EXPERTS WELCOME POSITIVE ASPECTS OF TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION MEASURES BUT STRESS PERSISTENCE OF GENDER-BASED CONSTRAINTS
EXPERTS WELCOME POSITIVE ASPECTS OF TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION MEASURES BUT STRESS PERSISTENCE OF GENDER-BASED CONSTRAINTS
Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
536th and 537th Meetings (AM and PM)
EXPERTS WELCOME POSITIVE ASPECTS OF TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION
MEASURES BUT STRESS PERSISTENCE OF GENDER-BASED CONSTRAINTS
While the status of women in Trinidad and Tobago compared favourably in many respects with that of other middle-income developing countries, its women continued to experience a wide range of gender-based constraints, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women heard as it considered Trinidad and Tobago’s reports during two meetings today.
Trinidad and Tobago is one of the eight countries presenting their cases to the Committee -- which monitors State parties’ compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women -- during its current three-week session. Having already begun their consideration of the reports submitted by Fiji, Iceland and Portugal, the monitoring body’s 23 members are still to address the situation in Estonia, Uruguay, Russian Federation and Sri Lanka.
Introducing her country’s reports, Debbie Sirjusingh, Director of the Human Rights Unit of the Ministry of the Attorney General, identified many of her Government’s concerns, including widespread gender-based violence and limited economic power of women, as well as their under-representation in decision-making positions and predominance in the lowest paid and least protected occupations.
However, she stressed that Trinidad and Tobago’s 1990 accession to the Convention signaled the country’s commitment to the global fight to eliminate the discrimination faced by women in all spheres of life. The Government had also made a pledge to address all the critical areas of concern laid out in the Beijing Platform for Action. She went on to describe the national gender-advancement legislation and machinery, saying that the Ministry of Community Development and Gender Affairs sought to specifically address all forms of gender inequality and inequity in the country.
Equal opportunity legislation had been enacted to prohibit discrimination on such grounds as sex, colour, race or disability in the fields of employment, education and provision of goods, services and accommodations. The Government had also launched a comprehensive programme against domestic violence and introduced several initiatives to foster women’s economic rights. Trinidad and Tobago was committed to improving the standard of living of poor women and increasing their productive capacity through access to capital, credit, land, technology and training.
Presenting their views on the country’s implementation of the Convention, the experts noted that national legislation forbidding discrimination had not taken up the definition of discrimination as contained in the Convention. Speakers were concerned about the existence of discriminatory laws in Trinidad and Tobago, some of which excluded women from public office, for example. Also pointed out in the discussion was an apparent lack of a comprehensive, coordinated structure for gender mainstreaming.
Insisting that constitutional rights should be all-embracing, one expert noted that the legal system of Trinidad and Tobago seemed to give citizens a set of rights and then take them away. For instance, women could enforce their constitutional rights if those were violated by certain arms of the Government, but not by private bodies. On the same topic, another member of the Committee said that the language of the Constitution was male-centred, seeming to indicate that men represented women.
The experts expressed concern that, with social support structures still lacking, violence remained a serious reality in Trinidad and Tobago. Deeply rooted traditional patriarchal attitudes perpetuated violence against women. Society seemed to tolerate violence, and the prevailing notion of men as breadwinners made it difficult to implement gender mainstreaming in the country. While the country was doing a good job in trying to find remedies to these issues, a change in attitudes and stereotypes was needed. It was important to achieve greater awareness of violence-related issues, involve men in efforts to fight discrimination, and provide training to the police, the media and legal professionals.
Regarding employment, an expert said “the women got the short end of the stick”, for they did not receive proper protection in many important areas, including the right to work and equal pay. While welcoming the formulation of several important provisions to address those issues, experts wondered when the draft law on equal pay for work of equal value and the minimum wages act would come into force.
Among other problems, experts also pointed out the invisibility of women’s work, their poverty, lack of independence and vulnerability. A coherent, integrated policy was needed to address all of those problems. Also discussed were the family laws. As a country with a multi-ethnic population, aside from State law, Trinidad and Tobago also had Hindu and Muslim marriage laws, with varying and sometimes contradictory provisions for minimal marriage age. Also, while polygamy was officially prohibited in the country, it could still be encountered there.
At 10 a.m. tomorrow, 22 January, the Committee will hear Fiji’s response to questions raised by the experts last week.
The Committee had before it Trinidad and Tobago’s extensive initial, second and third periodic reports under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (document CEDAW/C/TTO/1-3), which provide general information about the country, present the legal framework for the protection of human rights there and describe the implementation of various articles of the Convention.
According to the document, over the past 25 years, efforts have been made to repeal or amend all known discriminatory provisions of law relating to women. By the early 1980s, many CEDAW provisions were satisfactorily addressed by the statute law of Trinidad and Tobago. The preamble to the country’s Constitution refers to the “equal and unalienable rights” of all “members of the human family”. The Constitution does not provide a definition of discrimination, but does state that discrimination by reason of gender is forbidden. The rights of women are also addressed by such instruments as the Married Persons Act; the Status of Children Act and the Family Law Act. Several initiatives have been taken in the country in respect of gender-sensitive training for public officials.
While there is recognition at the official level that gender-based violence is a form of discrimination, it is not formally defined as such, the report continues. It is treated as a violation of the rights of women, however. In 1999, a new Domestic Violence Act was enacted, bringing domestic legislation on a par with international standards as specified by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Also under the country’s legislation, both girls and boys receive compulsory schooling up to the age of 12, and are thereafter entitled to secondary education. Post-secondary education is available on an openly competitive basis. Legislation also provides particular protection of women in the workplace.
One administrative authority with jurisdiction for investigating alleged infringements of human rights in the country is the Ombudsman, who investigates complaints made by individuals concerning administrative acts or decisions of Government agencies. Individuals whose constitutional rights have been violated by any arm of Government or agent of the State, may originate a motion to the High Court for redress. The Constitution provides a right of appeal to the Court of Appeal and a further right of appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in questions relating to the Constitution. The Constitution does not prohibit acts of discrimination by non-State or private bodies, however, nor is there any legislation dealing with such.
Regarding the national machinery for the advancement of women, the reports state that the responsibility for the promotion of official Government policy in that regard is vested in the Gender Affairs Division of the Ministry of Culture and Gender Affairs. In 1998, a draft gender policy was developed to expand the Government’s policy statement of 1987. This document is now being reviewed for national adoption. The country’s medium-term policy framework includes a commitment to incorporate a gender perspective in development planning at the policy and programme levels. The advancement of women is also supported by an active women’s movement, which comprises several women’s NGOs and hundreds of community-based organizations.
Further according to the reports, the Government is committed to a visible policy of gender mainstreaming and promoting the effectiveness of national machinery. The overall status of women in Trinidad and Tobago compares favourably with other medium-income developing countries with respect to such indicators as life expectancy, maternal mortality and the level of education. However, women still continue to experience a wide range of gender-based constraints.
“In practice, there continue to exist entrenched attitudes and behaviours, which perpetrate gender-based violence,” the document states. In this connection, the priority areas of the country’s policy include prevention of domestic violence and change of gender-related behaviour and attitudes. A recently-established Domestic Violence Unit provides a comprehensive response to victims through such initiatives as a 24-hour hotline; awareness programmes; and a community-based information centre.
Regarding special measures affecting women, the document states that no provisions have been made for affirmative action in Trinidad and Tobago. Preferential treatment and quota systems do not exist there, except in respect of maternity leave. The 1998 Maternity Protection Act prevents discrimination against women on the grounds of pregnancy, by providing for a minimum level of maternity leave benefits and protection. Also according to the report, although there is no policy on affirmative action, the Government ensures that all employees have the right to equal remuneration and equal treatment in respect of work of equal value.
On the issue of health, the reports inform the Committee that until very recently, women’s health issues were addressed primarily in terms of reproduction. In Trinidad and Tobago, most female-headed households belong to the low-income segment of the population. Thus, problems of health are related to problems of poverty. Strategies are required to target and reduce such health risk factors as obesity and poor nutrition. At the same time, it is necessary to introduce more extensive coverage of screening programmes for chronic diseases at primary health care facilities. The national health policy in the country has adopted the World Health Organization primary care approach. All regional health authorities have primary health care as their main strategy and budgetary priority.
Regarding abortions, the document says that procurement of a miscarriage is prohibited under the Offences against the Person Act. In fact, medical practitioners can terminate a pregnancy prematurely on certain medical grounds. Abortion is not actively promoted by any agency as a form of birth control, but “is allegedly a practice in at least one of the country’s hospitals”. On HIV/AIDS, the country reports that its incidence among women aged 15 through 19 has doubled between 1989 and 1990. In 1997, women accounted for 45 per cent of all new cases. Persons with the disease continue to be stigmatized in Trinidad and Tobago. Education on the issue is scanty, although information pamphlets are available to the public at numerous medical facilities.
On employment, the report states that special needs and concerns of women are integrated in all employment policies, including legislation. However, there are no policies or programmes in place that specifically protect women in periods of recession, although job creation, social security and public allowance programmes are equally accessible to both men and women.
Introduction of Reports
Introducing his country’s delegation, GEORGE W. MCKENZIE (Trinidad and Tobago) said that the people of Trinidad and Tobago, descendants of slaves and indentured workers, had been free of oppression for some 40 years. He hoped the Committee’s experts would be pleased with the amount of work done by the Government for the advancement of women and creation of a better nation.
DEBBIE SIRJUSINGH, Director of the Human Rights Unit of the Ministry of the Attorney General, apologized for the fact that, despite its efforts, her country had fallen behind in its reporting obligations under Article 18 of the Convention and had not submitted its reports until January 2001. The main reason for such a long delay was the fact that no mechanisms had been put in place to meet the reporting obligations, and insufficient resources had been allocated towards that end.
In January 1999, a Human Rights Unit had been created within the Ministry of the Attorney General in order to strengthen the national reporting capacity under international human rights instruments, she continued. To provide the Unit with the data it needed, the Government had appointed a Human Rights Committee comprising representatives of 13 Ministries and one representative of the Tobago House of Assembly. The country had also participated in several workshops on reporting under the Convention.
The accession by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women on 11 January 1990 signaled its commitment to the global fight to eliminate the discrimination faced by women in the enjoyment of their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Emerging from the dynamic process of Beijing and its recent review at the United Nations conference in the year 2000, the Government had made a pledge to develop and implement measures to address all the critical areas of concern laid out in the Beijing Platform for Action. In its efforts, the Government continued to be assisted by a number of active non-governmental and community-based women’s organizations. While some of those organizations received partial governmental subventions, heavy reliance was placed on external and other sources of financing.
While the status of women in Trinidad and Tobago compared favourably in many respects with that of other middle-income developing countries, women there still continued to experience a wide range of gender-based constraints, she said. The phenomenon of gender-based violence in the form of sexual attacks on women and young girls was pervasive in Trinidad and Tobago and had been the subject of the Government’s concern for decades. The limited economic power of women was evident throughout the country. Women predominated in the lowest paid and least protected occupational categories. Few women had been able to ascend to the top positions, especially in the private sector. Women also remained under-represented in the Parliament.
Describing the national gender-advancement machinery, she said that the Ministry of Community Development and Gender Affairs sought to specifically address all forms of gender inequality and inequity. Consistent with the global shift towards gender issues in development, in 1997 the Women’s Affairs Division had been renamed the Gender Affairs Division.
Turning to violence against women, she said that between 1990 and 1996, 39 domestic violence-related murders had been committed in Trinidad and Tobago. To address that disturbing trend, the Government had launched a comprehensive programme against domestic violence, which included the establishment of a national hotline; creation of a domestic violence unit within the Gender Affairs Division; a male support programme; and creation of community-based drop-in information centres. Among other efforts were numerous workshops, production of a documentary on incest, and implementation of a domestic violence programme in Tobago. In 1999, a multi-sectoral team had been established by the Government to prepare the national policy on the matter. Important legal changes had also been introduced in the country.
She went on to say that the country’s Constitution explicitly prohibited the practice of discrimination by reason of sex. However, realizing that there was a lacuna in the law regarding prohibition of discrimination in the private sector, the Government had successfully enacted new equal opportunity legislation to prohibit discrimination on such grounds as sex, colour, race or disability in the fields of employment, education and provision of goods, services and accommodations. The Act would come into force following the appointment of the Equal Opportunity Commission and Tribunal. Among other legal changes were the Maternity Protection Act and Cohabitation Relationships Act of 1998.
Regarding women’s employment, she said that women continued to be grossly under-represented in positions of power and decision-making in her country. In spite of their higher educational qualifications, they continued to be underpaid in every sector of employment, except when employed by the State. Women’s participation rate in the labour force in 2000 stood at 38 per cent, compared with 61 per cent for men.
To foster women’s economic rights, the Government had introduced several initiatives, which included the establishment of a women’s leadership institute within the Gender Affairs Division; the women’s “second chances” programme; and a conference focused on expanding and developing new markets for women-owned and operated businesses. Trinidad and Tobago was one of the first countries of the world to enact a Counting Unremunerated Work Act in 1996, which required the country’s statistical office to conduct surveys of all unremunerated work, including housework and childcare. In 1998, the Government had also enacted a Minimum Wage Act.
Continuing, she said that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago was committed to improving the standard of living of poor women and increasing their productive capacity through access to capital, credit, land, technology and training. It was also committed to providing free secondary education for all students. Two Government-piloted projects had been undertaken to train women in such non-traditional areas as masonry, plumbing and electrical installation. To reduce the incidence of gender stereotyping, a task force had been created to review the educational curriculum for primary schools. Another such force was being established to review secondary school programmes. To expand access to tertiary education, in 2001, the Government had introduced a “Dollar for Dollar” programme, allowing those citizens who wanted to pursue an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree the right to study at half the cost.
The country was also addressing the issues of child prostitution, pornography and the sale of children. For instance, the new legislation included a Children’s Act, which brought national laws in conformity with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. That Act abolished the right of a court to order corporal punishment on persons below 18 years of age and prohibited the use of corporal punishment in schools.
Also covered in the country’s presentation were the issues of health. Ms. SIRJUSINGH said that her Government was committed to ensuring that women enjoyed the highest standards of physical and mental health. Accessible and affordable primary and secondary care, as well as sexual and reproductive health were among the goals. To increase the participation of women in politics, the country had hosted a regional conference on the matter in July 2001. A network of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for the advancement of women continued to work with female politicians to make sure that their voices were heard. The Gender Affairs Division supported those initiatives with funding and technical assistance. Eight women had been appointed Cabinet Ministers by the country’s new Government.
Committee Chairperson CHARLOTTE ABAKA (Ghana) thanked the delegation for the additional information provided. She was particularly happy that the oral presentation mentioned the issue of women’s mental and physical health at the menopausal age. She commended the Government for the establishment of a unit within the Ministry of the Attorney General. Because of the establishment of that unit, it had been possible for Trinidad and Tobago to do what was expected under the obligations of the Convention. Trinidad and Tobago deserved commendation for the many laws it had put in place.
In the ensuing debate, speakers congratulated the Government for providing a detailed and frank -- albeit late -- report, which provided a good picture of the situation in that country. They applauded the establishment of the new Human Rights Unit, one which developing countries should emulate and learn from. One speaker asked if any efforts were under way to ratify the amendment to Article 20.1 of the Convention as well as the Optional Protocol. Were there any efforts to withdraw its reservation under article 29 of the Convention?
Trinidad and Tobago had made impressive changes in the situation of women, one speaker said. There were two methods for enforcing rights, namely the High Court and other judicial reviews. The High Court had only 14 per cent female representation, however. Was the High Court the main court to address the issue of discrimination, and why were so few women represented there? Non-State actors were not subject to Constitutional provisions. In the context of the country’s economic transformation, however, there were many areas in which the absence of Constitutional remedies inhibited women’s rights. Were they thinking of changing that provision in any way?
Although there was an impressive series of laws for equality in Trinidad and Tobago, said one expert, there were still cases of discriminatory provisions, including the exclusion of women as public officers, one expert said.
Regarding measures to address violence, including the sexual offences act and the violence unit, experts remained concerned with the fact that violence was a serious reality in Trinidad and Tobago. Social support structures were still lacking. Society seemed to tolerate violence and there was the prevailing attitude that there was nothing wrong with a boy hitting his girlfriend. While the country was doing a good job to find remedies to these issues, structural change in attitudes and stereotypes was needed.
One expert said the report provided an exceptional premise not only for the current discussion but for the country’s next report. Regarding the adoption of a law to eliminate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, it appeared that a new criminal punishment had been introduced on sexual relations between women. Could the delegation spell out details as to that law and how, if it indeed existed, it was being implemented? Another speaker noted that the Government had been active in repealing outdated legislation and asked that the Committee be kept abreast of which legislation had been repealed.
Another speaker wanted to know about new legislation, such as equal opportunities legislation, that had been enacted but not yet enforced. The new act was important to ensure equality in the private sector. What were the contents of that new legislation?
One expert noted that the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago seemed to give citizens a set of rights on the one hand and then take them away on the other. She was happy that women could enforce their constitutional rights if they were violated by certain arms of the Government. Those rights, however, were not available if the violations were committed by private bodies. Constitutional rights should be all-embracing. What steps were being taken to see that there would be constitutional provisions for women to enforce their rights against private bodies?
Another speaker was concerned that the Constitution allowed for discriminatory legislation. Were there plans to change the Constitution in that regard? Provisions forbidding discrimination had not taken up the definition of discrimination as contained in the Convention. The speaker was also concerned about the existence of discriminating legislation against women. While several efforts had been undertaken, they did not seem to have had the effect of legal change. Was there an ongoing review of discriminatory legislation, and what was the time frame to change such legislation? The Equal Opportunities Act seemed to exclude sexual orientation and preference. Did the Government support discrimination against gay men and lesbian women in the areas covered by the Equal Opportunities Act?
Regarding the Office of the Ombudsman, another speaker asked for a breakdown of complaints received by that Office. What kind of findings had been made and did he have the authority to suggest actions to address infringements? Regarding legal aid service, she commended the Government for steps to provide emergency aid. What areas were covered by that service? Did it cover action under the Cohabitation Relations Act? Regarding training for magistrates, had there been a marked improvement since the training had commenced? On the issue of marital rape, did it cover married women on the premise of no consent or did it apply only when there was legal separation or divorce proceedings were under way?
Several speakers noted a weakness in interagency collaboration regarding gender issues, and asked whether any actions were being taken to address the issue.
One expert noted that the provisions of international law did not have a direct effect on domestic law in Trinidad and Tobago. The lack of a concrete definition of discrimination against women and explicit legislation prohibiting discrimination against women were serious gaps. The language of the Constitution seemed to indicate that men represented women and showed a certain male-centric bias.
Another speaker said that penalties and punishments should be stiffened for violence in the home as well as against children and rural women. The report did not go into enough detail on violence against rural women.
A speaker noted that the Convention had not automatically been incorporated into domestic law. Was it a question of principle? Had other treaties been incorporated into domestic law? Where there any cases in which the Supreme Court had used the Convention to interpret domestic legislation? What actions were being taken to inform the public of the Convention? Were people aware of the Convention, and was there a plan of action to disseminate the provisions of human rights conventions in general?
Echoing that concern, one expert wanted to know how knowledgeable women were of the Convention. How frequently did women avail themselves of judicial review through the office of the Ombudsman?
Referring to national machinery, several speakers asked for clarification on the relationship between the various Government bodies.
The report talked of an inter-ministerial committee and a national women’s council comprised of women jurists, an expert said. How were the different ministries intertwined? Was there an equal opportunity plan? What was the “male support committee”? There was an active women’s movement among non-governmental organizations in Trinidad and Tobago. What was the difference between women’s organizations at the grassroots level and other women’s NGOs?
Regarding the National Council of Women, was it mainly a Gender Affairs Division policy or was it a Government policy with all departments involved? a speaker asked. Information was needed on the structures in place for equality mainstreaming. While there were many measures in different areas and a variety of instruments, was it a coordinated policy for which the whole Government felt responsible, or mainly a concern of the Gender Affairs Division?
On the National Council for Women and other bodies in place to advance the equality of women, one expert asked how the Council related to other entities, such as the Gender Affairs Division and the Women’s Bureau for the Advancement of Women. Regarding the Ombudsman, the issue of accountability should be looked at, especially if the Ombudsman were to investigate complaints by Government, in which there could be a conflict of interest.
Another speaker noted the absence of a women’s plan of action or a monitoring mechanism to monitor gender mainstreaming. Was resocialization a cross-cutting programme, and was it integrated at the local level and in the public and private spheres?
On gender mainstreaming, one expert said there seemed to be a lack of comprehensive, coordinated structures. Was there the political will to institute such structures, and were there financial resources to do so? Was there a parliamentary committee to deal with gender equality questions, and was there
governmental regulation regarding gender impact assessments? Some of the ministries seemed to work without consulting the Ministry of Women and Culture.
Regarding the draft gender policy developed in 1998, another expert wanted to know if that policy had been adopted. If it had been adopted, what was the budget for that gender policy? What was the composition of the National Council for Women? How was the Ministry of Education involved in gender mainstreaming?
An expert commented on the fact that 54.8 per cent of female-headed households in Trinidad and Tobago lived on an income of less than $100 a week. Women had a terrible problem supporting themselves and their children, and she wanted to know what social security measures were being taken to address that situation. Also, what was the data on the situation of older women as related to poverty? Did they receive pensions?
It was also stated in the report, she noted, that the achievements of women and their level of education seemed to be in contrast to their under-representation in politics and leadership.
An expert said that according to the country’s presentation, maternity protection was available to women every two years. As far as she knew, it was only available for the first child. She wanted to know how many times a woman could take advantage of the Maternity Protection Act and what were its exact provisions. Questions were also asked about other legislative acts, including the occupational safety and health bill. An expert commended the Government for amending its law on household assistance, for not many countries had done that.
The reports said that the notion of men as breadwinners still prevailed, making it difficult to implement gender mainstreaming in the country. Deeply rooted traditional patriarchal attitudes also perpetuated violence against women. It was important to achieve greater awareness of violence-related issues, involve men in efforts to fight discrimination, and provide training to the police, the media and legal professionals. As the report did not provide enough details about some of the programmes described there, several experts wanted to receive additional information in that respect. An expert asked if domestic violence was defined as a crime under the country’s law.
It was gratifying to find out that marital rape had recently become subject to prosecution in Trinidad and Tobago, an expert said, also requesting additional data on prosecutions, convictions, and sentencing of sexual violence cases. What was the nature of protection orders? How were the men breaking those orders prosecuted? She also wanted to know about the criminalization of lesbian relations under the country’s law.
Questions were also asked about incest, guardianship and adoption laws, penalties for domestic violence offences, measures to fight sex tourism, and the treatment of prostitution under the law.
Continuing their article-by-article consideration of Trinidad and Tobago’s implementation of the Convention, one expert noted that there was no mention in the report on the trafficking of women. Also, there was no law on harassment in the workplace. If it did exist, why had Trinidad and Tobago not pursued the adoption of a law against it?
On women in political life, one expert asked why there had not been a higher percentage of women in the political or decision-making areas. Was greater awareness of the issue needed? Opening increased political participation to women must be effected not only by offering training but also by making sure that society relinquished defined gender stereotypes. Women must be promised a place in politics. Had a quota system for participation in politics been envisaged? Was there a policy to ensure a real change in the current situation?
The major obstacles for participation in political life, as described in the report, were traditional machinery -- the “old boys” network -- domestic responsibilities and institutional mechanisms, an expert noted. While the report contained a description of the current situation, it did not contain a strategy to deal with the issue of women in politics and decision-making.
Ms. ABAKA (Ghana) commended the Government of Trinidad and Tobago for passing the Citizens Act, which granted women equal rights to transmit nationality to their children. According to the report, however, where there was joint adoption of a child, citizenship was acquired only when the male adopter was a national. That was a serious violation of the equal rights of women.
Another expert congratulated Trinidad and Tobago for far-reaching changes in the legal system inherited through British colonization. She noted, however, that when a child was born abroad, the child could be registered as a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago only when paternity was identified. That was in conflict with family laws which recognized the concept of equal parental rights. What was the rationale for that contradiction?
Another expert asked if Trinidad and Tobago had a problem with literacy. If so, were there programmes to deal with it? How many women as compared to men had free access to secondary education?
Further on the issue of education, one expert asked what percentage of primary schools and secondary schools were co-ed. Were differences on curricula determined by gender? It seemed that the current curricula did not contain a gender concept. The studies that girl students seemed to continue were the customary feminine courses, whereas boys took masculine courses of study. The chain of discrimination started at the school level. Teacher training was a positive and necessary step.
Another expert was alarmed that the right to education was not enshrined in Trinidad and Tobago’s Constitution. Education was a fundamental right. What was the educational system in Trinidad and Tobago and who was responsible? Did municipalities have their own school programmes? Were there private schools in Trinidad and Tobago and how were they financed?
Regarding resistance to family-life education, it was important to understand the reasons for such resistance, a speaker noted. What measures had been taken to counter resistance? It was important that equality be built into family life. Family life education had been included in the core curriculum of the teacher’s college. Unless teachers were trained to develop gender equality in the family, education would not support gender equality but rather perpetuate a cycle of gender inequality. Continuity of efforts was needed. It was important not only to train the present actors but to incorporate a gender perspective into training.
As the Committee turned to the issues of employment, an expert said that from reading the reports, one got an impression that “the women got the short end of the stick”, for they did not receive proper protection in many important areas, including the right to work and equal pay. She appealed to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to address those issues when the bill on employment was enacted.
Questions were asked regarding the enforcement remedies and compensation for women who filed complaints in connection with discrimination in the workplace. While welcoming the formulation of several important provisions, experts wondered when the draft law on equal pay for work of equal value and the minimum wages act would come into force. Would the work bill cover the private sector? What was the definition of sexual harassment?
It was laudable that the country was addressing the issue of unremunerated work, a speaker said. What was the purpose of that exercise, however? Would women remaining at home be compensated in a case of divorce, or would their rights be recognized under the law?
On the issue of women’s health, an expert commended a balanced distribution of public health facilities between the rural and urban areas in Trinidad and Tobago. She was glad to have received information regarding the health status of menopausal women from the oral presentation of the reports today. It was important to take measures to resolve the serious problem of teenage pregnancy and motherhood. Also of great importance were family planning programmes, reproductive health education and programmes educating women on the dangers of drug, alcohol and tobacco use. Did people living with HIV/AIDS also encounter tuberculosis problems? As women forced into prostitution were also likely to use drugs, she wanted to know if any programmes were in place targeting sex workers as far as drug use was concerned.
Among other problems, experts also pointed out the invisibility of women’s work, poverty, lack of independence and vulnerability. A coherent, integrated policy needed to address all of those problems.
How many women enjoyed subsidies and under what conditions? an expert asked. Why were women not given assistance before the age of 40? Did the gradual increase in the participation of rural women in the development have to do with the policies of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in its Port of Prince Office? Were rural women able to access loans? In the case of adult rural women, had the Government planned training courses for the older women?
Although one quarter of the population were rural women, there was no policy for them, an expert said. What, if anything, was being done for rural workers? The oral report today provided no information on the subject.
Trinidad and Tobago was a country with pluralistic legal systems and a multi-ethnic population, a speaker continued. On the difference in the marital age and the law under the Hindu and Muslim Marriage Act, she noted that the
Convention prohibited child marriage as did the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Was the Government addressing that problem? Child marriage was also a health issue. The Constitution respected family life and privacy. Was there any mention of introducing reform on the basis of the public good, recognizing that child marriage was not permissible under international obligations and was contrary to the girl-child health needs? Regarding laws on domestic violence, was there a “no-drop” policy in which the State ensured that it could move in even when the woman did not want to act? It was not just a matter of privacy but of a normative violation of the laws and an infringement on human rights.
Laws were only important if they were implemented, an expert said. Was there any information on discriminatory practices such as the purchase of a women and circumcision? It was not enough to say that statistics were not available. There must be confirmation that such phenomena did not exist. On the inheritance law, she was aware of the difficulties for Muslim women to inherit property. Regarding the minimum marriage age of 12, did the Muslim community strictly apply that law? Some Muslim countries had secular regimes, such as Turkey, and had overcome such difficulties through great effort.
On the issue of minimum marriage age and polygamy, another expert said that young marriage led to certain health issues. Where there statistics on health issues arising from child marriage, and what percentage of young girls under the age of 16 actually got married? The Muslim marriage age was 12 years, whereas the compulsory school age under the education act was between 6 and 12 years, meaning that every child up to the age of 12 must attend school. Had the Muslim marriage act taken the cue from the minimum age set by the education act? Assuming that it had, now that the country had a new education policy, would Trinidad and Tobago think of making secondary education compulsory and raise the minimum marriage age to 18, with the hope that no girl below the age of 18 would drop out of school?
On the issue of polygamy, she noted that polygamous marriage was not recognized by the Government. It did exist, however. Could the Government’s awareness of its existence encourage polygamous marriage? Were there any statistics on cases of bigamy? What was the point of having the law if it was not followed?
Another speaker saw a contradiction between the marriage age under the Muslim law and the criminal provisions of the sexual offences act, which set the age at 14. Was it then considered rape in marriage? There was a legal contradiction. What was the Government doing to enlighten the Muslim community, and could it be an incentive to raise the age for the Muslim age of marriage?
At the conclusion of the experts' comments, Ms. SIRJUSINGH said that her delegation would answer the questions raised during the discussion on Tuesday,
29 January in the morning.
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