WOMEN'S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE BEGINS CONSIDERATION OF REPORT OF SAINT VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES

16 January 1997
WOM/933

WOMEN'S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE BEGINS CONSIDERATION OF REPORT OF SAINT VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES

16 January 1997

Press ReleaseWOM/933

WOMEN'S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE BEGINS CONSIDERATION OF REPORT OF SAINT VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES

19970116 Domestic Violence, Women's Role in Perpetuating Sexual Stereotypes, Power of Female Voters, Teenage Pregnancy among Issues Raised

Despite the passage of a domestic violence act, an attitudinal change on the part of law enforcement officials was still necessary to stop the battering of women in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, according to the Coordinator of the Department of Women's Affairs, Jeanie Ollivierre, who introduced that country's report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

The prevailing attitude was that what went on in the home was "the business of the family involved", Ms. Ollivierre stressed. In the minds of many, the belief still lingered that it was the right of a man to beat his spouse. Reflecting the conflicting cultural norms of the region, women in Saint Vincent were expected to achieve their full potential and yet remain subordinate to men. One measure of enforcing subordination continued to be brute force.

Noting the jurisdiction of the family court in cases of violence against women and child abuse, one expert congratulated the Government for implementing orders of protection in cases of domestic violence. She asked if perpetrators of violence against women, including sexual violence, were still tried in the criminal courts and, if so, what were the penalties. Were there government plans to create shelters for victims of violence, which were also important sources for information on women's civil and legal rights? she also asked.

Another expert said it was important to understand women's role in perpetuating sexual stereotypes. They often did not take advantage of their right to educational grants. Although they made up the largest number of teachers and students in schools, there had been little change in educational attitudes. Did Government departments have any plans or programmes to educate women on their role in changing traditional role models? experts asked.

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Several experts expressed concern over the increase in teenage pregnancy. Schools must reverse the practice of pregnant girls ending their education. It represented a high form of discrimination. Girls, in addition to experiencing economic and educational difficulties, were suffering social and psychological damage. They also asked if programmes existed to make young men aware of their parental and sexual responsibilities.

Ms. Ollivierre pointed out the economy of the island nation was heavily dependent on the export of bananas and thus was threatened by the emergence of the single European market in 1992 and the subsequent case brought against the Windward Islands regarding their preferential access to the British market. Such economic vulnerability had contributed to an increase in youth unemployment and a growth in female migration -- rising to more than 39 per cent of that of male migration. That was beginning to have negative implications for children, in particular those of female-headed households and the elderly.

The report indicated there were no legal barriers preventing the participation of women in the political process. However, since 1951, only 10 women had contested parliamentary elections, due in part to cultural idiosyncrasies and social attitudes. Two women were now on Parliament. None of the political parties had an articulated position or policy to encourage the participation of women as candidates in general elections.

Affirmative action programmes were suggested by several experts as a means to increase the participation of women in public life. One such area could be in the appointment of government bodies. The fundamental issue was how to translate the political power of the number of female voters into political influence and participation.

The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. today to conclude asking questions to the delegation of the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. It will also hear an oral report by a representative Zaire on an exceptional basis, as well as a briefing by the Chairperson of the working group of the Commission on the Status of Women on the draft optional protocol to allow groups and individuals to petition the Committee.

Committee Work Programme

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to take up the combined first, second and third periodic reports of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (document CEDAW/C/STV/1-3/Add.1).

Countries that have ratified or acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women are legally bound to put its provisions into practice. They are also committed under article 18 of the Convention to submit national reports, one year after becoming a State party and then at least once every four years, on legislative, judicial, administrative and other measures they have taken to comply with their treaty obligations. The Committee reviews the report and formulates general recommendations to the States parties on eliminating discrimination against women.

The Convention became effective for Saint Vincent and the Grenadines on 4 August 1981. The report was prepared and coordinated by the Department of Women's Affairs, a department in the Ministry of Education, Culture and Women's Affairs with input from all the relevant government departments and non-governmental organizations.

With a 1991 population of 108,965 divided almost equally between men and women, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is a small island developing country in the eastern Caribbean with a small open economy dependent on imports and the production of primary commodities for export -- agriculture remains the leading productive sector. The economy is particularly vulnerable to changes within the international economic environment and climatic conditions.

According to the report, the 1979 Constitution of the country embodies in its first article the key provision pertaining to the equal right of both sexes to the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms, as long as the exercise of those freedoms does not interfere with the rights and freedoms of others or the public interest. In addition, there are other provisions which provide for equal treatment of men and women in certain specific respects. No specific law has been passed prohibiting discrimination against women, but some legislation exists which embodies the principle of equality between men and women, such as the Equal Pay Act of 1994.

Overall, the report says the 1991 census indicated that much work remains to be done in improving the legal, economic and social situation of women in the country. Through the efforts of the Department of Women's Affairs, the Constitution has been amended to give equal rights of citizenship to foreign husbands; the Equal Pay Act was passed; more severe penalties to alleviate sexual harassment and abuse have been assessed; and the Maintenance Act to reinforce the property rights of women has been improved. The Department was established to foster attitudinal changes in men and women to

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enhance the integration of women into national development. There is, however, no officially declared national policy for women. The Government's development plan has proposed strategies and programmes in the areas of legislation, employment, health, education to promote the social and economic status of women.

Regarding the elimination of stereotypes, the report states that the social and cultural patterns in the country still result in the perception that women are limited to certain reproductive roles. That perception has contributed to the relative absence of women in political leadership. For example, only two women have been elected to Parliament. The most serious aspect of the overall perception of women, however, has been the high incidence of domestic violence, particularly violence against women. Often, the cases do not lead to a conviction because many of the victims were economically dependent on the perpetrator of the violence. A bill has been tabled in Parliament to address the issue of domestic violence and allow more cases to be effectively dealt with.

Stereotyping of roles is strongly affected by the socializing of boys and girls -- girls are socialized to fulfil roles of care-givers and home- makers, and boys aim towards traditional male-oriented professions. That is reflected in the prevalence of girls in such professions as teaching and nursing. There is a need to reduce stereotyping within the education system. While there are no formal obstacles preventing women from taking part in public life, the recent elections saw only three women running for public office out of a total of 33 candidates; social and cultural factors converge to reduce women's participation. Women are, however, fairly well represented in the civil service (in 1991 about 40 per cent of public employees were women), although concentrated mainly at the clerical and administrative levels with few at the senior level.

In education, the report states, the enrolment of males and females at the primary level in 1992 was fairly even. There is a higher rate of females than males passing on to the secondary school system. Women account for the majority of teachers within the primary and secondary systems. Overall, females tend to have a higher level of formal education certification than do males. Technical and vocational training is an important part of the educational system. Three "multipurpose centres" and the Technical College offer specific technically oriented training, which is an important avenue for women to pursue formerly male-dominated fields. Additional progress in education is necessary to address the needs of girls and women who have left school prematurely and to meet the continuing education needs of those who are not functionally literate.

In the area of employment, women's participation in the labour force is growing, the report continues. They still have a higher unemployment rate, and in 1991 represented only 36 per cent of the total labour force. There is

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little data on the wage and income levels for men and women in the various occupations. The passage of the Equal Pay Act demonstrates the Government's intention to remove discrimination in the area of rates of remuneration for males and females. Employers who discriminate in that regard are liable for a fine if convicted. In the related area of social security benefits, legislation makes provision for payment of benefits for women who are not legally married but who are living in common-law relationships (in the 1991 census only 32.9 per cent of households were headed by persons who were married). In addition, child-care facilities are rapidly expanding, although there is no regulatory mechanism to address the related issues.

In areas such as health care and other government benefits, the report indicates that women have equal access. Women also have the right to take out loans and enter into other financial commitments. The Department of Women's Affairs, in collaboration with leading non-governmental organizations, has helped to establish a women's bank, managed by women, to provide loans to women setting up their own businesses. Men and women have equal access to the courts and equal rights in marriage. The Marriage Act formalizes a number or those rights for women in such areas as care and custody of children.

Introduction of Report

JEANIE OLLIVIERRE, Coordinator for Women's Affairs of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, said that subsequent to the submission of the 1994 report further advances had been made in the situation of women in her country, mainly through legislation. The Family Court, which was enacted in 1992, became functional in the first quarter of 1995 and had jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters. It dealt with matters pertaining to domestic violence, child-custody cases, cases of child abuse, as well as the bulk of juvenile cases.

In addition, she said the Domestic Violence Act had also been passed, which allowed for a more rapid response to complaints to cases of domestic violence against women and children. There were still, however, some attitudinal problems mainly on the part of those whose duty was to enforce the law. Legal aid on a limited scale was being provided by the Ministry of Justice. Unfortunately, while women had equality before the law, some may be limited by financial resources. The Women's Affairs Department -- set up in 1985 as the main government unit for implementation of policies for women -- had also established a network of lawyers who work pro bono for women who are in violent relationships and require protection from the law. That service was also extended to those who sought to establish their right to ownership of property once they had been in longstanding relationships.

Despite the passage of the Domestic Violence Act, she stressed that an attitudinal change on the part of law enforcement officials was still necessary. There was still the prevailing attitude that what went on in the

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home was "the business of the family involved". In the minds of many, the belief still lingered that it was the right of a man to beat his spouse.

She pointed out that the population growth rate, which had been reduced since 1980, had been affected recently by migration, and in particular female migration -- rising to more than 39 per cent of that of male migration. That was beginning to have negative implications for children, in particular those of female-headed households and the elderly. In 1991, female-headed households accounted for 39.5 per cent of the total number of households. Teenage pregnancy was acknowledged as a problem, but not in overall terms of population growth. Youth unemployment, caused by the lack of new jobs and the failure of economic development to keep pace with improved educational standards, was a primary concern.

The country had a small open economy with agriculture as the leading productive sector and with tourism gaining prominence, she said. Banana export was the mainstay of the economy, representing some 63.8 per cent of exports in 1992. The export of bananas, and thus the economy of the country, was under threat due to the emergence of the single European market in 1992 and the subsequent case brought against the Windward Islands, regarding their preferential access to the British market. The government policy has been to increase productivity and further diversify the niche markets of the productive sector of tourism and specialized areas of agriculture, she added.

On elimination of discrimination, she said one sensitive piece of legislation had been the Equal Pay Act of 1994. It made provision for the removal and prevention of discrimination based on sex in rates of remuneration. The Act had proved particularly useful to agricultural and industrial workers. Traditionally, men had received a higher wage than women for the same amount of work.

Many of the social and cultural norms in Saint Vincent, as in the rest of the Caribbean, she continued, were based on contradictions. Women were expected to achieve their full potential and yet remain subordinate to men. One measure of enforcing subordination continued to be brute force. A 1986- 1989 study revealed that 75 per cent of perpetrators of violence against women were males in common-law relationships, 15 per cent were husbands and the rest some other male relative. Victims were largely women between 13 and 34 with no record of occupation. The majority of victims suffered from battering. The findings of the study should not be interpreted to mean that married and employed women were not battered; they were usually more reluctant to report incidents of battering.

She said there were no legal barriers preventing the participation of women in the political process. However, since 1951, only 10 women had contested parliamentary elections, due in part to cultural idiosyncrasies and social attitudes. Two women were now on Parliament. None of the political

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parties had an articulated position or policy to encourage the participation of women as candidates in general elections. Women were well represented in the public service but mainly at the clerical and administrative level. There was a fair representation of women with the legal profession. Women were best represented in the non-governmental, non-profit organizations.

While there was equal access to education for both men and women, she said the school curriculum was just beginning to tackle the issues of the socialization of males and females into rigid gender roles. Within the education system, gender biases were to be found at the administrative level. Although the majority of teachers in primary and secondary schools were women, the majority of principals in those schools were men.

In the workplace, she said the Constitution could not ensure the right to work to everybody, due to the economic situation within the country. The female participation in the labour force was lower than that for males, because women were often engaged in reproductive work or were non-paid labour in agriculture.

Both males and females had equal access to health care services in the country, she said. The incidence of HIV/AIDS, particularly among the 25-29 age range, was of increasing significance. A government programme was initiated in 1989. The health services offered through the Ministry of Health were augmented by the work of the Saint Vincent Planned Parenthood Association, a non-profit organization. Improvements have been made in health services offered to rural women.

On issues particularly affecting rural women, she said women had the right to take out loans, conclude mortgages and enter into financial commitments without the prior consent of her husband. The records for agricultural loans show that in the past men received by far the most loans. That was due primarily to different farming habits and choice of crops, than of any discriminatory policy. Female ownership of agricultural holdings amounted to less than one third of total holdings. More research was needed in that area. In the meantime, the Government was undertaking a redistribution of the remaining estates in the country.

General Comments

An expert asked if there had been any surveys on the causes of the high rate of migration, including its consequences on the ratio of the numbers of men to women, as well as its impact on families headed by women. She asked for more information about the structure of the Department of Women's Affairs, including its budget, staffing and current work programme. She also wanted to know how the Government intend to follow up on the recommendations of the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995).

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The report omitted any reference to the Committee's general recommendations, an expert said. She commended Saint Vincent and the Grenadines for being one of the first countries to ratify the Convention and its efforts to implement it despite financial and traditional restraints. As in other developing countries, the drop in prices for agricultural crops, in that case for bananas, and the problem of debt servicing hampered efforts to improve the lot of women. How was the Government dealing with those problems? she asked.

She wanted to know how the Department of Women's Affairs and the National Council on Women coordinated their activities. She noted that all of the Convention's provisions were not part of domestic law and, therefore, contravention could not be brought before domestic courts. The Government should re-examine that area so women could benefit more fully from the Convention.

Referring to the report's mention of the high migration rate among women, an expert asked if there was any study on the causes for the flow. Why were more women than men migrating, what countries were they going to and was there any breakdown of the numbers, according to age, social status and profession? she asked. Also, were most women migrants from a particular industry, such as tourism?

The expert asked whether the increasing growth in population had prompted any consideration of long-term family-planning services that also took into account the impact of population growth on youth unemployment.

Comments on Specific Articles

Referring to articles 2, on the legislative and constitutional measures, and article 5, on cultural and social stereotypes, an expert noted that women had the right under the Constitution to redress before the high court for discrimination. Although the Convention was not part of the law, would it be given consideration in alleged cases of discrimination, and had there been any case where the Convention had been cited in cases before the high court? Were there any remedies for financial damages in cases of discrimination? she asked. Noting the jurisdiction of the family court in cases of violence against women and child abuse, the expert congratulated the Government for implementing orders of protection in cases of domestic violence. She asked if perpetrators of violence against women, including sexual violence, were still tried in the criminal courts and, if so, what were the penalties. Were the police and judiciary being educated to better understand the impact of violence and were there any therapeutic programmes and penalties for the perpetrators? Had the Government introduced legal aid for women? she asked, noting that without such financial assistance women could not benefit from their right of access to the high court.

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Another expert said the Constitution did not have any explicit reference to rights which had to be guaranteed under specific laws. As the Convention's provisions were not directly applicable, national laws, such as those dealing with work and labour, had to be brought in line. What had been the national reaction to the new domestic laws on violence against women? She asked for more information on women's right to seek redress in the high courts for acts of discrimination and government efforts to mitigate effects of economic restructuring, particularly in industries dominated by women. She also asked for details on the high pregnancy rate among young, unmarried women.

Referring to article 4, on temporary measures to accelerate de facto equality, an expert asked about the relationship between the Department of Women's Affairs and the National Council of Women.

Concerning article 5, on cultural and social stereotypes, an expert asked about society efforts to bring about a genuine equality for women. She said social and traditional habits had a negative impact on women. For example, more females than males took part in elections, but there were few women candidates or political leaders. It was important to implement training programmes and use the mass media to sensitize people and change social mores, otherwise the Convention's aims could not be realized.

Another expert asked how the Government intended to address traditional attitudes. Were there any educational programmes for teachers and how was the media being used? Did the Department of Women's Affairs have any plans to work with non-governmental organizations in that area? she asked.

She also asked if there were any media programmes to address violence against women and modify sexual stereotypes? Did the Government have any programmes to help teenage mothers with their child-care responsibilities and to help boys understand their sexual responsibilities. Had there been any initiatives on sexual harassment, especially given the increased numbers of women working in the economic zones? Were there any programmes to deal with incest cases and what government department dealt with the problem of violence against women? she queried.

Another expert asked if there were any training programmes to deal with violence against women, given that it was a social, not a domestic, problem. She also asked whether there were any programmes to alter perceptions about sexual stereotypes.

Noting that there were currently no shelters for women victims of domestic violence, an expert wanted to know if the Government had any plans to make them available. She said shelters not only provided a place for women to stay, but could also provide information on women's legal and civil rights.

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Women in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines seemed to take part in perpetuating sexual stereotypes, another expert said. They did not take advantage of their right to educational grants. Women made up the largest number of teachers and students in schools, but that had not led to changes in attitudes. There were more female voters than men, but very few women candidates or politicians. It was important to understand women's role in perpetuating sexual stereotypes and traditional role models. Did government departments have any plans or programmes to educate women on their role in changing sexual stereotypes? she asked.

Another expert said sexual stereotypes were the "very underpinning" of women's inferior status, and the Government needed to give that problem more attention. Were there any detailed studies on traditional practices such as the division of labour, including household chores, which might undermine women's health? Were the police and judges, as well as women themselves, being educated about the full effects and ramifications of violence against women? she asked.

The Government needed to take action to deal with the gap between its political will and social conditions prevailing in the country, an expert said.

Another expert said that dowries were often a cause of violence and abuse against women. Referring to the law against dowries, she asked how it was being implemented and monitored.

Given the lack of cultural sanctions against child-bearing before marriage cited in the report, an expert asked for more information about the responsibilities of fathers towards their children and what programmes were in place to help them understand those responsibilities.

On article 6, concerning trafficking in women and prostitution, an expert pointed out that it appeared to be difficult to determine the extent of the problem in the country. The report had suggested that the problem was perhaps not far-reaching. More specific data was needed to reveal the overall situation. The growth of tourism might be a factor in the growth of prostitution. Were migrating women given information on the dangers of trafficking? she asked.

On article 7, on women in public and political life, one member suggested the use of affirmative action in the appointments to government bodies. It could be a tool to overcome traditional attitudes which prevented women from entering public life. How could the political power of the number of female voters be translated into political influence and participation? she asked. Regarding elective politics, pressure should be placed on political parties to increase participation by women.

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Regarding article 9, on nationality, a question was raised about the inequality in the law on the granting of citizenship to the spouse.

Concerning article 10, on education, an expert referred to the inclusion of family-life education in the public school curriculum and asked for more information on the programme. Was the aim to educate both boys and girls in family matters and to overcome stereotypes? Did the programme include exposure to information on family planning and contraception? Was abortion legal in the country, and what were the health consequences? she asked.

Noting the inequality of women as principals of public schools, an expert asked if there was a government programme to improve that situation, particularly in the light of the fact that the majority of teachers were women. Did girls actually take advantage of equal access to school programmes, sports and activities? she asked.

With the existence of a strong religious community in the country, one expert commented on the paradox of the high level of teenage pregnancy. The church groups were in a position to put in place significant educational programmes to address that problem. Schools must reverse the practice of pregnant girls ending their education. It represented a high form of discrimination. The new programme to continue education for pregnant girls in Saint Vincent was very important. Several experts expressed concern over the increase in teenage pregnancy. Girls, in addition to experiencing economic and educational difficulties, were suffering social and psychological damage.

An expert asked why more females than males went on to secondary schools. What programmes were being conducted to achieve literacy and what was the actual illiteracy rate? she asked.

Referring to vocational training, one member inquired whether such programmes were geared to out-of-school youth. Were there plans for gender- sensitive courses or women's studies? she asked.

Turning to article 11, on employment discrimination, an expert asked about the extent of the Equal Pay Act. Did it apply to small business and what was the enforcement mechanism? Was the Government taking measures to confront the problems of migrant workers? Were there measures to monitor occupational hazards and enforce labour codes, particularly in free trade zones? she asked.

The high level of unemployment among women could be altered through various affirmative action programmes, particularly in areas normally controlled by men, said one expert. The tourism area offered new employment opportunities. Referring to the number of women engaged in trading, an expert asked about the harassment of those women by customs officials.

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One member noted the disparity of wages between men and women had led to the passage of the Equal Pay Act. How could it apply to the informal and agricultural sector? Why was only one month of maternity leave granted at full pay when the prevailing practice was three months? she asked.

On article 12, on health, an expert commended the preventive approach employed to combat HIV/AIDS. Education was also a component of prevention and needed greater focus, for men as well as for women. What methods were being promoted to address male fertility? she asked.

While the report was silent on the issue of abortion, an expert stated that other sources indicated that abortion was illegal. It was, however, performed in private clinics that seemed to be ignored by authorities. More information on abortion was requested.

An expert asked for more details on infant and maternal mortality. Gender-sensitive data on other morbidity factors was also requested.

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For information media. Not an official record.