LANDMARK CONSTITUTION CREATES ENABLING ENVIRONMENT FOR WOMEN, UGANDAN MINISTER TELLS COMMITTEE

9 August 2002
WOM/1355

LANDMARK CONSTITUTION CREATES ENABLING ENVIRONMENT FOR WOMEN, UGANDAN MINISTER TELLS COMMITTEE

09/08/2002
Press ReleaseWOM/1355

Committee on the Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

575th & 576th Meetings (AM & PM)

LANDMARK CONSTITUTION CREATES ENABLING ENVIRONMENT FOR WOMEN,

UGANDAN MINISTER TELLS COMMITTEE

Experts Urge Repeal of Remaining Legal Discrimination

One landmark achievement in the observance of Uganda's international obligations had been the adoption of a new Constitution in 1995, that country's Minister for Gender, Labour, and Social Development told the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today, as her delegation presented the third periodic report on Uganda's compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which it joined in 1985. 

The Constitution emphasized respect for human rights and freedoms and affirmed the equality of all persons, Minister Bakoko-Bakoru Zoe told the Committee as it continued its exceptional session which is being held to reduce the backlog of country reports.  She said Uganda’s Constitution also prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex, age, ethnic or other social status and obligated the State to institute affirmative action in favour of disadvantaged groups. 

She said that an enabling environment for the advancement of women had also been built around the formulation of a decentralization policy, an economic recovery programme and a poverty-reduction strategy, which highlighted gender as a guiding principle for programmes aimed at the eradication of absolute poverty by 2017.  Indeed, the economy had grown an average yearly rate of 6.5 per cent and poverty levels had declined. 

At the same time, the proportion of women in decision-making posts had risen considerably, from 17 per cent in 1994 to 39 per cent today.  Women now held such key posts as Vice-President, Deputy Chief Justice, Deputy Speaker of Parliament, and Deputy Inspector-General of Police. 

Acknowledging her country’s difficult national and regional circumstances, members of the 23-expert Committee commended the Ugandan Government for those gains, but expressed concern about a lag between the Constitution’s prohibition of laws, cultures, customs or traditions that infringed upon the dignity, welfare or interests of women on one hand, and the amendment or repeal of key pieces of discriminatory legislation on the other.  Experts emphasized that harmonization of the legal sphere with the advancement of women on the ground was not possible without corresponding effective social policies.

The expert from Nigeria worried, for example, that Uganda’s domestic relations and sex offence bills and Land Act had been awaiting discussion for seven years.  That was more than enough time to pass a bill, she said.  Similarly, the expert from the Republic of Korea said there was no excuse for the Government to avoid its responsibility to ensure that all laws fell in line with the Constitution.  She urged the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development to take the initiative in developing concrete plans and a timetable for implementing the national action plan for women.

Urging the Government to adopt laws to supplement the women’s Convention and implement its provisions, the expert from Cuba said that for women whose lives had been scarred by certain traditions and cultural practices, the Government should develop systematic educational programmes starting at the community and grass-roots levels to change mindsets about traditional discriminatory customs.  Among the most serious problems facing Ugandan women were domestic violence and female genital mutilation, in which the Government must intervene, she stressed.  

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 12 August, to continue its consideration of country reports.

Background

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met today to consider the third periodic report of Uganda (document CEDAW/C/UGA/3).

Covering the period since 1995, the report states that since the Government ratified the Convention and submitted its initial and second reports, steps have been taken towards the development and advancement of women in the political, social, economic and cultural fields.  Those steps include:  promulgation of a gender-sensitive Constitution; establishment of a national machinery for the advancement of women; adoption of the National Gender Policy and National Action Plan on Women; inclusion of gender in the President's election manifesto of 1996; legislative reform; and affirmative action in various fields, especially in decision-making, credit facilities and education.

According to the report, the high levels of economic hardship had led to a possible increase in prostitution.  While there was insufficient data on the practice, there was a distinct link between prostitution and poverty, as the majority of women engaging in the practice did so for economic reasons.  An increased number of women were migrating from rural areas to urban centres in search of work, but many lacked the necessary skills and training to join the formal sector.  The problems of raising the necessary capital to engage in other enterprises could mean that they ended up on the streets as prostitutes. 

The report says that the lure of prosperity or financial security for orphaned girls is a basis for trafficking from Uganda’s rural areas to the towns.  Many young women have fallen prey to trafficking through the vice of those who have authority over them, especially orphaned girls in the care of their relatives.  Some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have set up clinics and slum aid projects which assist and advise prostitutes on sexually transmitted diseases.  Such NGOs include Hope after Rape and the Slum Aid Project. 

On the question of sex tourism, the report finds that the expansion of the tourism industry in Uganda as a result of peace and political stability poses a real threat to young women and girls.  In sex tourism, tour operators include sex with prostitutes as part of the holiday package.  Statistics on the magnitude of that practice are also not available because the operations are underground and the authorities are unable to detect it.

Concerning armed conflict, the report notes that internal armed conflict in northern and western Uganda has resulted in the abduction of many young girls and women who are forced to serve as sex slaves to rebel commanders and soldiers.  Many girls and women who have escaped from captivity testify to being subjected to sexual slavery.  Certain NGOs have documented situations of armed conflict in different parts of the country.  Psycho-social support services are offered by some NGOs as well as the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

The Penal Code was enacted to combat trafficking in women, the report says.  It does not specifically use the term trafficking in women, but one section prohibiting procurement may be exploited in the fight against trafficking in women for the purpose of prostitution.  It stipulates that any person who, among other things, procures or attempts to procure any girl or woman under the age of 21 to have unlawful carnal connection, either in Uganda or elsewhere, with any person or persons, is guilty of an offence and will be liable to imprisonment for seven years.  The provision could be interpreted as prohibiting all kinds of trafficking in women, whether national or cross-border trafficking.

In a related point, the report states that Uganda’s immigration laws are unfair to women trafficked out of the country for prostitution.  If they are "lucky" enough to break free from the brothel owners or husbands who hold them in bondage and are repatriated on their own volition or otherwise, section 16 of the Immigration (Amendment) Act of 1984 makes their situation a difficult one. 

Under this section, any citizen of Uganda who is repatriated for his or her own fault or misconduct must, within 12 months, pay the Government all expenses incurred in the process.  Failure to repay will entitle the Government to a court order authorizing attachment and sale of property to facilitate realization of the money spent on repatriation.  Women who are repatriated and who have been working as prostitutes would no doubt fall into the category of persons expatriated "through their own fault".

The report also assesses article-by-article compliance with the Convention.

Introduction of Report

BAKOKO-BAKORU ZOE, Minister for Gender, Labour, and Social Development of Uganda, introduced the country’s third periodic report and highlighted the major achievements within the legal and policy environment since Uganda ratified the Convention in 1985.

At that time, the National Resistance Movement Government had ushered in an era of reconstruction, development and peace with a firm commitment to ensuring the observance of human rights and the attainment of social and economic development. 

She said that commitment had been translated into concrete actions through the 1987 Economic Recovery Programme and the formulation of the Decentralization Policy in 1992.  Today, the Government’s development strategy was based on the framework of the Poverty Eradication Action Plan, which, through its multi-sectoral interventions, had the overall goal of improving the livelihoods of all Ugandans, including women, in a sustainable manner.  Uganda’s Poverty Reduction Strategy outlined the mechanisms for eradicating absolute poverty by 2017.  Gender was stated as a guiding principle and that had provided an entry point for the formulation of sector programmes that sought to address the needs of both men and women.

As a result of the relative peace and security over the last 15 years, she said, the economy had grown an average rate of 6.5 per cent yearly.  Poverty levels had declined from a high of 56 per cent of the population living below the poverty line in 1992 to 44 per cent in 1997 and 25 per cent in 2000.  This year, the Ugandan economy had registered a 6 per cent growth, attributable to the good performance of the agriculture and construction sectors.  That enabling environment had provided a foundation for the advancement of women.  A landmark achievement in the country’s observance of its international obligations had been the promulgation of a new Constitution in 1995.

She said the Constitution emphasized respect for human rights and freedoms, and affirmed the equality of all persons.  It also prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex, age, ethnic or other social status, and obligated the State to institute affirmative action in favour of disadvantaged groups for the purpose of redressing structural and social inequality.  Further achievement had been the adoption of the National Gender Policy and the formulation of the National Action Plan on Women, both guiding development strategies and interventions for women’s empowerment.  Other measures taken to strengthen the legal and policy framework included law reform informed by research.

Through the affirmative action policy, she said, the proportion of women in decision-making posts had risen considerably, from 16.9 per cent in 1994 to 18.5 per cent in 1997, and 39 per cent today.  Among women in top decision-making positions were the Vice-President, the Deputy Chief Justice, Deputy Speaker of Parliament, and the Deputy Inspector-General of Police.  The Government, together with civil society organizations, had supported the affirmative action policy by strengthening women’s political participation through training programmes in leadership skills, assertiveness, public speaking, development planning and financing.  The Government had also carried out capacity-building programmes for women leaders and lawyers at the district and sub-county levels.  The women leaders had also been given handbooks and guidelines to assist them in executing their duties.

She noted that the national machinery to oversee gender mainstreaming and women’s advancement had facilitated the promotion of women’s status within the policy and institutional framework.  Another mission of government was social protection and transformation of communities, with emphasis on poor and vulnerable women, children, disabled and the elderly.  Part of her Ministry’s mandate was to facilitate monitoring and evaluation of Government programmes from a gender- and rights-based perspective.  The Government had instituted broad policy reforms to respond to the needs of the poor and marginalized and increased funding was facilitating their implementation.

In the education sector, she said, the Government had formulated the Universal Primary Education Programme.  That programme had enabled 6.9 million children to enroll in school by 2001, 3.37 million of whom were female.  In addition to classroom attendance, the Government had a target of improving the learning environment through the provision of sanitation facilities, by which school latrines were being provided to meet the needs of girls and children with disabilities.  Also, clean water had been made available to the majority of schools.  The education sector continued to benefit from the largest share of the budget at 26 per cent. 

She highlighted an affirmative action policy of awarding 1.5 bonus points to females entering the Government university, which had resulted in a doubling of female enrolment to 38 per cent by 1999.  Functional adult literacy was another priority programme under her ministry.  Since its inception in 1992, a total of 215,477 women and 41,043 men had acquired literacy and numeracy skills.  Another important areas was the water and sanitation sector.  Targets were being met to reduce the distances walked by women and children to collect safe drinking water.  Rural safe water coverage in the last decade had risen from 40 per cent in 1990 to 55 per cent in 2002.

Through a multi-sectoral approach to combating the AIDS epidemic, prevalence rates had fallen to an average of 6.1 per cent in 2002 from 22 per cent 10 years ago, she said.  Special focus was placed on awareness, voluntary testing and counselling, as well as the prevention of mother-to-child transmission.  Other priorities were agricultural modernization, primary health care and the rehabilitation of roads in rural areas.

The Government had also responded to the Convention’s call for the eradication of gender-based abuse and violence, she said.  Currently, violations against women and children were handled under the Penal Code Act.  Other measures were also being undertaken, including the establishment of family protection units at police posts as well as sensitization and awareness-raising.

Noting that Ugandan women were involved in peace-building and conflict-prevention, she said they had added their voices to the “cry for peace”.  Recently, women had been involved in disbanding the rebellion in the northwest region, where rebels and their commanders had killed innocent people.  Still, Uganda a faced a number of challenges in fulfilling the obligations of the Convention.  The social and economic challenges of a poor country limited the extent to which it could provide adequate services to its people.  There was also a need to generate sex disaggregated data to guide policy and programme formulation and monitor the impact of the Government’s interventions.  Also, traditional and deeply rooted attitudes and practices prevailed, as did instability in some parts of the country. 

Experts’ Comments

CHARLOTTE ABAKA (Ghana), Committee Chairperson, commending the Government of Uganda for the progress made with regard to women’s participation at the decision-making level, said she was particularly intrigued with the woman Deputy Speaker of Parliament, an area in which women were less represented globally.  Hopefully, by the next report, there would be a woman Speaker.

FATIMA KWAKU, expert from Nigeria, congratulated the Government for having done very well in spite of its difficulties.  Particularly heartening was the positive impact of Uganda’s affirmative action policy, which had resulted in, among other things, a woman Vice-President, Deputy Speaker of Parliament and Deputy Inspector-General of Police.  It was hoped that those women were not mere figureheads but were contributing positively to the development of women in Uganda.  She also commended the Government on its educational policies and the fight against HIV/AIDS. 

At the same time, she noted there were certain areas in which Uganda fell far short of expectations.  One of the most serious areas in which it had not done enough to implement the Convention was in translating into the local laws the sound principles contained in the National Constitution.  She pointed out the domestic relations and sex offence bills and the Land Act, which had been awaiting discussion and consideration for seven years.  That was more than enough time to pass a bill.

She requested more details on the National Human Rights Commission, such as its composition, membership, and any quotas for women members.  How many cases of violations of women’s rights had come before the Commission and how had they been dealt with? she asked.  How did the mechanism for compensation work under the Commission and who paid the compensation?

Noting that the Ministry for Women had now become the Ministry for Gender, Labour and Social Development, she asked whether that was not in fact a demotion for the former Minister for Women.  How adequate the funding for that ministry and what percentage of budgetary allocations was devoted to that ministry?  Was Uganda reconsidering its policies towards prostitution to protect those women who were pushed into that profession? 

HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, also commended the new Constitution, which represented a bold step for the Ugandan Government.  However, even with the new Constitution, she noticed that many laws were still very discriminatory and should be repealed or amended as soon as possible.  There was no excuse for the Government to avoid its responsibility to ensure that all laws fell in line with the Constitution and to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women.  The Ministry for Gender, Labour and Social Development should take the initiative to do that as well as develop concrete plans and a timetable for the implementation of the national action plan for women.

MARIA YOLANDA FERRER GOMEZ, expert from Cuba, said that laws were needed to supplement the Convention and implement its provisions.  Even then, it was tradition that prevailed in society.  The lives of women were scarred by some traditions and cultural practices and it was necessary to develop systematic educational work focusing on communities and grass-roots development.  Among the serious problems faced in Uganda were domestic violence and female genital mutilation.  What future plans did the Government have to end such practices?  It was also necessary to speed up the dissemination of information and raise awareness of gender problems throughout the country.  Considering the huge obstacle of poverty, had the Government taken the gender perspective into account in its poverty-reduction programmes?

HANNA BEATE SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked for examples from other ministries besides the Ministry for Gender, Labour and Social Development, on how a gender-impact analysis had affected programmes emerging from those ministries.  Was there a duty to attach a statement to every law, policy and programme that came out of a ministry and was it sent to the Cabinet, stating that a gender-impact analysis had been conducted?  Was there a timeframe in which the relevant ministries would tackle discriminatory laws?  Was the issue of land ownership by women being dealt with in the domestic relations bill? 

While impressed by efforts in the area of affirmative action, she wondered whether the greater number of women in microcredit financing schemes was a result of that.  Had temporary special measures created resistance among men and how had they been received on the ground?  Who would decide, and when, on the position of human rights conventions in the legal hierarchy of Uganda?  Also, what were the “doctrines of equity” mentioned in relation to the hierarchy of laws?

MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, noted that in its present state, the Land Ownership Act catered to the needs of women.  Did it consider men and women on equal terms regarding land ownership?

Poverty drove women into prostitution and trafficking, she said, noting, however, that the Government had no programmes to assist them.  Women were further penalized by immigration laws, according to the report.  How did the Government intend to address the situation of women involved in prostitution and trafficking? 

Country Response

Ms. BAKOKO-BAKORU, Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development, stressed the importance of understanding the legislative reform process.  Regarding resistance from her male counterparts, she said that whenever gender-related issues were brought to the floor of Parliament, there was often a negative response.  But through training sessions, women and other parliamentarians had begun to understand the situation better.  For any country with a patriarchal setting, even in the developed world, people had to be educated and sensitized about an issue before legislation could be tabled.  Indeed, Ugandan women had become frontline decision makers.  The Constitution was gender-sensitive and leaders from other countries considered it a model. 

Recalling Uganda’s week-long debate on land law, she said a woman had “moved” an amendment for co-ownership, which had subsequently been defeated.  Certain losses had been bitter for Ugandan women, who had the challenge of uniting to lobby and advocate.  The women who were empowered in academia, civil society and politics had to unite with grass-roots women in a consultative process.

Replying to a question about the Human Rights Commission, she said its head was a woman, but she could not give a precise number of women on that Commission.  However, it had settled several cases favouring women.  In a forthcoming restructuring of her Ministry, she hoped for a strengthened gender department.

Responding to the several questions about the Government’s plans regarding prostitution, she said the dramatic reduction of HIV/AIDS was an indicator that prostitutes understood the risks.  However, there was no law in place that recognized or addressed the protection of prostitutes, though there were sensitization programmes about protection.  Street children had been removed from Kampala and the Government had launched a study to learn the origin of young prostitutes.  Many laws, including some penal codes, dated back to colonial times and their timely amendment was critical for women’s gains.

Concerning violence against women, she commended civil society, saying NGOs had been the voice of women.  However, she could not provide a timeframe for legal reform in that regard.  Noting that decentralization had been implemented in all 56 districts, she said that, starting at the grass-roots level, gender mainstreaming was under way.  The challenge remained achieving true understanding of gender equality and gender equity.  NGOs had undertaken training at the sub-county level, but one still could not find domestic violence workshops or gender-sensitivity seminars.  Interpretations on issues from bride price to gender equality varied by region. 

She said poverty was an area of critical concern that could not be tackled without Uganda’s neighbours.  Peace in the Great Lakes and East African subregions was an imperative for reducing poverty.  “If we continue to close our borders, poverty will continue to bite”, she added. 

Gains made at the rural level had included women’s receipt of microcredit, she said.  Overall, the country was moving towards a system of microfinance.  To a question about how men had responded to the 30 per cent affirmative action rule, she said that had now been accepted. 

Comments by Experts

AYSE FERIDE ACAR (Turkey), Committee Vice-Chairperson, found it strange that a non-discriminatory domestic relations law might be feared to lead to the break-up of families.  She requested more information on the President’s concerns in that regard.  What was behind the notion of ensuring that the law did not lead to a break-up of the family?  Sometimes women’s rights were misperceived as detrimental to the institution of the family.  The Convention and the Committee never saw such a correlation.  In fact, women’s rights could only lead to the strengthening of family life, she added.

IVANKA CORTI, expert from Italy, said the Committee would be pleased if many countries followed Uganda’s example, adding that the same time, the Committee was well aware of the difficulties the country had encountered in implementing the Convention.  Uganda had overcome the first major step and now it was important for the country to ensure that it did not fall behind.  She sought to know more about the country’s equal opportunity commission, which was provided for in the Constitution. 

Noting the growing phenomenon of prostitution and the fact that the Government had not put in place sufficient measures to assist women, she asked whether the Minister agreed with the term genital “cutting”, which was different from the term “mutilation”. 

FRANCES LIVINGSTONE RADAY, expert from Israel, highlighting the Uganda Constitution’s prohibition of cultural practices which discriminated against women (article 36.6), said the report stated nevertheless that a number of measures discriminated against women, such as the legality of polygamy and discrimination against women in adultery and custody law as well as travel restrictions.  All of that was part of the legal system and the prohibition of such discriminatory laws did not seem to be part of the proposed domestic relations law.  How did the Government intended to address such laws?

SAVITRI GOONESEKERE, expert from Sri Lanka, congratulated the Government on the adoption of its Constitution but nevertheless, expressed concerned that there was an “unfinished agenda”.  To make the constitutional provisions real, a legal process was needed to challenge existing discriminatory laws.  What about legal education?  Were there good law schools?  What about judicial training and continuing education for lawyers?

ROSALYN HAZELLE (Saint Kitts and Nevis), Rapporteur of the Committee, was concerned about the lack of measures to provide alternative means of support for women engaged in prostitution.  She asked about plans to address that because according to the report and the responses provided, besides arresting and prosecuting the prostitutes, the Government was not taking any other actions to combat prostitution.  She also requested further information about immigration laws and repatriation provisions.  She also sought clarification on the activities held under the theme of stopping violence against women, in connection with this year’s commemoration of International Women’s Day.

Country Response

Ms. BAKOKO-BAKORU, Minister, said she would follow up the Committee’s comments in furthering the gender mainstreaming process.  Women’s Day was a month-long commemoration involving every district. 

On the trafficking of women, she said no data were available; her office had only received information on women who had been abducted.  Efforts were under way to document the incidence of trafficking in women and children for prostitution.  Regarding legal education, training programmes for judges had been launched, she said.

Experts’ Questions

Ms. KWAKU, expert from Nigeria, asked about discriminatory practices relating to the issuance of passports, particularly concerning divorced or widowed women applicants.  When did the Minister expect changes to those regulations?

CHRISTINE KAPALATA, expert from the United Republic of Tanzania, said that while Uganda had come a long way, farther than some of her neighbours, in looking at the 17 years in which the country had lived with the Convention, a lot still needed to be done.  For example, there were a number of discrepancies in the foreign service.  Article 8 of the Convention did not seem to be implemented well and Uganda certainly had the necessary tools to do so. 

She expressed some apprehension regarding the Minister’s and President’s enthusiasm about improving the situation of women and worried that it might not be shared by their successors or by all Ugandans.  Gender mainstreaming was one way to ensure the sustainability of the efforts that the President, the Minister and the Government were making.

Ms. CORTI, expert from Italy, asked how the Government intended to mobilize women to maintain the gains that had already been achieved. 

Ms. GOONESEKERE, expert from Sri Lanka, noting that the passport regulation could be challenged in the courts, said the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development should coordinate with the ministry responsible for immigration to take a proactive role on that issue.  What were the Minister’s views on that and what possibilities existed for legal aid groups to provide women wanting to challenge the regulation with the facilities to do so?

ROSARIO MANALO, (Philippines), Committee Vice-Chairperson, citing the report, said homemaking responsibilities made it difficult for women to take up posts abroad and to join the foreign service.  Could the Government, in the next country report, produce concrete evidence of coordination with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs on measures to overcome that problem and get more women into the foreign service.  She added that she would like to see experts from Uganda on the Committee in the future. 

Country Response

Minister BAKOKO-BAKORU said women were represented in Uganda’s foreign service, though they might not always be in key diplomatic posts.  She would love to see more Ugandan women on the technical team, but they were present in the foreign service.

Responding to a question about how quotas would be sustained, she said that training and education would continue in earnest as long as parents earned enough money to educate their children.  That was key in enabling girls and women to continue to compete.

Regarding passports and travel documents and whether people could legally challenge administrative regulations, she said they could.

A census would be taken next month and built into it would be the elements of a national identify, around which certain norms would be developed.  Discrimination with respect to passports occurred for boys and men as well as women and girls, she added. 

Experts’ Comments

SJAMSIAH ACHMAD, expert from Indonesia, asked to what extent the local curriculum was the responsibility of the national authorities.  Emphasizing the importance of non-formal education and training, she said it was also important to emphasize the objectives of gender mainstreaming and the elimination of discrimination, not just for women, but for everyone. 

Ms. KWAKU, expert from Nigeria, asked whether the various levels of education were free.  If not, was the Government considering making the primary and secondary cycles free?  Also, making the primary and secondary cycles compulsory might be one way of reducing teenage pregnancy.  What was the country doing on the provision of child-care facilities? she asked.  Noting the absence of provision for domestic workers in the labour laws, she asked if Uganda was considering including domestic workers in the labour laws.  Was the Government contemplating enacting laws on sexual harassment?

In the area of health, she was concerned about the high rate of pregnancy among teenage girls.  Apart from sensitization, more drastic measures were needed to curtail that alarming trend, she said. 

NAELA GABR, expert from Egypt, said the next report should include additional information on health care projects.  While there had been a decline in HIV/AIDS, what future programmes were being planned for other health problems relating to women, particularly with regard to family planning? 

Specific policies were needed to deal with employment, she added.  It was necessary to have an overall vision of the problem of employment, particularly employment of women.  Also, women did not have the required social protection and social safety nets.  

Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, said there was a visible sense of revolution in the areas of education and health, but the same could not be seen in the area of employment.  Also, she felt a sense of passivity in the areas of sports and recreation.  Were there any actions or plans to change equal opportunities in that area? 

Ms. CORTI, expert from Italy, noted that the Ugandan economy was mainly agriculture based.  However, women were mainly working in that sector in a non-structured way and were, therefore, overburdened, often working more than 18 hours a day.  What measures were envisioned to protect such a major part of the agricultural workforce?  She requested information on women in the formal sector, both public and private, particularly regarding salaries compared with men.  Was minimum wage ensured and what was the amount? 

On another issue, she asked how, taking into account the drastic cuts in the health budget, how the Government intended to continue its policy against HIV/AIDS?

Country Response

Minister BAKOKO-BAKORU said that cutting the budget in the health sector should not affect efforts to combat HIV/AIDS since a multi-sectoral approach had been taken.  Thus, every ministry had an HIV/AIDS component so that even with a cut in the health budget, the Government would likely be able to sustain its efforts.  Young people were undergoing voluntary testing and using available facilities to a greater degree than adults, she added.

There was no minimum wage in Uganda, she replied to another question.  There was agreement, however, between the workers and the employers.  Regarding an 18-hour work day, she did not know where the expert had heard that since it was just not possible, given that there was only 12 or 13 hours of sunshine.  It was true that women were the backbone of agriculture in Uganda, but they could not work in darkness and there was no electricity in the villages.  Women and men had the same working hours, she said.

She agreed with the need to gather data on private-sector employment.  Replying to another question, she said incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace had not been documented.

Turning to questions about cultural patterns and traditional practices, she said that women, including educated women, had an average of seven children.  Ugandan women felt that babies brought security to a marriage.  Of course, that thinking should be changed, and that meant changing the thinking of both men and women.

Abortion was still illegal in Uganda, except in the case of rape or where the health of the mother was endangered, she said.  She stressed education and on-the-job training as key to development.  The “third bombshell” of HIV/AIDS had struck -- 10 per cent of the country’s children had now been orphaned.  There was child care but no child benefits, she added.

Experts’ Comments

FENG CUI, expert from China, said that in the short span of eight years, poverty in Uganda had been reduced from 56 per cent to 25 per cent, which was remarkable.  Agriculture was an important aspect of the national economy and rural areas should therefore be taken up as a priority area for gender mainstreaming.  How much importance did the Ministry attached to rural areas?  Noting that discrimination against women was deeply rooted in the rural areas, especially in land ownership and access to credit, she said that although the Government had policies to target those areas, without rights over land and resources, women’s rights would remain empty.  What did the Government plan to do in eliminating those deep-rooted cultural practices?  What specific actions was it planning?  In view of rights education for women and training in that regard, would similar training would be offered to men? she asked.

Ms. GOONESEKERE, expert from Sri Lanka, said the Government’s responses indicated that the equal rights of men and women in marriage and the family were accepted in principle, but it was very different in practice.  In trying to harmonize practices with policies, education would be vital.  In that regard, she emphasized the importance of compulsory secondary education and the need for policies to be accompanied by the requisite resources.  It was a challenge, but in those countries which had been able to make a breakthrough, financing education at the secondary and tertiary levels had been the key.  She urged the Ministry to ensure resource allocation for secondary education in addition to free and compulsory primary education. 

Ms. ABAKA, (Ghana), Committee Chairperson, commended the gains made in combating HIV/AIDS.  Emphasizing women’s particular vulnerability due to traditional practices, she recommended strongly that the Government challenge those customs and traditions and give the issue priority.  Unless that was done, good programmes on HIV/AIDS would not achieve their objectives. 

She also expressed concern at the high rate of maternal mortality due to clandestine abortions.  Something must be done to address that issue.  How were patients who went to clinics with induced abortions handled?  Were they treated as criminals? she asked.  Were they given emergency treatment? 

The introduction of user fees or cost-sharing in Government hospitals was common in many developing countries as part of the privatization packages prescribed by international financial institutions, she noted.  Cost-sharing had put women in a very disadvantageous position.  Was it part of a privatization package in Uganda? she asked, warning that such a policy had failed in her own country.

Country Response

Ms. BAKOKO-BAKORU said there was no fee for the use of water in the rural areas but a user fee was charged in hospitals.  It had been introduced under the Bamako initiative.  There was free contraception, including in the workplace, in the form of male and female condoms, but the male condom was much more widely used. 

She agreed with the expert who had warned that maternal mortality rates rose in proportion to the number of abortions.  Funds from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and other countries, which had fostered sexual and reproductive education, had been slashed drastically, owing to cuts by the United States.  The future of all children, whether American or Ugandan, was equally important, she added.

In response to a series of questions, she said the traditional custom of bride price had been distorted, so it was time to decide whether or not it should continue.  A number of studies, including one undertaken in the eastern part of the country, revealed that women had said no more bride price.  Such consultations would continue and eventually the bride price would be dropped.  At the same time, an assessment should be made to determine whether bride price was the sole or main cause of domestic violence against women.

On questions about political participation, she reiterated that the 30 per cent participation of women starting at the grass-roots level was the minimum affirmative action.  In the last Parliament, women had lobbied for a minimum of one-third participation of women in the Council.

Turning to a question about the right to obtain credit in rural areas, she said women had not had to hand over land titles to obtain credit.  On the other hand, women had wanted co-ownership of land with men.  Further consultations were needed since the amendment on co-ownership of land had been defeated.  Regarding poverty alleviation, she said poverty had been reduced to 26 per cent, but that was still bad enough, especially since the truly poor were women and young people. 

Experts’ Comments

Ms. KWAKU, expert from Nigeria, asked whether the Government was considering separate legislation on domestic violence?

Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, noted that under the Penal Code, a married woman was entitled to maintenance for herself and her children.  Perhaps that provision could be used as a channel to change men’s attitude.  Had there been any efforts to enforce that provision?  What obstacles were foreseen in raising that issue?

Ms. GONZALEZ, expert from Mexico, said that despite major legislative reforms and programmes under way, there was still an imbalance in the relationship between monetary resources and equality between men and women, mothers and fathers.  If there was no such equality within the family, then inequality in society as a whole would also be compromised at all levels.

Ms. GOONESEKERE, expert from Sri Lanka, said that a report from the International Labour Organization (ILO) stated that international labour standards were being used in Ugandan labour codes.  She hoped to see information in the next report on similar jurisprudence in the family courts and involving the use of the Convention.

Ms. SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked if the Minister had any intention to initiate with the relevant Ministry the mandate for ratification of the Optional Protocol?  It would be fitting if that ratification came in the current legislative period, particularly in light of Uganda’s early ratification of the Convention.  

Ms. RADAY, expert from Israel, once again referred to the gap between the Constitution and family law.  There were a series of family law measures that were contrary to the Convention and article 33.6 of the Ugandan Constitution, particularly in the areas of polygamy, adultery, custody of children and the condoning of marital rape. All of those customary laws discriminated against women and perpetuated a patriarchal regime.  On sexual harassment, she noted that it was necessary first to define on what constituted sexual harassment. 

Final Country Response

Minister BAKOKO-BAKORU said she understood that children who had seen their parents killed before their eyes, or their mothers raped, needed serious attention, including through the use of psycho-social programmes.  She was grateful for the Committee’s concern and awareness of the problems awaiting further attention in Uganda. She was aware, as were the experts, that if children witnessed violence, they were more likely to become violent adults.

She said she had been a victim of war and a refugee.  Once back in her country, she had tried to offer hope to other refugees by telling them that one day they could find themselves in key decision-making positions within the Government.  The Committee had energized her and she would return home with additional ideas to discuss with her colleagues, the Government leadership and

civil society groups in order to improve those areas where they could still do better. 

In closing remarks, Ms. ABAKA (Ghana), Committee Chairperson, emphasized, among other things, the importance of the Ugandan Government taking very seriously the mental situation of women survivors of armed conflict.

Minister BAKOKO-BAKORU added that women in Uganda had struggled to be participants at the negotiating table, and not just observers.  She had seen results in that regard in Burundi, the Sudan and Somalia.  It must be ensured, however, that women's experiences were documented.

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For information media. Not an official record.