GUINEA, RICH IN MATERIAL RESOURCES, IS SAID TO BATTLE TRADITIONS IN EFFORT TO ACHIEVE IMPROVEMENTS IN LIVES OF WOMEN
GUINEA, RICH IN MATERIAL RESOURCES, IS SAID TO BATTLE TRADITIONS IN EFFORT TO ACHIEVE IMPROVEMENTS IN LIVES OF WOMEN
Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
520th and 521st Meetings (AM & PM)
GUINEA, RICH IN MATERIAL RESOURCES, IS SAID TO BATTLE TRADITIONS
IN EFFORT TO ACHIEVE IMPROVEMENTS IN LIVES OF WOMEN
Committee on Anti-Discrimination Convention Is Told Figures for Life
Expectancy, Illiteracy, Maternal and Infant Mortality among Worst in Africa
Guinea, situated in West Africa on the fringes of the Atlantic Ocean, was one of the richest countries in Africa in terms of agricultural, mineral and energy resources, but social indicators of life expectancy, maternal and infant mortality, and illiteracy were among the worst on the continent, and had stymied efforts to improve the status of Guinean women, a United Nations Committee told today.
Addressing the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women for the first time, during two meetings today, high-level delegates from Guinea described a land marked by poverty and the presence of some 1 million refugees and displaced persons, mostly from the neighbouring countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone. The embodiment in the Constitution of the principle of equality between men and women had not been enough to change centuries-old customs, such as forced marriage, food taboos, and female genital mutilation, according to the Minister for Social Affairs and the Promotion of Women and Children, Mariama Aribot.
The Committee meets twice yearly to monitor compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The current session, the second for the year, is due to end on Friday, 20 July, after hearing reports from a total of eight countries.
Ms. Aribot said that, aware of the existence of numerous discriminatory practices and the need for an institutional framework to combat them, her Government had envisaged a number of progressive measures. The public authorities, for example, had set up focal points and overall structures for women in the various government ministries. Other measures taken to change and adopt new legislation had reflected the Government’s wish to remedy the situation. Even though there was no legal definition of discrimination, there was an entire legal arsenal for the protection of women’s rights.
Many of the 23 experts who serve on the Committee in their personal capacities hailed the Government’s determination to implement the Convention, and to put in place a positive legal structure that guaranteed equality between men
and women. They praised the Government for "taking on" the two pillars for improving women's status, namely, health and educational reforms. Several noted the country’s large influx of refugees from neighbouring countries and commended the Government for its adoption of the National Refugee Law, which provided a legal basis for determining the status of refugees.
At the same time, serious concern was expressed about certain traditional practices, such as female genital mutilation and polygamy. In Guinea, it was asserted, there were many violations of women’s human rights covering a wide range of issues from education, economics, marriage, divorce, and violence. Also disturbing was the extremely high rate of illiteracy among girls and women and the very low attendance of girls in primary schools. Illiteracy and lack of education were absolute barriers to women’s progress. Similarly, women’s health was a basic and prior condition for women’s equality, experts said.
Particular interest was expressed in the work under way to integrate disabled women into the fabric of society, as disabled persons accounted for
10 per cent of the Guinean population. Also, the appearance of a multiple legal system in Guinea had prompted one expert to request that the delegation "set the record straight" about what was illegal versus what was culturally accepted and merely traditional. Tradition was a formidable force, she said, and a multiple legal system impeded full compliance with the Convention.
The delegation of Guinea will reply to the experts’ comments and questions at 10 a.m. Monday, 16 July.
The Committee will meet at 10 a.m. tomorrow (Friday, 13 July) to hear replies from the delegation of Singapore to questions raised by the experts at the meeting on 9 July.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met today to consider the reports from the west African nation of Guinea on its compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
The Committee, comprising 23 experts from around the world acting in their personal capacities, monitors compliance with the 168-member Convention. Operational since 1981, the Convention requires States parties to eliminate discrimination against women in the enjoyment of all civil, political, economic and cultural rights. An Optional Protocol of December 2000 –- ratified by
22 States parties –- entitles the Committee to consider petitions from individual women or groups of women who have exhausted national remedies. It also entitles it to conduct inquiries into grave or systematic violations of the Convention.
Guinea signed the Convention in 1981 and ratified it in 1982. The timely manner of its accession, it was stated, was "proof positive" of the country's consistent commitment to international institutions and instruments. Nevertheless –- according to the initial report now before the Committee -- Guinea had been unable to submit reports to the Committee as required, because of the change of political regime brought about by the sudden death of former President, Ahmed Sekou Touré, and the impact on the technical departments of frequent changes to ministerial portfolios. In spite of the frequency of these changes, the Government continued to attach priority to the advancement of women.
The Committee has before it the initial, second and third periodic reports of Guinea (documents CEDAW/C/GIN/1-3 and Corr.1).
Before reviewing compliance, article by article with the Convention, the initial report provides basic facts about the country, including its geographical position, demographic trends, and historical and economic overview. It also describes the political and legal system. Guinea is situated in west Africa, on the fringes of the Atlantic Ocean. Bounded by Mali and Senegal to the north, Guinea-Bissau to the north-west, Liberia and Sierra Leone to the south, Côte d'Ivoire to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and the Sahara to the north, Guinea is often described as the "water tower of West Africa", since all the subregion's major rivers rise there.
The origin of the name "Guinea" is lost in the mists of time, the report states. Some experts say that when the first white men landed on Guinea's shores they met a group of women and asked them what the country was called. The women, who did not understand the question, are said to have replied: "We are women. Go and talk to the men." In Soussou, one of the coastal languages, the word "Guinea" means "women". This is how the first explorers are supposed to have given the country its name.
Although Guinea is one of the richest countries in Africa, in terms of agricultural, mineral and energy resources, its social indicators -- such as literacy, life expectancy and infant mortality -- are among the worst on the continent, the report states. There have been large movements of people, both within and across the country's borders. Internal migrants come mainly from Middle and Upper Guinea into Lower Guinea and the forest region of Guinea. In addition to returning Guinean expatriates, there has also a massive influx of refugees from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau, accounting for more than 800,000 people at last count. By the year 2000, 40 per cent of the population was expected to be living in cities, a majority of them women and young people.
The report describes the Republic as rich in history, which includes
60 years of colonial rule “characterized by repression, depersonalization and irresponsibility”. The initially somewhat hesitant struggle against colonial rule gathered momentum after the Second World War. Trade unions and political parties were formed and coalesced to lead the country to independence. Deputy Prime Minister Sekou Touré introduced a series of reforms in 1957 that paved the way for the proclamation of independence on 2 October 1958, following the historic rejection of a constitution submitted by France for adoption by popular referendum. From that moment on, the report states, France cut all ties with independent Guinea and refused to furnish it with assistance of any kind.
In a decision that was to cause the country many problems at the structural, technical, financial and human levels, the report notes that Guinea turned to the socialist States of Europe and Africa. The death of Sekou Touré in 1984 sparked a series of leadership battles, which culminated in a military takeover, under the leadership of Colonel Lansana Conte, on 3 April 1984. The new leadership's first historic act, in keeping with the takeover declaration, was to end Guinea's isolation by encouraging an estimated 2 million Guinean exiles to return to the country. This wave of returns led to the breakup of many families that had been formed outside of the country, and women became separated from their husbands, and children from their fathers.
Guinea changed direction, embracing liberalism as its development model, the report states. Root and branch reforms were introduced at all levels, and transitional government replaced the military regime in 1989. The adoption of the Constitution, or Basic Law, in 1991 marked the end of the emergency regime and the beginning of the Third Republic. Forty-six political parties were formed following the introduction of political pluralism, and eight candidates stood in the first ever multi-party presidential elections in 1993. General Lansana Conte was elected President and the work of establishing new institutions began. In 1995, 114 deputies returned to the National Assembly. Ten of them were women. The Supreme Court and National Council of Communications were also established.
Since then, the report continues, Guinea has been engaged in a process of democratization based on the liberal development model. For 26 years following its independence, Guinea has had a centralized economy. Today, it faces the twin challenges of introducing a pluralist democracy and making the transition towards a free market economy. The Guinean authorities need to demonstrate the political determination to accord to women priority in the projects and programmes initiated by successive governments. Its decentralization policy has paved the way for the creation of domestic mechanisms contributing to the formulation and dissemination of population policies such as the Gender and Development Framework Programme. It has also facilitated the creation of numerous non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are engaged in activities of interest to women.
The report finds that there has been a steady rise in the number of girls attending school. The aim is to achieve parity with boys in the next few years. Also, pregnancy at an early age is no longer considered a punishment that ends a girl's education. The abolition of forced marriage, the banning of polygamy, and the significant number of women in political positions are realities that are gaining ever-wider acceptance among the majority of citizens. Efforts made on behalf of Guinean women in the areas of health, education and economic emancipation, together with the active contribution of women themselves to their own self-advancement, have seen the emergence of a new class of women moving inescapably towards independence.
Generally speaking, however, the report says that while women in Guinea are accorded the same legal rights as men, these gains are powerfully diluted in their daily lives by the coexistence of modern law with customs and traditional and religious practices. The law, the Constitution and the Civil Code, which officially prescribe the conditions and procedures for marriage and divorce, clearly help to elevate the legal status of women by acknowledging their dignity as citizens. The civil and penal codes broadly confer the same rights on women as on men, but these codified laws are often subject to multiple and contradictory interpretations in the critical areas affecting women's lives, namely, marriage, custody of children, employment and inheritance.
The report states that the majority of legal instruments have been amended or modified to improve the legal status of Guinean women. Still, however, there are a number of discriminatory provisions relating to the fact that the husband determines the location of the marital home and exercises authority in the marriage. Although the legislator justifies these provisions in terms of social and cultural constraints, this does not mitigate their discriminatory nature or their serious consequences for women. The Code of Personal Status and Family Law has been drafted and submitted to the Government for approval. Its aim is to correct certain defects in the Civil Code. Thus far, it has faced obstacles of many kinds. There is also a wide gap between a woman's right to equality before the law and equality as it is practised in everyday life. Discrimination may be practised directly or indirectly.
At the same time, Guinean women are perfectly aware of their duties towards their husbands, families and society, but are often ignorant of their rights, even in religious matters, the report notes. This is often true even of educated women. And among those women who know their rights and understand how they work, many do not always embrace them in spirit. As is well known, when it comes to women's rights, the most critical point is the application of the law. In Guinea, many laws have been enacted in favour of women, but their application is fraught with difficulties, which are caused by social resistance and illiteracy. The formal rights acquired by Guinean women under the First Republic (marriageable age set at 17, the right to refuse to marry or accept polygamy, equality under certain laws) have largely remained a "dead letter".
The Department for the Promotion of Women and various national and international NGOs working on women's behalf have been trying for years to disseminate information about women's rights to the urban and rural population, the report finds. However, the persistence of a value system that attaches primordial importance to fertility, the practice of encouraging women to remarry as soon as possible after they lose their husbands, and the discriminatory regulation of inheritance rights represent just some of the main obstacles to the achievement of de facto equality.
Introduction of Reports
MARIAMA ARIBOT, Minister for Social Affairs and the Promotion of Women and Children of Guinea, introduced the delegation and presented the oral report.
Since 1998, she said, several actions had been initiated to promote the status of Guinean women, in particular, regarding their health and equal access to education, and political, social, and economic reform. Indeed, the process of eliminating discrimination against Guinean women and implementing the women’s Convention had begun.
She said that, according to latest data, Guinea had a population of
7.5 million, of whom 51 per cent were women, with 70 per cent of them living in rural areas. The population growth rate was 2.8 per cent, largely owing to migrations. Life expectancy was 53 years of age, infant mortality was 136 per 1,000, and maternal mortality was 666 per 100,000 live births. On average, women of childbearing age had 5.7 children. Refugees represented more than 9 per cent of the overall population, with the vast majority consisting of women and children.
Guinea’s economy was based on agriculture, which occupied 80 per cent of the active population, she went on. That ensured the food self-sufficiency of the country and represented 29 per cent of the gross national product (GNP), followed by cattle raising, and local and industrial fishery. Guinea had very important mining resources consisting of gold, diamonds, iron, lead, zinc, and uranium. That was an embryonic industry, which represented an important informal job source for women. Despite its potential, however, the country had remained poor.
She said the revenue per inhabitant was $570 annually, and nearly 40 per cent of the people lived below the absolute poverty threshold. The manifestation of poverty was most visible in the rural areas and had resulted from the country’s 25 years of centralized economic and social policies. Guinea had been governed by a totalitarian regime that controlled all aspects of economic and social life, down to the local level. Only recently had it experienced a progressive opening, politically and economically.
With respect to the protection of human rights, the Fundamental Law of Guinea had been inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, she said. Moreover, the Fundamental Law acknowledged the various freedoms of press, expression, religion and opinion. The Penal Law was also applicable to all, and everyone was entitled to effective recourse against acts of violence. The Constitutional Law made it possible to attack the non-constitutionality of laws.
In Guinea, she continued, the women’s Convention had a special role. Legal, political and administrative measures had been adopted within the framework of the Convention. Even before ratifying the Convention in 1982, Guinea begun to demonstrate an undeniable interest in promoting the status of women. The last such action had been the creation of a Ministry of Social Affairs and the Promotion of Women and Children, which had been entrusted with implementing governmental policies relating to the protection and promotion of Guinean women and children.
She said the principle of equality between women and men had dated back to the formulation of a constitution in 1958. That instrument embodied the principle of gender equality between the sexes and proclaimed the solidarity of all its nationals without distinction as to race, ethnicity, gender, origin, religion or opinion. Also under the Constitution, the right to work was recognised for all, and the State was to establish the necessary conditions in which to exercise that right. Discrimination in that context was prohibited, and everyone had the right to join the trade union of their choice and defend their rights through union action.
Economically speaking, women had access to the land. In the electoral sphere, the law stipulated that all Guineans aged 18 and older could be elected. The penal code was also applicable to all, as was access to public services. The working code regulated women’s work according to issues of maternity, health and security. The goal of those regulations was to reconcile women’s various roles as mothers, spouses and workers. There were measures aimed at protecting working women, although those had, to some extent, limited the women’s potential in the labour market.
Continuing, she said that the definition of discrimination, required under the first article of the Convention, had not been explicitly formulated in any law in Guinea. The embodiment of the principle of equality, however, had not been enough to change centuries-old behaviours and attitudes. Despite the texts stipulating equality between the sexes, there were some spheres in which the legal condition of women was weak. Discrimination had existed in certain written laws. Regarding marital status, for example, the husband was the head of the family and, as such, determined the location of its domicile.
Moreover, she said, the birth of a child was declared by the father or other male family members or medical personnel, thereby denying those rights to women. Further, the Civil Code stipulated that once a child reached the age of seven, he or she would be entrusted to the father. Also to the mother’s detriment, the right of the definitive guardianship of the child was to the father, and widows without children were not entitled to inheritance. Paternal powers reigned supreme. In the case of the father’s absence, the paternal uncle exercised rights over the children, to the detriment of the mother.
In terms of violence or rape, those acts were punished, but sexual harassment was not, she said. Also, working women had not benefited from family allowances under the social security scheme. Despite some improvements in the legislation, the enjoyment of rights by women continued to be limited owing to legislative and judicial complexity, the absence of information, and the persistence of negative attitudes. Statistical data, however, had made it possible to detect discrimination linked to certain practices and customs.
She said that women’s participation in Government and decision-making posts had been very low compared with men. Numerous practices and customs unfavourable to women had persisted, including enforced marriage, physical and psychological violence; the relationship among sisters, in which the older sister prevailed; sexual abuse; female genital mutilation; denial of widows’ rights; and food taboos. Women also had difficulty obtaining access to credit, and many employers were unwilling to hire women because of maternity and the nature of the work. Preference was also given to boys over girls in terms of education.
Aware of the existence of such discriminatory practices and provisions and the need for an institutional framework to promote women, the Government had envisaged a number of measures. The public authorities had set up some focal points and overall structures for women in various ministries. The measures taken to change and adopt new legislation had reflected the Government’s wish to remedy the situation. Even though there was no legal definition of discrimination, there was an entire legal arsenal for the protection of women’s rights.
Turning to special temporary measures, she said women greatly contributed to food production, and the education and raising of children. With support of its partners, the Government had created special bodies to favour the promotion of young women, coordinate the work of women’s NGOs and conduct relevant research. The National Women’s Day was proclaimed in 1985.
On the work to overcome negative stereotypes and prejudices, she said the Government was trying to redefine the roles of women and men as partners. Efforts were being made to overcome physical, sexual and psychological violence against women. The customary laws often exacerbated the situation, and vast campaigns had been undertaken to make people aware of the situation and promote new attitudes. One of the social scourges in the country was prostitution, to which the problems of poverty and degradation of moral values contributed. Prostitution was not legal in the country; it was rejected and condemned by society.
The ratification of the Convention on the rights of women confirmed the legal guarantees for women, but there was “a numerical weakness in women’s representation at the decision-making level”, which remained a source of concern. Out of 25 Ministers, four were women; and three of the 14 members of the Supreme Court were women. At the international level, there were no women ambassadors among Guinea’s foreign service staff.
Compulsory primary education had been introduced in the country, but there was a negative effect of customs on the schooling of girls. Energetic actions were being undertaken to improve the education of girls in Guinea, which included measures to increase awareness at all levels of the need to educate girls and incentives for families in that respect. Literacy programmes were being offered to women.
Regarding the situation in the employment market, she said that despite the Government’s efforts, major problems still existed, and women, in general, possessed a lower level of qualification than men. There was also a tacit reticence on behalf of many men to hire and promote women.
In the area of women’s health, the National Conference on Health in 1994 had established the priority of prevention over cure, she said. Sufficient vaccination against childhood diseases and reduction of maternal and infant mortality were among the Government’s priorities. Among the most common causes of infant, children’s and maternal deaths were malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea, clandestine abortions, lack of pre-natal care, anaemia and AIDS.
The HIV/AIDS situation was a cause of concern. Under the law, there was no gender-based discrimination in health care and access to health services, but in practice, there were certain gender disparities. Traditional practitioners were primarily used in the rural areas, and people below the poverty threshold had limited opportunities to use health services.
She went on to say that a national social security fund had been created for wage earners, and a mechanism of social services was provided to people, without gender-based discrimination. However, women did not receive family allowances based on the legal provisions in force, which provided such allowances to the male heads of family. As for bank and mortgage loans, although the legislation did not present any discrimination against women, several factors prevented them from having access to formal loans. In particular, banks were not interested in traditionally women’s areas of production. Under the national strategy to fight poverty, which had been established by the Government in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), a gender credit programme had been introduced to promote women.
In Guinea, women were primarily occupied in the agricultural sector, she said, and the situation of rural women was among the country's’ concerns. They played a crucial role in establishing Guinea’s food security, but they suffered from the lack of loans, information and health care. Among other problems were the lengthy working hours, difficult working conditions and a low level of education. A service had been established to bring water to villages, which had had a positive result on the situation of rural women.
In conclusion, she said the Government was making huge efforts towards implementation of the Convention, but found itself in a difficult situation. The question of women’s equality was among the Government’s concerns. Important laws had been adopted in the country, and a large number of women had joined the work force. However, the border conflicts had had a dramatic effect on the population, including women. The country sheltered large numbers of refugees and displaced people.
To integrate the country’s efforts towards development, the “Guinea Vision 2010” strategy had been prepared by the Government, which was a plan for long-terms actions for the promotion of women. Questions relating to women had broad support of the civil society. The Government had launched important initiatives, and the national population programme took into account women’s issues. The fight against AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases was of great importance, as well as efforts to fight female genital mutilation. The country had seen success in that respect, having promulgated and adopted the law penalizing the practice. Among the measures in the area of health, an important project for cancer detection was under way. In order to sustain its decision to advance women’s equality issues, the Government was providing additional financial support to the relevant national bodies.
Reaction of Experts
Experts hailed well intentioned and determined attitude of the Government of Guinea towards implementing the Convention. The report had honestly analysed areas of concern and demonstrated the political will of the Government, which had not made any reservations to the Convention. They thanked the delegation for the presence of a large, “high-powered” delegation, especially in view of the country’s economy. The Government’s efforts to put in place a positive law structure that guaranteed equality between men and women was impressive.
Also commendable, they said, had been Guinea’s accession to international agreements, which superseded national legislation. Several commented on the country’s large influx of refugees from neighbouring countries and commended the Government for its adoption of the National Refugee Law, which provided a legal basis for determining the status of refugees.
An expert from West Africa said she had been very much aware of the hospitality that Guinea had afforded to refugees from Liberia and Sierra Leone, approximately 50 per cent of whom were women. At the same time, she urged the Government to ensure the refugees protection against sexual violence. The Government was in a very serious difficulty owing to the influx of some 1 million refugees and displaced persons, which had disturbed the social, economic and political situation of the country.
One expert suggested that perhaps Guinea’s position in that respect had been too liberal.
At the same time, concern was expressed about stereotypes and prejudices. Traditional practices and customs, especially that of female genital mutilation, were very disturbing, some said. They commended the Government for “taking on” the two pillars of improving women’s status, namely, health and educational reforms.
Another expert praised the delegation for reminding the Committee “brilliantly and completely” about the fact that Guinea was a developing country, which, despite its mining wealth, continued to be strongly marked by poverty. Statistics on life expectancy, infant and maternal mortality, and illiteracy had dramatically illustrated the overall condition in the country. Achieving equality between men and women, therefore, was very difficult.
The remaining discriminatory provisions in the written law had pertained to certain articles of the Convention, another expert noted. Implementation of egalitarian laws was facing serious problems. There were many violations of women’s human rights, as enshrined in the Convention, covering a wide range of issues, including education, economics, marriage, divorce, and violence. Moreover, the gap between de facto and de jure equality had pointed to a serious infringement of women’s human rights.
She questioned the presence of a multiple legal system in Guinea, and asked for more details. She wished to set the record straight about what was illegal versus what was culturally accepted and merely traditional. Tradition was a very formidable force, she added, and the existence of a multiple legal system often posed a serious impediment to full implementation of the Convention.
Another expert said it was disappointing that the Government had not met many of the requirements of the Convention. The report contained numerous contradictions, mainly between the Convention and domestic legislature. There were inequalities in the designation of men as heads of household and in many provisions of family law. There were many cases of legal discrimination against women, despite the report’s statement to the contrary.
She saw no positive action to overcome the problems resulting from social and customary practices. Polygamy was still prevalent, although forbidden by law. She wanted to know what the Government intended to do about that. What priority did the gender equality issues have in the country’s overall plans for development?
From the constitutional point of view, a speaker welcomed the ratification of the Convention without reservations. However, there was a contradiction between the anti-discrimination guarantees and legal provisions, which blatantly discriminated against women. For example, women were entitled only to one eighth of the inheritance. There could be no true recognition of women’s rights without securing their equality in the family. What was being done to amend the patriarchal laws in the country? What was the source of opposition to such amendments?
The Government’s commitment to achieving gender equality should be appreciated, an expert said, and it was important that in Guinea international law had precedence over the national legislation. The country had an independent judiciary branch, which had the power to review existing laws to put them in conformity with international norms. Under those conditions, the discriminatory national and customary laws could not be sustained and must be reviewed. The Constitution should become “a living reality” in the country, instead of being just another document.
Experts wanted to know how the Convention was translated into court decisions and if women were informed about its contents. What was the Government’s understanding of direct and indirect discrimination? Was the Government going to sign and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention? Speakers also wanted to know about the role of the councils of elders, the Government’s plans for legal reform, the effectiveness of its measures to overcome poverty and the funds allocated to gender equality programmes. Did the Ministry for Women’s Affairs screen development programmes to make sure that they did not have a negative effect on women?
In many cases, abortions were a result of the absence of family planning, an expert observed, asking what the Government planned to do to avoid the need for women to resort to abortions. She also pointed out that when abortions were forbidden, women also often resorted to desperate measures.
Another expert said that special consideration should be given to women with disabilities. It was also important to strengthen the basic framework dealing with the vulnerable groups, which, of course, included women. The country’s policies and legislation regarding refugees were very positive, and she wanted to know how Guinea addressed the problem of women refugees.
The discussion among experts continued at the afternoon meeting on Article 3 of the Convention, concerning measures to ensure the advancement of women on an equal basis with men.
One expert urged awareness-raising in remote and rural areas about the use of contraception and the decriminalization of abortion. That could curb the spread of HIV/AIDS, she said.
Another expert said she was particularly interested in the work under way to integrate disabled women into the fabric of society. From the report, it had appeared that the focus was on disabled persons in adulthood. What was the Education Ministry doing to carry out programmes about disabled individuals? Also, some 95 per cent of disabled women in Guinea were illiterate. What was being done to educate children with disabilities to enable them to grow into productive citizens based on their individual capacities? Were children with hearing deficiencies, for example, exposed to sign language, and was braille available for the sightless?
Also, she said, there was no mention in the report of constitutional provisions to protect the disabled from discrimination. Were there any such provisions or plans to amend the text in order to provide protection for those individuals who accounted for 10 per cent of the country’s population? She also sought more information on a quota system requiring employers to employ a certain number of disabled women. Concerning community-based reintegration, she said that could take place only in the context of the community’s understanding that disabled persons were not to be shunned or feared. Those were persons with an ability to contribute to society, given the opportunity to do so.
Another expert noted the extremely high illiteracy rate for girls and women of 82 per cent, and the fact that only 17 per cent of Guinean girls had attended primary schools compared with 40 per cent of boys. Illiteracy and lack of education were absolute barriers to women’s progress. Similarly, women’s health was a basic and prior condition for women’s equality.
Concerning the latter, she noted the severe problem of only one midwife per 74,610 inhabitants in middle Guinea. What about budgeting for those two essentials of women’s lives? Guinea consistently ranked at the bottom of the global list for quality-of-life measures, and only a few had benefited from implementation of an economic restructuring, carried out with the assistance of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The unequal treatment of men and women was actually increasing, particularly in the informal sector of the economy, she said. She requested more precise data about how the Government would invest in carrying out plans to reduce illiteracy. Could it give incentives to send girl children to primary schools, for example? Also, what percentage of the health budget was being allocated to improve women’s health care, particularly maternal care.
Turning to Article 4, on temporary measures to accelerate de facto equality between men and women, one expert said that despite the difficult conditions prevailing in the country, Guinea was a shining example among countries with a large Muslim population because it had signed the Convention without any reservation.
She noted the very low participation of women in politics, and asked whether their representation could be better promoted through a party list system that included quotas. That would ensure women’s participation at the highest levels of government.
Another expert requested more information on the admission of female high school graduates to universities. Had the reference in the report meant that all of them were assured entry to universities? Had that meant that no special qualifications were needed? Having specific temporary measures had not been intended to negate standard measures.
Were training and literacy centres aimed at changing existing structures, including the attitudes of women and men? she asked. Also, the report had stated that discriminatory stereotypes had been removed from school curricula and textbooks. Were there new ones and was that compulsory? If so, teachers needed expertise in using those new tools because unfamiliarity with the gender perspective would make it difficult for them to teach the concept to their students.
Had the mention in the report that women had access to pre- and post-natal care meant that those services were free for the poorest women in rural areas? she asked.
Another expert asked whether the Government had realized that the Convention was giving it, at all levels, an instrument by which to induce a massive acceleration of de facto equality. It was laudable that money had been set aside in the budget to address literacy, credit and training issues, but a much more comprehensive and massive attempt to accelerate the achieving of equality of girls and women in Guinea was needed. If that was done on only a small scale, it would help “here and there”, but that was like “a drop of rain on a hot stone”.
In terms of more political representation, she suggested that the strata of highly educated women could be the beneficiaries of an instrument like article 4. Utilizing that educated class of women, and putting them in power, might move the entire women’s programme forward.
Regarding Article 5 of the Convention, on social and cultural patterns that lead to discrimination, several speakers pointed out that it was one of the most difficult ones to implement, for stereotypes and prejudices were deeply entrenched in the fabric of society. According to the report, ceremonies had taken place where excision knives, which were used for genital mutilation, were disposed of, and legislation was in place outlawing several harmful practices.
When confronted with the continued practices of polygamy and female genital mutilation, had the Government prosecuted the perpetrators? they asked. How was the situation monitored? Were any public information campaigns carried out to educate the population? Had any steps been taken to overcome the problem of violence against women? What was the role of the mass media in eradicating discriminatory practices?
It was also pointed out that education of the judiciary, health care and law-enforcement personnel regarding violence against women, including domestic violence, was of great importance. Cases of violence were often overlooked because, traditionally, the victims were ashamed to report them. What was the Government doing to address that problem?
As the Committee turned to the issues of trafficking in women and prostitution (Article 6 of the Convention), serious concern was expressed about the links between prostitution and the spread of HIV/AIDS. The root cause of prostitution was poverty. For that reason, the Government of Guinea should urgently institute an income generation and education programme for prostitutes to address the problem. Was the Government aware of the dangers of prostitution? What did it intend to do in that respect?
Also discussed was Article 7, on the elimination of discrimination against women in political and public life. An expert commented that the report clearly pinpointed the problems in that respect. Having identified the problems, the country now needed to implement concrete programmes of action. With a high percentage of illiteracy, the key to any corrective action should involve education. Had any results been obtained in that connection?
The first woman to preside over the Security Council had been a Guinean woman, yet women were severely under-represented in the public life of the country, another expert said. She wanted to know how the resistance to opening the decision-making positions to women could be explained. It was a good idea to introduce quotas in order to obtain greater equality. As many women were traditionally reluctant to take important posts, young women should be provided with role models to emulate.
Regarding equal rights to acquire, change or retain nationality (Article 9), an expert said that in Guinea nationality was transmitted through the father, and some areas of discrimination in that respect were obvious from the report. The problem was that specific legal provisions discriminated against women, particularly when a Guinean woman married a foreigner. Recognizing the principle of blood ties, the legislation of the country did not seem to recognize the blood ties between the child and its mother. It was important to revise the discriminatory provisions of the law.
Regarding Article 10, on education, it was said that the difficulties confronted by the country were frankly described in the report. According to that document, 80 per cent of women in Guinea were illiterate, and the dropout rate for girls was very high. Another source of concern was frequent occurrence of girls’ pregnancy, which resulted in their expulsion from school. Comments were also made regarding the concept of family education, which contributed to the “domestication of women”. Massive affirmative action was needed to eliminate that practice.
Experts inquired about sexual education provided to children and the efforts to improve women’s education by the bodies entrusted with women’s affairs. Had any preferential policies been introduced to increase the share of girl children enrolled at school? What was the role of NGOs in educating women?
An expert commented that the problem of illiteracy could be addressed only by massive efforts and allocation of significant resources towards education, including adult courses. Social development and education were critical for overall development success. Education for girls provided them with chances for upward mobility and improved the families’ odds for survival.
No doubt Guinea was aware of the importance of women’s education. Many parents, however, believed that education was not relevant for their children. Free and compulsory education, at least to a certain level, could provide a solution to that problem.
Also addressed in the discussion were the problems of early and forced marriages, violence against women refugees, and the legal age of marriage.
Concerning Article 12, on the elimination of discrimination against women in the area of health, one expert urged the Guinean delegation to study the Committee’s general recommendation on health. Equal access to health services and the need to ensure the health of a nation’s population would contribute to its development. The health situation among Guinean women was alarming: the maternal mortality rate was 500 per 100,000 live births in Conakry alone; infant mortality was 137 per 1,000; and child mortality was 232 per 1,000. Those were among the highest figures in Africa.
She said a detailed analysis of available data had revealed an unequal use of existing health services. Even the report had stated that more men used hospital services because their incomes were higher. How had the Government planned to tackle that problem? What was the trend in the budget with respect to allocations for health services? Concerning abortion, the report had referred to a special law making abortion illegal, but the delegation had said that those were sometimes performed “legally”, getting around that law. What was the true situation?
The delegation had said that 5,000 new AIDS cases appeared each year in Guinea and the percentage of infected women was growing, she said. The country should ask for international help to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS. Also, how were the refugee women faring in terms of health?
Traditional medicine in Africa was very important, and in no circumstances should it be underestimated, another expert said. She advised the government representatives to further research that area and encouraged the practitioners to ensure that healthy traditional medicines were administered. She commended the country for its immunization coverage. People should also be educated about food taboos, some of which compromised women’s health.
Turning to Article 13, on the elimination of discrimination against women in economic and social life, an expert asked a series of questions about the pension scheme. Also, concerning the integrated enterprises development programmes, what percentage of women were benefiting from those? she asked.
Concerning Article 14, on rural women, another expert noted that those comprised the greatest percentage of both the general and working population. Yet, it had remained marginalized, with rural women at a particular disadvantage. Some worked up to 18 hours per day. How had the Government sought to redress that situation?
One expert said that, in reference to Article 16 concerning marriage and family, she had information that the provisions of the Civil Code were neither implemented nor obeyed. Had that meant that the Convention lacked validity in Guinea? Was there a legal conflict? The Government should change the situation and comply with the provisions of the Convention by eliminating both the de facto and de jure discrimination faced by Guinean women with respect to the family.
Another expert added that it was extremely important to socialize the Convention and relate its provisions to existing laws. The socialization of the Convention was important for the community, in particular, the informal leaders, since that usually had more influence than the written laws. Also, the lawmakers, relevant government authorities, legislators, lawyers, judges, teachers, and so forth should be specifically targeted in that regard. Under such a campaign, it was important to convey to them their obligation to implement the law. The disadvantages of not doing so should be explained.
What role had religion played in marriage law? another expert asked. Concerning polygamy, one out of every two women in Guinea was in a polygamous marriage. That was difficult to comprehend in a country where that practice was outlawed. She had had the impression that lawmakers were looking the other way, or that they even encouraged the practice in some way. Fifty per cent was an indication of a very widespread phenomenon, and that was truly troubling. She had also sensed an attitude of reluctance on the part of the Government to discourage polygamy. She had wished to see some reflection of political will to combat that phenomenon.
She said it had also been mentioned in the report that many women themselves had not rejected polygamy, and saw it as a division of labour in the household. What was the Government doing to change their attitudes? It was a well known sociological fact that discriminatory patriarchal attitudes were passed on, generation to generation, by women in patriarchal societies. In such situations, it was extremely difficult, if not impossible, for women to break out of that cycle without some kind of impetus. That was where the Government should come in. Innovative measures could be devised, such as encouraging the sharing of household responsibilities among husbands and wives rather than among “co-wives”.
The Government should take a serious look at related issues, such as violence between wives. Polygamy was truly a “blow” to women’s dignity as human beings. Sometimes, polygamy was the result of women’s infertility, and menopausal wives were also discriminated against in terms of their conjugal rights, in clear contravention of the provisions of Article 6 of the Convention. The increasing trend of polygamy in Guinea should prompt the need for urgent action.
Although polygamy was not uncommon in many countries, the concern regarding Guinea was the lack of clarity in the country’s approach to that phenomenon, it was said. Did any woman, for example, have the courage to bring her husband to court for practising polygamy? Certain provisions in the Civil Code also seemed to allow early marriages. Another form of discrimination against women involved the man’s right to seek divorce on the grounds of adultery, while women did not have such a right, unless a concubine lived in the family home. The relationship between the civil and customary laws, as far as family matters were concerned, needed to be seriously addressed. The situation called for a reassessment of family law.
Many problems in achieving equality stemmed from the women’s subordinate position in the family, a speaker said. Originating in the family, such problems as the legal patriarchal power of male heads of households, the non-enforcement of the prohibition of polygamy and the low enrolment of girls in school limited the women’s ability to function in the society. She appreciated the difficulties that the Government of Guinea was faced with, but some of the necessary measures could be accomplished without major financial investments, or with the help of international agencies.
In conclusion, Ms. ARIBOT thanked the experts for their comments. She was happy that the delegation accompanying her would be able to share the opinions of the Committee’s members on the national level. The country had to launch a serious battle to address the concerns expressed, and once the delegation returned home, it would pass on the experts’ opinions to all those concerned.
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