COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN CONTINUES CONSIDERATION OF INDIA REPORT

24 January 2000
WOM/1162

COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN CONTINUES CONSIDERATION OF INDIA REPORT

24 January 2000

Press ReleaseWOM/1162

COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN CONTINUES CONSIDERATION OF INDIA REPORT

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Trafficking in women, women in situations of armed conflict, equal rights to education, health issues, political representation and equal opportunity in employment were discussed extensively this afternoon, as the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women continued its consideration of the initial report of India on implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

One expert member of the Committee stated that the report had limited itself to the trafficking of Indian women -- it was silent on the questions of mail-order brides and the situation of women in armed conflict. Furthermore, how could forced prostitution be abolished without the abolishment of the practice of prostitution itself?

Another expert noted that access to legal redress was very difficult for women in areas of armed conflict. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1998 allowed entry without a warrant and empowered security forces to use force, including lethal force. Muslim minorities in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere were consistently victims of such actions. What steps had been taken to ensure women were protected in those situations? Were there any rehabilitation programmes for women and child victims?

How many women students studying medicine were willing to work in the rural areas where there was an urgent need for women doctors? another expert asked. Another expert reiterated her concern about the lack of concrete statistical data on education for girls aged between five and eight years. Resources would have to be reallocated to avoid disempowering the women of the future, she said.

Another expert said health was not simply the absence of illness, but the total well-being of a woman. The report left the impression of a gross gender inequality in women’s access to health care, both within the State and between states. India’s maternal and child mortality rates were unacceptably high. It was surprising that the report had not mentioned malaria as an important cause of premature birth.

Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee - 1a - Press Release WOM/1162 453rd Meeting (PM) 24 January 2000

On political representation, an expert asked what India was doing about women outside the political process. Were so-called lower-caste women represented in decision-making? If not, what was being done to bring them in? At what level were women involved in the civil service and other decision-making levels?

The Committee will meet again at 10.30 a.m. tomorrow to take up the initial, second and third periodic reports of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee - 3 - Press Release WOM/1162 453rd Meeting (PM) 24 January 2000

Committee Work Programme

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this afternoon to continue its consideration of the initial report of India on implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. For background on the report, see Press Release WOM/1161 of this morning.

Comments and Questions by Experts

Referring to the Convention’s article 2 –- elimination of discrimination against women -- an expert noted that the principle of non-State intervention was impeding progress in guaranteeing women’s rights in India. The Indian Government only intervened when religious communities requested intervention. The role played by the Supreme Court in the process and in creating rights for women could be considered a factor in their emancipation. Therefore, how far did the Court’s authority extend? she asked. Were there women sitting on the Court? What was the reaction of the communities to creating a uniform civil code?

Another expert wondered if the National Commission for Women also played the role of ombudsperson. Could the Commission review laws from the 16 State- level commissions or from the National Commission itself? What kinds of cases did the Commission examine and were the services provided free of cost? How did people know they could use that kind of institution? Did the Commission provide legal aid, since what was needed was advice, as well as assistance?

An expert said it was important to have enough information about existing national mechanisms for the advancement of women, because they coordinated and evaluated different actions taken to speed up the process of gender equality.

Another expert underlined the importance of endowing institutional mechanisms with the necessary resources, as well as with means to liaise with the Government. Was there a linkage between the existence of the National Commission for Women and State commissions, on the one hand, and any progress that might have been achieved, on the other?

She asked about the ninth five-year plan, which was supposed to contain a women’s component. Was it a voluntary or mandatory component? How had the figure of 33 per cent agreement been settled upon, given that India has about 50 per cent women. Problems in education were much greater for women than for men. More descriptions of the various governmental programmes for promoting the rights of women were needed. It was not clear how those programmes actually reached women.

Another expert, referring to the education programme, and in particular the literacy campaign, asked if efforts had been made to reach disadvantaged women, both in urban and rural areas, including the “untouchable” caste.

It seemed that the National Commission had great legislative power, an expert noted. Had it developed gender-based methodologies and conducted research on the feminization of poverty in the State? she asked. What had been done in favour of both the “untouchable” women and those who had migrated to the urban areas? Were special aides appointed from different states to eliminate poverty, particularly of women?

An expert emphasized that Indian law stipulated that the Parliament should review the Commission’s recommendations, as well as evaluate the progress of working programmes. Were those meetings really being held and what sort of evaluation did they undertake? Earlier this morning, India’s representative had said that the policy to comply with the Convention had not yet been approved -- when would it be? How did it address the problems of the poor sector? What was the proposed strategy for transferring responsibility for the social infrastructure to women’s groups in India?

An expert, applauding a law reserving 33 seats for women in village councils and municipalities, said that she had heard more training was needed. However, they were still being used for male interests. How much were they getting from the Government and how was it working to train more women? she asked.

On article 5, social and cultural patterns, an expert said that intangible results were not always perceptible in the short term. National strategies were needed. Education should be used in programmes of sensitization or there would be no real change in the issue of promoting women’s rights.

An expert noted that the general public in India did not accept the phenomenon of violence against women. Programmes to educate the police in that regard had already been put in place; however, health professionals must be the first to be educated about violence in all its forms. Mere enacting of such legislation was not enough. Without a sharply improved police and prison force, violence against arrested and imprisoned women would continue. Appointing female officers, as reported, was not enough.

Another expert said that the Government of India had been innovative in dealing with gender stereotyping strategies. Considering the paramount importance of the media, how many women were involved in policy-making in that sphere? She hoped that the line of action being taken would reflect India’s leading international filmmaking role. Were there women on the film censorship board? she concluded.

Another expert said that that country’s caste system was one of the oldest systems of hierarchy. In spite of the fact that the “untouchable” caste had been abolished since 1950 and since more than 16 per cent of the population fell in that category, it must be urgently removed. Statistics demonstrated that crimes against those persons had increased by almost 25 per cent since 1991. Complete village populations had been wiped out. What steps had been taken to prevent and punish the perpetrators of those crimes, particularly against the women of that community?

What percentage had benefited from affirmative action programmes? she continued. She requested statistics on the literacy rate and average wage of those women in comparison with others. She further requested clarification of information from independent sources that persons of that caste -– women and children -- were still being used as bonded labour.

On the issue of the dowry, she remarked that there were instances where the situation led, not necessarily to immediate death, but to serious injuries and resulting death. She knew of two specific cases in which the victims had received no justice. What mechanisms were in place to enforce the dowry prohibition act? What action had been taken by the Government to implement the Convention in the State?

Another expert noted the report’s reference to practices by fundamentalist religious groups that posed a threat to the rights of women. How would the Government oppose such practices? Did such groups have more or less strength today?

According to another expert, the report had limited its presentation of trafficking in women to trafficking in Indian women. While the report was silent on mail-order brides, trafficking in women from developing to developed countries and arrangements of marriage to foreign nationals were known to exist.

She asked how the present law was tackling prostitution without abolishing the practice of prostitution as such. Was “temple prostitution” affected? If not, the Government should take steps to end it because that practice caused violence against young women and girls. Did the Government have a scientific database to discourage practices that violated women? Were there any preventive measures to stop practices of sexual exploitation?

Another expert noted that armed conflict had been taking place in the eastern and northern parts of India, including Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab. Access to legal redress for women in such areas was difficult. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1998 allowed entry without a warrant and empowered security forces to use force, including lethal force. Muslim minorities in Jammu and Kashmir were consistently experiencing harassment, disappearance of relatives and sometimes death. That had accelerated since the counter- insurgency measures had begun in 1990.

Had those laws ever been reviewed? she asked. What measures were there to ensure women were protected in situations of armed conflict? Were there any rehabilitation programmes for women and children victims?

She recommended that the Government of India involve women in any consideration of conflict resolution, including peace negotiations, because they were always victims in armed conflicts. There should be a gender perspective in armed forces training, as well as measures to punish police and other security forces guilty of violations.

Another expert asked, apart from the legal framework, what other mechanisms were in place to monitor gang rape, forced prostitution or trafficking. Were there human rights task forces? What protection did women have against custodial violence? All countries engaged in armed conflict had to have relevant laws. Cross-border trafficking under the pretext of marriage had become phenomenal. Consequently, establishing a registration system at the local level had become important. India should withdraw its reservation to the article and ensure both birth and marriage registration. Conducting a door-to- door census would not solve the problem.

Regarding article 7 –- equality in public and political life -- an expert asked what the relationship was between the Commission and elected women parliamentarians. How were the parliamentarians lobbied? How did women from the different political parties relate to each other on establishing legislation? What was the relationship between the parliamentarians and the non-governmental organizations, and what was the political role of those women? she wondered.

What was the proportion of women in the Cabinet? another expert asked. It was a first step that 30 per cent of women had had places reserved in politics. However, if only 25 per cent became elected, did that mean the remainder would go to the men?

Another expert said it was well known that women’s representation at the rural and municipal levels would go a long way towards bringing women to full political participation. But while one third of seats at those levels were reserved for women, what political system was being used? Was it proportional representation or a constituency-based system? It was a matter for concern that representation in the National Parliament had been dwindling over the years.

She asked what was being won for women outside the political process. In most countries, it was necessary to break through the patriarchy, as well as through religious and cultural beliefs. Were so-called lower-caste women represented in decision-making? If not, what was being done to bring them in? At what level were women involved in the civil service and other decision-making levels?

Regarding the one-third representation of women in village and municipal councils, another expert asked how quotas for political representation were monitored.

The report had not provided sufficient information on article 8, equal representation at the international level, an expert noted. Abolishing the law that discriminated against women who married was a correct step. Also, in the case of diplomatic representation, the report mentioned that 63 women were in the Indian Foreign Service, but the representative had mentioned only 12 women. She requested some information on women’s participation in non-governmental organizations.

Referring to article 10 -– equal access to education -- another expert asked whether Indian universities conferred degrees for women’s studies courses. What was the percentage of women students in the different universities? How many pursued higher education?

Another expert asked what kind of job opportunities were available for women university graduates. In 1995/1996, there had been 2 million Indian women studying at university. How many of those had been studying medicine? Were those women students who completed their training able, or even willing, to work in the rural areas where there was an urgent need for women doctors, or were their opportunities in the urban areas only? How did women students view the caste system and how would they deal with it as responsible and educated people?

Another expert reiterated her concern about the lack of concrete statistical data on education for girls aged between five and eight years. She was not sure the budget had been increased between 1995 and 2000, as promised at the Beijing Conference; in fact, it seemed to have been reduced. Would the Indian Government implement the commitment made at Beijing?

Noting that some resources would have to be reallocated to avoid disempowering the women of the future, she requested statistics for allocations by both the central Government and the various State governments. Was the Government of India planning to build more toilets and other infrastructure to improve girls’ education? What were the causes of absenteeism of teachers in the rural areas and what was being done about it?

An expert was surprised that the Constitution did not recognize equal opportunity to employment -- article 11 –- as the State’s obligation. Taking into account the current trend of globalization, how did the Government explain the growing figures for unemployment of women? Pointing to relevant portions of the report, she asked what steps were being taken to prevent that serious discrimination against women. She noted that the majority of female workers lived in rural areas, and 80 per cent were engaged in the unorganized sector. Were there protection laws for women domestic workers and were they subject to social insurance policies? Was there a stipulated number of hours to work per week?

An expert, noting the training programmes that had been instituted for women, expressed concern that they did not have the positive impact they should. Furthermore, due to the global crisis, there had been adverse social consequences for women in India, yet expenditure towards their cause had declined drastically over the past 10 years. The majority of rural women employed in agriculture were very likely losing their livelihood. Liberalization had also affected a generation of employment. Total employment in the organized sector had only risen to 2.6 per cent. Therefore, many women were turning to the unorganized sector for work. What measures were in place to regulate that sector?

She also questioned whether the Government had taken measures to ban the phenomenon of child labour or, at least, to eliminate it from some sectors, which could be a strong first step towards eliminating it totally.

Another expert asked whether a tripartite labour body had been set up as recommended by the National Commission on Women. Were women included in it and were there quotas for them? There was no mention in the report about women scavenger workers who were not protected by law. What mechanisms did the Indian Government have to enforce the Act prohibiting the employment of scavenger workers? How did it enforce payment of the minimum wage to bonded labourers? Was the Government negotiating to ensure protection of women hired in export zones?

On health issues (Article 12), another expert said health was not the mere absence of illness, but the total well-being of a woman. The report left the impression of a gross gender inequality in women’s access to health care, both within the State and between states. It was encouraging that the Government intended to reform the sector through an integrated, holistic approach. What were the requirements for a holistic reform package?

She said India’s maternal and child mortality rates, among the highest in the world, were unacceptably high. The health of women and girls was at the core of everything being discussed in the current session. While mentioning the causes of maternal mortality, it was surprising that the report had not mentioned malaria, which was an important cause of premature birth.

As in many developing countries, women in India were engaged in the informal sector, she said. The report had not paid attention to occupational and environmental health nor to the mental health of women. Many women were still engaged in the agricultural sector, where many pesticides and other chemicals sometimes had fatal effects, especially when a woman was pregnant. Did India have a policy on occupational and environmental health?

She said it was known that consumption of tobacco and other substances gave rise to premature delivery, low birth rates and even maternal mortality. “Pan” (betel nut) was chewed by many people, especially in the rural areas. What impact did the chewing of pan have on women? What was being done to involve men in family planning and in the choice of contraceptives?

Pointing to the reference to the national plan for the girl child in the report, another expert wondered whether the plan dealt with early marriage for girls as practised in the country.

With regards to compliance with article 14 –- rights of rural women -- one expert said that the report did not follow its various aspects chronologically. Information had not been provided on participation of women in the programmes mentioned. There was no information on housing and land policy, including the changes to laws on access to land. In the next report, it would be good to note the breakdown by activity of the 80 per cent of women in India’s rural areas. There must be other sectors, apart from agriculture, in which they were involved.

Article 16, on family relations and marriage, was of particular importance to women, an expert said. The Government of India had made a declaration with regard to the article that had adversely affected women. Citing the modification to the Hindu code on the aspect, she said the other minority groups had not benefitted from those amendments. Consequently, how did those women organize so that their voices could be heard? Many Islamic countries had undergone a large-scale reform of laws governing marriage. India could investigate those reforms and undertake similar action. Registration should also become mandatory, as it was extremely important for women to have access to

their rights, including guarding the dissolution of marriage and being able to have custody of their children.

India’s Supreme Court had interpreted the right to life and the right to equality synonymously, she continued. The Government’s social policies were geared towards equality, but the family law was contradictory -– the male as the head of the household and as the breadwinner. As long as the family law ideology was being fostered, all of the social policies would be undermined. She suggested that that ideology and India’s declaration to article 16 should be reviewed on the basis that it undermined the agenda for gender equity.

Did polygamy exist in India and, if so, which communities practised it? another expert asked. Marriage registration was necessary for monitoring the practice and preventing it from becoming common.

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For information media. Not an official record.