25 July 2007
General Assembly
WOM/1640

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

Chamber B, 795th & 796th Meetings (AM & PM)


anti-discrimination committee calls for adequate enforcement to support


brazil’s landmark law against violence against women

 


While lauding Brazil’s new Maria da Penha Law as a major step forward in the fight to end violence against women, several members of the Committee monitoring implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women said this afternoon that the legislation could only be effective through adequate enforcement and public awareness of its existence.


The law defined policies to end violence against women, said Nilcea Freire, Minister in the Brazilian Presidency’s Special Secretariat of Policies for Women, as she presented the country’s sixth periodic report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  The body’s 23 members monitor compliance with the provisions of the Convention and its Optional Protocol.


Since August 2006, Brazil’s national women’s assistance network had expanded to include 96 help centres, 65 shelters and 396 police stations specifically trained to assist victims of violence, said Ms. Freire, who headed the delegation of Brazil, one of two countries presenting reports to the 23 independent experts in parallel meetings.  The Government had set up 139 civil and criminal courts to handle domestic and family violence cases, and 15 public defence units for women nationwide.


But several Committee experts questioned whether the country’s 27 states were implementing and monitoring enforcement of the law across the board and committing the necessary funds to do so.


The Minister said the Maria da Penha Law enjoyed the broad support of civil society and the National Congress, and its implementation was mandatory in all 27 states.  Legislators had drafted it following a participative process involving a consortium of eight non-governmental organizations working with the Government and an inter-ministerial group.  Those organizations and paid experts on violence against women were now helping the Government to monitor its application.  The public defence units provided victims with free legal defence and advocacy services, as well as lawyers to assist them at trial.


Other members of the delegation noted that the Government had launched public-awareness campaigns, including a national road show with the State-run oil company Petrobras to promote the law and encourage dialogue about gender issues across the country.  They noted that black and indigenous women, as well as others subjected to racial discrimination, were often more vulnerable to violence.


The Maria da Penha Law was one of several recent Government steps to protect women from violence, exploitation and abuse, delegation members said.  For the first time, the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics planned to conduct a door-to-door survey on domestic violence.  Last year, the Government had approved the National Policy to Fight Human Trafficking as part of its efforts to stem the flow of women kidnapped and trafficked for sexual exploitation and sexual slavery, often to neighbouring countries.


Committee experts also engaged in an interactive dialogue with the delegation on the role and rights of Brazilian women in such areas as the labour market, political life and high-level decision-making posts, education, marriage and divorce settlements, and discrimination against rural and black women.  Experts also pressed for details on the countries abortion policies and congressional views on whether to legalize the practice.


Addressing the delegation in Chamber B were Committee experts Magalys Arocha Dominguez from Cuba, Meriem Belmihoub-Zerdani from Algeria, Dorcas Coker-Appiah from Ghana, Shanti Dairiam from Malaysia, Cornelis Flinterman from the Netherlands, Ruth Halperin-Kaddari from Israel, Fumiko Saiga from Japan, Dubravka Simonovic from Croatia, Anamah Tan from Singapore, Maria Regina Tavares da Silva from Portugal, and Zou Xiaoqiao from China.


The Committee will take up the second and third periodic reports of Liechtenstein in Chamber B tomorrow, Thursday, 26 July.


Background


The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met in Chamber B this morning to consider Brazil’s sixth periodic report (document CEDAW/C/BRA/6), which covers the period 2001-2005.


Brazil’s delegation was headed by Nilcea Freire, Minister of the Special Secretariat of Policies for Women of the Presidency of the Republic.  Its other members were:  Ana Lucy Cabral, Minister, Director of the Department of Human Rights and Social Issues, Ministry of External Relations; Regina Viola, Coordinator of the Technical Area of Women’s Health in the Ministry of Health; Andrea Zarzar Butto, Coordinator of the Gender, Race and Ethnic Equality Programme, Ministry of Agrarian Development; Juliana Barroso, Teaching Coordinator at the National Secretariat of Public Safety, Ministry of Justice; and Pedro Pontual, Adviser to the Special Secretariat of Human Rights.  The delegation also included officials from the Special Secretariat of Policies for Women:  Sonia Malheiros Migueal, Under-Secretary of Institutional Articulation; Stella Taquette, Director of the Subsecretariat of Thematic Actions; and Luana Pinheiro, Projects Manager of the Subsecretariat of Planning.


Introduction of Report


NILCEA FREIRE, head of the delegation, introduced the sixth report, saying it had been drafted by a working group coordinated by the Special Secretariat of Policies for Women and the External Relations Ministry’s Department of Human Rights and Social Affairs.


During his inaugural speech before Congress in January, she recalled, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva had emphasized the importance of the Special Secretariat’s creation in 2003 and its subsequent achievements.  That same year, the Government had set up two other high-level entities with ministerial status:  the Special Secretariat on Human Rights and the Special Secretariat on Policies for the Promotion of Racial Equality.  At present, five women headed ministries in Brazil, including the Special Secretariat on Policies for Women and the Special Secretariat on Policies for the Promotion of Racial Equality.


She said the National Council for Women’s Rights, Brazil’s first women’s rights mechanism, was now part of the Special Secretariat on Policies for Women.  It comprised civil society and government representatives and met regularly to define strategies for implementing women’s policies nationwide.  The First National Conference on Policies for Women, held in July 2004, had directly involved more than 120,000 women nationwide in developing “guidelines for a national policy for women from a perspective of gender equality, taking into account racial and ethnic diversity”.  Coordinated by the Special Secretariat on Policies for Women and the National Council for Women’s Rights, the Conference had brought together 1,787 delegates and more than 700 national and international observers.


The December 2004 National Plan of Policies for Women marked an important change in the way Brazil deal with gender inequality, she said.  The Plan, created by a working group of representatives from seven government ministries, focused on the principles of equality and respect for diversity, gender equity, women’s autonomy, a secular State, universal policies, social justice, transparency in public administration and social monitoring.  The 2008-2011 Multi-Year Plan aimed to end gender and racial inequality.  The Special Secretariat of Policies for Women’s 2008-2011 Multi-Year Plan placed particular emphasis on women’s rights, ending violence against women, and gender mainstreaming in public policies.


She said the National Congress had approved important laws that directly affected women’s lives, such as the June 2007 law guaranteeing unemployed female workers the right to paid maternity leave and the October 2006 law approving the National Policy to Fight Human Trafficking.  The latter strengthened police border patrols and set up a national victims assistance network.  An August 2006 law focused on ending domestic violence, and an April 2005 law guaranteed pregnant women the right to have a person accompany them through the public health system during pre-labour, labour and post-labour.


Noting that the Government was strengthening its partnership with the Women’s Caucus in the National Congress to address women’s rights concerns, she said the Caucus was lobbying for legislation affirming equal rights for men and women.  In an effort to increase the economic autonomy of women, Brazil had created the Tripartite Commission for Equality of Opportunity for Gender and Race at Work and the Programme for Institutional Strengthening of Gender and Racial Equality, Eradication of Poverty and Generation of Employment.  In addition, the Ministry of Education’s Secretariat for Continuing Education, Literacy and Diversity, set up in 2004, addressed “human rights and education” and promoted national debate on gender, race, ethnicity, disabilities and sexual orientation.


The National Documentation Program for Rural Women Workers provided free basic civil documentation to women farmers and those settled under the Agrarian Reform Program, she continued.  Measures were under way to increase women’s participation in the National Program for Family Agriculture, and their access to lines of credit and rural pensions.  The number of rural women enjoying such access had risen from 10.41 per cent in 2001-2002 to 25.58 per cent in 2005-2006.


In May 2007, the President had launched, in partnership with the Ministry of Health, the National Policy for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, she said.  In addition, the National Pact to Reduce Maternal and Neonatal Death, and the Brazil without Homophobia Program included innovative social mobilization strategies intended to help the country achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  The family planning programme aimed to reduce the number of illegal abortions and unwanted pregnancies by promoting vasectomies, government-subsidized, low-priced contraceptives and contraceptive education.


She said the August 2006 Maria da Penha Law defined policies to end violence against women.  Since its adoption, the women’s assistance system had expanded to include 96 help centres, 65 shelters and 396 police stations specifically trained to assist victims of violence.  Further, the Government had set up 139 civil and criminal courts to handle domestic and family violence cases and 15 public defence units for women.


Experts’ Comments and Questions


As the Committee’s experts began their detailed consideration of Brazil’s compliance with the Convention, several of them commended the delegation on its timely submission of the report and the country’s numerous measures to promote gender equality since the presentation of its last report.


CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, recalled that the Committee had previously recommended the establishment of a mechanism to monitor the implementation of the Convention in all areas.  No specific mechanism had been created, and several entities carried out that function.  In light of Brazil’s complex federal structure, what exactly could the Government do when State authorities failed to comply with their obligations under the Convention, or when they were slow in doing so?


He also asked whether the courts referred directly to the Convention’s provisions, noting that Brazil had ratified its Optional Protocol in 2002 and that it was important that judges be able to interpret and apply the relevant provisions.  Asking also about the Government’s use of the terms “equity” and “equality”, he drew attention to the fact that women faced “double discrimination” both as women and as members of vulnerable groups.


MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, acknowledged the existence of gender equality mechanisms at the federal level, but sought information about the impact of specific government programmes and the commitment of the country’s decentralized structures to implement the Convention.  It was good that equality was approached from many angles, but could so many interlinked programmes look at it from the point of view of the status and advancement of women?  Were people in charge of different programmes cooperating with each other and making joint assessments of their efforts?  Hopefully, sanctions would be applied in cases of non-compliance with the Convention.


FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, asked several questions about the Council at the State level, including its membership and functions.  Did State councils report to the Federal Government?


DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked what position the Convention held in the national legal system.  In the past, there had been disagreement in the country’s judiciary about the status of human rights treaties and their direct applicability.  She also wondered about the uniformity of efforts at the federal and State levels.  What role did the Special Secretariat of Policies for Women play in that regard?


Delegation’s Response


Ms. FREIRE replied that the Special Secretariat played a role in the strategic definition of policies, the implementation of which was carried out at a decentralized level.  When one structure had exclusive jurisdiction in a given area, another could not interfere in its policies.  The Ministry of Justice, for example, could not create new organs for the States, because it would be “invading” their jurisdiction.


The National Plan for Women contained 199 integral and comprehensive actions implemented by 11 ministries and three special secretariats, she continued.  The Plan had a monitoring and evaluation mechanism, which met every two months.  It included members of the ministries responsible for implementing any specific policy, and implementation information was accessible on the Internet.


Some of the actions included in the National Plan were, in fact, proposals to be implemented at the State level, she said.  The states signed a pact with the Federal Government, which represented a commitment to implement those plans.  To date, 24 State governments had signed such pacts.  The National Council for Women’s Rights also worked towards the strengthening of women’s rights at the State and municipal levels and sought to encourage the establishment of local councils by maintaining contact with local women’s movements and encouraging training for their members.  The Federal Government could support them with funding, but it had no power to require them to act.


Another delegation member said the preparation of the National Pact involved all Federal Government ministries and civil society representatives, including the women’s movement, participated in its discussion.  In the health field, for example, all policies of the relevant ministry were based on a tripartite agreement involving the Federal Government, local authorities and civil society.


Noting that a woman now presided over the Supreme Court, another delegate said that in March this year that body had handed down an advisory decision advising all states to implement the law on violence against women.


Regarding “equality” and “equity”, a member of the delegation said the issue had been discussed at the national forum and at the first conference on women’s issues.  The majority of delegates felt it was necessary to differentiate between the two concepts.  There were now proposals for the second conference to see equality as the final goal.  Since it was necessary to follow the deliberative process of the conference, the Government had to incorporate the difference between equity and equality into its documents.


As for the situation of vulnerable groups, she said the Government understood that discrimination against women became more perverse when additional vulnerabilities were added.  All women were not equal, particularly in Brazil, where there were tremendous regional and other differences.  Among other things, a recently adopted national policy on race issues also addressed the situation of black women.


Experts’ Questions


In that connection, Ms. SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, recalled that, in its last concluding remarks, the Committee had provided recommendations on equality and equity.  It was to be hoped that the country would further develop that concept at the national level.


DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, commended the Government for having finally passed legislation on domestic violence after so many years, but noted that legislation could only be useful if the victims were made aware of its existence and of the mechanisms available to them.  Resources should be made available for the law’s implementation.


She wanted to know how many states had adopted legislation on domestic violence since it had been passed at the federal level.  What were the budgetary allocations for the law’s application, and what was being done to ensure that victims were aware of it?  Did women from marginalized groups have access to free legal aid?  How were plans to combat violence monitored, especially at the State level?


Noting that the report referred to exclusion, social inequality, and the precarious nature of rural life as factors that made women vulnerable to trafficking, she said that issue was of concern to the Committee.  Given the report’s admission of great social inequalities, what was being done to address poverty and exclusion, which made Brazilian women particularly vulnerable?


Ms. SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, stressed the obligation of the State party to provide for implementation of the law.  In that connection, had the Government instituted awareness-raising campaigns and collected information on domestic violence?  It was commendable that the Government had established shelters, but did it also fund additional services provided to them by non-governmental organizations?  How did the Government intend to ensure implementation of the law in all parts of the country, especially among the indigenous population?


Delegation’s Response


Ms. FREIRE said non-governmental organizations helped monitor implementation of the Maria da Penha Law, and the Government was paying experts to help monitor its application.  The law was very complex, having been drafted after a participative process involving a consortium of eight non-governmental organizations working with the Government and an inter-ministerial group.  The law enjoyed broad civil society and congressional support, and its implementation was mandatory nationwide.


She said public defence units operated in every state, providing public legal defence and advocacy services free of charge and appointing lawyers to help victims in court.  The Government had distributed educational pamphlets containing the text, and had launched media campaigns to raise awareness.  It had set up “24/7” toll-free hotlines with well trained staff to assist victims nationwide.  They received 30,000 calls per month.


Regarding poverty and efforts to close the income gap, she said the President had made the fight against poverty a cornerstone of his administration’s policies and strategies.  Thirty-seven per cent of family heads of household were women, and their empowerment was crucial not only in order to strengthen the family, but also to promote social advancement.  The perception that Brazil had second-class citizens must change, and achieving the Millennium Development Goals must be a national priority.


Another delegate said the President had created a task force to address human trafficking, particularly the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation and sexual slavery.  It focused particularly on prevention.  The national food coupon programme was aimed at help to curb vulnerability to trafficking, and the Government would soon launch a programme to document society’s most vulnerable and marginalized women.  The kidnapping and trafficking of women to other countries was a major concern, which the Government was tackling through a health, education and safety support network.


In 2003, the Government had set up a national statistical system on public safety and criminal justice to track domestic violence, another delegate said.  It included profiles of victims, their aggressors, their age groups and ethnic origins.  The Government monitored cases of rape, homicide and other serious bodily harm.  For the first time, the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics planned to conduct a door-to-door survey on domestic violence to find out how many cases of abuse had occurred and the type of abuse involved.  In 2006 alone, the Government had trained 6,303 public safety agents to combat abuse at the State, municipal and federal levels.  Two million Brazilian reals had been earmarked to create and strengthen special police centres to address domestic violence.


Another delegate said the Government promoted the Maria da Pehna Law through public-awareness campaigns in partnership with other government entities and non-governmental organizations.  For example, the State-run oil company Petrobras sponsored road shows in cities across the country to promote the law and encourage dialogue about gender issues.  A subsecretariat ran educational programmes for youth, particularly teenagers.  The programme recognized that women facing racial discrimination were often more vulnerable to violence.


The Health Ministry required that all domestic violence victims be referred to health centres staffed by workers specifically trained to assist them, the delegate said.  There were now 96 such centres, 65 victims’ shelters and 386 special police stations.  Since the law was passed, 139 special courts had been set up and 15 public defender officers recruited to assist victims.  Despite that significant progress, however, much more must be done, particularly in assisting poor women, elderly women and women of African descent.


Another delegate said the Special Secretariat of Policies for Women had been meeting since 2006 to discuss ways to end human rights violations against women prisoners.  Reforms would be introduced to improve their living conditions and protect their maternal and overall health.


Experts’ Questions


ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, asked about specific measures to increase women’s participation in politics.  How did the Government ensure that minorities enjoyed equal rights in decision-making?  What progress had been made in amending the Quota Law?  Were political parties penalized if they failed to comply with the quota system?  What were the major difficulties in amending the law, and when would the amendment be adopted?


MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, asked whether the Government had any plans to create family networks to support family life so that women could participate equally in politics and men share family responsibilities.


MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, said the Congress, when it met in August on the Quota Law and the Gender Law, must focus on improving the plight of women of African descent, who accounted for 45 per cent of all women.


Delegation’s Response


Ms. FREIRE said she shared the experts’ hope that the country would be able to report better women’s representation in the future.  However, the Government was now trying to make up for years of disregarding women’s issues, including the situation of black women.  Due to its efforts, for example, women now formed the majority in the university system, representing 63 per cent of those completing their higher education.


As for the political system reform, she said it was unfortunate that there had been no amendment of policies on affirmative action and women’s involvement in politics.  A general reform of the electoral system was under discussion and, obviously, it would influence women’s participation.  The Special Secretariat and the National Council had a very clear policy on political reform and tried to raise awareness of the need to achieve gender parity.  They also tried to promote greater participation by women in political parties, and were very frustrated by the decision not to adopt their proposals.  It was to be hoped that, during the second conference on women, female delegates from the most remote municipalities would further promote those causes and help to create a policy to change the quota system.  Civil society participation was also very important.


Follow-up Questions


In a follow-up round of questions, Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, said he was deeply worried about the delegation’s description of the judiciary as “isolated and closed”, whereas the Government itself was accountable at the international level for its judiciary.  It also seemed that the Convention’s primacy over national laws had not been resolved.  What was being done to address that, and what specific programmes were in place to train the judiciary on human rights and women’s issues?


Ms. SAIGA and Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, experts from Japan and Portugal, respectively, sought additional clarifications on the monitoring of policy implementation, the Government’s budget for the advancement of women, and the percentage of women in the diplomatic service.


Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, noted that Brazil had had ratified several international treaties, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, without any reservations.  Those instruments superseded national legislation, but if the Federal Government could not ask states to implement them, did that mean that international conventions did not have the same standing in Brazil’s 27 states as they enjoyed at the national level?


Delegation’s Response


Ms. FREIRE pointed out that the independent judiciary was not subordinate to the executive branch.  When there was a conflict over interpretation of laws, it was resolved in the judiciary.  She did not know of any conflict as far as the Convention was concerned, and Brazil was trying to comply with it.


The Federal Government had created a national policy to combat violence against women, but it had no way to force state governments to enforce it, she continued.  However, financial incentives had introduced to encourage states towards that end, and civil society organizations played a role in convincing state authorities to implement federal legislation.  It was no surprise that in south-eastern Brazil, where the women’s movement was strongest, there was more compliance and monitoring.


She said the Secretariat for Women’s Issues had been receiving greater financing since its creation, but it did not have a mandate to implement policies directly.  That was the prerogative of various ministries, which had their own budgets.  A dedicated gender budget now under discussion would be more far-reaching and effective.


Regarding the Convention’s standing, she said that when Brazil signed international instruments, its international commitments were applied after their passage in Parliament.  International treaties were not above the Constitution and did not amend it.  Therefore, treaties and conventions became ordinary law in Brazil.  Obviously, states and municipalities had an obligation to implement the Constitution, but, in some cases, due to lack of legislation at the state level, the Government only made recommendations to states, each of which had a tribunal with the same power as federal judiciary courts.  That was the complex framework within which the Federal Government had to operate.


Experts’ Questions


Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, commended the Government’s achievements in the area of education, but noted that much remained to be done, as the Government frankly admitted in the report.  He asked about the promotion of academic opportunities for women and girls; quotas in the education system, especially for black and indigenous women; and policies addressing the exclusion of poor women.


Ms. SAIGA, expert from Japan, also sought information on special education policies for black and indigenous women, and on the subjects they chose to study.  The delegation’s responses to questions during the pre-session working group had dealt mostly with measures to introduce the gender dimension into curricula, but not the means to encourage women to choose non-traditional subjects.  What information was available on the elementary school education, including enrolment and drop-out rates for girls and boys?  What were the latest statistics regarding on the average time of schooling, and what was the Government doing to ensure that children completed the compulsory level of education?


Delegation’s Response


Ms. FREIRE said the bill on racial quotas and low-income students had not been approved yet.  However, some universities had already introduced quotas on their own, which was the right path.  Considering the Brazilian reality, it made sense to focus on racial, ethnic and income measures, rather than solely gender considerations.  With quotas for black people already in place, the admission of black women would be part of those measures.  However, one could not say there were no government actions to promote women’s education.  Educational development programmes launched at the beginning of this year sought to widen access to education for the indigenous population.  The administration was very concerned about education, and its main concern was to change the stereotypes still prevailing in society.


On career choices, she said it was important to address that issue, not at university, but at earlier levels of education.  Existing myths, including the one about predetermined gender roles in society, should be dispelled at an early age.  The Women Scientists’ Project had been launched in Brazil, and awareness-raising programmes were carried out at various education levels.


Experts’ Comments


Ms. ZOU, expert from China, said that, although many women in Brazil were better educated than men, they found it more difficult to find jobs and had lower wages than their male counterparts.  The Government had taken many steps to address that situation and combat discrimination in the workplace.  What positive effect had been achieved as a result of those measures?  What was being done to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace, and what sanctions and compensation did the law provide for violations.


RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, said the programmes described in the report were impressive, but she requested clarifications regarding the number of women in the formal and informal sectors.  According to information received by the Committee, there were very large wage gaps between men and women, particularly women of African origin and indigenous women.  What measures were in place to encourage employers to hire and promote women and eliminate discrimination in the workplace?  Was legal aid available to women facing discrimination?


She noted that special legislation had been introduced to encourage employers to register their domestic employees, in order to make them eligible for social security, but those measures were still not compulsory.  How many women enjoyed the new legislation?  It was also understood that about 300,000 minors were involved in domestic work, according to unofficial sources.


SHANTI DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, asked what was being done to bring cohesion to the various poverty-eradication policies and mechanisms.  While Brazil was not a poor country, it did have great inequalities based on gender and race.  Government programmes and institutional arrangements for the eradication of poverty included a hunger-eradication programme, but were there specific programmes targeting the most vulnerable groups?  Without them, it would be difficult to address their specific needs.  Were data gathered on the basis of ethnicity and race?


Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, asked about the level of success in extending labour, education and health rights to domestic workers.


Delegation’s Response


In response, Ms. FREIRE said there was still a glass ceiling in Brazil which kept women in lower-paying and less prestigious positions than men.  However, the gender wage gap was, in fact, shrinking.  Ninety per cent of Brazil’s 8 million domestic workers were women most of whom were black, and only 25 per cent of paid domestic workers had formalized labour situations.  The Government was providing incentives for domestic workers and their employers to formalize their arrangements in order to provide domestic workers with 30 days of paid vacation and maternity leave.  Major companies like Petrobras and private banks had launched programmes to institute gender-equity objectives so that men could help shoulder the burden of childrearing.


Noting that Brazil’s racial equality policies aimed to assist poor black people, particularly in the rural areas, she said she worked closely with the Secretariat against Racial Discrimination, but much remained to be done.


Ms. AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, asked the delegation to elaborate on implementation of broad government health programmes at the local level, noting that abortion was the fourth leading cause of maternal death in Brazil and its prevalence had risen between 2002 and 2004.  What had happened during 2005 and 2006?  The Government should guarantee the right of women to proper family planning services.  Had Brazil prepared a draft law to legalize abortion?  What obstacles would that face in the executive branch and Parliament?


Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, said much had been done in the area of health, which was one of the Government’s priorities, but many challenges remained, partly because of the country’s size and the marginalization of some groups.  Given that maternal mortality was one of the main challenges, what was the position of local authorities in that regard and on the recent implementation of a special policy for African-descended women?  What was their position on efforts to extend sex education and information to adolescents so as to avoid early pregnancy?


Ms. DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, asked whether the Government had succeeded in achieving its goal of reducing maternal mortality by 15 per cent by 2007.  While the Federal Government approached local government participation in such efforts on the basis of voluntary pacts with state governments, why could it not control those that refused to enter into pacts on maternal mortality?  What approaches were being taken to reduce maternal mortality?  How available and accessible were contraceptive services?


Ms. SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked whether the Government intended to legalize abortion on the basis of the Committee’s general recommendation 24.


Delegation’s Response


A delegate said state governments did not disrespect the Government’s policies.  The country had a health policy that covered all the regions.  Health-care services were provided without regard to status, and it was one of the areas in which the Government applied a tripartite logic, involving cooperation at the federal, state and municipal levels.  The fifteenth national health conference was scheduled to take place in the near future, but without certain benchmarks, it was difficult to change attitudes.  With maternal and infant mortality, the goal was to reach internationally accepted rates.


Another representative said it was hard to understand why so little had been achieved, while so much was being invested in reducing maternal mortality rates.  However, some stability had been achieved and the rate had stabilized at 74.5 deaths per 100,000 live births as of 2000, due to improved obstetric care and family planning.  Through the national pact, a strategy was in place to analyse the situation and gather statistics.  The number of municipalities analysing maternal mortality rates had doubled in recent years, which was a factor in the higher number of deaths reported.


There was good participation by the northern and eastern states that had, traditionally, been most opposed to the national measures, she said.  The country was making a great investment in family planning, as it sought to ensure the reproductive rights of women.  Surveys showed that the situation was improving, and various contraceptive means were reaching the population.  The amount of money invested in contraceptives had grown more than tenfold since 2002.


Regarding adolescents, she said the Government was trying to guarantee their reproductive rights through contraceptives and other measures to delay early motherhood.  In particular, the Government sought to improve education, and specific prevention programmes were in place to reduce teenage pregnancies and prevent transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.  Another speaker added that the Ministries of Health and Education were disseminating information on birth control methods in schools in order to promote safe sexual practices.


Abortion was a very delicate issue, which the Government approached with tact, she continued.  In 2004, a national conference had decided that punitive actions for abortion should be eliminated.  Following that event, a conference involving State authorities and civil society had put forward a proposal that was discussed in the National Congress.  A related bill had been discussed in Parliament, but it had won a very low rate of support and acceptance.   Brazil was experiencing a resurgence of conservative, religious anti-abortion sentiment, which created an almost-impossible atmosphere for further dialogue, despite the fact that the current Health Minister had publicly stated that abortion was a public health problem which should be discussed by society.


Recalling that President Lula had recently reaffirmed his firm belief in the separation of Church and State, she said the issue of abortion should, however, be confronted by society as a whole.  Women and progressive citizens must unite to create a more favourable environment to ensure the rights of the female population.  In 2006, more than 2,000 legal abortions had been performed under provisions of the Penal Code covering therapeutic procedures and pregnancies resulting from rape.  However, doctors and health workers could refuse to carry out such procedures as conscientious objectors.


Experts’ Questions


ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, asked how many rural women needed to be documented to gain access to pension benefits, and whether pension programmes reached all rural women.  If not, how would they be reached?  Why did few black women receive pension benefits?  What measures had been taken to assist rural women who had been beaten by men?


She also asked what property rights a rural woman had in the event of divorce.  What were the guidelines regulating agriculture and fishing, and how could they raise the living standards of women working in those industries?  How were those guidelines enforced?


Ms. HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, asked the delegation to elaborate on the provisions of the new Civil Code.  Did Brazil recognize cohabitation by unmarried couples?  Were women cohabitating with a partner entitled to the same alimony and property rights as married women?  What were the property rights of women if they divorced?


Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, called on Brazil to raise the legal marriage age to 18 years for both boys and girls.  The Civil Code still contained discriminatory provisions.  What was being done in the Women’s Congress to rescind its old provisions?


Ms. TAN, expert from Singapore, asked how many de facto unions there were in Brazil, and whether they were governed by the same laws governing marriage.  Were married homosexual couples protected under marriage laws?  Did women seeking divorce have easy access to the legal system?  What was the divorce rate?  Had any studies been conducted on divorce law?  The Civil Code guaranteed equality between men and women, but it appeared that women did not have the same divorce rights as men.


Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, also lamented the lack of information on the Civil Code.  What were the property rights of married women, and what happened when they divorced?  Did women have the same inheritance rights as men?


Delegation’s Response


Ms. FREIRE said both the Civil and Penal Codes had to adapt to the Constitution.  Men and women were equal under the law, but some traditional attitudes were difficult to combat.  Reform of the Penal Code was under way in an effort to eliminate any vestiges of discrimination.  Men and women, blacks and whites, had equal rights to property and inheritance under the law.


Brazil did not differ significantly from the rest of the world in terms of the number of divorces, she said.  Same-sex civil unions were still not allowed under the law, but there was a growing movement towards that end.  The “ Brazil without Homophobia” campaign sought to stop discrimination against gays and transsexuals.


There was no discrimination against women upon divorce, she continued, noting that, on the contrary, laws were in place to protect their rights.  Women received alimony and child custody payments, and they were almost invariably granted custody of their children upon divorce.


Since Brazil’s rural population was predominantly black, with low access to the public registry, their access to pension benefits was often under-reported, she said.  The national documentation programme for female rural workers was offered free of charge to rural workers, and efforts were also made to raise their awareness of their rights.  The Ministry of Social Security participated in the programme, seeking to register rural female workers for benefits and to protect their social rights.  The programme was implemented at the State and local levels, with civil society participation.  This year alone, 635 rural municipalities would be targeted by the programme.


She said agrarian reforms gave preference to women heads of household when determining who would be the beneficiary of rural land titles.  Indigenous communities had collective rights over rural land.


Regarding homophobia, another delegate said the Government had set up 49 centres in the nation’s capital and in interior cities to defend the rights of homosexuals.  However, a heated debate was currently raging in Congress over whether to criminalize homophobia.  Recently, Sao Paulo had hosted 3 million people participating in the world’s largest gay parade, which the Government officially recognized.


Experts’ Questions


Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, said the country report had not thoroughly discussed efforts to erase stereotypes or programmes to combat AIDS.  She asked the delegation to elaborate on those issues in its next report.


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For information media • not an official record