DELEGATION FROM GUINEA IS TOLD EDUCATION IS NEEDED TO ENSURE APPLICATION OF REFORMS ENACTED TO IMPROVE SITUATION OF WOMEN

16 July 2001
WOM/1295

DELEGATION FROM GUINEA IS TOLD EDUCATION IS NEEDED TO ENSURE APPLICATION OF REFORMS ENACTED TO IMPROVE SITUATION OF WOMEN

16/07/2001
Press ReleaseWOM/1295

Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

Twenty-fifth Session

524th Meeting (AM)

DELEGATION FROM GUINEA IS TOLD EDUCATION IS NEEDED TO ENSURE

APPLICATION OF REFORMS ENACTED TO IMPROVE SITUATION OF WOMEN

Conflict Situation, Influx of Refugees, Other Problems

Said to Pose Special Challenge to Full Compliance with Convention

The West African nation of Guinea needed to implement not only de jure but also de facto gender equality, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was told this morning, as it heard that country’s response to numerous questions posed by the Committee following the presentation of Guinea’s reports last week.

The Committee’s Chairperson, Charlotte Abaka of Ghana, said that now that the Government of Guinea had put in place various legal reforms, education was urgently needed, for many women were not aware of the laws already in place.  Also important were effective mechanisms to monitor the implementation of the laws, and training and education to modify the traditional practices, which impeded the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

The women of Guinea, she said, should not be under-estimated, for they could play a very important role in creating a culture of peace.  Innovative programmes should be put in place, which needed to be implemented in partnership with civil society.

The Committee, which monitors States parties' compliance with the Convention, and comprises 23 experts serving in their personal capacity, began consideration of Guinea's reports on its compliance on Thursday, 12 July (for details, see Press Release WOM/1292).  

Guinea signed the Convention in 1981 and ratified it in 1982.  According to the documents before the Committee, the country had been unable to submit its initial and subsequent reports, as required by the Convention, because of the change of the political regime brought about by the sudden death of former President, Ahmed Sekou Touré.  Among other contributing factors were the border disputes and instability in the region.

Responding to questions, members of the delegation of Guinea provided extensive information regarding the measures for the promotion of women in the

fields of education and health, as well as on legal and institutional initiatives.  They described actions to improve sanitary and health conditions, to advance literacy and to overcome such negative traditional practices as female genital mutilation, early marriages and polygamy.  Among other issues raised this morning were clandestine abortions, maternal health, the problems of HIV/AIDS, traditional medicine, the situation of rural women, violence against refugees and the programme to fight poverty.

In her concluding remarks, Guinea’s Minister for Social Affairs and the Promotion of Women and Children, Bruce Mariama Aribot, said that upon the delegation’s return home, a follow-up committee for implementation of the Convention would be formed, and the Committee’s recommendations would be presented to the Government.  A workshop would also be held to disseminate the Committee’s views and educate the population about the challenges that needed to be overcome.  To promote gender equality, it was important to achieve a certain ”critical mass”, and awareness-raising efforts could help the country to achieve that goal.

Also participating in the work of the Committee were other members of Guinea’s delegation, which included Passy Kourouma, Ministry of Education; Fatou Sikhé Camar, Ministry of Health, and Judicial Counsellor, Issa Traore (all three of whom spoke this morning) as well as Sekou Oumar Kouyate, Secretary of State for Planning; El-Had Sekou Kaba, Secretary-General of the Ministry for Pre-University and Civic Education; Mahmed Sylla, Secretary-General of the Public Health Ministry; Sclafa Leono, of the Ministry of Justice; and Hadja Oumou Berete, National Director for Trade, Ministry of Trade and Industry.  Also present were other Government representatives, some concerned with the interests of women and girls, as well as members of the Mission of Guinea to the United Nations.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow (17 July) to begin its consideration of Nicaragua's reports.

Background

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to hear responses from the delegation of Guinea to the questions posed by experts on Thursday, 12 July, following the presentation of that country’s combined initial, second and third periodic reports.  That document was submitted to the Committee in compliance with the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which was ratified by Andorra in 1996.  (For detailed information, see Press Release WOM/1292 of 12 July.)

The delegation of Guinea is led by:  Mariama Aribot, Minister for Social Affairs and the Promotion of Women and Children, and includes, among others, Sekou Oumar Kouyate, Secretary of State for Planning; El-Had Sekou Kaba, Secretary-General of the Ministry for Pre-University and Civic Education; Mahmed Sylla, Secretary-General of the Public Health Ministry; Sclafa Leono, of the Ministry of Justice; and Hadja Oumou Berete, National Director for Trade, Ministry of Trade and Industry.  There are also other Government representatives, some concerned with the interests of women and girls, as well as members of the Mission of Guinea to the United Nations.

Country Response

In her introductory statement, MARIAMA ARIBOT, Minister for Social Affairs and the Promotion of Women and Children, said that following the presentation of Guinea’s report to the Committee last week, the delegation had researched answers to the experts’ numerous questions.  The members of the delegation had divided the questions into four groups, including those on health issues, education, and legal and institutional aspects.  In-depth answers had been provided to the Committee in writing.

Regarding health issues, a member of the delegation said that since 1984 the Government of Guinea had elaborated its national health policy, which provided for the improvement of sanitary conditions and improvement of the health situation in the country.  A strategy on health care had also contributed to the improvement of the health of the mother and child, who belonged to the most vulnerable groups of the population.  Infant, child and youth mortality rates had gone down, as well as the maternal death rate in Guinea.  Up to 71 per cent of pregnant women received pre-natal consultations, and the rate of vaccinations had significantly grown.  All preventive health services were provided free of charge for women and children.  Refugees and displaced women enjoyed the same health services as other inhabitants of the country. 

As for female genital mutilation, a recent study showed that 96.4 per cent of women had been excised at an average age of 9.5 years, she continued.  The operation was performed on all women without religious distinctions.  A national non-governmental organization (NGO) was in charge of the coordination of efforts to eliminate traditional practices harmful to women and children, including genital mutilation.  A national plan to fight the practice of genital mutilation had been put into operation. 

In several areas, ceremonies had taken place where the excision knives were voluntarily surrendered by the practitioners, she said.  A training programme for conversion of those occupied in excisions was being implemented.  The National Assembly had formulated a law sanctioning female genital mutilation and allowing the authorities to prosecute those practising it.  An awareness campaign at the community level was also being carried out.  The media and community leaders were effectively participating in the campaigns against genital mutilation in all the national languages of the country. 

A network of statistical services existed in the country, she continued.  Responding to a question regarding statistical data on abortions, she said that Guinean law provided only for abortions strictly for medical reasons.  According to recent statistics, the rate of abortions among young women was estimated at about 20 per cent of those polled.  To reduce the number of clandestine abortions, a programme of maternal and infant health had been initiated, which included family planning and reproductive health projects, implemented with the support of NGOs, donors and the Guinean Government.

The delegation also explained that numerous health centres in the country were involved in the women’s health issues, as well as reproductive health and family planning.  Campaigns for distribution of condoms and other contraceptives were being carried out by a number of private and non-governmental organizations.  Information campaigns through all the available channels were being used to educate the population.  A “right-to-health” was protected under the country’s Constitution, and access to health programmes was guaranteed to all citizens, without distinction.

Efforts were being made to improve training of personnel dealing with the victims of violence, she said.  Increasingly, women were being informed about their rights.  Training programmes for prostitutes regarding sexually transmitted diseases and the danger of HIV/AIDS were being implemented in several cities of Guinea by the NGOs.  Emphasis was placed on identifying brothels and bars and hotels, in order to obtain information about the prostitutes.  Vulnerable groups of students and young people were being identified and informed about the danger of HIV/AIDS, female genital mutilation, sexuality and contraception. 

The committee was also informed that efforts were being made to improve access to family planning services, which was currently affected by the lack of information regarding the issue, the absence of qualified staff and the high rate of illiteracy in the country.  The financing of programmes for women and children was a priority in the country’s budget.  Guinea was benefiting from an initiative for the heavily indebted countries, which envisioned grants for the education and health sectors.  Financing constraints had to be considered by the country’s partners for development to ensure the needed performance.

Regarding the shortages of staff, it was said that at present, more than

80 per cent of the country’s health staff were women, and most of them preferred to remain in the capital.  A national school for midwives would be reopened soon, and the programme to retrain and re-distribute health personnel was already in effect.  The Government was subsidizing most of the care.  Traditional medicine had always been considered an important aspect of health care in Guinea, and it needed to be considered by the national policy on health issues.  Research on medicinal plants was an important part of the efforts. 

Most men refused to have sexual relations with menopausal women, and an awareness campaign was taking place in several communes to allow couples to understand that such a practice was harmful to women’s health.  Efforts were also being made to educate the people who thought that sexual relations with menopausal women could be a cause of disease for both partners.

A national plan for sanitary health had been worked out for the period ending in 2010.  The relevant ministries were engaged in the implementation in Guinea of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women.

On education, another member of the delegation said the programmes for formal education had not explicitly included the provisions of the Convention.  Nonetheless, training programmes on the Convention had been implemented by the various structures aimed at promoting the status of women.  In the eight administrative regions of Guinea, a number of people had been trained.  Moreover, human rights was being taught in the primary and secondary schools.  During an experimental phase, partners had been targeted in Conakry and throughout the country, and in August, training workshops for partner schools would be organized in order to expand the scope of those experiments.

He said the educational system in Guinea was made mandatory and free of charge, in order to close the gap between boys and girls and encourage poor families to send their children to school.  Indeed, since the country’s independence in 1958, free and mandatory education had been provided for all citizens.  Still, parents were responsible for transporting their children to and from school, but beginning in 1984, a new structure of private education had emerged, and that trend was growing.  The portion of the national budget allocated to education went from 25.8 per cent in 1998 to more than 29 per cent in 2000.  Funds recovered from debt repayment would be reinvested in health and education.

Continuing, he said that a system of quotas and grants for girls would be established and all high school children would be admitted to universities.  Technical training for girls had also been promoted.  There was no automatic acceptance to higher education, but a certain quota was allotted to girls with the same qualifications as boys.  As a result, the percentage of girls being admitted into higher education institutions had increased from 30 per cent in 1998 to

45 per cent in 2000.  In order to encourage girls to study science and technology, awareness campaigns were under way through school conferences and debates.  Also, scholarships were being granted to girls, and advertisements were depicting them as able to perform the same tasks as boys.  Teachers were also encouraging girls in that regard. So far, 4,000 girls had benefited from those programmes.

To a question about what measures were being implemented to combat sex stereotypes and promote equality, he said that, in Guinea, the education and training of girls was a priority, and several measures had been undertaken.  Structures and special committees had been set up at the ministerial level.  Also on behalf of girls and women, a multi-sectoral partnership approach had been evolved between the public and private sectors, civil society, non-governmental organizations, and religious communities.  The education of girls in Guinea was everyone’s responsibility.  In that regard, public awareness campaigns had also been expanded.  A literacy programme was set up in districts where there was an education rate of less than 30 per cent.  About a dozen districts had qualified.

Ten centres had been set up to educate children between the age of 10 and

16 who had received no education thus far, he went on.  To date, 5,159 of those students, or 98 per cent, were girls.  Support centres for the self-advancement of women were being refurbished, and five career centres were being built at Conakry.  Also, single and adolescent mothers were being trained.  Towards the elimination of discriminatory stereotypes, those had been pinpointed in the teaching manuals, which were being reprinted without those discriminatory references.  In addition, teachers were being trained to treat boys and girls equally in the classrooms.  For that purpose, a school code of conduct had been distributed.  There was also a tutorial system in place for girl’s education, which was funded at the national level.

To a question about how the Government worked with the media to enhance women’s image in Guinea, he said it had worked closely with the public and private media, radio, television, school radio, and even artists.  On the national level, messages were being broadcast on radio and television to raise public awareness of the relevant issues and policies.  Indeed, the media had encouraged all segments of the population to respect the fundamental rights of women.  Rural radio also played a major role, and media professionals were regularly provided with programme content.  A communications expert had been recruited to coordinate activity between the Ministry for the Advancement of Women and the media.  Non-governmental organizations had also been effective partners in the area of communications.

He said that the literacy programmes had produced concrete results:  in 1998, the illiteracy rate was 79.46 per cent and in 2000, that had decreased to 78.14 per cent.  Literacy had increased from 20.54 per cent in 1998 to

21.86 per cent in 2000.  The education of girls in the past decade had grown from  17.39 per cent to 44.33 per cent. Despite such efforts, however, gaps had remained in the education of girls and the literacy of women.  To remedy the situation, a special education campaign for all, from 2001 to 2012, had been initiated.  That had covered all levels of education, as well as university education, and had sought to consolidate current efforts through 2010.

An academic leave of absence was provided to pregnant girls, he said.  The former practice had been to expel them.  Thanks to that revision, a significant number of girl mothers had returned to school.  A programme of parental education was also being developed.  It sought to make parents aware of the need to give special attention to the schooling and health of their children.

Turning to questions of a legal nature, he said there was no multiple legal system in Guinea.  The only system was positive, or judicial, law.  Customary law from the colonial system had been abolished in 1957, one year before national independence.  The Constitutions of 1958, 1968 and 1990 had consecrated the secular aspect of the country.  Indeed, the civil courts were responsible for family matters.  Citizens had adhered to positive and not customary law, which had been designed by the legislator in a way that would be acceptable to all customs.

He said that the status of childless widows was governed by various articles of the civil code, which protected their rights and sheltered them from harm.  The legislator had deemed it necessary to take measures in that regard because in several families, following the death of a husband, a childless widow had received practically nothing in terms of inheritance.  The legislator had now guaranteed those women’s rights.

Addressing a question about the various contradictions between the Convention and the national laws, he said that those were due to the fact that the national laws had been established prior to the Convention.  Now, many new laws were being adopted and old ones were being amended.  There had been many changes in the civil law, and provisions of labour code and social security laws were being formulated, in an attempt to comply with the Convention.  At the same time, the persistent discrimination against women had remained a concern to the legislators.  Thus, new measures in the area of marriage and nationality were being considered.

Continuing, he said that while polygamy was prohibited by law, the practice had survived owing to tradition and the low number of women going before the courts.  Many such victims had not wished to go to court for fear of losing their husbands.  Women who were confronted with such custom practices, especially in rural areas, were fearful of complaining against their polygamous husbands.  That practice, however, had been condemned and abolished by the civil code.  Awareness campaigns had been launched, as many women knew nothing of those provisions. Patriarchal laws were gradually being changed.  There was also a constitutional chamber in the Supreme Court to review constitutional law.  Indeed, efforts were under way to harmonize domestic and international law.

To another series of questions, he said that lobbying and training efforts were under way to increase the participation of women in decision-making, historically at a low level.

Relevant data, broken down by gender, was being collected by the national statistics mechanisms.  The draft code for the family had been drawn up in close cooperation with NGOs and women’s organizations. 

Regarding polygamy, the Committee was informed that despite the low number of women going to court with those issues, some cases had been brought before the legal authorities.  Several plans of action had been adopted to fight violence against women.  The penal coming-of-age was at 18, but the citizens assumed their civil responsibilities at the age of 21.  Regarding early marriage, it was said that the civil code described marriage as a consensual contract.  If the woman was less than 17 years of age, she could not be married in principle.

As the delegation turned to the institutional questions, members of the delegation said that an expert of the Committee had helped the country to prepare its reports, having conducted a workshop for all the representatives of various ministries who were involved in the preparation of the documents.  That exercise had demonstrated true inter-ministerial coordination for the advancement of women.  The Ministry for Social Affairs and the Advancement of Women and Children had established focus points on various aspects of the national policy.  The gender-based national plan had taken the aspects of inter-ministerial coordination into account.  As the low status of women had to do with the Muslim law, the Government had sought the support of the religious leaders.  The national plans were also endorsed by the leaders of various parties.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and the Advancement of Women and Children was entrusted with following up the Government’s policies for promoting women, preparing the legislation and rules and regulations in the social area, protecting the vulnerable groups, conducting relevant research and mobilizing the needed resources and financing.  The Government’s programme for the advancement of women included actions to improve gender-based employment opportunities, women’s access to decision-making and women’s status in the country through the implementation of the legal provisions for the advancement of women, the fight against poverty, economic emancipation, education and awareness raising. 

The Ministry for the Advancement of Women was also responsible for small children, and the issues of pre-school education were in its sphere of expertise.  Maternal mortality and women’s health, family planning, promotion of the use of contraceptives and population matters were being emphasized by the Government. High priority was being allocated to strengthening the capacity to respond to the concerns of women. 

The Government was committed to achieving gender parity and promoting women’s rights in cooperation with civil society and associations devoted to women’s issues.  Efforts were also being made on the regional level.  In 1997, the budget allocated to various programmes devoted to the fight against poverty, education and health exceeded $26 million.  There was also a Governmental support fund for women’s economic activities and loans.  There were also a self-help loan network and an office for private investment, which was financed by women entrepreneurs.

Work was being done to help disabled women and girls.  A project financed by the Government aimed at reintegration of disabled persons in their families and native communities to spare them from having to beg for money.  Regional centres were being set up to provide for their needs.  An institute for young blind people was also being established, as well as a school for deaf and dumb children. 

To address the under-representation of women at the decision-making level and in the administrative bodies, a survey had been carried out to evaluate the situation, the results of which had been presented last year, during the national women’s festival.  There was a strong lobby for integrating women in the negotiation process for peace.  The interests of the rural women were being taken into account in the national development and agricultural plans.  There was a special division responsible for providing support to rural women within the Ministry of Agriculture. 

Regarding violence against refugees and displaced women, it was said that Guinea sheltered thousands of refugees from the neighbouring countries.  Despite a tremendous flow of refugees, the country received no aid to provide for their needs.  Today, the situation had deteriorated.  The situation was being exacerbated by the attacks against Guinea by the very countries whose refugees it had sheltered.  Local people had to flee together with the refugees to whom they had given refuge.  Rapes and attacks against women were taking place, and the Government was trying to deal with the situation.  To provide humanitarian assistance, the refugees needed to be in refugee camps, where they could receive food, water and medical assistance.

Following the delegation’s return home, many changes were being planned.  The dialogue in the Committee had already proven useful, for the delegation would incorporate the experts’ recommendations in its report to the Government.  The Government would do its best to fight for women’s rights.

In her concluding remarks, the Committee’s Chairperson, CHARLOTTE ABAKA of Ghana, thanked the delegation for its exhaustive responses to the concerns raised by the experts, which had clarified many issues.  On behalf of the Committee, she commended the presentation of responses grouped by four main themes –- health,

education, legal matters and institutional framework -- which were the foundation on which equal enjoyment of the rights could be solidly built.  The final objective of the fight for equitable representation of women at the decision-making level in all areas was to ensure women’s equal status in the development of their country.  If the women were empowered, the whole country would benefit.

Continuing, she urged Guinea to continue with its difficult efforts to improve the status of women, particularly in the area of health, education and training.  Also important were the Government’s measures to reduce the feminization of poverty.  The Government had put in place various legal reforms, and what was urgently needed now was the legal and general education, for many women were not aware of the laws already in place.  Effective mechanisms were needed to monitor the implementation of the laws.  Training and education to modify the traditional practices, which impeded the implementation of the Convention, should receive the highest priority. 

The country needed to implement not only de jure, but also de facto equality, she said.  She had sympathy for the situation of the country, which was in conflict.  The problems of refugees also contributed to the difficult situation.  The Government of Guinea should be commended for the many programmes it had already put in place, within its constraints.  Women had an important role to play in creating a culture of peace, and it should not be under-estimated. Innovative programmes should be put in place, which needed to be implemented in partnership with civil society.  The recommendations of the Committee should be disseminated as widely as possible.

In a final comment, Ms. ARIBOT of Guinea said her delegation had taken good note of the main points made by experts.  Upon the delegation’s return home, a follow-up committee for implementation of the Convention would be formed, and the Committee’s recommendations would be presented to the Government.  A workshop would also be held for the dissemination of the Committee’s views and to educate the population about the challenges that needed to be overcome.  It was important to achieve a critical mass, which was needed to promote gender equality, and awareness-raising efforts could help the country to achieve that goal.

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For information media. Not an official record.