COMMITTEE EXPERTS CASTIGATE SLOW PACE OF PROGRESS TOWARDS GENDER EQUALITY IN URUGUAY

24 January 2002
WOM/1313

COMMITTEE EXPERTS CASTIGATE SLOW PACE OF PROGRESS TOWARDS GENDER EQUALITY IN URUGUAY

24/01/2002
Press ReleaseWOM/1313

Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

Twenty-sixth Session

541st and 542nd Meetings (AM and PM)

COMMITTEE EXPERTS CASTIGATE SLOW PACE OF PROGRESS

TOWARDS GENDER EQUALITY IN URUGUAY

Serious concern over Uruguay’s implementation of the Convention on all Forms of Discrimination Against Women was expressed today by the Committee charged with monitoring the Convention’s implementation.

In two meetings, held this morning and this afternoon, the Committee’s     23 experts considered the combined second and third periodic reports of Uruguay, submitted in compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.  The Convention, which became operational in 1981, requires States parties to eliminate discrimination against women in the enjoyment of all civil, political, economic and cultural rights and sets an agenda for national action to end such discrimination.

Expressing disappointment over the report and the country’s “wishy-washy” replies to the Committee’s questions, one expert said that Uruguayan abortion laws were an affront to the dignity of women.  The Government had not taken action on the issue of gender stereotypes.  Uruguayan women had not been emancipated or empowered.  There was neither de facto nor de jure equality in Uruguay.  All the actions alleged in the report to benefit women were mere words.  In other words, the country had totally failed.

Another expert, noting that Uruguay’s second and third periodic report was some 10 years late, questioned whether Uruguay had the political will to implement the provisions of the Convention.  Uruguay’s sixth report would have been due in 2002.  While Uruguay should be commended for ratifying the Convention as well as the Optional Protocol to the Convention in record time, ratification obliged the Government to fully implement the provisions of the Commission.

Several experts expressed surprise at apparent contradiction between the high level of education of Uruguayan women and their low levels of political representation.  From the report, it seemed that highly-qualified and educated women worked for almost half the wages of men.  Solutions to the problem of domestic violence -- also a matter of great concern -- would only be found when traditional gender stereotypes were changed.

Committee Vice-Chairperson Zelmira Regazzoli of Argentina said that Uruguay had long been a “model of progress” for women in her region of the world.  The fact that Uruguayan women won the right to vote in 1932 was an amazing

achievement.  While it was difficult to change the law, action on Uruguay’s

backlog of legislation could not be delayed and broad dissemination of the Convention was needed.  

Introducing her country’s report, Susan Rivero, Deputy Permanent Representative of Uruguay, said that while Uruguay had taken numerous actions to establish gender equality, various obstacles had slowed the pace of progress, including the State’s meagre resources, which often had to be allocated to areas of urgent need.  The guidance and support of international organizations would help to advance the goal of gender equality in Uruguay.

Uruguay was also represented by the Permanent Representative of Uruguay to the United Nations, Felipe Paolillo, and Minister Counsellor Maria Sereno.

The Committee will meet again tomorrow morning, 25 January, to take up the report of the Russian Federation.

Background

This morning, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was expected to take up its consideration of the combined second and third periodic reports of Uruguay, submitted in compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

The combined second and third periodic report of Uruguay (document CEDAW/C/URY/2-3) says that Uruguay has a long history of gender rights movements.  In 1911, the first section of the Pan-American Women’s Federation was inaugurated in Montevideo.  Women won the right to vote by secret ballot in 1932.  In 1946, the women's civil rights law was adopted, which provided for equal substantive and procedural rights for women.  While women suffered a number of setbacks in the 1970s and 1980s, with the restoration of democracy, women’s issues were once again discussed. 

In 1991 the National Institute for Family and Women's Affairs was established as the first governmental lead agency for policies on women and family, the report says.  The Institute’s plan of action includes six thematic areas, namely legislation, education, labour, health, human rights and the environment.  In 1995, the executive branch submitted a bill to the national legislature to establish the office of Ombudsman.  Although that office has yet to be instituted, the Ombudsman would have broad powers to receive and process complaints of acts and circumstances that represent an illegitimate or inappropriate use of public authority.  Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) also play an important role in the promotion of women’s rights.  Of the country’s    114 registered NGOs, some 17 work exclusively on women's issues.

The problem of violence against women was officially recognized in 1985, the report says.  To address the issue, the first Police Station for the Protection of Women was established in Montevideo to investigate acts of violence against women, identify perpetrators and bring them to justice.  A network of women’s police stations was established and has been extended to some urban and rural areas.  

The 1995 Citizen Security Act incorporated the concept of domestic violence into law, the report continues.  The law amended various provisions of the Penal Code, the Children’s Code and other special laws.  It recognized that implementation of enforcement actions required more coordination between women’s organizations and the State.  Today, measures to reduce violence have been diversified and a “containment network” has been established, consisting of government institutions and NGOs.

In 1991 regulations were issued regarding the remedy known as “amparo” (“protection” or “sanctuary”), the report adds, according to which a woman who believes that her right to equality has been affected may apply for “amparo”.  Although no such actions have yet been brought, in the areas of labour and civil law cases of discrimination against women are examined by judicial authorities.  If verified, they may result in pecuniary damages corresponding to the wrongful act.

Other measures to address violence include a programme for the prevention of domestic violence by the National Institute for Family and Women's Affairs, the report continues.  The programme includes training for public officials dealing with violence.  The Commission for the Dissemination of Information on Women and the Family was also established to assist victims of violence.  The office, which is comprised of police officers, provides victims with primary assistance and physical protection.  Also, since 1992, a permanent telephone service has been operating in Montevideo to assist women victims of violence.  At the international level, in 1996, Uruguay ratified the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women.

Regarding the implementation of the Convention in Uruguayan domestic law, the report says that the current Constitution does not contain any explicit provision on whether national or international legal provisions take precedence.  In the absence of such a provision, the problem has been resolved on the basis of legal doctrine.  The majority of national experts consider that international treaties –- once ratified and in force –- have precedence over ordinary law.  Treaties signed by the State are subject to the approval of the legislative branch of the Government.  Treaties which have been signed cannot be incorporated into domestic law unless they are approved by the legislative body.  Provisions contained in treaties are ranked below those contained in the Constitution.  Once ratified, however, international instruments are implemented by national authorities as mandatory domestic regulations.

Regarding employment, there has been an increase in the number of working women, the report says.  Some 45.5 per cent of women over the age of 14 work.  Women represent about 42.4 per cent of the economically active population in urban areas.  Some 19.3 per cent of women in the workforce have completed tertiary education, which is twice the proportion of men with this level of education.  An act introduced in 1989 prohibits sexual discrimination in the workplace.  The regulations implementing that act were promulgated in 1997 by a decree which establishes several safeguards against sexual discrimination.  The decree prohibits any violation of sexual equality regarding employment, in both the public and private sectors.

The report also says that prostitution is unionized in Uruguay, with most of the some 10,000 prostitutes belonging to the Single Central Union of Workers.  The Parliament is considering proposals to establish clear health guidelines for prostitutes and to register sex workers as self-employed, so that they may participate in the social security system and receive benefits. 

On the issue of education, the report states that the Constitution guarantees the right to education and defines it is as one of the most important human rights.  Compulsory education, which is free, entails six years of basic education and three years of secondary education.  Some 98.9 per cent of 11-year-old children have graduated from primary school and some 90 per cent of young people between the ages of 13 to 15 are enrolled in secondary school.  University education is also free.

Regarding women’s health issues, the report says that breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, accounting for some 37 per cent of all malignancies.  Uruguay ranks first in the Americas for breast cancer deaths and eighth worldwide.  Montevideo has one of the highest rates in the world.  The incidence of breast cancer mortality has doubled in the last 30 years.  A number of measures have been taken to address the situation, including a screening system, a record-keeping system and the establishment of two reference centres. 

Introduction of Reports

FELIPE PAOLILLO, Permanent Representative of Uruguay, said that Uruguay was a supporter of United Nations human rights conventions and was traditionally one of the first countries to sign additional protocols.  The reports indicated some shortcomings in Uruguay’s implementation of the Convention.  One weakness would be in the presentation of the report.  Because of a policy applied in the last few weeks, occasioned by the country’s current economic situation, the Government of Uruguay had not sent staff members from the capital to present the report and respond to experts’ questions.  Uruguay had been the first victim of the South American economic crisis due to its economic dependence on Argentina, whose recent measures had therefore put it in difficult straits.  The Permanent Mission in New York had been entrusted with introducing the reports to the Committee.  While the Deputy Permanent Representative was not an expert on women’s affairs, she had studied the case and would be able to answer the experts’ questions adequately.

ZELMIRA REGAZZOLI (Argentina), Acting Committee Chairperson, asked  Mr. Paolillo to convey the Committee’s gratitude to the Government of Uruguay for ratifying the Convention and the Optional Protocol.  The Committee was aware of the economic difficulties facing the region.

SUSANA RIVERO, Deputy Permanent Representative of Uruguay, said the economic problems facing Uruguay had started in 2001 with an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, which had led to enormous losses for Uruguay.  In 2002, the country was facing difficulties because of the situation in Argentina.  However, she would do her utmost to clarify any questions the Committee might have regarding the reports. 

Uruguay’s initial report in 1985, and subsequent reports, indicated a constant evolution of the situation of women, she said.  Progress had been made in ensuring the full exercise of women’s rights.  At the Governmental level, examples of progress included the establishment of the National Institute for Family and Women’s Affairs in 1991, the Commission on the Rights of Women, which supported  the Institute, the Inter-Ministerial Commission to combat domestic violence in 1998, and certain other norms regarding pregnant and working mothers.  Other actions had been taken to improve women’s health, including family planning, HIV/AIDS education and cancer prevention programmes.  Uruguay had submitted a copy of all norms and regulations for the Committee’s information. 

At the Parliamentary level, various initiatives had been taken in recent years to promote women’s rights, she continued.  A gender equity commission had been established in the Parliament.  Government departments had taken various initiatives, in particular in the municipality of Montevideo.  The Montevideo Commission was a point of departure for activities for other towns throughout the country.  The issues discussed by the Commission had been publicized.  Two other issues were the Office of the Ombudsman and abortion.  Abortion was a sensitive issue, and various measures were before the legislature for discussion.  Uruguay had supported the Plans of Action of the Population Conference and the Beijing Conference.  Through joint efforts, legal instruments had been ratified, including the Inter-American Convention in 1996 and the Optional Protocol to anti-discrimination Convention in May 2001. 

What had been achieved was not enough, however, she said.  Instruments for implementation must be created more swiftly, taking into account gender equality at the normative level.  While Uruguay had established equality of women’s and  men’s rights, various obstacles had slowed the pace of progress.  One of those problems was the State’s meagre resources, which had to be allocated to areas of urgent need.  It was important that international organizations offer guidelines to help countries such as Uruguay to achieve goals more easily.  They should also contribute to the implementation of programmes and projects. 

NGOs often cooperated directly with the State, she said.  Without their input, progress would not be achieved.  Budgetary allocations to the National Institute for Family and Women’s Affairs, which had a vast legal mandate to promote policies to help women, were not sufficient for its work.  Many of its tasks had been carried out, however, thanks to input from NGOs that had offered both financial and human resources.  They had helped to establish a national telephone link, a containment network and shelters for victims of domestic abuse.  They also helped to provide solid data, for example on ethnic minorities. 

Although there was a long way to go, Uruguay was traveling along the road, she concluded.  More and more people were joining the journey, not only at the legal level but at the practical level.  Equal rights for women in Uruguay were becoming a day-to-day reality.

Experts’ Comments

At the beginning of the discussion, several experts expressed their appreciation to the country representatives for finding time to address the Committee.  While understanding why Uruguay had not sent a high-level delegation to speak to the Committee, they regretted that the Committee had missed the  chance to speak to the Government representatives specifically involved in gender policies.  It was gratifying to find out that several new countries from the area had ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention.  Uruguay’s ratification of that instrument confirmed its commitment to the cause of human rights, and in particular women’s rights.

Speakers noted, however, that despite the progress made, the very structure of Uruguay’s reports presented a problem, for they lacked information regarding the implementation of several important Convention articles.  For instance, there was no reference to Article 4 of the Convention on special measures for the advancement of women.  A speaker said that while the efforts to prepare the reports were sincere, the documents did not meet the Committee’s expectations.  They did not follow the prescribed guidelines and failed to provide the experts with the information they needed to fully assess the situation. 

Several speakers commended the Government of Uruguay for the high level of women’s education in the country, but expressed surprise that, given all the legal provisions for the advancement of women, the female population did not fully enjoy the fruits of legislative action.  It seemed that the country was not fully implementing the Convention.  The report did not provide information about the results of the activities of the national gender machinery and the national plan of action for the advancement of women.  It was important to ensure proper understanding among the public of what gender equality meant.   

Regarding the national machinery, questions were also asked about the status and composition of its various structures and about criteria for the selection of their members, as well as the specific provisions of the national plan of action.  Also of interest to the members of the Committee was the role of NGOs in the country.  Who was responsible for gender mainstreaming in Uruguay?

The reports said that, taking into account the scope of the efforts needed, the country should have a significant budget to meet the goals set.  However, the reports gave no information regarding the funds allocated for the implementation of the Convention and the Beijing Platform of Action. 

As far as legal reforms for the advancement of women were concerned, a speaker said that more than 58 proposals had been put before the Parliament in recent years.  However, only 13 had been adopted.  The slow pace of legislative change was a source of concern.  An expert said that several of the country’s laws were outdated.  On the issue of rape, the country still had a provision enabling rapists to avoid prosecution if they agreed to marry their victims.

Was there a difference in the treatment of children born in and out of wedlock? -– a speaker asked.  She was disturbed by the fact that a child born of  a single unmarried woman was awarded his or her name by lottery.  That seemed bizarre. 

Experts also stressed the importance of changing stereotypes detrimental to women, saying that Uruguay seemed to have made insufficient efforts to overcome them.  The stereotypes of masculinity and femininity were entrenched in the country’s society.  Awareness-raising measures were especially important as far as members of the country’s administration and the teaching and legal communities were concerned.  Women themselves should understand the need to make themselves heard.  Sex education programmes were also needed.

The reports failed to describe the situation in the labour market, an expert said.  That was particularly disappointing, because that was an area where patriarchal attitudes were often prevalent.  In economic crises, women were usually the first ones to suffer.  Even though Uruguay had ratified the relevant international instruments and International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions, women still encountered discrimination in the workplace.  For example, women received only 75 per cent of men’s pay for comparable work. 

The experts also wanted to know if any programmes to provide for the needs of the elderly existed in Uruguay.

Country Response

Ms. RIVERO said that there was little high-level participation by women in Government or the political parties in Uruguay.  That was not a case of political discrimination, for women’s equal rights were clearly stated in law.  The country’s Constitution stated that a woman could be elected to any position in Uruguay.  The realities of life also needed to be taken into account, including cultural traditions and the many parts played by women in society.  Economic constraints were also playing a role in the current situation, an expert conceded.

The situation was beginning to change now, she continued.  The new generations were sharing housework more equitably, for example.  However, in general, women were responsible for home duties, and that left them little time to take part in the public life.  Traditionally, public institutions were also “geared towards men”.  However, there were now more women in the Government and in the central administration.  The educational level of women was very high in Uruguay, and they were increasingly taking non-traditional jobs.  Nine women had recently joined the foreign service.

Indeed, the country did not have a national programme to implement the Beijing Platform for Action, she said.  It was felt that the raison d’etre of the National Institute for Women was to formulate the national policies for the advancement of women.  For that reason, no separate programme had been adopted.  In the past year there had been a decrease in the Institute’s activities, because the head of that body had been replaced.

Turning to violence against women, she said that a new bill on the issue was currently before Parliament.  She hoped that it would be adopted in the course of this year.  She agreed that it was not just the legal norms that solved problems, but stressed that some important changes had been introduced into the country’s legislation. 

Wage differentials between men and women had recently become a subject of debate in the country, she said.  There was no differential between men and women in several areas, including the field of education.  In the public sector, there was no wage differential at all -- it existed only in the private sector. 

She went on to say that NGOs played an important role in the country, providing invaluable help to the Government in everything it did.  They participated in the work of multi-disciplinary bodies in Uruguay and help analyze the situation of women in the country.  She added that while it might be true that only 13 out of 58 initiatives on women’s issues had been approved, many legal reforms had been passed in other areas. 

Mr. PAOLILLO, speaking on the lottery system for naming children born out of wedlock, said that the State had approved the lottery during the eleven year interruption of democracy in Uruguay.  The law was still valid.  There was, however, a good intention behind the lottery.  It was an effort to ensure equality for all such children.  The lottery had been part of an effort to combat a negative stereotype.  Given the custom of a child having two surnames – one for the father and a second for the mother -- it was embarrassing for a child born out wedlock not to have a second surname.  The lottery was to ensure that children could have two surnames regardless of whether they were born in or out of wedlock.  The lottery was used only if the parent registering the child did not chose a second surname.

Ms. RIVERO  said there was no distinction between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” children in terms of inheritance.  The law was a remnant of a bygone era.  The law regarding rape was also a remnant of a bygone era.  Even though the law existed, it was not just a question of the victim agreeing to marry the rapist.  There had been no public interest in changing outdated legislation.  People knew that the legislation was from the past and was no longer applied.

Regarding education, she said that efforts were under way to change texts and programmes.  Change was not always easy to introduce, however.  A great debate had arisen last year about changes to texts to include sexual references.  The debate on the way in which sexual issues should be presented to children was still ongoing.  She hoped the matter would be resolved soon and that students would have new textbooks available to them. 

She said that the lack of clear structure in the reports was due to the fact that it consisted of information from many different sources that had to be compiled into one report.  Some of the contributions had come in late, and the person drafting the report had not had adequate time to structure it properly. 

Regarding services to elderly women, Mr. PAOLILLO said that problems facing the elderly existed in a number of countries.  He was currently chairing the Preparatory Committee for the World Conference on Ageing in Madrid.  There had been a proposal to include the gender perspective in the plan of action.  Specific reference had been made to elderly rural women.  Both men and women faced certain issues as elderly people.

Ms. RIVERO said that an annex to the report not yet available to the Committee contained information on issues such as domestic violence.

MARIA SERENO (Uruguay), responding to questions on stereotyping, said the National Institute for Family and Women’s Affairs had established workshops to create awareness of issues such as domestic violence.  The workshops were aimed at police officials and social workers and provided specific information to alter ways of thinking in light of current trends.  The Institute had been supported by the municipalities and the other ministries that were working to provide awareness at all levels.

Comments by Experts

CHARLOTTE ABAKA (Ghana), Committee Chairperson, was gravely concerned about increased teenage pregnancy rates.  Children were having children.  More information on the causes of teenage pregnancy was needed.  Did religion or culture have anything to do with the situation?  Also, some 6 per cent of the Uruguayan population described themselves as black.  The report did not contain information on the representation of black women in all spheres of society.  She was concerned that ethnic minorities were not being considered as equal nationals with equal rights in Uruguay.  The fact that the report had not provided any information on the implementation of Article 4.1 of the Convention, which could be used to improve the situation of minorities, added to her concern.

Acknowledging the difficulties Uruguay was experiencing, an expert expressed hope that the country’s representatives would transmit the Committee’s questions to the Government.  The concerns expressed today should be reflected in the country’s next report. 

Shortage of resources had been put forward as one of the reasons for the weakness of the gender machinery in the country, a speaker said.  However, measures for the advancement of women were not always costly.  In many cases, it was political will and dedication that were required for implementation of the Convention.

Having ratified the Optional Protocol “within record time”, had the Government put any publicity measures in place to make women aware of the rights provided them under that instrument? an expert asked.  [The Protocol entitles the Committee to consider petitions from individuals or groups of women who have exhausted national remedies and to consider inquiries into grave or systematic violations of the Convention.]

Women’s high educational achievements should be translated into many spheres of social life in Uruguay, an expert said. The Committee’s expectations were high in that respect.  It was necessary to install special temporary measures to make women eligible for many high-level positions in the country. 

Once ratified, the Convention had become part of domestic law, another speaker noted.  How was it applied in the legal system of Uruguay?  What remedies under the law did women have in cases of discrimination?  Introduction of specific clauses on gender equality would strengthen the implementation of the Convention and advance the position of women there.  Legal literacy campaigns were also important.

Concern was expressed regarding “child marriages” permitted by law in Uruguay.  Such a situation was in contradiction with the Convention, which did not allow marriage at an early age.

Country Response

Ms. RIVERO said that Article 4 was not being applied in Uruguay.  However, special measures for the advancement of women could be useful in the future. 

Contraceptives were available in the country, and several programmes for the education of young people about their use were in place, she continued.  Religion did not play a particularly strong part in that respect, because the separation of Church and State was provided for by the Constitution.  However, traditional attitudes did come into play.  Efforts were being made to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies, but more needed to be done in that respect.

Regarding the situation of minorities, she said that until recently, information about ethnic groups and race had not been included in the census in Uruguay.  It was only lately that a large NGO had started collecting data in that respect.  That would help the State to tackle the issue.

More and more institutions were being established in Uruguay to address women’s issues, she said.  Better coordination was needed to streamline their activities, and she hoped that under new leadership the National Institute for Family and Women’s Affairs would be able to fulfil that role.

Once adopted by the Parliament, new laws promulgated in the country were published by the Government.  Also, the Women’s Institute was responsible for publicizing the new provisions in respect of the Optional Protocol.

Many women were involved in the judiciary branch, she said.  However, having started later than men, in many cases they occupied lower positions.

Mr. PAOLILLO added that there was an exceptionally high number of women in the legal profession, but that was not reflected at the higher level.  What happened was that women sometimes left early of their own volition, because being a lawyer meant spending “an awful amount of time” on the job.  They often went on to work as advisers and public advocates in private bodies.

Addressing the issue of early marriages, Ms. RIVERO said that they were a vestige of old times.  Work was under way on a bill to change the minimum age of marriage.  Recently, there had been an increase in adolescent pregnancies, and the

law provided them a chance to get married if they wanted.  Efforts were being made to reduce the number of early pregnancies and improve sex education towards that end.

Experts’ Comments

According to the report, “double working days” for the women who were employed were common practice in Uruguay, an expert said.  Women often spent up to 17 hours a day trying to fulfil both their work duties and home responsibilities.  She wanted to know what the Government was doing to address that problem.  Were any special measures contemplated to change existing policies and public attitudes towards women in Uruguay?

The degree of gender equality mainstreaming into all programmes was not clear from the report, an expert noted.  On stereotypes, husbands should not “help” in housework but “share”.  There was no indication of women’s policies and measures regarding the low level of political representation in Uruguay.  If women were so qualified and educated, why were they not “allowed” to enter politics?  The wage gap was also alarming.  While women were highly qualified in terms of education, they received half the wages of men.

On the rape issue, although there had been no request to change the law, it should be changed nevertheless, the expert said.  The delegation should convey that message to their Government.  According to the current practice of “amparo”, an act of aggression could be “pardoned” by marriage.

Also on gender stereotyping, another expert had serious concern about remaining discrimination in Uruguay’s laws.  Regarding punishment for abortion, which was illegal in Uruguay considered worse than according to the report, the judge would reduce the punishment of the sentence if the abortion were committed to preserve the “honour” of the victim.  It seemed that violation of honour was considered worse than the violation of women’s most basic human rights.    

Laws had an important educational function and sent an important message, an expert said.  The remains of the bygone era must not remain when the era was bygone.  Proactive remedies were needed.  Was property divided equally upon divorce?

Regarding violence against women, an expert welcomed the Government’s efforts, including the ratification of the Inter-American Convention and the creation of the Inter-Ministerial Committee to Combat Violence.  The persistence of traditional norms and attitudes regarding violence was reflected in Uruguay’s legislation and in police dealings with domestic violence.  According to the “Citizens Security Act”, the definition of domestic violence indicated that there had to be more than one incident of violence.  That definition would not take into account invisible or one-time acts of violence.  When police dealt with violence as “mediators”, they evaluated risk factors and the likelihood of recurrence.  The role of police was not to “mediate”.  It seemed that domestic violence was not considered a criminal offence but a private matter between couples.  Only when traditional norms were changed could the right solution be found. 

One speaker said that she could not but express her disappointment over the “appalling” report, which completely failed to meet the standards set by the Committee; the status of the implementation of the Convention in Uruguay; as well as the country’s “wishy-washy” replies to the questions posed by the experts.  Referring to a previous statement by a member of the delegation regarding the separation of the Church and State, she asked for an honest answer:  did such a statement correspond to the situation in the country?  Regarding a reply to “a basic question” as to why existing anachronistic legislation in contradiction to the Convention still existed in Uruguay, she said that she had found it disgusting to hear in response that no one in the country was interested in changing the laws.  Legal reform was part and parcel of efforts directed at the advancement of women. 

Summarizing her position, she said that Uruguayan abortion laws were an affront to the dignity of women; there was no action on gender stereotypes; and there was no emancipation, or empowerment there.  Neither de facto nor de jure equality existed in Uruguay.  All actions alleged in the report to benefit women were mere words.  The country had totally failed.

Another speaker wondered if Uruguay had the political will to implement the Convention.  The country’s second and third reports had come some 10 years late.  The fourth and fifth reports should have been presented by 1998.  Actually, the sixth report would have been due this year.  What was really going on? 

It was pointed out that ratification of the Convention obliged the Government to implement its provisions.  While applauding the country for putting equality laws in place, an expert pointed out that not only should discrimination against women be dealt with in the remaining body of law, but de facto equality should also be achieved.  That meant equality of opportunity and effort.  The report did not provide any evidence of efforts to achieve such goals.  She urged the Government to take the Convention seriously, to listen to the country’s NGOs and begin the legal and political implementation of the Convention. 

If the Women’s Institute had been really functioning, the change of leadership would not have affected it, as reported, a speaker said.  The blame should be placed not on the Institute, but on the Government.  She also wondered what was going on in other Ministries and programmes to achieve gender equality. 

Questions were also asked about female-headed households, which constitute 26 per cent of the total; the correlation between maternal death and septic abortions; and the situation with regard to de-criminalizing abortion.

Responding to experts’ questions, Ms. RIVERO said it was true that stereotypes did still exist.  They were focusing on education and promoting the Beijing Platform of Action.  Regarding rape, Uruguay had had advanced legislation earlier in the century.  Some old laws were still on the books.  As society did not demonstrate interest in changing the laws, there was no motivation for the Government to promote change.  Some of the laws should, of course, be changed.   She had taken due note of the concerns raised in the discussion.  On domestic violence and the role of the police, she said the police provided immediate assistance.  Complaints when registered went through the judiciary, however.  Due note had also been taken of the importance of national mechanisms.

The answers she had tried to give today were honest and sincere, she said.  Obviously they did not always reflect her personal opinion.  She was not here to give her personal opinion but to present her country’s report.  Her delegation appreciated the Committee’s interest in the situation of women in Uruguay.  She

thanked the Committee and assured it that its concerns would be faithfully transmitted to Uruguay.

Ms. REGAZZOLI (Argentina) said that as a neighbour, Uruguay had always been a model of advanced progress in the region.  She appreciated the efforts made because it was not easy to defend a report without possessing all the day-to-day details.  It was difficult to remove certain provisions of the penal code.  The backlog of legislation could not continue in light of the array of conventions and treaties Uruguay had ratified.  Broad dissemination of the Committee’s recommendations was needed.

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For information media. Not an official record.