|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
1047th & 1048th Meetings (AM & PM)
Making Great Strides, Jamaica Broke ‘Glass Ceiling’ by Electing Women to Prime
Minister’s Office, Other Senior Posts, Anti-Discrimination Committee Hears
Members Express Concern over ‘Patriarchal Attitudes’,
Complicated Divorce Procedures, Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation
With women outpacing men in education and leading the country from the highest political offices, Jamaica was taking great strides towards gender equality, members of that country’s delegation told the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today.
Heading the eight-member delegation, Sandrea Falconer, Minister with Responsibility for Information in the Office of the Prime Minister, said Jamaica had “broken the glass ceiling” by elevating a woman to the position of Prime Minister. Women also held other senior public sector positions, including those of Chief Justice, Auditor General and director of Public Prosecutions. She was presenting her country’s sixth and seventh periodic reports on its implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Ms. Falconer said girls were outperforming boys at the secondary level of education, and more females than males were graduating in all fields of study at the tertiary level, except agriculture and engineering. The Government’s task was to translate increased education levels into greater equality in terms of pay and leadership.
Noting that trafficking in human beings was a serious problem confronting Jamaica, she listed measures taken by the Government to tackle it, including public education programmes, providing protection for victims and establishing an inter-ministerial committee of the Cabinet to deal with the problem. The Government was also working to improve access to legal aid for victims of sexual offences, she added.
The Committee’s 23 expert members praised Jamaica for its success story in women’s education, and for boosting women’s participation in the Foreign Service and in senior Government posts. However, they noted that the labour market did not reflect the high education levels of Jamaican women, and pressed the delegation to consider measures to reinforce women’s leadership in politics, pointing out that only 12 per cent of national parliamentarians were women. With a woman Prime Minister whose track record in women’s rights advocacy was well-known, Jamaica should consider introducing quotas to support women in politics.
Calling on the Government to tackle “persistent patriarchal attitudes”, the experts also underscored the need to intensify anti-trafficking efforts in Jamaica, which was considered a “source, transfer and destination country” for sexual labour and exploitation. They also expressed concern about Jamaica’s complicated divorce procedures, noting that divorce petitions could be rejected when judges felt there were grounds for reconciliation. In some situations, women were in danger of physical abuse and even death at the hands of their husbands, they added.
Denying that Jamaica was a patriarchal society, the delegation said that, rather than dictating quotas to political parties, the Government could give women the tools to win political seats. Women faced difficulties in raising funds and were often deterred by family obligations, delegation members said, emphasizing the importance of providing them with the financial tools and support to achieve the desired numbers in representative bodies. To that end, several organizations, including the Women’s Caucus, were training women to enter politics and succeed.
Jamaica was also making concerted efforts to tackle trafficking, the delegation said, from finding additional funding to training the police. The Government was working to strengthen prosecutorial powers, and intended to strengthen the Evidence Act in order to enable victims to testify by videotape without fear.
As for divorce legislation, they said it was similar to that found in the rest of the Caribbean Commonwealth, and structured to allow parties an opportunity to reconcile. During divorce proceedings, the Court could allow for maintenance orders, or child support, to safeguard the best interests of the woman and the child. Delegation members assured the experts that the Government was open to reviewing divorce procedures on the basis of the Committee’s recommendations. Celebrating 50 years of independence this year, Jamaica looked forward to future accomplishments in women’s empowerment.
The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 17 July, to consider Mexico’s combined seventh and eighth periodic reports.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met today to take up the combined sixth and seventh periodic reports of Jamaica (document CEDAW/C/JAM/6-7). For background information, please see Press Release WOM/1911 of 9 July.
Sandrea Falconer, Minister with Responsibility for Information, Office of the Prime Minister, led her country’s delegation, which also included Raymond Wolfe, Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the United Nations; Colette Roberts-Risden, Acting Chief Technical Director, Office of the Prime Minister; Faith Webster, Executive Director, Bureau of Women’s Affairs; Angella Comfort, Deputy Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the United Nations; Andrea Wilson, Counsellor, Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the United Nations; Glenda Simms, Consultant on Gender Affairs; and Allison Nanton, Advisor.
Introduction of Report
Ms. FALCONER presented the combined report saying that since 2006, when Jamaica had presented its last report, the country had seen considerable progress as well the challenges of economic and financial crises. Emphasizing the re-election of a woman, Portia Simpson-Miller, to the position of Prime Minister, she stated that Jamaica had “broken the glass ceiling.” In the public sector, the positions of Chief Justice, Auditor General, director of Public Prosecutions, and several other senior positions were held by women. The National Policy for Gender Equality, tabled in 2006 to support the implementation of the Convention, stipulated that at least 30 per cent of the membership of public boards, commissions and the Senate should be women.
The global economic downturn had resulted in a decline in Government revenues and increased poverty in Jamaica, a country that was heavily dependent on trade. However, the Government continued expand its social interventions including the provision of universal health care and the removal of tuition fees.
On the subject of education, she stated that with more females than males graduating from all fields of study at the tertiary level, except agriculture and engineering, and girls outperforming males at the secondary level, Jamaica’s women continued to make significant strides in education. The Government had redoubled efforts to translate increased education levels into equality in pay and participation in leadership.
Turning to the subject of legislative reforms, she pointed out a number of legal interventions to eliminate violence against women and girls, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the enactment of the Sexual Offences Act, the Trafficking in Persons act, and the Cybercrimes Act. The Government was addressing the disturbing problem of trafficking by intensifying the delivery of public education programmes, providing protection to victims, and establishing an Inter-Ministerial Committee of the Cabinet to tackle this problem.
Steps had also been taken to encourage the reporting and investigation of sexual offences against women and children. The Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse had been strengthened and expanded, and CISOCA officers, who were deployed at all major police stations, were given special training to deal with gender-based violence. Since victims of sexual offences historically had poor access to justice, the Government was also working closely with non-governmental organizations and the Bar Association of Jamaica to improve their access to legal aid.
Another area of great progress was the promotion of rights of domestic workers, who comprised an estimated 30 per cent of poor working women in Jamaica, many of whom were single heads of households. The Government had reviewed the relevant legislations in the country so that it could ratify the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention for promotion of Decent Work for Domestic Workers. The Labour Relations and Industrial Disputes Act of 1975 had been amended in 2010 to provide an avenue for domestic workers to make claims. Shirley Pryce, a member of the delegation, had played a pivotal role as a global advocate for household workers.
In order to empower rural women and encourage them to participate in leadership roles at the national level, she added, the Government was promoting their access to credit and enabling access to technology. The Bureau of Women’s Affairs continued to provide education on gender issues to rural women’s groups.
One of the poverty reduction strategies implemented by the Government, she stated, was the Programme of Advancement through Health and Education, which provided cash grants to vulnerable families to support children, persons with disabilities, and the elderly. Recognizing the rising levels of unemployment, the Government had also launched the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme which provided employment opportunities and skills training. Of the total number of people employed by the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme, 30 per cent were women and the next phase of the programme would target more women.
Acknowledging that the country would not be able to achieve the Millennium Development Goal target of reducing the number of maternal deaths to 25 per 100,000 live births by 2015, she assured the Committee that the Government was aiming to reduce the rate to 36 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2015. The Government had redoubled its efforts and those included improving the quality of care, closer monitoring of pregnant women and public education. She concluded by stating that as even as Jamaica was celebrating its fifty years of independence and achievements in women’s empowerment this year, the country was committed to achieving even greater gender equality in the years to come.
Experts’ Questions and Comments
NICOLE AMELINE, Committee Vice Chairperson and expert from France, applauded Jamaica’s efforts to empower women and achieve sustainable development in a climate of violence and economic woes. Recalling that the delegation had indicated, during its last appearance before the Committee, the Government’s willingness to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention, she asked what was causing the delay, and what the timeline was for ratification. Did Jamaica intend to create an instrument to protect human rights, in keeping with the Paris Principle? Pointing to a lack of adequate protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, she asked whether the Charter of Fundamental Rights was strictly applied and whether it provided for specific review of discriminatory provisions in some laws. As for the new constitutional provisions, she asked about the nature of the Planning Institute of Jamaica. Was it governmental, legislative or judicial, and how would it work?
VIOLETA NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, acknowledged Jamaica’s efforts to strengthen the national women’s empowerment machinery, particularly by providing greater resources, but expressed regret over the lack of information about budgetary allocations. What was the annual budget of the Bureau of Women’s Affair’s? she asked, wondering whether it had increased. What percentage of State funding was channelled into women’s affairs? Would the Bureau be vested with more authority now that it had been placed under the Office of the Prime Minister? Why had it taken so long to enact the national policy on gender equality, first announced in 2006? Was the thematic working group under the auspices of the Planning Institute of Jamaica operational, and how did it relate to the broader mandate of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs? She asked the delegation to elaborate on the absence of a mechanism for coordinating gender affairs.
Ms. FALCONER said that in 2006, the then Prime Minister had made a commitment to ratify the Optional Protocol, but after having lost the election in 2007, there had been no follow-up. The current Government was committed to strengthening the women’s empowerment machinery and to implementing the Optional Protocol “in short order”. The fact that the Bureau of Women’s Affairs was now under the Office of the Prime Minister showed Jamaica’s commitment to women’s rights, she said, pointing out that the Government was just six months old. The new Prime Minister had stated that all women’s issues under her portfolio would be reviewed.
A delegation member said the Bureau’s budget had increased slightly. There were constraints due to the impact of the economic crisis, but the budget would be increased for the April 2012–April 2013 fiscal year. Additionally, various Government departments and agencies received funds for gender-related activities. She said that, under its new mandate, all data collected by the Planning Institute of Jamaica must be disaggregated by sex in order to ensure that development plans got “the best bang for our buck” in addressing the needs of women and girls.
Another member of the delegation said the new Charter of Fundamental Rights made reference to discrimination against men and women, and prohibited discrimination against women. It must be interpreted to comply with the object of its purpose and its actual impact, rather than be a question of tabulated legalisms, he said, adding that the Judicial Review Committee had decided that it was to be treated as a “living” document. He clarified that the Sexual Offences Act was not a pre-existing law, having been passed by Parliament in 2009, but it had not taken effect until two years later. It could be amended by Parliament, he added. No single Government body had been established to look at laws concerning women; rather, various ministries were responsible for various pieces of legislation.
Ms. FALCONER said that funding for gender policies had decreased under the previous Government, but after the current one had regained office, a gender advisory board had been set up to address the shortfall. While conceding that there was duplication of efforts among ministries, she said the Government was examining how to group ministries dealing with economic, security and other issues into clusters that would allow different groupings to work together while avoiding overlap and waste.
She said the Planning Institute of Jamaica had taken the lead in looking at development nationwide, and would work with other departments to ensure gender mainstreaming in all development plans. It would also work with non-governmental organizations and the private sector to ensure that policies were more people-centred, inclusive and broad-based. The Bureau of Women’s Affairs would play an integral role in lifting the lot of the poor. Women were the driving force of Jamaica’s economy, she noted, adding that many owned and ran small businesses, thanks to loan capital provided through the Bureau.
Another delegate said the Government had established gender focal points in all ministries and agencies to foster the gender-mainstreaming process.
Experts’ Questions and Comments
Ms. NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, said that gender focal points in each ministry and agency must have decision-making powers in order to be effective in gender mainstreaming.
VICTORIA POPESCU, Committee Vice-Chairperson and expert from Romania, requested examples of court cases in which the Convention had been invoked. What measures were being taken to improve access to justice for victims of sexual abuse? she asked.
OLINDA BAREIRO-BOBADILLA, expert from Paraguay, expressed concern that, with its very small budget and staff, the Bureau of Women’s Affairs would not be effective in implementing its enormous mandate.
A delegation member agreed that gender focal points should have decision-making power, and said the Government would look into empowering them.
Another member of the delegation assured the Committee that the focal points were senior officials, including directors in their own ministries, and the Government had sought to ensure that they were people of clout and expertise.
Yet another delegation member said that, while there was currently no specific court case in which the Convention had been invoked, relevant provisions of the treaty were included in local legislation. The principle of compatibility was used when the judicial office was interpreting a particular law, unless Parliament had enacted a law that said the Convention could not expressly be invoked. However, the State’s international obligation to adhere to the Convention was taken into account. The Justice Ministry’s ongoing reform programme would affect women’s rights, including the issue of increasing the number of magistrates and judges, and that of creating another supreme court.
Ms. FALCONER said the Public Defender and the Legal Aid Clinic represented low-income people in courts and legal proceedings. The latter was supported by the Jamaica Bar Association and enjoyed funding for the Government, but given the latter’s $1.6 trillion debt, it sought creative means to finance legal advocacy, such as through citizen partnerships.
Experts’ Questions and Comments
Ms. BAREIRO-BOBADILLA, expert from Paraguay, asked what type of women were targeted by temporary special measures since women seemed to have made considerable progress in education. She noted that neither the labour marker nor the political leadership reflected the high education levels of Jamaican women.
MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, recalled that the Committee had recommended in 2006 that Jamaica make efforts to tackle persistent patriarchal attitudes. The current report did not reflect a coherent strategy coordinating different sectors in the creation of an environment conducive to women’s empowerment, she said, while asking about measures to resolve “multiple discrimination”.
MARIA HELENA LOPES DE JESUS PIRES, expert from Timor-Leste, commended Government efforts to deal with trafficking and to improve support for victims, but noted that Jamaica continued to be listed as a “source, transfer and destination country” for sexual labour and exploitation. Another facet of the problem was the internal trafficking of Jamaican girls from rural to urban areas. Women in areas controlled by gangs were particularly vulnerable, but the prosecution of traffickers remained at a low rate and most efforts seemed to deal with transnational, rather than internal, trafficking, she said. What were the main obstacles to prosecuting traffickers, and what measures was the Government taking to overcome them? Did trafficking victims have access to legal aid and psychosocial support?
Ms. FALCONER, said women were active in political leadership, adding: “I would not say that Jamaica was a patriarchal society.” Some 25 per cent of senators were women, as were four out of 20 members of the Cabinet, she pointed out. The Government had less control in the private sector, and there were fewer women in its decision-making bodies. Jamaica looked forward to changing that through consultations with key actors, she said. The unemployment rate had increased to 18 per cent as a result of the economic crisis, and the Government was hoping that the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme would spur the economy. While the Government provided student loan programmes to enable poor women to access education, its focus right now was “fixing the ailing economy”.
Social change did not come overnight, she emphasized, adding, however, that the Government was proud of the changes it had effected. The Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica had cleaned up the airwaves; no longer could radio stations play music that advocated violence against women. As for “multiple discrimination”, she said that while discrimination existed in pockets, in general, all minorities lived in equality with each other. In addition, Jamaica could no longer be called homophobic. The current Prime Minister had spoken out in support of homosexual persons and had still been re-elected in a landslide victory.
On the subject of trafficking, she said the Cabinet was putting together a team to review all reports on trafficking, find additional funding and train the police. Jamaica had the relevant legislation and its anti-gang task force had successfully dismantled trafficking gangs. The Government was also working to strengthen prosecutorial powers in order to enable victims to talk safely and fearlessly, she said, adding that the Evidence Act would be amended to enable victims to testify by videotape.
Another member of the delegation added that in a number of cases, victims were unwilling to testify, and there were also loopholes that delayed prosecution. All those factors contributed to low prosecution rates. The Government had developed guidelines for care shelters, which indicated that victims must be offered psychosocial support, access to counsellors, medical support and adequate accommodation. Also, the Trafficking in Persons Act obligated the Government to provide legal aid to victims, he said.
ISMAT JAHAN, expert from Bangladesh, raised the issue of missing children in the context of trafficking.
Ms. AMELINE, Committee Vice-Chairperson and expert from France, said the economic cost of social violence should be assessed, and asked whether the Government could prioritize cases of violence against women in penal proceedings and courts.
Ms. FALCONER said Jamaica had a serious problem of missing children, adding that lack of parental care, especially in single-parent households, was one of the causes. The issue had been reassigned from the Ministry of Local Government to the Child Development Agency.
Regarding cases of violence against women, another delegation member said there was no formal process for fast-tracking them, and there was already a serious backlog of cases in the criminal justice system.
Ms. FALCONER followed up on her response about women in politics by stressing the difficulty of improving women’s participation in representational politics beyond a certain point. “Men didn’t have to pay a lot of attention to the family,” she said, pointing out that women had heavier burdens in the family which prevented them from pursuing political careers.
Experts’ Questions and Comments
Ms. PIRES, expert from Timor-Leste, welcomed Jamaica’s achievements in boosting women’s participation, including in the foreign service and in senior Government posts. Nevertheless, only 12 per cent of national parliamentarians were women, she noted, encouraging the introduction of affirmative action measures, particularly establishing a 30 per cent quota for female candidates, during the 2016 elections. Would the Prime Minister introduce such quotas, given her track record as a strong advocate of women’s rights? she asked. What other measures, including quotas, had been taken to increase women’s leadership in political parties? Were there any programmes to raise awareness of women’s political participation? The report made no reference to local government, she noted, requesting more information about women’s representation in local assemblies.
Ms. FALCONER said part of the problem was that the Government could not dictate to political parties, which had their own constitutions and quotas, though it could try to change their mindset through persuasion. It was very difficult to establish quotas for parliamentary representatives since, in a democracy, the Government did not determine who people voted for. What could be done was to give women the tools to win seats, she said. Some men still did not believe that women should represent them in office, and it was often difficult for female candidates to solicit funds from men. Several organizations, including the Women’s Caucus and those within political parties, trained women nationwide to enter into and succeed in politics. The key was to change the country’s social structure so as to encourage more women to enter the fray. She said 26 per cent of councillors had successfully contested elections in March, adding that, of the more than 400 candidates, 100 had been women.
Experts’ Questions and Comments
Ms. PIRES said she understood that, in principle, quotas could be set under an amendment to the Electoral Law. She suggested creating constituencies in which women could run for certain seats, or putting them in specific winnable positions to deliver the desired results.
Ms. AROCHA, expert from Cuba, asked about constitutional limitations to quotas.
ZOHRA RASEKH, Committee Vice Chairperson and expert from Afghanistan, questioned why, if Jamaica was not a patriarchal society as Ms. Falconer had stated earlier, it was so difficult for women to raise money when running for office.
Ms. FALCONER said political parties were in the business of winning elections, and reiterated that while the Government could use moral suasion to bring more women into the process, it was difficult to dictate to political parties the creation of constituents in which only women would contest. The real way to achieve greater success would be to give women the financial tools and support to achieve the desired numbers, and not feel that their candidacies were deterred by lack of funding and family obligations. If women were not the better candidates, however, political parties would not establish quotas for them.
Another delegate said that while Jamaica had no single human rights institution, the Public Defender’s Office and the Independent Commission of Investigations investigated matters relating to citizen’s rights.
Experts’ Questions and Comments
ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, commended the Government for achieving universal access to education, and asked what measures, including curriculum revisions, it had undertaken to combat gender stereotyping in that field. University registration data for the 2009-2010 academic year indicated that the majority of male students had signed up for architecture and land management, among other courses, whereas female students had largely studied hospitality, tourism and pharmacy, which contributed to a gender-segregated labour market. She asked whether systems were in place to check sexual harassment in schools.
Ms. AROCHA, expert from Cuba, asked whether the decline in adolescent pregnancies in recent years was an isolated example or a trend. Noting that abortion was illegal and penalized, she cited alternative sources as having stated that a 2011 constitutional amendment in the chapter on fundamental rights and freedoms provided for the protection of the rights of the unborn, thereby virtually criminalizing abortion. Had the constitutional amendment put an end to the debate on abortion? she asked.
NIKLAS BRUUN, expert from Finland, requested information on how Jamaica was upholding the social benefits given to women, given the current economic crisis. He also sought to know about protections for self-employed domestic workers who fell outside the social security and microcredit schemes in place for low-income female entrepreneurs. Noting that the international community would undoubtedly witness great performances from Jamaican women at the forthcoming Olympics, he asked whether the island nation’s girls enjoyed equal access to sports facilities with men.
Ms. JAHAN, expert from Bangladesh, said the feminization of poverty was especially tough on rural women. Since Jamaica was currently in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), it was important to ensure that the structural adjustment policies dictated by multilateral agencies did not have an adverse effect on rural women. Was Jamaica enabling their voices to be heard, at least by proxy, in the discussions? She also sought to know whether a proper study had been carried out on the impact of trade liberalization on rural women. Those policies might have improved Jamaica’s economy as a whole, but had any policies been adopted specifically to ensure that rural women benefited from liberalization?
Ms. FALCONER said the Minister for Education was reviewing textbooks for stereotypes and revising the curriculum accordingly. The review would be performed in an incremental way, due to the “same old story” of lack of funds. Boys and girls had equal access to scholarships, she said, pledging that she would “lead the charge” in the Cabinet for the creation of a sexual harassment policy that would cover sexual harassment in schools.
Another member of the delegation said there was definitely a trend towards reducing early pregnancies, thanks to increased education and sensitization of young girls.
A third delegation member added that the law against abortions was not aggressively or systematically enforced.
Ms. FALCONER said that after extensive consultations with civil society, churches, and medical practitioners, the Abortion Review Committee had made a report to the Minister for Health, and the Government would be reviewing Jamaica’s abortion laws over the next year.
Taking up the question about social welfare, another delegate said that social expenditure under the Programme of Advancement through Health and Education had actually increased by close to 40 per cent under the first phase of the IMF agreement. One of the difficulties of providing social security benefits, she said, was that workers in the informal sector, such as domestic workers, did not contribute to the national insurance scheme and were therefore not eligible for pensions when they retired. To combat that, the Ministry had held a number of public education programmes.
Ms. FALCONER said a significant number of rural women were “doing extremely well”, adding that credit programmes such as micro-investment schemes, the self-start fund and private-sector led microfinance schemes were available to them. Jamaica had held the first-ever conference on female farmers, and provided them with technical help enabling them to maximize their agricultural output and market their produce.
Concerning access to sports facilities for women, she said: “I don’t know why you asked the question.” Jamaica’s female athletes were doing remarkably well in the international arena, she said, adding that she expected them to bring home “at least a few gold medals” from London. Jamaica could teach other countries a thing or two about being inclusive on the sports field, she added.
The Minister said Jamaica was moving towards a national identification system, and all resident citizens would receive ID. That would enable the Government to provide better services.
Experts’ Questions and Comments
Ms. RASEKH, expert from Afghanistan, asked whether Jamaica had behavioural and mental health care programmes for women suffering from trauma due to violence.
Ms. JAHAN, expert from Bangladesh, asked about the impact of trade liberalization impact on female farmers. Were there institutional measures to bolster rural women’s agricultural productivity and thus their competiveness on the global markets? Did Jamaica have a national policy on ageing, and had gender perspective been integrated into it?
Ms. ZOU, expert from China, said that gender segregation in Jamaica’s education system had led to gender segregation in the labour market.
DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, asked about the legal standing of abortion for minors who had been raped or were victims of incest. Would the current penalty for procuring an abortion, life in prison, be amended?
Ms. BAREIRO-BOBADILLA, expert from Paraguay, asked about protections for Haitian and other immigrant women in Jamaica, particularly since the 2010 Haitian earthquake. Was a policy being developed to provide social protection for domestic workers, particularly elderly women?
Ms. FALCONER said that although men were increasingly taking on family caregiving duties, the burden still fell largely to women.
The Government had made tremendous efforts to ensure equal rights and opportunities for people with disabilities, but there was still far to go, she said, noting that too many building still lacked proper access for those with disabilities. The Government funded schools for children with disabilities, and had programmes to integrate children with minor disabilities into regular schools.
Another member of the delegation said disabled people and other vulnerable women had access to free health care and medicines.
A third delegation member said a mental health facility provided treatment to disabled people, but Jamaica had no dedicated facility for them.
Ms. FALCONER said the Government was trying to ensure that women diversified their crops from banana and sugar production into other areas, such as quick cash crops. They received technical and financial aid, and the Jamaica Agricultural Society, a type of cooperative, provided assistance to female farmers. Noting that the National Policy on Ageing was up for review, she said women were great participants in all ageing programmes.
Regarding abortion, another delegate said the law made no distinction as to whether a woman was a victim of rape or incest as both were illegal. In practice, however, such victims underwent abortions and were generally not prosecuted. That issue was part of the discussion on abortion reform, she said, going on to stress that, under the Sexual Offences Act and the Child Protection Act, sex with a minor was a crime bearing an obligation to report it to authorities.
Ms. FALCONER said that in 2009, the Cabinet had approved a policy to provide basic care to refugees, including Haitian women. Whenever a major crisis erupted in Haiti, Jamaica had received refugees from the neighbouring island nation and provided them with food, counselling and medical treatment.
Conceding that Jamaica must improve the status of domestic workers, she said the minimum wage law had been enacted to prevent employers from taking disadvantage of such workers, most of whom were women. The National Health Fund and the Drug Fund helped female domestic workers, but there was a shortfall in sex-disaggregated data, she said.
Another delegate added that the Bureau of Women’s Affairs had recently begun working with a trained statistician to compile such data. Two months ago, a workshop for statisticians from all Government agencies had been conducted to determine how sex-disaggregated data could be pooled.
Experts’ Questions and Comments
SOLEDAD MURILLO DE LA VEGA, expert from Spain, asked whether it was true that in order to file for divorce, a couple had to have been married for at least two years, and must have ended their co-habitation for at least one year. Was it true that divorce was not granted in cases in which judges felt there were grounds for reconciliation? Why was there a six-month waiting period for divorces to be finalized? Why did the law allow one spouse to request the property of the other? Would it be possible to simplify situations in which someone with a family enterprise sought a divorce?
A delegate said that, currently, a divorce petition could go through the courts on paper, and the petitioner did not necessarily have to appear. It was true that the court must be satisfied that the parties had been physically separated for at least one year and that reconciliation was not possible. If the decree was requested in a two-year period, the court had the discretion to allow the parties to see a marriage counsellor so as to attempt reconciliation. That legislation, which was similar to divorce legislation in the rest of the Caribbean Commonwealth, was structured to allow parties an opportunity to reconcile.
One must recognize that a marriage was a legal process with legal implications, and that its termination involved a legal process, he stressed. The Court could allow maintenance orders, or child support, to ensure that the child’s best interests were taken into account. Under the Property Rights of Spouses Act, the family home was divided equally between the parties, but if it was the inherited property of one spouse, or that spouse was the sole owner of the property upon entry into the marriage, then that party may keep the property.
Experts’ Questions and Comments
Ms. DE LA VEGA, expert from Spain, said that having to be away from the home for a year in order to file for divorce was harmful for women, who did not have the same resources as men. They had to undergo a de facto divorce before they were legally divorced. What criteria did the courts follow in deciding whether couples should reconcile?
Ms. NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, expressed concern about situations in which women were physically abused or even murdered by their husbands, and asked whether there were any exemptions to Jamaica’s complicated divorce procedures?
SILVIA PIMENTAL, Committee Chairperson and expert from Brazil, remarked that many Governments in Latin America were, in fact, changing the kinds of restrictive divorce laws that still existed in Jamaica.
A member of the delegation said he recognized the difficulties women suffered from being outside the home for one year, but during that time, she was still a spouse, and entitled to maintenance orders under the Maintenance Act. Under the Domestic Violence Act, a woman could have a restraining order issued against her abusive husband while she remained in the house.
Ms. FALCONER added that the Government was always open to reviewing the legal structure of divorce.
In closing remarks, she expressed her deep appreciation of the candid and probing questions that had facilitated transparent dialogue. Jamaica was committed to making all efforts to improve the situation of women, and while that situation was not perfect, the prospects for improvement were excellent, particularly given the Government’s commitment to that end.
* *** *For information media • not an official record