21 July 2009
Press Conference

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

PRESS CONFERENCE BY CHAIRPERSON OF WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE


The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, fearing that in the midst of the global financial crisis the rights of elderly women would fall by the wayside, was encouraging States parties to the women’s Convention to mainstream older women’s concerns into national strategies and development programmes, Committee Chairperson and expert from Egypt, Naela Mohamed Gabr, said this afternoon during a Headquarters press conference.


Ms. Gabr said, “Priorities of Government are changing and financial resources are not always available.  Countries are focusing on basic activities, and we are a little bit worried about the kind of neglect toward this important portion of society.”


The 23-member expert Committee, which monitors States parties’ implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, had adopted a general recommendation to guide Governments on preventing and ending discrimination against older women in the workplace, in access to land and land ownership, and in access to health care, education and decision-making posts, among other areas, she said.  The Committee had also prepared a general recommendation on the economic consequences of divorce, which aimed to ensure equal property and inheritance rights for women, as well as protection for women in polygamous relationships.


Another focus of the session, which began yesterday in New York and would run through 7 August, was to raise the profile and concrete impact of the 30 year-old Convention, and its 1999 Optional Protocol, she said.  Qatar had recently acceded to the treaty, bringing the total number of States parties to 186.  Turkmenistan had acceded to its Optional Protocol, which authorizes the Committee to perform such oversight functions as receiving and considering individual petitions and conducting inquiries into grave or systematic violations of rights governed by the Convention, bringing total ratifications to 87. 


The expert Committee would consider progress in implementing the Convention through examination of the periodic reports of 11 States parties.  They include Azerbaijan, Bhutan, Denmark, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Japan, Spain and Switzerland, as well as Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Timor-Leste and Tuvalu, which are reporting for the first time.  States parties present reports every four years. 


Responding to questions about the Committee’s efforts to reach out to and assist divorced women in the Middle East, she said the Committee was not like a non-governmental organization, with advocacy and substantive programmes on the ground.  Rather, it focused on persuading Governments to take legal steps to protect women’s rights, including those of divorced women.


As to which States had not signed the Convention, she said the United States, Somalia, Iran, Sudan, and a Pacific island were not State parties.  


Asked if it was better for the United States not to join the Convention rather than do so with many proposed reservations concerning abortion and family leave issues, she said it would indeed be positive for the United States to ratify the treaty, which did not, legally-speaking, encourage abortion.  It addressed family planning rights and issues.  Some States parties with no reservations to the treaty had poor track records on compliance, she said, stressing that the real issue was a State’s willingness and ability to implement the Convention.


Regarding calls by the “Muslim brotherhood” in Jordan for the country to withdraw from the Convention, she said critics of the treaty in general had “loud voices”, but she did not believe that Jordan would pull out.


On discrimination against widowed women, she said Committee experts were studying that issue and would discuss it with non-governmental organizations in January. 


Concerning the practice of some Islamic countries to use religion to justify unequal treatment of women, she said religions in themselves did not discriminate, whereas traditional practices, such as female genital mutilation, did.  Committee experts, particularly from Islamic nations, worked to show that people were falsely interpreting religious texts to link such discriminatory practices to religious beliefs. 


Asked about Committee meetings with non-governmental organizations from countries presenting periodic reports during the current session, she said discussions had been held this week with organizations from Japan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Azerbaijan, Spain and Switzerland. 


As to whether the Committee had received periodic reports from Middle Eastern countries, she said it had examined Libya’s report during the last session, and it would consider the reports of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates in January. 


Regarding the most common areas of discrimination against Arab women, she cited education, except in the Gulf States, gender stereotyping and the lack of awareness of their legal rights.


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For information media • not an official record