COMMITTEE EXPERTS NOTE DIFFICULTIES FOR NICARAGUA IN EFFORTS TO IMPROVE SITUATION OF WOMEN
COMMITTEE EXPERTS NOTE DIFFICULTIES FOR NICARAGUA IN EFFORTS TO IMPROVE SITUATION OF WOMEN
Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
525th and 526th Meetings (AM & PM)
COMMITTEE EXPERTS NOTE DIFFICULTIES FOR NICARAGUA
IN EFFORTS TO IMPROVE SITUATION OF WOMEN
Poverty, Hunger, Aftermath of War, Hurricane Devastation
Cited as Challenges to Full Compliance with United Nations Convention
Traditional attitudes towards women, poverty eradication and efforts to overcome violence against women in Nicaragua were the focus of attention at the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, as it considered that country’s fourth and fifth periodic reports during two meetings today.
The reports had been submitted in compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, which stipulates that a State party should submit its initial report within one year after its entry into force, and subsequent reports at least every four years thereafter. Previous reports by Nicaragua were considered by the Committee during the forty-fourth and the forty-eighth sessions of the General Assembly. The country ratified the Convention in 1981, two years after its adoption by the General Assembly.
Introducing her country’s case, the Executive Director of the Nicaraguan Institute for Women, Amalia Frech de Aleman, described her Government’s legal, institutional and political initiatives for the promotion of women, as well as its efforts in the areas of health, employment and education. The Convention was an important human rights instrument in Nicaragua, she said. One of the most difficult areas covered by the Convention involved modification of the negative social and cultural patterns and traditional attitudes towards women, which were reflected in various aspects of Nicaragua’s economic and social life.
[According to the reports, “machismo” is present in all areas of the daily life in Nicaragua. The predominant Catholic church reinforces the attitudes and values that make women subordinate to men. Even when abused by her husband, a wife is obliged to stay with him "until death parts them".]
Ms. Aleman further explained that awareness and training activities had been initiated to overcome the negative traditional patterns. As a governmental institution working on behalf of women, the Institute had been organizing educational campaigns, seminars and distributing printed materials.
Most of the Committee’s 23 experts, who, acting in their personal capacities, monitor compliance with the Convention, expressed their appreciation
for the frankness with which Nicaragua faced its problems. Aware of the country’s difficulties -- poverty, hunger, the recent emergence from war, and Hurricane Mitch -– they noted that those conditions had prevented economic recovery and impeded improvement in the status of Nicaraguan women.
The commitment of the Government of Nicaragua to gender equality was impressive, an expert said. It was commendable that the nationality and family laws of the country were based on the Convention and that serious public information programmes on human rights and international instruments were being carried out. However, several experts pointed out “a mismatch” between the country’s achievements in the fields of education and health. High figures of life expectancy for women and their participation in the field of education did not match the high mortality and fertility rates in Nicaragua. That gap should be studied and seriously addressed.
To overcome gender stereotypes and achieve factual equality between women and men, several gaps in the legislation needed to be addressed, another expert said, and the concepts of human rights and gender equality needed to be incorporated in the country’s family code and general education act. Also very important was the acceptance of the principles of equality by the population.
Numerous other questions were raised in the discussion today, including those about the budgetary allocations for women’s institutions and programmes, the Government’s relations with the Catholic church, progress in the field of political participation of women, child prostitutes, the connection between prostitution and poverty, access to credit, wage disparities, trafficking in women and the country’s legal framework.
Nicaragua was also represented by Milagros Perez, Maria de Jesus Aguirre, Ena Ortega and Argentina Vela Suarez of the Institute for Women, and the Permanent Representative of Nicaragua to the United Nations, Eduardo J. Sevilla Somoza.
At 10 a.m. tomorrow (18 July) the Committee will begin its consideration of the second periodic report of Guyana on its implementation of the Convention.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to begin its consideration of the fourth and fifth reports of Nicaragua, submitted in compliance with the Convention 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.
Nicaragua ratified the Convention in 1981, two years after its adoption by the General Assembly. Previous reports by Nicaragua were considered by the Committee during the forty-fourth and the forty-eighth sessions of the General Assembly.
The fourth periodic report (document CEDAW/C/NIC/4) covers the period ending in 1995 and presents a summary of constitutional, legislative and administrative measures adopted to gradually eliminate discrimination within the family, and guarantee the rights of Nicaraguan women in all aspects of their lives. It also provides an overview of the health and education sectors and transmits information about the participation of women in the social and economic life of the country.
According to this document, although Nicaragua has always had abundant natural resources and a potential for developing them, the country's ambitions have for many years been hampered by violence and natural disasters. The economic situation in the country has been characterized by a slowdown in the growth of the main economic indicators. More than 80 per cent of the country's population are under 40 years of age, and women account for more than 50 per cent of the total.
The report states that many of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women have been incorporated in the Nicaraguan Constitution. The country's legislation has favoured women by establishing governmental bodies and women’s centres, which provide services specifically for women. The progress and achievements for women embodied in the Constitution can be attributed to participation by women experts in its reform.
Despite the efforts to achieve gender equity, however, women in Nicaragua still suffer from poverty and discrimination, the report further states. There are still gaps in Nicaragua’s civil, labour and penal codes, which hinder women’s enjoyment of full, effective equality under the law. There are also legal contradictions, discrimination and serious flaws in such areas as domestic violence. Among other drawbacks mentioned in the report are the lack of a family code; complicated procedures; women’s ignorance of the law; lack of paternal responsibility; and delays in payment of child support.
Also, according to the report, women account for the majority of voters and have run for many high offices, including those of president, vice-president, deputy to the National Assembly and mayor. The percentage of women in the National Assembly is quite high: 90 per cent of political parties include both men and women among their office-holders and alternates. Women occupy over 24 per cent (404) of all such posts and 17 per cent of elected posts. Among the Government agencies implementing programmes for women is the Nicaraguan Institute for Women. Gender units have been established in such Government agencies as the Institute for Agricultural Technology.
The economic crisis in the country has made it impossible for the Government to meet its goals in the field of education. However, there have been great efforts to give the population access to education. The Ministry of Education has given priority to education in grades one to four in order to improve the system's efficiency. To address a rise in the illiteracy rate, measures have been taken to revise the curriculum, improve textbooks, provide training for teachers and increase the number of volunteer instructors. In 1991, the National Technological Apprenticeship Institute established a programme to provide women with technical training to improve their chances in the job market. There was also a major increase in the number of women university students.
On health issues, the report says there is one specialized women's hospital in the country, which offers disease prevention and prenatal monitoring services. There are women's sexual and reproductive health centres, and services are provided to the victims of domestic violence, which is viewed as a public health problem. Nevertheless, the health system still does not have a sound foundation for the development of policies to benefit women in the health sector.
Nicaragua's fifth report (document CEDAW/C/NIC/5) covers the period from
1995 to 1998, continuing the article-by-article consideration of the country's compliance with the Convention.
According to this document, among the newer institutions established in Nicaragua is the Ministry for the Family, which is charged with promoting and defending the family and providing solutions for children, young people, the elderly and the disabled. The Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights is a 10-year-old non-governmental organization, promoting and defending human rights of all the citizens without distinction.
In 1996, women belonging to 10 parties formed the National Women's Coalition, which promotes women's equitable participation in the political life of the country. The Coalition has also developed a so-called "Minimum Agenda" as a means of promoting women's participation in the electoral process.
On behalf of women, a number of laws have been created and revised, including the laws on alimony, rape, illegal seduction, maternal breast-feeding, and relations between father, mother and children. However, many of the contradictions and shortcomings mentioned in the previous report remain. The country has also formulated a number of sectoral policies for the advancement of women and children. These include the national population policy and social policy, policy on equal access to agricultural land, as well as equalopportunities for women and men in the different areas of the national micro-enterprise programme.
On health issues, the report states that the country's rate of 53 infant deaths per 1,000 live births is high for Central America, and it continued to fall only slowly. Also disturbing is the official rate of maternal mortality, which shows that in 1995, there were 159 deaths per 100,000 live births. Major causes of death include post-partum haemorrhage, pregnancytoxaemia, abortion and infections. Most affected are the under-18 and over-35 age groups. Nicaragua has one of the highest fertility rates in Latin America, standing at 5.9 children per woman in 1980 and 3.9 in 1998.
Also, according to the report, the national health policy attaches particular attention to the health of women and children, with special emphasis on providing for women heads of family and children living in particularly difficult conditions. Pursuing a new model for the comprehensive care of women and children, the Ministry of Health has prepared a Handbook this subject, which now serves as a basic tool for the provision of care and defines the scientific standards for service reorganization.
Regarding the social and cultural patterns, the report states that in Nicaragua, machismo is a social phenomenon, which is present in all areas of daily life. The predominant Catholic church reinforces the attitudes and values that make women subordinate to men. Even when abused by her husband, a wife is obliged to stay with him "until death parts them". In Nicaraguan society, it is considered normal that men have relationships with more than one woman, while women are expected to be loyal to their partners.
To address this situation, the Government has initiated awareness and training activities. In this respect, external assistance has provided the country with a very important source of economic, financial and technical aid. As a governmental institution working on behalf of women, the Nicaraguan Institute for Women has been directing actions to modify socio-cultural patterns through educational campaigns, seminars, printed materials and road signs. A women's anti-violence network has been created, bringing together civil society, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Governmental structures. Also, a national commission on violence against women, children and young persons has been created.
Regarding education, the report states that illiteracy rates are higher among women, but the school dropout rate for females at the primary level is much lower than for males. Despite a significant increase in functional illiteracy rates, the figures also indicate that women are increasingly enrolling in adult education classes. In 1998, women accounted for 48.3 per cent of the national total. The literacy programme for mothers of pre-school children now extends to 11 municipalities in the Pacific Zone.
On employment, the document notes that the Government of Nicaragua attaches priority to promoting national programmes designed to redress the social disadvantages suffered by women. These programmes include work incentives, funding for productive activity and policies enabling women to gain access to land and the means of production. The Government’s other policies address such issues as access to credit, the rights of rural women, the right to own property and women's movement.
Introduction of Reports
AMALIA FRECH DE ALEMAN, Executive Director of the Nicaraguan Institute for Women, said that presenting the reports offered the opportunity to measure progress in the advancement of women in her country. CEDAW was an important human rights instrument in Nicaragua. One of the most difficult areas covered by the Convention was traditional attitudes towards women, which were reflected in the country’s economic and social structures.
Nicaragua was one of the poorest countries in Latin America, she continued, and its Government had come up with a strategy to help overcome the problem of chronic poverty and unemployment. The strategy focused on women and children in the areas of health and employment. Resistance to change made it difficult to achieve progress, but it was important to mention the existence of a broad agenda for the promotion of women in the country. Some progress had been achieved in the promotion of human rights and legislation. The role of NGOs in the protection of women’s human rights should also be emphasized. The Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights was notable in that respect.
Despite such progressive legislation, there were obstacles to the achievement of real equality, she said. Certain criminal and family laws were being reviewed in order to address inequalities. The Constitution and the Civil Code established the equal rights of all citizens from birth. Children had a right to nationality from birth, in keeping with the requirements and procedures established by the Constitution. The Commission for Women and Children and the National Assembly had promulgated an equal opportunities law, aimed at creating a legal framework for equal opportunities for men and women.
Although restricted by budgetary difficulties, programmes and projects were being implemented for women, children and adolescents belonging to social risk groups, she said. The Government believed in the importance of its social policies, which were based on the principles of responsibility and equality. The national population policy covered all aspects of family planning, fertility and social movement of the population. Approved in 1997, sexual education policies arose from the need to provide adequate information to adolescents in order to shape responsible behaviour. Consultative bodies included such NGOs as the Women’s Network against Violence. A special human rights attorney and a prosecutor for women and children were appointed in 1997.
She went on to say that women in Nicaragua were becoming more professional. The number of people receiving primary and secondary education was growing, particularly in the rural areas. Pre-school education had also significantly increased by 1999. Primary school enrolment rate was 75 per cent in 1999. In the same year, the number of girls repeating classes decreased significantly. School drop-out rate was 29 per cent among boys, and 16 per cent among girls. In response to the growing illiteracy rates, which reached over 20 per cent (and higher in the rural areas), the country had revised its education programmes.
Adult education was receiving wide support. Elaboration of the national education plan until 2015 was a significant achievement. Centres for women had been created in many areas to address their needs. Assistance was provided to women in search of employment, which included training courses and credit programmes. The number of women going into traditionally male occupations had also increased.
Incentives were being provided to students interested in women’s studies, and postgraduate courses had been introduced in several universities. Life expectancy for women had increased in the last 15 years, reaching 68.2 years. Infant and maternal mortality was still a serious problem. Among the country’s main health strategies were training, family planning and creation of new health centres. Promotion of breast-feeding, vaccination and pre-natal assistance were among the measures to reduce infant mortality.
Health coverage was steadily expanding. Primary health care for women was being provided through a specialized women’s hospital and by prevention measures all over the country. Sexual and reproductive health services were provided, and priority attention was being given to the victims of violence against women. Fertility in Nicaragua was one of the highest in Latin America, but due to the Government’s education and contraceptive efforts, it was going down. Rural women, on the average, had more children than urban women.
Priority was given to social compensation to mitigate the effects of structural readjustment programmes, she said. The economically active population was 54 per cent male, and 56 per cent female. The reality of the work market limited women’s access to employment, however. Women were mostly concentrated in the service and industrial areas. As a result of the economic crisis, one of the most important problems was access to priority products, and women were coming up with survival methods to maintain their families’ standard of living.
Men still had higher incomes than women, she continued, and there was a threefold difference in wages between the genders. Great efforts were being made to increase the participation and economic contribution of rural women. As a result of the Government’s efforts, an increased number of women now had access to land. A Commission for women in rural development was created in 1997 to coordinate the activities of various governmental bodies, and equal opportunity policies had been introduced for rural women.
Access to credit was very limited for women, for they found it difficult to guarantee loans, she explained. Although certain banks supported women entrepreneurs, most women benefiting from credit received assistance from NGOs. The National Institute for Women promoted credit projects and provided training for women with small businesses and those involved in work in rural areas.
Turning to the problem of domestic violence, she said that it was manifested at all levels of life in the country. The 1998 demographic study showed that
29 per cent of women had been sexually or physically abused at least once. Also, 57 per cent of abused women indicated that abuse had taken place in the presence of their children. To address the problem, a Commission on Violence against Women had been created, blending the efforts of the Government, civil society and NGOs. At present, 16 such Commissions were working in the country. Also participating in the work to combat violence was the National Network of Women. The National Assembly had reformed the penal code dealing with the domestic violence.
A national plan for the prevention of domestic and sexual violence against women had been elaborated, she said. Focusing on prevention, the plan also emphasized multi-sectoral projects and an institutional framework. Gender-based crimes received special attention from the Government. As for modification of social and cultural patterns, the National Institute for Women was conducting educational campaigns, training, workshops and seminars.
Continuing, she drew attention to a training manual for law enforcement officials, entitled “Gender Violence and Citizenship Security” had been formulated. Also, information on sexually transmitted disease and HIV/AIDS had been disseminated.
In terms of the participation of women in the public sector, their participation at the highest levels was growing. Female participation was normally very broad at the base and narrow at the top. There were ups and downs in the public participation at the national and local level, but there was greater representation than in the past. Women had been organizing. In particular, the National Coalition for Women tried to promote women’s participation in the electoral process. There was also the National Nicaraguan Forum for Women, which considered gender and leadership issues, among others.
In 1995, the National Assembly elected the first female Vice President, she went on. In the presidential election of 1996, there were 24 parties and
24 candidates, including one woman candidate for Vice President, and a large number of women had participated in the election. Women were serving as heads of the health department, the National Institute of Technology and others, and were participating in the Government at the Cabinet level. Six women held the highest ministerial posts, and four were deputies. In connection with the modernization of the armed forces and police force, the percentage of women had also grown.
In Nicaragua, she said, women represented more than 50 per cent of the population. More than 70 per cent of all households lived in poverty. The state of the economy had continued to impede the achievement of gender equality. The Convention was a most important international instrument, with which the Government had been able to measure both its progress and its limitations. In order to evolve a more promising future for women and children, further legislative efforts were needed and those laws needed to be disseminated. The weaknesses were not really due to an absence of laws but a deficiency in implementation mechanisms.
She said that the creation of a permanent commission for women and children at the level of the National Assembly had made it possible for women parliamentarians to commit to creating laws based on the real needs of women. Clearly, there was discrimination against women, as certain gender-segregating values and social habits had been maintained. Some progress had been indicated with respect to women’s achievements in the public and political sectors. In those areas, women had been able to overcome political differences and evolve a common agenda. Now, greater resources were required for its implementation.
There had also been progress in terms of the number of women and girls staying in schools at all levels, and an increase in women embarking on careers traditionally dominated by men. The gender focus had been integrated into school curriculums and teacher training. Health coverage had improved, and infant mortality had decreased while life expectancy had increased. At the same time, greater efforts should be exerted to decrease maternal mortality rates. To curtail domestic violence, a national plan had been evolved, covering the period from 2001 to 2006. Nonetheless, the challenges had remained “huge” and even if the Government had created social and legal instruments, more work was needed to implement them.
She then introduced the other members of her delegation.
Several experts expressed their appreciation for the frankness with which the country had faced its problems. Everyone was aware of the difficulties -- poverty, hunger, the recent emergence from war, and Hurricane Mitch. All of those conditions had prevented economic recovery and impeded improvement in the status of Nicaraguan women. Indeed, the hurricane had exacerbated poverty. Some
45 per cent of the population was living in poverty, and more than 20 per cent in extreme poverty. At the same time, some 60 per cent of homes were headed by women.
The Convention had been disseminated, one expert pointed out, but given the high level of illiteracy, how were the Nicaraguan women being informed about its provisions, especially in the rural areas? Also, what was happening with respect to ratification of the Optional Protocol, by which individual women could bring their complaints before the committee? The Foreign Affairs Ministry had stated its intention to sign and ratify it, but the committee had not received any instructions to that effect.
Another expert asked for additional information on governmental projects aimed at reducing poverty. What were the prospects for gender-specific programmes targeted at the creation of jobs and the narrowing of gender-based disparities? In Nicaragua, the salaries for men were three times greater than those for women.
What was the percentage of Nicaraguan women working part-time or in the informal sector of the economy? another asked. She also sought information on the migration of young and adolescent women. Why had those migratory movements occurred, and what was their destination? Was that a question of trafficking? she asked.
Additional information was also requested on the incidence of rape and on measures to protect women in that regard. Also, how had the Government envisaged combating stereotypes and what role was being played by the mass media in that regard?
Another expert noted the extensive description provided about education in Nicaragua, but observed that no statistics had been mentioned with respect to women’s enrolment in non-traditional courses of study. Also, to what extent had information technology aided the advancement of education of young girls and women?
Given the country’s experience with natural calamities, poverty and civil strife, and the negative effect of those conditions on women, were there any mental health programmes to help them in that respect? an expert asked.
Also, Nicaragua was a tropical country where there had been an upsurge in tuberculosis and malaria. Were there any programmes to properly manage the population’s health in that regard?
Several questions were asked about the budgetary allocation for women’s institutions and programmes. Specifically, what would happen to them once international cooperation had dried up? one asked. Would the programmes be cancelled?
Another expert asked if the Nicaragua Institute for Women had enough power to influence various Governmental bodies to promote gender equality. Did it have sufficient financing?
Several experts asked questions regarding the Catholic church, which had enormous influence in Nicaragua. Was Nicaragua a secular country? What was the relationship of the Institute for Women with the Church leaders, who could play an important role in eliminating the gender stereotypes in the country? How was the Catholic church’s approach to birth control and reproductive rights reflected in the policies of the country?
An expert also inquired about the root causes of the phenomenon of "machismo", which persevered even despite a high number of women in the field of education and the Government’s efforts to introduce international instruments in the country? From which period did the Constitution recognize the right to life? What did the concept of “family patrimony”, which the report referred to, mean?
Questions were also asked about child prostitutes and the connection between prostitution and poverty.
To a question about the signing of the Optional Protocol to the Convention, Ms. DE ALEMAN said that Nicaragua had ratified the Convention and attached great importance to its Optional Protocol. The Government had been considering the question and building awareness of both the Convention and the Optional Protocol, for it believed that, although committed to the Convention, it could not institute laws without promoting general knowledge of their implications.
Comments by Experts
The commitment of the Government of Nicaragua to gender equality was impressive, an expert said. The nationality and family laws of the country were based on the Convention. It was also commendable that serious public information programmes on human rights and international instruments were being carried out.
The life expectancy for women was higher than for men, and that was an indication of the status of women in the country, as well as the high education rates for women. In that context, it was quite extraordinary that those figures did not match the high mortality and fertility rates in the country. That gap should be studied and seriously addressed.
Acknowledging Nicaragua as one of the poorest countries in Latin America, emerging from a recent civil war, another expert noted that in the country’s anti-violence legislation, violence against youth and children seemed to be stressed much more than violence against women. To function properly, the commission against violence should receive sufficient funds.
Progress in the field of political participation of women had been achieved after the end of the civil war, the Committee was told, but it seemed that the country was going back in that field. How could the delegation explain that?
As mentioned in the presentation, the most difficult problem in implementing the Convention involved overcoming the traditional attitudes towards women, a committee member said. It was important to achieve factual equality between women and men. In that connection, several gaps in the legislation had been mentioned in the reports, including those in the family code and in the general education act, which was a cause of concern since education was one of the most strategic means to implement the Convention. It was the Government’s obligation to educate the public, and the concept of equality needed to be incorporated in the relevant legislation in order to overcome the stereotypical concepts.
Also very important was the acceptance of the principles of equality, and the need to eliminate inequality by the population. The family code should also include the principles of human rights and equality between men and women.
Would the positive tax measures envisioned by the Government be implemented in the private or public sector? -– experts asked. What rules defined the provision of alimony to divorced women? Were pregnant women asked to undergo an AIDS test? Questions were also asked about abortions, the contents of sex education programme and the reasons for the migration of adolescents.
As better statistics would allow the experts to evaluate the situation in more detail, several experts asked the Government of Nicaragua to provide more statistical data in its next report.
Another expert, coming from a country that had also experienced several hurricanes, said she could relate to the devastation and the impact on the population, not only on those already living in poverty, but on those who had come to be called in her country “the instant poor”.
What programmes were in place to assist women heads of households in reconciling their productive and reproductive roles? Were there day care facilities and after school activities?
She also asked about the penalty for domestic violence. How many cases had come to court and how many convictions had been rendered? Also, how had the national plan for the prevention of family and sexual violence complemented the existing relevant law? She also sought information on the security and protection measures available to victims of family violence, and clarification on those acts of family violence that were not considered to be criminal. She also requested more information on the training programme for police officers in dealing specifically with domestic or inter-family violence.
It was difficult for experts to understand the impact of programmes and structures on women, another commented. The reports lacked a concreteness with regard to the impact. Future reporting should contain more results and impacts underlined by statistics.
Concerning the legal situation, she asked if the Government had made a clear assessment of all of the laws that still discriminated against women, and a clear timetable for amending them? Would the Equal Opportunities Act likely be passed before the forthcoming election, and if not, would it have to be re-introduced? If so, what was the chance of that occurring?
There were some very promising provisions in the proposed Equal Opportunities Act, another expert asserted, but were those were limited to public sector employment only? If so, were there proposals to extend that also to private sector employers? She was somewhat surprised and concerned by the decision of the Supreme Court of Justice that there was no discrimination against women under the country’s laws. That had seemed to be a very broad statement —- what had led to that statement?
Another expressed concern about the apparent custom of rural girls age 14 to 17 to start early relationships with older men who already had children. That had seemed very destructive and had risked much, including early pregnancy. Was that kind of custom being dealt with through any specific measures? Was that regarded as the sexual corruption of a minor? Had any criminal proceedings been instituted against that kind of behaviour against older men, such as statutory rape of girls younger than 16? Were relationships of that kind included in the sex education programmes, which had seemed so impressive in scope? she asked.
On the question of health, an expert noted that the most common cause of death of women had been the result of gynaecologically-related cancers and perinatal deaths. Had any special measures been evolved to emphasize screening and increased maternity health care? Also, were pregnant women tested for HIV/AIDS, and was there general data on HIV/AIDS among the general population? What was being done to prevent its spread? In view of the fact that Nicaragua was a Catholic country, were condoms in use and distributed freely among vulnerable populations, or had the Church opposed their use?
When the committee met this afternoon, a country representative said that in Nicaragua a strategy to combat poverty had been elaborated on the basis of the evaluation of the real situation in the country. It emphasized the issues of employment, improved access to health and education and assistance to the most vulnerable groups of the population. Special attention was being paid to the rural population.
As the country was going through an economic crisis, following an internal conflict, and had suffered from natural disasters, it had only limited resources for the implementation of gender-related programmes. At the moment, she could not provide the Committee with a breakdown of the budget. Lately, there had been an increase of employment, in particular in agriculture and construction, which had led to an improved investment climate.
On the subject of education, another member of the delegation said that last year the National Institute for Women had made a considerable effort to provide training on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This year it was disseminating information about the women’s convention. Information about human rights instruments was being incorporated in the school's programme. Training for the police and educators was being provided on the international instruments to which the country had acceded. Special programmes for the training of teachers included self-training guides and materials to improve their professional level.
To eliminate sexual stereotypes in the curricula, main pre-school and primary school programmes were being reviewed, and training for teachers was provided. The plan on the prevention of violence for the period ending in
2006 included an education segment at all education levels. Special efforts were made to improve girls’ access to education and technology. However, the Government was aware of the gap in the education of boys and girls, and it intended to take action in that respect. As for the reason for the gap between education and health indicators, she said that further investments in human resources were essential. The delegation would analyze the recommendations provided by the experts of the committee, and consider further action in that connection.
Regarding family violence, a member of the delegation said that since 1993, when the Commission for the Women and Children had been created, roughly
$3 million had been spent on the fight against violence in the home. A national plan was in place to combat family violence. The country also received assistance from several donor countries and international organizations.
On the public health situation, a country representative described Nicaragua’s mechanisms for health care and said that Hurricane Mitch had undermined the efforts in that respect. Mental health of women and girls received special attention, and preventive procedures for cervical and uterine cancer were provided at various health centers. Training of specialized staff was of particular importance.
Contraceptive methods were being taught at the health centers, she said. To obtain condoms, men had to go to those centers, but they were reluctant to do so. For that reason, condoms were distributed through women. Other available methods included sterilization.
Responding to a series of questions regarding Nicaragua’s intention to ratify the Optional Protocol, another delegate said that various measures favouring ratification had been adopted.
The Constitution had enshrined the inviolability of the right to life, she replied to another question. Regarding protection for the victims of violence, a law established that such measures could be used by the victim in the case of a crime. For example, restrictions could be imposed upon the perpetrator. Sometimes psychological counselling was provided to the minor or to the family where the violence had occurred.
She said that rape, intimidation, or aggression against an individual for sexual purposes, a lack of consent, and so forth were all concepts that were defined by law. In addition, the Constitution banned all forms of trafficking in women. An individual forcing a person to take up prostitution, either within or outside the country, faced punishment of between four to 10 years.
To another question, she said there had been amendments to the Constitution in 1995, and the last modification was in 2000. Overall, some 60 articles had been amended.
Ms. DE ALEMAN, taking the floor again, said that some progress had been made, but that had not been enough to guarantee women’s equality.
To a question about what would happen when international cooperation was reduced, she began by thanking all donor countries, and the United Nations and its Agencies, which had supported the advancement of women in Nicaragua. The budget for the Commission on the Advancement of Women was restricted, although there had been a modest increase this year. Meanwhile, her country was committed to the Convention’s implementation and understood that it must assume its obligations in that regard. Laws had short-term effects; pushing ahead towards sustainable development and greater resources was the way forward. Nicaraguan women, themselves, needed to motivate the process.
Despite the country’s poverty, the devastation of Hurricane Mitch, and the prevalence of “machismo”, Nicaragua was better off than some other countries, she said. A special commission working for women and children had been established, along with a whole network of women battling violence. Indeed, a special day had been devoted to that subject, and a presidential decree had recognized the existence of such violence. It was not only through laws that the problems of Nicaraguan women would be solved, but those laws had provided a legal guarantee, which shaped the future direction of the relevant activities. Even without international cooperation, those would continue.
Rural credit institutions, she said in response to another question, had also been sensitive to attaining gender parity and, in that respect, international guidelines were being respected.
To a series of questions about the role of the Catholic church in shaping policies about women, she said that 80 per cent of the population in Nicaragua was Catholic, but there was no relationship between the Nicaraguan Institute for Women and the Catholic church. The Catholic church was a religion, which any Nicaraguan citizen had a right to practise, but the National Institute for Women was a State body charged with drawing up policies on women’s behalf. The Church and the Institute were two separate entities and there was absolutely no link between them.
She thanked the experts for their valuable assistance and questions, which would provide food for thought. Nicaragua would continue to discharge its responsibilities and would do its utmost to achieve full equality and justice for Nicaraguan women. Certain questions had not been answered, owing to insufficient data. She said the delegation would reply in writing to the committee next week. In two and one-half hours, she could not provide specific responses.
The Committee’s Acting Chairperson, ZELMIRA REGAZZOLI of Argentina, thanked the experts for the questions and noted the importance that the committee attached to the achievement of gender equality in Nicaragua, despite the war, the economic difficulties and the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch. As a country that had ratified the Convention in its second year, the country was making important strides towards gender equality. She hoped that by the time the committee would consider the country’s next report, the Institute for Women would become a Ministry.
The country had also achieved important progress in the fight against violence, she said, having created an entire network of mechanisms and laws concerned with the issue. The Committee was concerned about the persistent stereotypes and prejudices, however. Improvements were needed as far as the problems of poverty and credits were concerned.
In conclusion, she said that the delegation should take into account the experts’ comments. It was important for the country to provide statistics, which would allow the committee to better understand the situation there. In general, she was pleasantly surprised that Nicaragua had been able to achieve such progress since 1985, in view of the serious financing problems it was facing after the war.
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