GOVERNMENT EFFORTS TO INCLUDE WOMEN'S ISSUES IN DOMESTIC LAWS STRESSED BY REPRESENTATIVE OF SAINT VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES19970121 As Committee Concludes Consideration Of Country's Report on Elimination of Discrimination against Women
The Government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was doing everything possible to ensure that the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women became part of its legislation, the Coordinator of the country's Department of Women's Affairs, Jeanie Ollivierre, told this morning the Committee which monitors the treaty.
Ms. Ollivierre was answering questions by members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women regarding Saint Vincent and the Grenadines' combined first, second and third reports which were presented on 16 January. She said studies by the Department of Women's Affairs were used in the drafting of legislation, and cited the equal payment act, the domestic violence act and the citizenship and child care acts, as examples of government efforts to include women's issues in domestic laws.
Under the domestic violence act, either partner could obtain orders of protection or occupation, which allowed the victim to occupy the home and exclude the abuser, she continued. The act also protected women in common law relationships. A national committee against violence had been set up and, although there were no shelters, both victims and perpetrators of domestic violence were referred to relatives or friends -- a practical solution, given the country's population of only 100,000.
Ms. Ollivierre also addressed the high rates of female migration and youth unemployment. Women migrated more than men because it was easier for them to find jobs in the tourist and service industries and as cooks and nannies for American and Canadian families. The Government planned an in- depth study of the phenomenon. Youth unemployment was high because of the lack of job creation programmes and low economic development.
An expert suggested the study on female migration examine whether it was on the increase, the impact on relationships and children who were left behind, the self-esteem of women migrants and how much the Government benefited from the remittances they sent home.
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In response to a question about discriminatory practices by customs officials towards female traders, the expert said those "traffickers" who brought in goods from the free trade zone were the "life-blood of trade" in the Caribbean, and the Government was sensitive to their needs.
Referring to questions about the law requiring a husband's consent before his wife could get a tubal ligation, she said it was part of the law which required a spouse's consent for any surgery, and it applied equally to both husbands and wives. In response, an expert said that the law violated human rights treaties which required that a person have full autonomy in determining his or her medical treatment.
Also this morning, the Committee heard reports from focal points on the activities of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Labour Organization (ILO) in relation to women's issues.
One expert suggested individual questions on each country report be replaced with a guiding pre-determined strategy to examine the specific problems of women in a particular country, rather than using the same set of questions for each report. The Committee could direct the working group on developing the strategy.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 22 January, to hear the presentation of the report of Venezuela.
Committee Work Programme
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to hear the response of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to questions raised on that country's combined first, second and third periodic reports (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 of experts, who serve in their personal capacity, 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.
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 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, and education to promote the social and economic status of women.
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In the presentation of the report on 16 January, the representative of the island nation stated that, 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 her country. The prevailing attitude was that what went on in the 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. 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.
Experts noted that it was important to understand women's role in perpetuating sexual stereotypes. They often did not take advantage of their right to educational grants. Several experts expressed concern over the increase in teenage pregnancy. Affirmative action programmes were suggested by a number of 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. (For more detailed background on the report, see Press Release WOM/933 of 16 January.)
Response to Committee Questions
JEANIE OLLIVIERRE, Coordinator for the Department of Women's Affairs of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, referring to female migration and its negative impact on children, said no survey analysing the problem had been conducted. The Government should act to collect data in that area. More women migrated because it was often easier for them to find jobs in the services area and fit into the economy of their new country of destination or new home within Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. The women were also known for their hard work and initiative. There was an obvious danger of a "brain drain" in such a migratory movement. The next report would address programmes for female migrants.
She went on to say that the Government was doing everything possible to address the problem of youth unemployment. Regarding family planning, she described several governmental and non-governmental efforts to improve reproductive health services.
The Family Court, she continued, had jurisdiction over all family concerns, except divorce and its ancillary areas. A national information- sharing programme of the work of the Family Court was conducted for parent/teacher associations, women's and community groups, public officials and police officers. The Court had a trained counsellor to offer legal office. Probation officers were assigned to follow up on clientele. There was an adult education unit which provided services for perpetrators and victims. The Government, via the Department of Women's Affairs, had
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established a network of lawyers who provided pro bono services for women. The Court had its own autonomy. The President of the Court was directly responsible to the Attorney General. Many women have said that the Court was the "best thing that had happened to them" in the 1990s.
Turning to articles 1, 2 and 3 on legislative and constitutional measures, she said no international convention had precedence in the law of her country and none were used as a precedent by the court. Although there was no specific law to deal directly with equality of women, every effort was made by the Government to address that issue in all related legislation such as the Equal Pay Act. She cited the Equal Pay Act, the domestic violence act, and the citizen and child-care acts, as examples of government efforts to include women's issues in domestic laws.
She said the Women's Affairs Department was a response to the activity of women's group in the 1980s. Its creation was due partially to the commitment of the democratic Government. The Department had some autonomy with the Director reporting to the Ministry. There was a national commission on the status of women which served in an advisory capacity and represented government and civil society. She then went on to describe the structure and staffing of the Department of Women's Affairs. She also outlined some of the programmes of the Department to promote women's power-sharing in decision- making positions and women's economic empowerment.
On article 5 on stereotyping, she referred to the report's description of educational and media efforts. There was a national committee against violence, a non-governmental organization, which was formed to address the entire issue of violence in society. It had created a number of information- sharing programmes and produced several media advertisements. She described radio programmes and other media efforts to discuss violence against women. The international day to end violence against women, 26 November, was observed in a variety of ways. Women had taken public action in specific situations concerning domestic violence. She cited an incident of protest picketing by women as a result of a lesser verdict of manslaughter that was handed down by a court in the case of a man who had brutally beaten his girlfriend to death.
She said every effort was being made by the Government to ensure that teenage mothers continued their education and that men assumed their proper responsibilities. During the past year, studies by the Women's Affairs Department had contributed to revision and reform of a number of laws related to women's issues. The chauvinism and insensitivity of male judges remained a concern to women. While family education was being stressed in schools in the form of family-life studies, such efforts had proven to be a slow process in changing traditional patterns of behaviour. Future efforts must seek to close the gap between political will and the social process.
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On trafficking in women and prostitution, she said she was unaware of any research on the issue which had been carried out by the Government. There was no known trafficking in the country, and prostitution was difficult to detect and assess.
Regarding women in public life, she observed that women who were actively involved in political work were free to pursue their candidacy, while others were free to work via other avenues to affect public opinion. It was now up to the women of the country to demand their share of power in the political parties. Concerning affirmative action programmes, women were saying they preferred quality rather than quantity in their access to positions.
On education, she said the Government was addressing the issue of a lack of women in administrative positions in schools, in spite of their majority status as teachers. Since 1994, the number of women in administrative positions had increased, but it still did not reflect the number of qualified women candidates. Human rights education was not taught as a separate subject in the school system. It was, however, included at all levels as part of overall social studies. Women took every possible opportunity to participate in sports programmes, and the Government was very supportive of such efforts.
Also, she said, programmes existed to provide services and training for out-of-school groups, such as rural women. Religious schools offered little in the way of family-planning education. It was known that girls mature more rapidly than boys, which contributed to the greater proportion of girls who completed their education. Boys tended to drop out of the system in response to failure to progress or because of peer group pressure.
On discrimination in the workplace, she said the Equal Pay Act covered all employment in the public and private sectors. The Minister of Labour was responsible for monitoring that law. Any employer who contravened the act was liable to a basic fine of $2,000 and a continuing penalty of $100 per day for each day of continuance of the violation. The Government was attempting to address the high level of female unemployment by offering training in several sectors. There was a need to offer more such training in the manufacturing area. Those women who were involved in the import-export area, "traffickers" were the life-blood of trade in the Caribbean. The Government, particularly the customs officials, was sensitive to their needs and practices. Health and safety were embodied in labour legislation. Inspections of the workplace were carried out and the labour code was monitored. Women made up the bulk of the trade union movement.
On health issues, she said the family-life education programme included sessions on parenting, family-planning methods, sex education, as well as human growth and development. It was possible to obtain contraceptives from clinics and other areas of the health sector. Information and counselling was
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also widely available. While a great deal of information was provided, there was a problem of application of that knowledge. Often, there was a refusal by a partner to use the contraceptive. The family-planning programme was not a failure; the Government was simply not achieving its goals as rapidly as was necessary. Abortion was legal only in cases of rape, incest and when the life of the mother was threatened. Prenatal care was provided by all clinics and health centres. Information was also available through a number of sources on the problem of HIV/AIDS.
She said the husband's consent was necessary for tubal ligation for the wife. The husband had the power of consent for the wife to undergo any type of surgery. Likewise, the wife had power of consent for surgery on the husband, such as vasectomy. In fact surgery for any family member required the signing of a consent form by another family member. Reference was also made to the availability of data on a number of health areas.
Concerning issues affecting rural women, she said that 35 per cent of farms were leased to women. Credit schemes had been established for rural farmers, most of whom were women. The Government also supported pre-school programmes, but such schools were all privately operated. Those who were destitute received financial support, health care and other social services. Women had the right to own land in their own name, whether single or married.
She said women in common law relationships were protected by law. The domestic violence act protected women in such relationships. All in the country were free to enter and leave relationships as they pleased. Women in the society were free to marry, divorce and own property and were fully protected by law in that regard. Any woman, including unmarried women, could legally adopt a child. Any person wishing to marry, must make application to the court and register the marriage. Legislation existed which guided divorce actions. Judges had the power to determine the distribution of property in a divorce.
Several Committee members congratulated the delegation from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines for their effective, "in depth" response to their questions.
Noting the lack of shelters for the victims of domestic violence, one expert suggested the Government reconsider the need for them. She understood the benefits of the extended family system and why the people would treasure it. However, given the small population and the high cost of migration from town to town and city to city, it might be important to re-examine the need for shelters.
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Referring to Ms. Ollivierre's comments about the use of affirmative action that "women wanted quality and not quantity", the expert said affirmative action did not lower standards. It was "a very necessary measure" especially in the decision-making area.
Another expert said the problem of women's failure to use readily available contraceptive because of unwillingness by their partners could be addressed through the family-life education programme. It was a very good mechanism which could be used to address the problem of sexual stereotypes.
She expressed concern over the law requiring spousal approval for any surgery which, she said, was not in accordance with human rights standards. They stipulated that a person who wanted medical treatment had full authority to seek it, otherwise, the other party could veto such treatment. She urged the Government to consider that full patient autonomy be observed in the provision of medical treatment or health services.
Commenting on the employment situation, an expert said women who worked at home or did unpaid work frequently received much lower rates of compensation from insurance companies than they should. Referring to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines' measures to combat domestic violence, she suggested the Government study the Committee's recommendation on the issue, as well as the work of the Special Rapporteur of the Commission of Human Rights on violence against women.
Another Committee member said she welcomed the Government's plans for a more thorough study on women's migration -- a complex problem which had a serious impact on society. Noting the lack of appeals to the courts regarding discrimination against women, she said women frequently did not know what their rights were and new laws and amendments might be needed to address the problem. Efforts had to go beyond media campaigns. Perhaps some type of legal counsel could be used to increase women's awareness of their rights. Any efforts which raised awareness about stereotypes and addressed deeply- rooted cultural patterns would be useful. Doctors, teachers and the police could also be targeted in information campaigns, she added.
An expert said the proposed study on female migration should also examine whether the numbers of women migrants were increasing or decreasing; whether the recruitment process was mainly done by private companies or by relatives and friends; the amount of remittances sent by women and how much the Government benefited from it; the impact on relationships and on children left behind; and the self-image of women who worked abroad. She also wanted to know if there was any government mechanism to monitor the migration movements or any policies to deal with the phenomenon.
She said she was pleased that unmarried teenage mothers were not discriminated against, but expressed concern that the girls were left to fend
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for themselves. Programmes must address male sexual behaviour and responsibilities, otherwise young girls would continue to carry an unfair burden for child-rearing and not have the chance to gain employment skills.
An expert questioned why the contribution of unpaid domestic workers was not included when determining the gross national product (GNP). She urged the Government to study that issue and also include in its next report follow-up action to the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995).
Reports on Activities of Other Bodies
CARLOTTA BUSTELO GARCIA DEL REAL, expert from Spain, reported to the Committee on the activities of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. She said the body which monitored the Convention on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights had met twice in 1996, and she listed the country reports reviewed by that Committee. In their work, the Committee made a number of specific recommendations on the rights of women in response to country reports.
Regarding the Guatemala report, she said the Committee recommended that the Government of Guatemala do away with measures that preserved stereotypes. It recommended that the Government of Spain address issues of equal pay for equal work and high unemployment among women. El Salvador and Paraguay were asked to address the issues of high levels of violence against women. In Belarus, new legislation was recommended to prevent discrimination against women on employment. In Finland, a recommendation was made about equal pay for equal work. In the case of the Dominican Republic, concern was expressed about sexual tourism. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women should pay particular attention to a number of discriminatory practices in the Dominican Republic, when that country presented its next report, she said.
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights regularly received information from non-governmental organizations and a meeting was set aside for that exchange, she continued. She referred to an appeal she had seen from a non-governmental organization on the rights of the child that called attention to the massive sexual exploitation of youth. The Committee also discussed a draft protocol to the Covenant which had been examined over a period of years. It appeared difficult to achieve consensus on such a protocol. A working draft of that protocol might prove useful to Women's Committee in its own work on a draft protocol.
She said the Social and Economic Rights Committee was revising its guidelines for the submission and examination of reports. The Women's Committee might make some suggestions regarding those guidelines in relation to women's issues.
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GINKO SATO, expert from Japan, reported on the activities of the International Labour Organization (ILO). She said that organization had focused its discussion on follow-up to the Beijing Platform for Action, child labour and work in the home. The ILO had launched an international programme aimed at more and better jobs for women. It focused on the feminization of poverty. The ILO Conference adopted a resolution concerning the elimination of child labour. A new international instrument on child labour was envisaged. It would target the elimination of such practices as forced labour, sexual exploitation and other serious forms of abuse.
On the issue of work in the home, she said the ILO had adopted new international standards on home workers, a group largely unregulated and unprotected. The national policy should seek to create equality of home workers with other workers in such areas as safety, child care and maternity benefits. Women accounted for the vast majority of home workers. Child labour was often associated with home work. The ILO Conference set out new guidelines for national policies on home work. Governments were encouraged to provide a wide range of services and support for home workers.
An expert asked if the Committee on Economic, Cultural and Social rights had decided on its list of country reports for 1997. Were there any other specific references to the rights of women in other country reports in addition to the ones cited?
Ms. BUSTELO, expert from Spain, said there were references to the rights of women in most of the country reports. Since the Committee on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights was revising its guidelines for country reports, the Women's Committee should advise them on areas concerning women.
A question was asked about the manner in which non-governmental organizations provide their information to the Committee on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights.
Another expert said that Committee followed the recommendation of the meeting of the chairpersons of the treaty bodies to include gender perspective in its work. The interrelationship between the treaty bodies needed greater attention.
An expert suggested that each country report should be examined with a specific pre-defined strategy. The problems of each country were unique, and thus the same pattern of questions would not adequately serve the Committee. The specific obstacles for women in each country should determine the strategy. The Committee could give directives to the working group on developing a strategy for each report. A strategy must be agreed upon for structuring the questions. Individual and random questions must be set aside
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in favour of a guiding strategy aimed at the specific situation of women in the concerned country.
Another Committee member said unless the questioning was carefully organized, it became repetitive and lost its authority and influence with the State party.
One expert observed that the passionate discussion of question guidelines was not an indication of the lack of effectiveness or any failure of the Women's Committee. She added that the extended and lengthy response by the country to previous questions diminished the effectiveness of the exchange between experts and the delegation.
It was suggested that experts should put forward specific ideas on the guidelines for questioning country reports. Those ideas should be forwarded to working group I, which should consider the ways and means utilized by other treaty bodies. An informal meeting with non-governmental organizations on the issue might be useful.
Ms. BUSTELO, expert from Spain, said she did not have full information on the non-governmental organization relationship with the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Written, as well as oral, information was received by the Committee.
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