulates in Latin America, North America and Europe.


Sonia Diaz, State Deputy Secretary of Labour, said that the Dominican

Republic considered sex workers to be workers like any other.  They had relationships with the establishments in which they worked.  And while there was no legal trade union for sex workers, they often came in groups to the Women’s Secretariat for information on their rights.  The Government would take the Committee’s concerns into account, as it looked more closely at the matter.


Summing up the day’s discussions, Committee Chairperson Ayse Feride Acar, expert from Turkey, acknowledged that the

Dominican Republic’s challenges in implementing the Convention were enormous and its efforts commendable.  Reform to the penal and civil codes was particularly vital, although the report did not give reason to be optimistic about the short- or long-term fate of such reforms.  Clearly, the legal status of those codes left much to be desired, since many existing provisions were incompatible with the Convention.  She urged that the new penal code send a powerful message that women’s rights were to be respected, and any violations penalized.


She added that more forceful action was needed to combat trafficking in women and to address the root causes of

prostitution, such as poverty and exploitation.  The Dominican delegation had assured the Committee that the

country’s constitution and laws operated with a concept of equality comparable to the Convention.  The country’s use of the term “equity” was a compensatory step in bringing about full equality between women and men.


Also participating in the Dominican delegation were Carlos Mesa, Judicial Consultant, State Secretariat for Women;

Ivonne García, State Secretariat of Agriculture; Eddy Cubilete, State Secretariat of Education.


The Committee will meet again at 10:00 a.m. Friday, 16 July, to consider the follow-up to the fifth periodic report

fromArgentina.  It is also expected to hear replies from Angola on its combined initial, second and third periodic reports.


Background


The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met today to take up the fifth periodic report of the Dominican Republic (document CEDAW/C/DOM/5), which covers the period from 1998 to 2001.  The article-by-article review of Dominican compliance with the Women’s Convention highlights progress made in such areas as legislation, special measures and programmes, violence against women, prostitution, political representation, education, employment, health and economics.


According to the report, the country passed seven new laws during the reporting period to strengthen women’s rights, with special emphasis on migrants, health, social security and women’s political participation.  It also conducted 20 public-sector programmes in such areas as education, training, health, production and credit, and created the National Gender Equity Plan as well as the Assessment of the Beijing Platform for Action in the Dominican Republic, 1995-2000.  In addition, it set up several women’s protection squads, the Office of the Commissioner for Reform and Modernization of Justice, and ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention.


As for violence against women, the report notes that it became more visible during the second half of the 1990s, as did legislation and mechanisms to prevent and eradicate it.  Government programmes were set up to assist women recovering from domestic violence, and efforts were made to promote awareness of it among the population.  However, difficulties remained.  The justice system continued to resist the gender perspective, and centres or rehabilitation mechanisms for men as well as specialized care for victims and “safe houses” were still lacking.


Statistics on sex workers were also scarce, the report observes, but prostitution was clearly an alternative source of income.  Estimates suggest that some 100,000 sex workers were active in the country in 2000, compared with 60,000 in 1998, and about 100,000 women worked in the industry outside the country, compared to 50,000 in 1991.  The Government took several measures to tackle the situation, but obstacles remained, including a lack of social development programmes targeting poor female sex workers; the absence of a well-defined legal framework; and poor knowledge and understanding of international agreements on migration and trafficking in persons.


On politics, the report states that a growing number of women participated in the sector, thanks partly to a 33 per cent quota for women candidates to Congress, and a stipulation that women must be nominated as mayoral or deputy mayoral candidates.  Women held 17.6 per cent of executive posts and 14.3 per cent of seats in Congress, although they made up barely 8.7 per cent of the current leading party.  Women also comprised some 33 per cent of Supreme Court judges, 9 per cent of local mayors, 17 per cent of ambassadors, and 15 to 31 per cent of trade unions.


As for education, the report notes that 51 per cent of school attendees in 1998/1999 were women, and that the percentage of women with no schooling dropped from 16 to 11 per cent between 1996 and 1999.  During the same period, the proportions attending secondary and higher education increased for both sexes, with women making up 70 per cent of technical and vocational school enrolment.  Also, women gained access to distance education and occupational training; technical and vocational training; work training and administrative training for small- and medium-sized enterprises; and polytechnical colleges, vocational centres and technical training institutes.


To stimulate women’s employment, measures were taken to introduce benefits for unemployed single mothers, day-care centres, maternal and child health services, services for older people, survivors’ pensions and breastfeeding subsidies for the poorest women.  Employment for women rose almost 2 per cent per year, with female workers making up 49 per cent of the workforce in 1999 and 43 per cent in 1996.  In 1999, some 37 per cent of working women were employed by a relative, 5 per cent received no pay for their work, 52 per cent were employed by others and 11 per cent were self-employed.  In rural areas, only 9 per cent of family employees received no pay, whereas only 3 per cent in urban areas were unpaid.


Microenterprises helped push unemployment down to 14.7 per cent by 1998, although the jobless rate among women was almost three times higher than men (24 per cent and 9 per cent, respectively).  Female unemployment was more prevalent among younger women, with two fifths being women under the age of 24.  To promote gender equity in labour programmes and policies, the Government created a gender subsecretariat in the State Secretariat of Labour, and has developed micro, small- and medium-sized enterprises through credit facilities and technical, managerial and vocational training.


Regarding women’s health, the report states that the Dominican fertility rate fell from 3.2 in 1996 to 2.7 in 1999, with the greatest drop in rural areas.  The adolescent pregnancy rate was still high at 21 per cent, with one in five adolescent girls conceiving and one in three a mother by age 18 or 19.  Numbers were considerably higher among the less educated; some 30 per cent of adolescents with primary education or less in both rural and urban areas have been pregnant.


As of March 2001, according to the report, the total number of people with HIV/AIDS was 11,079, of which 35 per cent were women.  Knowledge of the disease was universal in the country, although 5 per cent of women stated they did not know how to prevent it, which includes 13 per cent of uneducated women and 10 per cent with four years’ education or less.


Health sector reforms included the 2001 Health Act and the Dominican Social Security System, the report notes.  The Health Act prioritized populations living below the poverty line, especially pregnant women, children under age 14, older persons and disabled persons.  Among its major health achievements, the country reduced maternal mortality and increased access to mother and child care services; expanded and strengthened existing health programmes; increased the number of women in health management posts to 26 per cent by 2001; set up training to help overcome sexual and reproductive health taboos; and improved data management and collection.


In the economic and social sectors, the report lists several measures to benefit women, including retirement pensions for older persons; support payments for unemployed single mothers of young children; the right to an infant feeding subsidy during the first year of life for children of women who earn less than three times the minimum wage; and day-care centres for all workers’ children aged 45 days to 5 years.  Enforcing labour laws remained problematic, however, due to a lack of control and monitoring mechanisms.


According to the report, extreme poverty was five times greater in rural than urban areas.  Aiming to reverse that trend, the Women’s Agricultural Sectoral Office in the Secretariat of Agriculture strengthened sectoral coordination to provide support services; gave gender training to technicians in agricultural institutions and rural women’s organizations; managed financial support to women’s organizations to set up agro-industrial enterprises; and promoted women’s participation in decision-making.


In addition, the report states, the Department of Social Development of the Dominican Agrarian Institute distributed land titles to 166 women located in 14 provinces.  The report observes, however, that women were given smaller parcels with subsistence level productivity, and some 47 per cent of farms belonged to women from aged 41 to 60, leaving few opportunities for young women or single mothers.


Introduction of Report


YADIRA HENRIQUEZ DE SANCHEZ BARET, Minister of Women’s Affairs, introduced the Dominican Republic’s fifth periodic report on compliance with the Convention and its Optional Protocol.  She said that her country was committed to gender equality and had been one of the first Latin American countries to ratify the Convention.  Following a brief snapshot of the social and economic situation in the Dominican Republic, she said that her country was facing an economic crisis and heavy debt and had been forced into a new initiative with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).


But even with that, the Government was concerned about plight of the most vulnerable citizens, particularly women and low-income families.  The Dominican Republic had created a package of programmes that would address the needs of its poorest women.  The Social Cabinet had established a National Strategy for the Elimination of Poverty in 2002.  The number of women heading households in urban areas was 31 per cent and 22 per cent in rural areas, so programmes for social assistance in the areas of health, hygiene and housing had been targeted to those populations.


The Secretary of State for Women had presented a set of poverty eradication proposals in 2001, which were already starting to bear fruit.  One such plan had established the Office of Gender Equity, which was guiding sectoral work in the areas of social and economic development.  Another initiative had been aimed at women and families living in extreme poverty.  That Office had also spearheaded the campaign to create laws to protect and rehabilitate women and girls who had been victims of trafficking.  That law also prosecuted criminal networks involved in that trade.


She said that the Government had also actively worked to establish centres for disabled and elderly women, as well as those suffering from HIV/AIDS.  Turning to women’s working lives, she said that women were most affected by unemployment -- some 60 per cent in 2002 -- and were most represented in the informal and agricultural sectors.  The unemployment figures were significantly lower for men.  There was also a gap in pay levels between men and women that had persisted without much change throughout the reporting period.


The Government had begun many programmes to provide microcredit for women, she said, giving examples of plans underway to enhance the position of women in the labour and economic spheres.  The Government had also joined an education initiative led by the United States Department of Labour.  That initiative focused on local support networks, education and health care.  A National Steering Committee to combat child labour had also been created in 2001.  The Secretary of State for women also had three projects underway to combat that scourge.


As for legislation, the Code of Criminal Procedure had been approved last year, and the Civil and Penal Codes were being reviewed with a view to amend them, she said.  The State Secretariat for Women had drawn up proposals for amendment to the Penal Code that would ensure the inclusion of measures to promote gender equity.  Other amendments included redefining the term “genocide” to include gender aspects; redefining “violence” to include gender violence, with emphasis on both psychological and physical violence; redefining “sexual harassment” to include episodes in the workplace and places of study; and redefining “rape” with sexual attack.


Women were primary victims of family violence, she continued, and stopping that behaviour had been the main focus in the State Secretariat for Women.  The Government was actively working with law enforcement and judicial officials to seek ways of breaking down the gender prejudice that was prevalent in Dominican culture.  Various care centres had been set up for abused women and five specialized Government offices were coordinating work in that field.  She added that some 74,000 cases of violence were reported during the 2000-2003 period.


Turning to migration, she drew attention to an inter-agency support committee that had been set up for migrant women, which involved both governmental institutions and civil society organizations.  A programme to prevent trafficking in persons involved women who were migrants and prostitutes, providing guidance, legal aid and assistance for victims.  Seven local networks had been set up to prevent trafficking and help victims at the municipal and local levels.


As for education, the State Secretariat on Education was active in integrating the gender perspective into the educational systems.  Activities included preparing indicators of gender skills, and revising the curricula of all subjects in the basic and middle educational levels to incorporate the gender perspective.  In addition, a ten-year national educational development plan with a gender perspective had been drawn up.


On health, the Government had introduced a programme to mobilize activities that would reduce maternal and child mortality, focusing on woman at the age of fertility, children up to five years, and adolescents.  In addition, adolescent pregnancy had been prioritized in national programmes.  The country had been running a programme to prevent adolescent pregnancy since 2000, coordinated by the State Secretariat for Women and the Office of the First Lady.


Concluding with rural women, she noted that the group had special problems, which were dealt with from various angles.  The State had set up a sectoral office for women to ensure that public policies incorporated the gender perspective.  It had also carried out a national survey of rural women in the agricultural sector to identify priority issues, causes and solutions in health, education, the environment, political participation and employment.  Information from the survey would be used to design public policies and set up databases for the agricultural census, which had not yet been carried out.


Questions from Experts


AIDA GONZALEZ MARTINEZ, expert from Mexico, asked the delegation to provide more information on the causes for homicides and other violence against women.  She had also noted discrepancies between the country’s penal code and international human rights law and wondered if the Government was doing anything to rectify.


MARIA YOLANDA FERRER GOMEZ, expert from Cuba, said that she had also been concerned by the discrepancies in the penal code.  She also wondered if the Dominican Republic’s National Equity Plan was being implemented.  Was that Plan more concerned with according “equity” or ensuring “equality”?  She said that trafficking of women and girls demanded more forceful action on the Government’s part, particularly as women were often tricked into believing that they were going to be doing domestic work and then were forced into sexual slavery.  She also wondered if any traffickers had been punished.


DORCAS AMA FREMA COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, asked why there were no safe houses for victims of domestic violence.  Was the Government doing anything to increase specialized care for victims?  Was it providing resources and other assistance to private agencies carrying out that work?  She hoped that, by the next report, the Government could provide adequate statistical data on the outcome of the various women’s anti-discrimination national plans and programmes.


HUGUETTE BOKPE GNACADJA, expert from Benin, said that despite the Government’s assertion that it had reformed its penal code and other legislation, discriminatory elements in laws had remained.  She wondered what the Government was doing to address that serious problem.  She also asked for more information on the number of homicides.


SALMA KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, was concerned about portrayal of women in the media and suggested that hiring more women and promoting gender mainstreaming in the media industry would be a sure way to reverse negative stereotypes and raise awareness about the Convention.  Was the Government cooperating with the media in that area?  Had the Government considered giving awards for media organs that promoted positive images of women, or making examples of those that did not?


FRANÇOISE GASPARD, expert from France, was also concerned about the evaluation of the National Gender Equity Plan.  Were there any statistics on the implementation efforts?  She, like other experts, was “slightly worried” when she saw the word “equity” used, instead of “equality”.  That had been a major issue at Beijing, where anti-discrimination experts had noted that countries “promoting equity” did not really want equality in law, which was what was required under the Convention.


MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, drew attention to article 6 of the Convention, which focused on the exploitation of prostitution and trafficking in women.  The report stated that no studies or statistics existed regarding that problem, which was linked to poverty and the growth of tourism.  According to the report, the Dominican penal code states that the exploiters of prostitution would only be punished if the victim was a minor.  Did that mean the exploitation of women above the age of 18 was accepted and not penalized?  The exploitation of prostitution, whether the victim was below or above 18 years of age, was against article 6 of the Convention.


Response of Delegation


CARLOS MESA, Judicial Consultant, State Secretariat for Women, gave statistics on cases of violence against women for the reporting period.  He noted that the new Criminal Code was currently being reviewed, and that proposals for amendments had been submitted -- from the States Secretariat for Women and from non-governmental organizations.  The State Secretariat for Women was also producing a radio programme on family violence to educate the general population.  The programme considered the rights of women with respect to criminal law, and would be vital in educating people about the Convention.  Campaigns were also being carried out using comic books or magazines to reach the country’s various districts and schools.


The National Commission to Prevent and Combat Violence in the Family had carried out studies to investigate the nature of family and sexual violence, he continued.  A short-term plan had been approved that would attempt to reduce the impact of violence against women, using regional and local networks, including schools, churches and professional associations.  The Secretary of State for Education would coordinate the production of educational material aimed at reducing family violence.  The country had also created a Department for the Protection of Women within the police, set up national networks to prevent and deal with family violence, and carried out various training programmes.  A new office for women had been set up in the south of the country in coordination with the national police and the prosecutor general’s office.


As for trafficking in women, the country had established two reception centres for women -- one for the victims of trafficking and one for the victims of domestic violence, he said.  Courses and workshops had been carried to educate teachers and other professions in trafficking and preventing and dealing with trafficking.  In addition, the country had passed a bill on illicit trafficking in persons, carried out a campaign to raise awareness about the bill, produced three radio programmes, and published notices in the press on the subject.  Local networks had been set up in an effort to prevent trafficking and support victims through medical and psychological assistance, job searches, and income-producing activities.


On the criminal code, Mr. MESA added the Government was in the process of reviewing legislation on sexual orientation, as well as penalties for sexual aggression, rape, incest, trafficking and family abandonment.


Ms. SANCHEZ BARET returned to the issue of the role media could play in combating family violence.  She said that there was a journalist network throughout the country, which cooperated with the Secretary of State for Women on projects aimed at curbing that phenomenon.  She added that the Government had also been urging churches to participate in the effort to eradicate family violence and to promote equality in family relations.  The Government had also employed popular musicians and sports figures to help promote the cause.


She said that new laws on trafficking in women did provide for punishment of individuals or criminal trafficking networks.  She said that the country’s penal code had been modelled on French legal system and was currently being revamped.  The legislature, non-governmental organizations and the Secretary of State for Women were being included in those negotiations.  Although the proposals on violence against women amounted to just a bill at the moment, the Government was trying to mobilize all stakeholders to ensure that the suggestions were included in the new penal code.  She added that there had been no proposed amendments to the civil code.


On quotas, she said there was a law that required that a certain percentage of seats in the legislature went to women.


SONIA DIAZ, State Deputy Secretary of Labour, focused on the situation of women in prisons.  She said that there was no overcrowding in women’s prisons.  The most frequent offences were transporting drugs and theft.


Questions from Experts


HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, was also concerned about the use of the term “equity,” in the legislation.  That term, she cautioned, was nowhere to be found in the Convention.  Was the Government trying to achieve “a balance” between men and women in the Dominican Republic, or true equality?  Had the Government agreed with civil society organization that the term “gender equity” would be used instead of “gender equality”?  Was “gender equity” used as a compromise, for fear of being attacked by the country’s “macho men”?


KRIZSTINA MORVAI, expert from Hungary, wondered if the Government used mediation or reconciliation strategies for those persons accused of domestic violence.  She also said she had never read a report of any country in which prostitution and trafficking was as “normalized” as it appeared in the Dominican Republic.  The delegation spoke about the sex industry as if women being used by five or ten men a day was a normal occupation.  It had also highlighted a trade union for women in the sex trade, but had not spoken about such a union for women in agriculture or any of the country’s other informal sectors.


If, as the delegation admitted, there were some 100,000 engaged in that trade, conservative estimates would set the number of male clientele at somewhere around 1 million.  What was the effect of this on families?  Was the Government really taking any serious steps to address the sex trade?  In light of the report, how seriously could the Committee take those efforts?


CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, asked what had been done to make various organizations aware of their rights under the Optional Protocol?


NAELA GABR, expert from Egypt, asked about the impact of the country’s various new laws on women.  How were mechanisms that had been set up to assist women financed?  She also asked for data about the participation of women in projects aimed at reducing poverty.


DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked which principles in the constitution used the term “gender equality” and which used “gender equity”.  Also, the country had adopted national “gender equity” plan.  Did the plan cover all areas of the Convention?


PAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, asked whether the country had a provision in its constitution that allowed for temporary, special measures.


Response of Delegation


ALTAGRACIA BALCACER, of the State Secretariat for Women, said she was aware that “gender equality” was the term used in Convention.  In the Dominican constitution, “gender equality” was mentioned, on the understanding that all men and women were equal before the law.  However, equality could not be achieved if one discarded equity, and that term was used in public projects and programmes to address discrimination.  The National Gender Equity Plan was meant to be implemented throughout all sectors of life, and it was hoped that parity would be achieved between men and women.  Unfortunately, progress had been slow, mainly due to cultural resistance to the plan.


Regarding article 4.1 and positive measures to eliminate discrimination in legislatures and local councils, she noted that political parties were obliged to include 33 per cent of women on their list of candidates, although that did not guarantee they would be elected.  A second law on municipalities stated that an equal number of men and women be elected to local governments. That applied mainly to the mayor and vice-mayor -- one must be a man and the other a woman.


On poverty, more assistance certainly was needed in reducing it, she said.  Various governmental bodies were working on the problem, and a significant effort was underway.  Since women often had less opportunity to find work or generate income for themselves and their families, many of the programmes focused on women who headed households.


As for sex workers, she said prostitution affected the country at the international, national and local levels.  As to why they were referred to as sex workers in the report, there was a union of sex workers in the country that demanded recognition of the occupation as decent work.  Prostitution was a social phenomenon needing a great deal of attention, since many prostitutes had no other opportunity to generate income.  The country had tried to develop initiatives to combat trafficking in women by providing information on laws that protected them, so that they could make informed decisions.  Several training programmes were being carried out in consulates in Latin America, North America and Europe.


She added that victims of violence did not have to pay for medical certificates.  On poverty alleviation programmes, she said the Government was focusing on income-generating activities, as well as on providing support for small agricultural enterprises, childcare centres and education.  Other programme areas focused on low-income housing and child pregnancies.


Questions from Experts


Ms. KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, recalled that the report stated that foreigners, particularly Haitians and Haitians of Dominican decent, were denied certain rights, namely access to citizenship and work and education opportunities.  What was being done about that?


Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, acknowledged that laws were being reworked and wondered if new citizenship legislation and the draft immigration bill took into account the specific needs of female migrant workers.


MERIEM BELMIHOUD-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, acknowledged that in its effort to address serious economic deficiencies, the Dominican Republic was being “squeezed” by the International Monetary Fund.  Nevertheless, every effort must be extended to ensure gender equality, particularly in the legislature.  The prescribed 33 per cent was not enough, she said.


FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, also had concerns about the country’s citizenship policies and was particularly concerned about the criteria for citizenship requirements for children of foreign nationals born in the country.  She also wondered how citizenship regulations affected marriage laws.


Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, was also concerned about the country’s citizenship regulation, particularly considering the citizenship-based discrimination in the health and education sectors.  She also wanted to know the situation of children born to foreign nationals in the Dominican Republic.


Mr. MESA noted that the law on migrants was still a draft bill, which should soon be presented to Chamber of Deputies for further work.  He explained that everyone born in Dominican territory was a citizen, with the exception of foreign diplomats.  The country’s laws on immigration stated that foreigners entering the country and then leaving it were considered to be in transit.


Ms. DIAZ said foreign women who married Dominican men automatically acquired Dominican nationality and preserved their own nationalities.  Any children born in the country would become Dominican.  If a foreigner was born of Dominican parents, he or she could choose Dominican citizenship at the age of 16.


EDDY CUBILETE, of the Secretariat of Education, said boys and girls might not have access to education due to lack of identification.  With proper identification, however, no one could be deprived of education under the country’s education code for children and adolescents.  No distinction was made as to where a person came from.


Questions from Experts


Ms. KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, noted that the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the Dominican Republic was the highest in the region, and increasing at a faster rate for women.  Women lacked access to information about HIV, were not always able to engage in safe sex, and were exposed to violence and prostitution.  She also commented that the country had maintained its policy of mandatory HIV testing for employment, which was a grave violation of women’s rights.  She added that the report had not explicitly mentioned whether discrimination against women in the workplace due to pregnancy was illegal or not.


Ms. FERRER GOMEZ, expert from Cuba, asked what measures the Government had taken to protect and give other work to the country’s high percentage of unemployed women.  Although women made up about 50 per cent of the labour force in tourism, that proportion was considerably lower than in preceding years.  What was the country doing to respect the Convention with respect to labour?


Ms. MORVAI, expert from Hungary, asked why the Government did nothing to enforce the responsibilities of employers, or respect the rights of employees.  Did the country have labour inspectors?  She also commented on the country’s identification of prostitution as “work”.  She noted that, generally speaking, the more experience a worker had the more value that person had in the job market. However, some 25,000 child prostitutes in the country were valued more highly than middle-aged prostitutes, which argued against prostitution being classified as “work”.  She also observed that prostitutes had a trade union, and asked if domestic workers had one too.


Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, pointed to a social programme mentioned in the report that focused on women and girls in their child-bearing years.  Did women beyond the child-bearing age also have access to those services?


Ms. SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked for explanations of wage differences for men and women in the country.  What was the status of efforts to deal with pregnancy-based discrimination?  What steps had been taken to encourage women to file complaints?


Response of Delegation


IVONNE GARCIA said the Dominican Republic was in a rather delicate situation concerning the increase in the HIV/AIDS infection rate.  The Government was very concerned and had been carrying out programmes -- with the help of non-governmental organizations -- on how to prevent the spread of the disease among young adults and women.  The Education Ministry was also very involved in the Government’s efforts and was working to ensure that school, health and sex education programmes were providing adequate and up-to-date information on the disease.


Ms. DIAZ said that there was no discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace.  The Office of the Secretary of Labour had been charged with handling discrimination complaints.  She went on to say that that Office had also set up five programmes to deal with child labour and was working closely with the International Labour Organization (ILO) to rescue and retrain children that were working illegally on plantations.


She acknowledged that there was indeed a salary gap between men and women and that the Women’s Secretariat could only influence decisions about the country’s minimum wage scale.  The Labour Ministry was, nevertheless, trying to address the issue.  It was also trying to improve working conditions for women and, while much remained to be done -- particularly health violations in the free-trade zone -- the Government was not ignoring the matter.  She added that a law had been enacted to address sexual harassment in the workplace.  The Government hoped to raise the awareness of workers, so they understood their right to seek remedies for such treatment. 


She went on to say that the Dominican Republic considered sex workers to be workers like any other.  They had relationships with the establishments in which they worked.  And while there was no legal trade union for sex workers, they often came in groups to the Women’s Secretariat for information on their rights.  The Government would take the Committee’s concerns into account as it looked more closely at the matter.


Questions from Experts


Ms. SAIGA, expert from Japan, was concerned about the high numbers of children who never attended school.  Did that have anything to do with the persistence of child labour?  Had the Government considered giving incentives for parents that sent children to school?


On the issue of mandatory pregnancy testing in the free-trade zones, ROSARIO MANALO, expert from the Philippines, said that even though there was a law in place that allowed women to bring complaints for such treatment, it was most likely the case that very few women, particularly in rural sectors, had any idea that such a remedy existed.  Did the Government have a focused, integrated and sustained effort underway to do away with that discriminatory practice?  Could the delegation provide statistics on how many women had filed complaints and how many companies were engaged in the process?


Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, was also concerned about the pregnancy testing and the overall situation of women in the free-trade zones and wondered if any studies had been done on their plight.


Ms. BELMIHOUD-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, was concerned about the persistence of poverty in the Dominican Republic.  She wanted to know it the country had received the required levels of assistance from the world’s richest countries and other donors, including from United Nations specialized agencies, towards implementing the various programmes in place.  How much outside assistance had been provided?


SJAMSIAH ACHMAD, expert from Indonesia, said that with 52 per cent of the population living in poverty, what measures had been taken to identify the specificities of that poverty?  Had there been any attempts to ensure that education programmes focused on women and poverty in both urban and rural sectors?


Response of Delegation


Responding to questions on women’s health, Ms. BALCACER said the needed resources had not yet been allocated to women’s sexual and reproductive health, but the country was providing sex education from the most basic levels.  A programme was also underway to prevent adolescent pregnancies, and a handbook on reproductive health was being published.  The subject was not included in national social security law, which was a major gap in women’s rights.


On rural women, she said the State Secretariat had consulted with rural women, and they had identified their major problems and possible solutions to them.  A document describing those findings would form the basis of public policy in attempting to remedy the problems of rural women.  In various rural areas, medical work, such as uterine and cervical cancer screening, had also been done in the effort to overcome rural health problems.


As for education, an employment agreement with the Department of Labour, signed by the State Secretariat for Women, would be giving a certain amount of work to urban and rural women.  The State Secretariat had also received money from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), some of which had been used in the educational sector.


Addressing questions about labour, Ms. DIAZ said that individuals younger than 16 were prohibited from working more than six hours a day, or at night.  Data was lacking on unwanted sexual advances in the workplace, but the Department of Labour was carrying out a survey on the subject.  As to the question on inspections, labour inspections did take place in businesses.  Also, the Government offered legal services to those that needed them free of charge.


Continuing, she described some of the country’s projects that were attempting to combat female unemployment.  One provided vocational training for young people, another trained people to set up businesses, and a third offered programmes on loans, so that women could establish small- and medium-sized businesses.


Questions from Experts


Ms. GONZALEZ MARTINEZ, expert from Mexico, asked for the current status of the country’s proposed reform on consensual unions.  Dominican women were not protected by law in such unions.


Ms. KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, asked for more clarification about the citizenship laws in the Dominican Republic.  A clause in that law stated that culturally determinative factors could revoke citizenship.  Could the delegation please give more information on what those factors were?


Ms. MORVAI, expert from Hungary, was also concerned to hear how much the international community had helped with the country’s efforts to eradicate poverty, particularly where women were concerned.  She said she also shared the passionate concerns of other experts about the plight of women in free-trade zones.  What was the real situation of the women working in those zones?  It had been her understanding that United States citizens owned many businesses there, and the Committee would like to know if that was true.  What responsibilities did the owners have, particularly if they were from the United States, a country that always spoke so forcefully about the rights of workers and human rights in general?


Response of Delegation


Ms. BALCACER said that the United States Congress had not ratified the Free-Trade Zone treaty.  The Dominican Republic was also in the process of carrying out an impact study on the issue and would, for the moment, defer the question until a later time. 


Ms. CUBILETE, responding to a question on education for children who had no identification, said that many -- over 120,000 -- such children had been given birth certificates and were now included in the educational system.  Not all the children were foreigners -- some were from the Dominican Republic.


Closing Remarks


AYSE FERIDE ACAR, Committee Chairperson, noted that the Dominican Republic’s challenges in implementing the Convention were enormous and its efforts commendable.  The Committee was aware of steps the country had taken to implement the Convention, especially its efforts to reform its laws.  Reform to the penal and civil codes was particularly vital, although the report did not give reason to be optimistic about the short- or long-term fate of such reforms.  Clearly, the legal situation of those codes left much to be desired, since many existing provisions were incompatible with the Convention.  She urged the country to ensure that the new penal code sent a powerful message that women’s rights were to be respected, and any violations penalized.


Despite the country’s domestic violence law, she noted that support mechanisms, such as care and support services, were also needed.  The Government should prioritize those services and allocate resources for their implementation.  The obligation of the State was to combat violations of women’s rights in line with the provisions of the Convention.  Violence could not be negotiated or mediated, but must be eradicated and punished.


She added that more forceful action was needed to combat trafficking in women and to address the root causes of prostitution, such as poverty and exploitation.  The Dominican delegation had assured the Committee that the country’s constitution and laws operated with a concept of equality comparable to the Convention.  The country’s use of the term “equity” was a compensatory step in bringing about full equality between women and men.


* *** *