|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
Chamber B, 745th & 746th Meetings (AM & PM)
Significant progress made, but gender stereotyping still major obstacle
to equality in Jamaica, women’s anti-discrimination committee told
Education Instrumental in Removing Obstacles to Women’s Advancement, But Must Focus on Transforming Traditional Views on Gender, Says Jamaican Delegation Head
Jamaica had clearly made progress in significant areas with regard to equality for women, but stereotyping was still a major obstacle so education must now change from being a tool of social transmission to “being the means for transforming traditional gender ideologies”, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was told today as it considered Jamaica’s report.
The speaker, Barbara Bailey, Director of Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies, said education was instrumental in removing obstacles to women’s advancement, but its positive effect on their quality of life was not reflected in improved social status and power-sharing in Jamaica. The focus of education, therefore, should change to transforming traditional gender ideologies and dismantling patriarchal structures and systems.
The 23 members of the Committee act in their personal capacity to monitor compliance with the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women that is often hailed as a women’s international bill of rights. Jamaica’s fifth periodic report, covering the period from 1998 to 2002, was one of two taken up today in parallel meetings, a format introduced this year to facilitate consideration of country reports.
Questioning the persistence of stereotypes that had already been identified as a challenge in Jamaica’s last report, experts called for comprehensive measures to address the problem. Some called for the adoption of legislation to address the associated problems of violence against women, including impunity for offenders. Another noted the clustering of women in lower levels of employment and said the male-predominant stereotypes called for acceleration in the rate of achieving gender equality through implementation of special temporary measures.
In response, members of the delegation conceded that the question of gender stereotyping was at the core of inequalities between men and women in Jamaica. The society was both patriarchal and capitalist and both systems reinforced negative stereotypes about women. The problem was being addressed from a structural point of view along with the institution of measures to change attitudes and viewpoints, including by starting early in schools.
Among many measures, they said, a model for teacher education had been developed and would soon be mandatory. Legislation was being strengthened against sexual harassment of girls. Research was being conducted on gender-based violence in schools and on the role of schools, parents and the media in keeping patterns of gender-related violence entrenched. The Jamaican association of musicians had been approached about negative dancehall lyrics, and the Council of Churches was looking at the role religion played in the predominantly Catholic country. Also, gender-sensitizing programmes were being implemented for men.
Questioned about amending legislation, a Jamaican delegate said the process of passing laws in Jamaica was very slow, particularly on social legislation. Public participation in the process was considered very important, and it was considered critical for people to understand a law before it was passed. The feeling was that, individuals must not be deprived of the right to speak in a publicly open part of the Joint Parliamentary Committee procedure to which legislation was subjected.
On the positive side, delegates pointed out, the recent appointment of Portia Simpson Miller as the country’s first female Prime Minister promised to give momentum to advancing women’s standing. Already at her directive, papers had been prepared for presenting the Convention’s Optional Protocol on individual recourse to the cabinet in September for action by year’s end.
(Under the Optional Protocol, the Committee can consider complaints from individual women, or groups of women, regarding violations of rights protected under the Convention, and can initiate inquiries into situations of grave or systematic violations of women’s rights.)
A related issue of concern to experts was the question of sex tourism. They pointed to sources claiming Jamaica’s image was one of “sun, sand and sex”. What was being done to change that image? experts asked.
A delegation member affirmed in no uncertain terms that the Government did not support sex tourism in any way, shape or form and had a sex tourism task force within the Trafficking in Persons law enforcement unit. In preparation for a Cricket World Cup match to be held in Jamaica next year, for example, the Government was proclaiming its stand on the matter through information campaigns, the media and fliers.
Participating in the exchange today were experts Rosario Manalo from the Philippines, the Committee Chairperson; Magalys Arocha Dominguez of Cuba; Meriem Belmihoub-Zerdani of Algeria; Mary Shanthi Dairiam of Malaysia; Cees Flinterman of the Netherlands; Naela Gabr of Egypt; Salma Khan of Bangladesh; Tiziana Maiolo of Italy; Pramila Patten of Mauritius; Victoria Popescu of Romania; Maria Regina Tavares da Silva of Portugal; and Heisoo Shin of the Republic of Korea.
The Committee will meet again in Chamber B at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 15 August, when it is expected to take up the report of Georgia.
The Committee had before it Jamaica’s fifth periodic report (document CEDAW/C/JAM/5), which covers the period of January 1998 through December 2002.
According to the document, the Constitution of Jamaica, while prohibiting discrimination on a number of grounds, including race and religion, does not specifically prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sex. Representations have been made by the Bureau of Women's Affairs and other women’s organizations, for an amendment, to include the word “sex”. The Parliament is also now considering a new Charter of Rights Bill that will replace Chapter III of the Constitution. One of the clauses of the Bill essentially recognizes a right to freedom from discrimination on a number of specified grounds, including sex. In the future, therefore, constitutional redress could be sought where there had been an infringement of a person’s right to freedom from discrimination on the basis of sex.
There is also a need for amendments to allow women access to certain constitutional remedies and redresses, the report states. A number of legislative measures aimed at eliminating discrimination are in place, including the Incest (Punishment) Act and the Employment and Equal Pay for Men and Women Act of 1975. Various laws have been reviewed to identify shortcomings and/or datedness with a view to having them rectified. The Bureau of Women’s Affairs had also completed a comprehensive review of 42 pieces of legislation, to bring them in line with international conventions and treaties. Review of the Married Women’s Property Act is currently under way to address an asymmetry regarding “fraudulent investments by a wife of her husband’s money without his consent.” It is being proposed that the converse should also hold true. In the workplace, stress is placed on the issues of maternity protection and occupational safety.
In the field of labour, the Government reports recent increases in overall employment, with women accounting for the majority of those increases. However, the unemployment rate for females is twice that for males, and women fill the majority of unskilled positions. The pattern remains whereby certain technical and agricultural spheres are male-dominated, but, women had made significant strides in the professional category. Over a fifth of employed females now belong to this grouping, while just over 12 per cent of the employed male labour force is so categorized. However, there remains low percentage of women in skilled technical occupations and a high proportion in clerical, nurturing and domestic fields. In the sphere of entrepreneurship, women appear to remain at a disadvantage. Due to a “historically greater asset deficiency” compared to men, fewer women have the wherewithal to secure the loan financing they need.
Overall, despite recent academic/professional strides made by women, there still exists an unbalanced gender power structure, albeit, now with a somewhat different configuration. That is, men now predominate at both extremes, as women have come to the ascendancy at the middle. With natural attrition of top male leadership through retirement and death, it stands to reason that women, “now poised in unprecedented large numbers at the threshold of top leadership, will ascend to this level”. A possible end result could be female domination of top leadership, with greater male representation at the middle and lower levels. “The critical issue here in seeking to bring about gender equity is to avoid going to the opposite extremes whereby the imbalance will now be in favour of women”, the report states.
Gender stereotyping remains institutionalized through a number of socio-economic and cultural agents, including the educational system, the media, the church and the family. Persistent stereotypical attitudes prevail about male-female roles and relations. These however, are being systematically addressed through public education in schools, across civil society (largely via community outreach), and through, gender mainstreaming initiatives in the public sector.
Regarding violence against women, the report states that there needs to be an official database housing specific statistics on spousal abuse as a subset concerning domestic violence. The Government also places emphasis on measures, legislative and otherwise, to deal with violence against women and girls. The Domestic Violence Act of 1995 allowed for domestic violence to be specifically recognized and gave victims recourse to a wide range of remedies from both the civil and the criminal law. In view of the experience gained since the promulgation of the Act, several amendments are now being considered. Recommendations have also been made for the amendment of the Law of Evidence to make spouses compellable witnesses in domestic violence proceedings. The new Child Care and Protection Bill makes it mandatory for health and child care professionals to report suspected cases of child abuse to the police.
On women’s representation, the Government reports that women continue to be underrepresented at the highest levels of governance, power and decision-making. As for the area of education, the report states that while a number of facets of the education system reinforce gender stereotyping, in general, females are outperforming males in academic pursuits. Boys are generally under performing vis-à-vis girls, but are still doing relatively better in some traditionally male-dominated areas, such as the technical/scientific disciplines. Women now outnumber men as students, at the tertiary level and as professional functionaries in corporate/public sector second–tier leadership.
Introduction of Report
The Jamaica delegation was headed by Raymond Wolfe, Permanent Representative of the Jamaica Mission to the United Nations and Barbara Bailey, Director of Gender and Development Studies, University of the West Indies. Delegation members were Faith Webster of Jamaica’s Bureau of Women’s Affairs; Eileen Boxill, of the Ministry of Justice; Linnette Vassell of the Ministry of Housing, Transport and Water Works; Dorothy Lightbourne of the Jamaica Labour Party; Margarette MaCaulay, Attorney; Pamela Redwood of the Prime Minister’s Office; Pamela Ingelton, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade; and Ariel Bowen of the Jamaica Mission to the United Nations.
BARBARA BAILEY, Director, Gender and Development Studies, University of the West Indies, presented Jamaica’s report, saying that the Government’s commitment to the enhancement and protection of human rights was reflected in the establishment, in 2001, of a special Human Rights Unit within the Ministry of Justice, headed by a legal advisor. Matters arising from Jamaica’s obligations under international human rights instruments, including those relating to women, were part of the Unit’s area of responsibility.
The Government had always recognized the need for collaboration with women’s organizations, non-governmental organizations, faith-based organizations, civil society and the party in opposition on gender issues. All those players had participated in a recent advocacy programme on the Optional Protocol, spearheaded by the Caribbean Office of the United Nations Development Fund for Women in June this year. The country’s Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade had given their commitment to ensuring Jamaica’s accession to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in the short term. Among other initiatives, she mentioned the establishment of a Gender Advisory Committee in 2004, whose main objective was to advise the Government and develop, through a broad-based consultative process, a comprehensive national gender policy.
The Government had been addressing the issues of violence against women, including trafficking and sexual abuse, through new legislation and public education campaigns, she continued. Newly reported cases continuously provided the impetus to act more decisively on such issues, and the stakeholders had been engaging in an ongoing dialogue in that regard. That renewed impetus around gender-based violence and other issues confronting women and girls in Jamaica was also due, in no small measure, to the recent appointment of Portia Simpson Miller, as the first female President of the ruling political party and the first female Prime Minister of Jamaica. Women’s participation in decision-making had been increasing, but, women continued to be underrepresented at the highest level of governance. That, of course, was very much a function of entrenched gender ideologies and concepts of leadership, which were perceived as masculine in both substance and style. The appointment of a female Prime Minister was a major challenge to those ideologies.
Regarding the legal reform, she said that, it was a continuing exercise. The pace was admittedly slow, but, that was largely due to the fact that the reforms relating to women had to compete with other pressing matters. Recently, the legislation relating to crime had consumed a great deal of time and resources. Some of the measures in that regard, while not directed specifically at women, did have a positive impact on the situation of women, as women were adversely affected by crime and violence. The legislative process itself was another factor that contributed to the delay in the passage of important legislation. For instance, the examination of the proposed Charter of Rights and Freedoms had spanned several parliamentary sessions, and, changes in the composition of the parliament had resulted in the reopening of many issues that had been considered settled.
Among the newly enacted bills, she listed the Domestic Violence Act and the Childcare and Protection Act of 2004, which widened the coverage of previous legislation. The Property (Rights of Spouses) Act of 2004 had introduced new statutory rules to provide for the equitable division of assets between spouses upon marriage of relationship breakdown. Though gender-neutral in its provisions, the Act should be beneficial to women in its practical application. The Maintenance Act of 2005 conferred equal rights and obligations on spouses with respect to the support of each other and the children.
Among the amendments under consideration, she mentioned the offences against the Persons Act and the Incest Punishment Act, intended to update the law relating to rape and other sexual offences, as well as draft of a victims charter. Yet, another draft bill would amend the Evidence Act to permit the taking of the testimony of “vulnerable witnesses” by means of live television links to afford greater protection to the victims of violence and sexual abuse. In September 2003, Jamaica ratified the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocol on Trafficking in Persons. Implementing legislation was being prepared, and there was already a first draft of a related bill. A Caribbean Community Model Bill was being used to generate national debate of the legislation on sexual harassment.
On women’s employment, she said that, in the public sector, women had moved into positions in top management, but in the private sector, they continued to be underrepresented in boardrooms and in top management. Gender differences in wages were in keeping with those patterns: females constituted 58.2 per cent of workers in the public sector, whereas males predominated in the “paid non-government private sector”, where wages were considerably higher. Approximately 50 per cent of all households in Jamaica were headed by women and characterized by poverty and low levels of consumption. A number of programmes had been launched in the country to protect vulnerable population groups, including the National Poverty Eradication Programme, the Advancement through Health and Education Programme, the National Health Fund and the Self Start Fund.
In the area of health, she said that maternal mortality had decreased from 111 per 100,000 live births in 2000, to 95 in 2005. The recently established National Advisory Group on Abortion was presently reviewing current laws and practices relating to abortion. Jamaica’s National Family Planning Board, with support from the European Union and the United Nations Population Fund, was engaged in an ongoing programme on sexual and reproductive health. Special measures were also in place that targeted adolescents. With HIV/AIDS continuing to be a growing concern, particularly for female adolescents of 15 to 19 years of age, public education programmes placed particular emphasis on that group. In 2005, the policy and advocacy component of the HIV/AIDS Treatment and Prevention Programme had been formalized. Progress had been achieved in the prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission. Education and assistance were provided to commercial sex workers. As well, a programme had been launched to educate hearing-impaired women and girls on the issue of sexual violence and HIV/AIDS.
The situation of rural women was an area of special concern, she said. Women’s groups were being organized in rural areas to improve women’s access to economic opportunities, including credits and grants, training and acquisition of income-generating assets. Although agricultural extension services were not specifically designed to reach women directly, there were special programmes in some ministries, which gave support to the empowerment of rural women. Special facilities were available through the women’s rural network revolving credit programmes, as well as through special windows created for women in poverty at the country’s financial institutions. A gender perspective had also been incorporated in the National Resource Water Management Programme. In that regard, a recent study had verified the greater burden imposed on women and children by the absence of potable water.
The dialogue opened with questions on the Convention’s first six articles related to discrimination, policy, guarantee of basic rights and freedoms, special measures, sex roles, stereotyping and prejudice, and practices such as prostitution.
PRAMILA PATTEN, an expert from Mauritius, began with questions related to the definition of discrimination in the Constitution and its lack in omitting an explicit reference to sexual discrimination. She also recommended a review of data collection and improvements in the data analysis system.
An expert from Netherlands, CEES FLINTERMAN, asked for clarification on what constitutional remedies were available in cases of discrimination. How widespread was recourse to the legal aid system? What procedures were available for dispute resolution? He suggested setting timeframes for legislative review.
Echoing the need for timely legal reforms, SHANTHI DAIRIAM, an expert from Malaysia urged Jamaica to make the assurance of women’s equal rights a first priority. What kind of campaign had been conducted to make known the importance of legislative reform? What new measures would be taken to ensure success of gender mainstreaming when not much had happened, in that regard, in the two years since the Gender Advisory Committee was established?
MAGALIS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, an expert from Cuba, said the report was of particular interest to her as a Caribbean neighbour. She asked for more information on the mechanism of the Gender Advisory Committee.
Responding, a delegation representative said there was a definition of discrimination, and the explicit mention of sexual discrimination would be included in the amendment that was now in the process of adoption. The process of instituting the new charter was lengthy. Wide debate had been stirred on many issues, but, the explicit inclusion of sexual discrimination among offences against rights had no opposition and was fully supported.
On the question of women’s issues needing to compete with other matters, they said the characterization was not quite accurate. The process of passing laws in Jamaica was very slow, especially with regard to social legislation. Public participation in the process was considered very important. It was considered critical for people to understand a law before it was passed -- to have “possession” of the law before it became legislation. Some laws were outmoded, and, in that case, the process was a simple clean-up and clean-out procedure. But with new laws, care was taken because Jamaica had a past of difficulties with laws in relation to fighting crime. The feeling in Jamaica was that, individuals must not be deprived of the right to speak and make views articulated in the publicly open Joint Parliamentary Committee procedure.
Delegation representatives agreed that the process of gender mainstreaming had been hampered by fragmentation and the Gender Advisory Committee would be looking into why that had happened. The Committee would also be building more linkages and, holding training and sensitization events on how to mainstream gender issues. Public education tools along those lines had already been developed and distributed to schools and churches. Also, the Gender Committee would link with the planning and statistical institutes to sensitize staff on gender mainstreaming.
Further, delegates said, the main original purpose of establishing the Gender Advisory Committee had been to develop a plan and policy document to serve as a basis for a national gender policy, and to set a direction for action. Two years had been devoted to consulting with groups to determine policy, and set up the national machinery. Perhaps that seemed a long time, but, the basis was now established for action.
Moving on, they said there was ongoing training of judges to familiarize them with the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women norms. Legal aid was available in cases of major crimes such as murder or robbery and, all those accused of felonies were entitled to representation by a public defender. There was no need for representation in cases of domestic violence, for example. Those proceedings took place in family court and were informal enough to allow individuals to speak for themselves, even children. No legal aid was available for anyone in the divorce process.
As to timing on the optional protocol, the delegation said that, at the directive of the new Prime Minister, the papers for cabinet submission had already been drawn up and were expected to be submitted in September. Action was expected by the end of the year.
As the Committee continued its dialogue with the delegation, several experts noted that the report was quite frank, in telling about the patriarchal culture and violence against women in Jamaica. They wanted to know what was being done to address sexual stereotypes, in particular the negative depiction of women in the media and popular culture. Questions were also posed about measures to address violence against women, including community policing projects.
NAELA GABR, an expert from Egypt, recalled that the Committee had previously highlighted the importance of addressing negative sexual stereotypes and customs in Jamaica. The Government was working with the civil society and the media, while also undertaking education programmes, but, more comprehensive measures were needed in that regard. She expressed concern about the inter-connection between sexual stereotypes and violence against women, and said she had hoped that, in the near future, new legislation would be adopted, and that the issue of impunity in cases of violence would be tackled.
Ms. PATTEN said that, she did not see any temporary special measures being adopted by the Government to target discrimination, which impeded women’s enjoyment of their rights. The document also did not provide any reason for the failure to adopt such measures. However, the Committee considered special temporary measures necessary for the elimination of discrimination against women. Women were markedly absent from decision-making positions and were clustered in lower levels of employment in Jamaica, for example. With male-predominant stereotypes prevalent in the country, it was important to accelerate the achievement of gender equality through special temporary measures.
Another issue that came up in the dialogue was sex tourism. According to some sources, the image of Jamaica was “sun, sand and sex”, Ms. SHIN said; then, asking what was being done to change that image.
Responding to those queries, Ms. BAILEY said that, as recognized in the report, the question of gender stereotyping was at the core of inequalities between men and women. “We live in society that is both patriarchal and capitalist. Both those systems reinforce the negative stereotypes,” she said. For that reason, it was important to address the issue from a structural point of view. The structural change must be accompanied by a change in the attitudes and viewpoints. The agents responsible for reproducing those stereotypes were known, and the Government’s focus of attention was on changing the actions and behaviour that enforced the stereotypes. The role of schools and teachers was pivotal in that regard.
The Government was trying to “undo a system the way it was established”. A model for teacher education had been developed, soon to become mandatory in all teacher training institutions. The Government also wanted to change socializing practices, particularly in terms of sexual harassment endured by girls, as well as the patterns, which pushed boys and girls into different areas of education, for example. Major research projects were under way, some of them looking into gender-based violence in schools and the schools’ role in entrenching the patterns of gender-related violence. The roles of parents and the media were also very important, and a women’s media-watch project had been launched in the country. The Jamaica association of musicians had been approached to address the issue of negative dance-hall lyrics. The Council of Churches was now also beginning to look at the role the religion played in the predominantly Catholic country.
In relation to prostitution, a member of the delegation said that, soliciting prostitution for monetary interest was an offence for both men and women. However, the police had not been sensitized in that regard, and more work was needed to address the issue.
She also agreed that it was important to put an end to impunity for sexual offences. For example, plans were being made to increase the penalty for incest. Also, currently, it was presumed that boys under 14 could not commit rape. However, many such offences were committed by gangs, and such presumption would soon be removed from the legislation. A report on abortion had been recently completed, and a draft bill dealing specifically with reproduction rights had been prepared in Jamaica.
Continuing the dialogue, experts exchanged views with the delegation on the legal mechanisms by which it might be possible to include sexual discrimination in the constitutional definition without having to wait for the amendment to be adopted. Was the campaign to inform about the importance of legislative reform in that regard vigorous enough? And, on another point, what was being done about sex tourism?
A delegation representative said the lack of explicit mention did not preclude application of the statute to the case of sexual discrimination. The matter had simply not been put to legal challenge. The amendment was a precaution to leave no doubt that sexual discrimination was included. It was a vertical and horizontal guarantee that sexual discrimination would be outlawed. While it was true that international law did not automatically become domestic legislation, States that had entered into international treaties were bound to respect provisions. That was why it was so important for Jamaicans to become familiar with the Convention and the obligations it carried in its articles. That was also why training sessions for judges were held, to help them build good jurisprudence within their expertise of Jamaican common law.
In addition, the delegation continued, regardless of how lengthy the process, Jamaicans would never agree to giving up their voice in the Joint Select Committee process that was part of the parliamentary procedure. Options for shortening the length of time required had been considered as part of an entire justice system review. In addition, the entire structure of national gender policy was being reviewed to determine the infrastructural mechanisms needed, the personnel, the special mechanisms, and so forth.
Regarding the question of sex tourism, a delegation member said the Government of Jamaica did not support sex tourism in any way, shape or form. For example, Jamaica would host a Cricket World Cup next year, and sex often went along with sports. The sun, sand and climate were also conducive to sexual activity, and the Government certainly encouraged singles-and couples-tourism, also, ecotourism. But, while there were countries where prostitution was legal, Jamaica was not one of them. Consequently, a campaign to advise of the Government’s stand was being organized, including through information campaigns, the media and fliers. There was also a sex tourism task force within the Trafficking in Persons law enforcement body.
Women’s Political Participation
VICTORIA POPESCU, an expert from Romania, encouraged the Government to continue the process of promoting gender equality, highlighting the fact that there was now a female Prime Minister in Jamaica now. Angela King, who used to be the Adviser to the Secretary-General on gender issues, was also from Jamaica. However, women’s participation in public life, particularly at the top level, was still a matter of concern. In that connection, she believed it was important to popularize the stories of successful women leaders.
Among the main challenges, the report mentioned the lack of experience, the financial constraints and multiple roles that women had to play in society, she said. She wanted to know about the measures to increase women’s representation. Was political empowerment of women among the Government’s priorities? She also addressed the issue of sharing responsibilities by men and women and asked about measures to encourage party leaders to promote women. Were any temporary special measures in place to increase women’s representation?
Responding to those questions on stereotyping, members of the delegation said there were many programmes for the educating of men on gender issues; those concerning adolescent fathers; those related to the phenomenon of stereotyping itself; and those the Caribbean macho image. They said the media had been used to publicize successes of women in both their personal and public lives. For example, one of the magazines for women recently highlighted women who had broken through the glass ceiling in their profession.
Delegation members said the Prime Minister had made it a priority to encourage women to participate in the political arena. She had also said she hoped her achievement of the position would serve to inspire young women to enter the political field. Maybe seeing her in the position would make it easier for them to seek decision-making positions. A resolution of measures to be taken to empower women toward leadership would be introduced in Parliament.
Taking up the Convention articles related to education and employment, experts pointed out that, structural changes could be introduced in the educational system to introduce gender equality awareness early. Were there same-sex and co-educational schools at all levels or only at the primary level? What policies would be put in place to redress the imbalance of a higher proportion of male principals than female?
On employment, experts asked what had happened to women in labour industries such as textiles. Also noting Jamaica’s active promotion of healthy tourism, they asked questions related to women in that industry. What categories of occupation existed for women in that industry? Did women’s advancement to higher positions in other areas translate into managerial positions in tourism? Were there programmes in place to help women working in the industry when their work was affected by natural disaster?
Turning to another aspect of work, experts asked for the delegation’s view on how occupational segregation would be handled and, how both women and men would be encouraged to seek employment in non-traditional work areas. How would pay gaps be redressed? What kind of monitoring mechanisms were in place concerning labour laws? What would the newly created Office of Child Advocate do about children being employed as prostitutes?
Addressing the questions on education, a member of the delegation said that, almost universally, girls in Jamaica took advantage of education at much higher levels than boys, and, outperformed boys academically. However, it was important to look very critically at the expectations of academic achievement and the distinction between under-participation and performance of boys. Regulations for the provision of compulsory education were in place, but, they were neither monitored nor enforced. As for single-sex schools, they were present only at the secondary level. In essence, single-sex female schools only offered part of the curriculum, for they only offered subjects deemed appropriate for girls. On the flip side of the coin, the same applied to the boys’ schools. Research showed girls’ performance was best in an all-female setting, but boys did better in co-educational schools. That could possibly be attributed to a macho culture in boys’ schools, which did not promote good educational performance.
In connection with the question on compulsory education, another speaker clarified that the Childcare and Protection Act placed a mandatory burden on every person, who had care and custody of a child to ensure that the child attended school. It also stipulated that persons encountering difficulties should apply for assistance, which would be granted. When the Charter of Rights and Freedoms bill was passed, the right to free education would be institutionalized. Tuition would be free at public institutions at pre-primary and primary levels.
In terms of revising textbooks, readers at the primary level did convey strong gender biases, the first speaker said. The country did not have a particular time frame for textbook revision, but, efforts were being made to raise awareness of teachers, and publishers had been made aware of the need to eliminate such biases.
Vertical segregation within occupational categories meant that women were clustered at low and middle management level, but not at the top, she said. It was important to get a proper understanding of the situation, but, it was difficult to generate accurate data on the situation within particular sectors.
Regarding industrial free zone areas, a country representative said that such zones did not really exist anymore. As for women’s employment in the tourist areas, most women were working in craft and hospitality industries, as well as the tourist-related business sector. They were also clustered in middle-level management in the hotel sector. A few could be found at the top levels there.
Regarding the Office of the Child Advocate, a member of the delegation said that, although it had been established at the beginning of this year, it was not yet fully up and running. Anyone who had knowledge of cases where children were involved in prostitution or child pornography, or information that could lead them to suspect such offences had an obligation to report them to the children’s registry, which should be up and running shortly. As for the legislation on sexual harassment, she said that it had been developed with the full participation of all stakeholders, and she hoped that a lengthy approval process would not be needed.
Regarding maternity leave legislation for household workers, a speaker explained that a decision had been made to pay maternity benefits out of the national insurance fund, rather than by employers. The Government was mindful of the fact that should this category of workers fall under the maternity leave act, their employers –- many of them women -- would be required to compensate not only full maternity pay, but also employ a substitute helper.
Health, Rural Women
Those issues were addressed by a single member of the Committee, SHANTHI DAIRIAM, an expert from Malaysia, who said it was not clear from the report what kind of access women had to health services in Jamaica. According to the report, twice the number of women made hospital visits compared to men, but, most of those visits related to obstetric services. Women’s access to services needed to be monitored holistically. The Committee had elaborated on that matter in its general recommendation 24. Had the Government taken that recommendation into account?
She also had questions regarding the high rate of teenage pregnancies and the country’s efforts to address high rates of HIV infection, asking if a midterm evaluation had been taken of the implementation of the national strategic HIV/AIDS plan. It was still not clear if the plan had helped reduce infection among young girls. Contraceptive services were available to teenagers, and she wanted to know if they were being monitored, and, if their provision had led to a reduction of teenage pregnancies.
Unsafe abortions were the fifth contributing cause of female deaths, she said. There was legislation pending, under which abortions could be performed, but, waiting for it to be passed, there was a policy on abortion that could be used. She wanted to know about the application of that policy, as well as the gag rule, which was related to the United States aid policy.
In connection with the situation of rural women, she also asked several questions regarding gender analysis of the effects of social adjustment programmes, particularly on the vulnerable groups, as well as the Government’s efforts to mitigate the effects of globalization on the rural population. The number of interventions related to microcredit and social safety networks was “mind-boggling”, but the projects came across as fragmented and somewhat welfare oriented. Also, what was being done to improve living conditions in the rural areas, in particular in the area of water management?
A country representative said that, the data on women’s access to health care could be made available, but not immediately. There was evidence that there was wider access, beyond just maternal health care. Also, in response to structural adjustment programmes, there was cost-sharing in place in terms of services. An assessment was made on a case-by-case basis, centred on the ability to pay.
Concerning abortions, a member of the delegation said that, no public announcements had been made regarding the existence of the policy on the matter, but, those who conceived and used the public health centres were informed about it. Immediate counselling service was available, and abortion was one of the options presented to women.
Regarding the gag rule, she said that while there was no doubt that some organizations had been affected, the Government was not. To illustrate that point, she said that the Cabinet had recently approved guidelines on the provision of contraceptives for persons under 16 by health professionals without parental knowledge or consent. An advisory group on abortion had been set up recently to remove all doubt regarding the legislative position on abortion. While abortion was not illegal, current provisions of the law were confusing, and it was necessary to clarify the situation.
Responding, a member of the delegation said that containing HIV/AIDS would be very difficult. The primary tool for addressing the problem was education but since the level of HIV/AIDS incidence was high, more aggressive action would now be instituted. That was a very large challenge since it meant contacting not only the children and those affected, but also, those in prisons and other hard to locate areas.
Returning to the experts round in the exchange, one expert recommended that Jamaica approach its issues related to poverty, social safety networks and women in rural areas from a two-tiered perspective. One was to provide structural debt relief to provide women with funds to meet immediate needs, such as medications. The other was to consider forms of debt forgiveness, in other words, to think of short-term debt servicing and long-term debt forgiveness.
HEISOO SHIN, an expert from the Republic of Korea, asked for information on the percentage of girls married between the ages of 16 and 18. She also asked why the father was considered the natural guardian of a child, and noted that legally, in Jamaica, there was equality in marriage.
Responding, a member of the delegation said that, age 16 was the age of consent for marriage, but parental consent was also required at that age. The legal age of majority was 18 but a lower age of consent was required for certain purposes, such as obtaining medical services, by the mature minor rule. Another said the law on custody had changed, and both parents had equal rights of custody now.
Experts then urged Jamaica to address the definition of discrimination to include both the direct and indirect forms, explaining that indirect discrimination was the setting of an improbable standard, such as requiring all policemen to be seven feet tall.
A delegation member said it might be possible to take up the question of indirect discrimination, but reopening the issue could delay the process of adopting the relevant amendment. Another avenue to achieve the objective was to enumerate the kinds of actions that could be considered discriminatory.
Summarizing the discussion, a delegations member said the lesson learned today was to place more focus on impact and on monitoring, and that efforts must be kept on the front burner. The Committee’s comments were a basis for going forward.
* *** *For information media • not an official record