COMMITTEE COMMENDS PERU’S DELEGATION ON ACTIONS TAKEN TO ENSURE EQUALITY OF WOMEN

15 August 2002
WOM/1359

COMMITTEE COMMENDS PERU’S DELEGATION ON ACTIONS TAKEN TO ENSURE EQUALITY OF WOMEN

15/08/2002
Press ReleaseWOM/1359

Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

582nd and 583rd Meetings (AM & PM)

COMMITTEE COMMENDS PERU’S DELEGATION ON ACTIONS TAKEN TO ENSURE EQUALITY OF WOMEN

Some Experts Concerned About Non-Application of Electoral Quotas

Congratulating the Peruvian delegation today on the country’s great progress in enacting legislation to combat discrimination against women and creating a national machinery to promote equality, the expert members of the Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women asked detailed questions about the implementation of laws and work of the various mechanisms.

The Committee was considering the fifth periodic report of Peru on compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women as it continued its exceptional session, being held to reduce the backlog of country reports.

Introducing the report, Silvia Loli Espinoza, Adviser on Gender Issues and Human Rights in Peru’s Ministry of Women and Social Development, said the Ministry had been created to promote gender equity and equality of opportunities for women and other groups that were disadvantaged or discriminated against.  Other areas of coordination and the advancement of women’s rights included the Commission for Human Rights of Policewomen, a tripartite board on population and development, a National Board against Domestic and Sexual Violence and the Afro-Peruvian Women’s Board.

Last March, she said, the Peruvian Political Constitution had been modified to include a quota system for elections.  The Constitution was undergoing overall reform, which included specific measures for affirmative action to eliminate all forms of discrimination.  The marriage age for girls had been increased from 14 to 16 years, harmonizing it with that of boys.  Many efforts had been undertaken to ensure gender equality, equal representation and access in education.  The Law for the Promotion of Education for Rural Girls and Adolescents aimed to ensure equality in rural schools and that girls would attain timely and accurate information regarding puberty and female development.

She went on to highlight gender-related policy schemes initiated by the Government, such as the National Plan against Violence against Women, the National Plan of Action for Children and the National Plan for Older Adults.  The National Plan for the Equality of Opportunities was the main framework within which the public policies for the advancement of women could be developed, she added.

Several experts, however, noting that the country’s electoral quota system for women had not been applied correctly during elections, expressed concern that

subsequent complaints from the Public Defender’s Office and the Women’s Commission of Congress had been discarded.  The expert from Israel suggested that women candidates could seek recourse under the Optional Protocol of the Convention, which the country had ratified.  Other experts were concerned that the Convention did not enjoy the same status under Peruvian law as other human rights treaties.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 16 August, to take up the fourth and fifth periodic reports of Argentina.

Background

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) met to consider the fifth periodic report of Peru (document CEDAW/C/PER/5), which reports on progress in implementing the Convention from July 1998 to July 1999, particularly in the legal sphere.

Among the primary benchmarks used were the third and fourth reports covering 1990 to 1994, the supplementary report covering 1995 to 1998 and the amplification of the fourth report.  There are four clarifications, including as to whether the definition of discrimination in the national legislation is consistent with article 1 of the Convention.

The report notes the gains made in creating mechanisms for women's advancement, including the Ministry for the Advancement of Women and Human Development, established in 1996.  That institution defends the constitutional and basic rights of the person and the community, and supervises the performance of its duties by the public administration and its services. 

Similarly, the Public Defender's Office Specializing in Women's Rights makes it easier for the bodies protecting women's rights to operate effectively, with one of its priorities being to avoid gender-based discrimination.  The Commission on Women and Human Development was formed in 1997 to serve as a watchdog on statutes involving women's rights and to propose the repeal of any provisions that might be harmful to women's interests.

On compliance with article 5 of the Convention, concerning the elimination of cultural and sexist patterns, the report finds that many socio-cultural and sexist patterns have been woven into Peruvian society, to the detriment of women.  In that connection, the culture embodies beliefs, myths and prejudices arising out of a socially created conception of man and woman that have caused a series of obstacles to the advancement of women in all spheres and at all stages of their lives. 

The Peruvian Government, the report says, has been making "great efforts" to eliminate the myths, beliefs, prejudices, as well as traditional and customary discriminatory practices, in order to promote a change in mindset that will pave the way for a new culture in which the expectations, values and functions of men and women are not conditional upon or predetermined by gender stereotypes.

Similarly, the report notes, the Government recognizes the paramount role of education in changing discriminatory cultural mindsets and stereotypes and has accordingly changed educational curricula at all levels, building a number of national-level education centres to avert discrimination among children.  At the same time, gender-equity training is provided for incorporation into all national plans, policies and projects. 

Among the measures adopted, the report says, is an act requiring the use of the female form for every honour, academic degree, and professional title applied to women.  That is one way to break away from the "terminological stereotyping" that occurs when the masculine form of titles is used even when referring to women.

The report notes that from 1997 to 1998, the police recorded a total of 1,200 cases nationwide involving the prostitution of girls, but there is no statistical data to show the "true number" of sex workers because, as a group, they have such unusual characteristics, such as the migratory, clandestine and at times occasional nature of their occupation.  The Municipal Directorates of Health and Welfare have held interventions at inns, discotheques and locations close to the high-risk areas.  From 1998 to 1999, within the jurisdiction of Lima, the capital, assistance was provided at a variety of sessions to 364 sex workers in the form of guidance, counseling about HIV/AIDS prevention, and referrals to the centres operating within the Health Ministry.

Under Peru's criminal legislation, the report states, prostitution is not classified as an offence for persons who engage in it.  However, any person promoting or favouring the prostitution of another will be sentenced to a prison term of not less than two nor more than five years.  Within the jurisdiction of Lima, some 3,000 call girls offer their services in more than 200 hotels within the city’s historic centre.  The concern is that many under-age girls working as prostitutes in Lima are infected with HIV/AIDS.  That has prompted the Ministry of Health to conduct a number of nationwide information and awareness-raising campaigns. 

The report also provides a comprehensive assessment of Peru’s compliance with the Convention.

Introduction of Report

SILVIA LOLI ESPINOZA, Adviser on Gender Issues and Human Rights in Peru’s Ministry of Women and Social Affairs, introduced her country’s fifth periodic report on compliance with the Convention.  Focussing on events that occurred within the last year since the report’s submission, she said that last March, the Peruvian Political Constitution had been modified to include norms relating to regional elections, which contemplated a quota system to be applied in the first regional election in November.  It was hoped that the system, which would heighten the presence and participation of women, would also be implemented for municipal elections.

She said the Constitution was undergoing overall reform, which included specific measures for affirmative action to eliminate all forms of discrimination. In 2001, Peru had also ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.  The Government had moved to modify the marriage age for girls, which, at 14, had previously been considered the appropriate reproductive age.  Now, however, it had been harmonized at 16 years old for both men and women.

Highlighting efforts to ensure gender equality, equal representation and access in education, she said economic support was now being given to teachers so they could promote equity.  The Law for the Promotion of Education for Rural Girls and Adolescents, enacted in 2001, aimed to ensure equality in rural schools and that discriminatory practices such as racial bigotry, insufficient use of official languages and age discrimination were eradicated.  It would also aim to ensure that girls and adolescents would be able to attain timely and accurate information regarding puberty and female development.  She added that Peru faced a problem of sexual harassment by teachers toward their students and the Government was working had to stamp out those practices.

She said Peru’s divorce laws had also been reformed.  Hundreds of thousands of people had been unable to get a divorce, but there was now a “separation of fact”, after four years of marriage if children were involved, or two years if the couple was childless.  Other improvements were needed in identifying parameters for common law marriage.  As those laws were modified, legislation on domestic violence had also evolved, she added.

In the area of health, she said a new law on the regulation of public dining halls created mechanisms to guarantee the participation of women’s organizations in the State’s nutritional programmes at various municipal, regional and national levels.

Turning to institutional mechanisms, she said the mandate of the Ministry of Women and Social Development was to promote gender equity and equality of opportunities, mainly for women, older adults, girls and boys, adolescents and other groups that were disadvantaged or discriminated against.  In January 2002, the Commission for Human Rights of Policewomen had been created to promote gender equality for women working in that field.  There were other areas of coordination and agreement for the advancement of women’s rights, including a Tripartite Board on Population and Development, a National Board against Domestic and Sexual Violence and the Afro-Peruvian Women’s Board, which provided statistics and formulated norms and policies for the advancement of Afro-Peruvian women.

She went on to highlight gender-related policy schemes that had been initiated during the reporting period, including the National Plan against Violence against Women (2002-2007), which had been approved.  The National Plan of Action for Children (2002-2010), approved last April, aimed to create favourable conditions for the sustainable development of girls, boys and adolescents throughout the country and a National Plan for Older Adults (2002-2006), approved last June, contained special measures for older women, taking gender aspects of healthy ageing into account.

The National Plan for the Equality of Opportunities (2002-2005) was a technical tool that served as the main framework within which public policies for the advancement of women could be developed, she said.  The coordination, follow-up and evaluation of measures contemplated by that Plan were the responsibility of the Ministry of Women.  Overall, it was hoped that the plan would generate the necessary conditions to build a system of equality between men and women, promote the full exercise of equal rights for equal development, and eliminate conditions and manifestations of violence against and subordination of women.  The Plan would also aim to guarantee the exercise of women’s economic rights.

She said studies had revealed that Peru did not fully understand the magnitude of the problems faced by rural women at nearly every level, including those of health education and cultural stereotypes.  The results of a diagnosis that had been carried would form the basis of new policies for the advancement of those women.  Here, she noted that the State was trying to stamp out stereotyping of all women, and had commissioned studies of the advertising industry, soap operas and other media.  Pervasive discrimination, particularly against Afro-Peruvian women, had been uncovered, and she hoped to have more positive information to report to the Committee in the future.

Peru was committed to giving effective priority to the promotion of equal opportunities, she said.  It realized the existence of diverse expressions of discrimination and social inequality.  The reduction and subsequent eradication of those inequalities, particularly among women, children and elderly persons required affirmative action by the State as well as the wider society.  The State vowed to fight against all forms of discrimination and would strengthen the participation of women as social and political beings who could participate in the negotiation of policies affecting them and society.

Experts’ Questions

MARIA YOLANDA FERRER GOMEZ, expert from Cuba, said that although much had been achieved in providing equal opportunity for employment for women and in the areas of violence and education, the Ministry was still not playing a full role as the steering and normative agency in formulating policies and programmes concerning equality.  What steps would be taken to ensure that steering role? she asked.  Why did the Convention not have the same status in law as other human rights treaties?  Could the Convention be invoked before the court?

She also sought more information on the National Plan of Action for 2005. How was the gender perspective implemented in the strategy to combat poverty?  Was there a specific programme for the employment of adult women in the case of Amazonas?

HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, said the new marriage age of 16 years was still very low, as adolescents were not mature enough physically, psychologically and socially.  The Government should consider raising the age to 18 years.  Noting that gender mainstreaming within ministries seemed to be done on an ad hoc basis, she asked what mode of cooperation existed between the Ministry and other ministries in that regard, and whether ministries applied gender budgeting.  She also asked if programmes on violence against women, pornography and sexual exploitation of women were disseminated on the Internet.

MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, noting that there were rumors about difficulties in maintaining the national mechanism, asked if there were similar difficulties in the health sector.  Did current programmes respond to all the needs of working parents?

FRANCOISE GASPARD, expert from France, asked how the Government dealt with situations where regulations establishing quotas for women in elections were not respected, as had been the case in some districts.  Noting the existence of authorized as well as illegal prostitution, she asked if the Government assured that, in the case of authorized prostitution, the women were free in the houses of prostitution.  What measures were taken to protect prostitutes from exploitation and to protect them and their clients against sexually transmitted diseases?  What help was there for prostitutes who wanted to leave that occupation.  She also asked for more information on women in higher levels of education and on support for women and gender studies.

SAVITRI GOONESEKERE, expert from Sri Lanka, asked how policy guidelines on sexual harassment worked.  Were they only intended as norms for employers?  Did the Penal Code address sexual harassment?  Had cases of sexual harassment been brought to court under the May 2000 law prohibiting discrimination?  She also asked if the legal definition of rape in focused on violence and whether rape was deemed not to have occurred if violence could not be proven.  Did the Penal Code cover only penile penetration and was incest a punishable offence?  She also asked if any sensitivity training about violence against women was carried out among police and other people involved in investigations, such as forensic personnel.

CHRISTINE KAPALATA, expert from the United Republic of Tanzania, noting the impressive number of laws enacted, asked whether, over the last four years, existing “obnoxious” laws that entrenched stereotypes and discriminated against women had been repealed.

FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, hoped the Government would seek interaction with NGOs in drafting the next report and in implementing all policies.  She noted that the various programmes and plans of action all had different timeframes, and asked if there was a specific reason for that.

ZELMIRA REGAZZOLI, (Argentina), Committee Vice-Chairperson, said she had been struck by the lack of NGO participation in the report’s preparation.  She asked why incest was not categorized as a crime in Peru.   

Country Response

Ms. ESPINOZA, responding to the first round of expert comments, said the report had been drawn up in 1998 under a different Government, which had had a rather “chilly” relationship with civil society.  The report therefore reflected the posture of that Government.  The new administration promoted the active participation of NGOs, churches and schools, particularly in work to improve the situation of rural women and Afro-Peruvian women.  She hoped that when the next report was drafted, civil society would provide its expertise, in accordance with the tenets of the Convention.

She went on to say that the Government was actively trying to harmonize the work of its various ministries and agencies.  A reform process was under way which aimed to group similar programmes together to provide better coordination for the promotion of women’s rights.  New regulations were being drawn up for the Women’s Ministry, which would refocus its work on setting policies and norms.  It would now be a “mega-Ministry” providing many opportunities to mainstream a gender perspective and coordinating the work of other relevant agencies.

Acknowledging that sexual violence was not considered a form of violence against women, she said that shortcoming had been addressed.  However, the Government realized that was not enough and current legislation had outlawed marriage between rapists and their victims.  New definitions of rape covered “victims put in a position they were unable to resist”, covering drugging or surreptitious sedation.  She added, however, that the implementation of those new laws remained a problem, since the judicial branch tended to cling to old ways of thinking.  That branch was currently undergoing serious reform.

Peru had no specific laws citing incest as a crime, she said, but the Government believed it could be addressed under broader legislation against domestic or sexual violence and abuse.  In cases of domestic violence, incest could be considered “aggravated assault”.  Still, Peru understood that the new Penal Code must include specific legislation on that crime.  She said the Office of Ombudsman and Defender of Human Rights had received a number of complaints about the handling of sexual violence cases.

On the perceived inconsistencies in Peru’s various national plans of action, she said those programmes often arose in response to specific national commitments.  Regarding health, she said every sector was re-evaluating or redesigning its objectives.  She acknowledged that various ministries had diverse notions of what was important and where action should be focused.  Now, the Health Ministry was charged with monitoring guidelines and mainstreaming sectoral approaches.

Regarding the status of the Convention in national legislation, she said that in general, all human rights treaties ranked immediately below the Constitution.  Peru could say the Convention was part of its common law.  Again referring to shortfalls in the judicial system, she said the training of judges and counsel in the use and application of the Convention was necessary.

Turning to prostitution, she said there was a difference in the way sex work was regulated, depending on whether prostitutes worked in establishments or on the street.  Street, or “clandestine”, sex work was not recognized as a legal occupation but there had been some advances in that regard, including a pilot health programme to improve and monitor the health of clandestine sex workers.  Previous initiatives had focused only on the health of the customers, but now the Government was also promoting efforts to improve the overall situation and even to foster information-sharing networks on health and safety issues among prostitutes.

On poverty strategy, she said it was a priority for the new Government and a number of programmes were under way in rural areas, among others.  Efforts were also under way within the Ministry of Labour and proposed short-term social enterprise programmes aimed to provide resources to improve opportunities for working women or those who wanted to gain employment.  Peru’s First Lady had taken up the issue of women and poverty and now governed several projects and programmes aimed at identifying the needs of rural women, particularly those in the Amazonian areas of the country who had so often been severely discriminated against through routine denial of access to resources.

She said that the proposed 30 per cent quota for political participation had been seen as a threshold for action, and thus far women had achieved 29.5 per cent representation in some ministries.  Much remained to be done, however, and while there had not been total lack of compliance, there had been shortfalls.

On the marriage age, she said that while the Ministry felt 16 years was quite young, the move from 14 to 16 had been debated at the national level.  The trend was that as soon as a woman could bear children she could marry.  That was not the case for boys.  Still, there were some cultural practices regarding sexual relations -- particularly in rural areas -– that might be considered discriminatory if the marriage age was raised.

Regarding reconciliation, she said it had always been pre-supposed that individuals were often pressured to reconcile.  There had been a review of the reconciliation process and the Ministry had noted considerable evidence of discrimination.  The Government was moving to do away with extrajudicial reconciliation, particularly in cases of domestic violence to avoid pressure being put on victims.  That initiative was still before Congress, however, and the Ministry aimed to push for the body to act quickly to implement it.

Experts’ Questions

IVANKA CORTI, expert from Italy, impressed by the results of the quota system in rural areas, asked what the results were in municipalities headed by women with respect to poverty eradication, the school drop-out rate of girls, health issues and prostitution.  She asked if there had been any education within the judiciary on gender interpretation of existing laws.  She also wanted to know if the maternal health services, included in health reforms to be implemented by end of the year, would be free of charge, and if prevention of cancer of the breast and uterus would be included in the reform.

She asked whether a conscience clause was being considered for inclusion in the abortion law.  Would the Government address the problem of Peruvian women who emigrated to Europe to escape a desperate situation, entering countries illegally and therefore lacking any protection?

FENG CUI, expert from China, wondered how the National Election Council could have rejected the views of the Public Defender’s Office and the Women’s Commission of Congress regarding non-application of the 30 per cent quota system. She sought clarification on the Council’s interpretation of the law and asked what actions the Ministry of Women and Social Development would take in that regard.

HANNA BEATE SHOPP-SHILLING, expert from Germany, commending the Government for its ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention, asked what efforts were being made to accept formally the amendment to article 21 of the Convention, which lifted the restriction on the working time of the Committee.  The amendment was adopted by the General Assembly seven years ago, she pointed out.

Country Response

Ms. ESPINOZA said in reference to political participation, that the first quota schemes had been implemented at the municipal level and had been quite successful, particularly in rural areas, where it was believed there would be a low level of participation or even acceptance of such strategies.  She acknowledged that there was a generally sexist view that it was enough if women “came close” to achieving the 30 per cent quotas, so the Ministry had been working to ensure that all were aware of the positive benefits of equal representation at all political levels.

On judicial reform, she said there were two types of judges operating throughout the country:  professional justices, and honourable citizens who dealt with complaints at the local level.  It was apparent that complaints of incest or domestic violence might exceed the competencies of such local justices and training programmes had been set up to improve the way such cases were handled.  Implementation of that programme had been critical since there were some

5,000 citizen justices who were often the only source of legal access for women in remote areas.  She added that the Public Defenders Office had been very committed to the task of promoting the initiative.

She said that in some more fundamentalist areas, the idea of gender mainstreaming was a “source of some discussion”.  For its part, the Ministry attempted to include normative legal frameworks in national debates so that the wider citizenry would be aware of the inviolability of women’s fundamental rights.  She acknowledged that migrant women were very vulnerable to exploitation, and while there was no specific policy to deal with that issue, the Government was actively seeking to correct that shortcoming.

The question of abortion was an important one, she said.  The practice was difficult to monitor, but some improvements had been made, particularly in the provision of care for women suspected of having had abortions.  Health care workers were being trained to provide more humane care, but the Ministry was still receiving reports that some doctors imposed their own moral beliefs when dealing with such cases.  It was a matter of concern that there was talk of promulgating legislation that would require health care workers to report suspected abortions to the police.  The Ministry was working hard to promote the overall care of women in this regard, particularly in the area of disseminating information, but the results were not always positive.

Experts’ Questions

AIDA GONZALEZ MARTINEZ, expert from Mexico, said she was very concerned about the limited access of rural women to basic health care.  It was also important to strengthen programmes for sexual health, particularly regarding HIV/AIDS.  It was important to promote sexual and reproductive health as well as the dissemination of information on family planning methods and condom use throughout society, not just among sex workers. 

It was very troubling that authorization had been given to surgically sterilize a large number of women, she said.  As that practice was not applied to men, it perpetuated a clear double standard.  She also expressed concern about the perception of abortions, noting that it was considered taboo in Peru.  Much remained to be done in changing cultural attitudes.  Abortion could not be regarded as a family planning method, and women must receive proper information about sexual and reproductive health.

Ms. LIVINGSTONE RADAY, expert from Israel, asked if consideration was being given to wider-ranging employment legislation, addressing equality in promotion, wages and dismissal, as the current legislation applied solely to hiring.  Since the current legislation concerned criminal procedures, putting the burden of proof on complainants, she called for civil legislation as well.  Welcoming the national plan for older adults, with special measures for older women, she sought more details on such as areas as pension, health and mental health support.

Noting that the Deputy Defender for Women’s Rights was considering an appeal to an international mechanism to enforce quotas, she suggested that women candidates or the Manuela Ramos organization could apply under the Optional Protocol to the Convention.  She questioned the statement that there was great opposition to emergency contraception for women, as a 1999 survey had found that two-thirds of the population supported abortion legislation.  Priority should be given to emergency contraception, since it was less dangerous than abortion.

CHARLOTTE ABAKA, (Ghana), Committee Chairperson, was concerned that women requiring medical attention due to induced abortion would not go to the hospital because that would be reported to the police.   Noting that under the law,

14-year-olds and even girls younger than 14 could have their children recognized, she said those provisions contributed to the maternal mortality rate, already high in Peru, as adolescent pregnancies had high rates of medical complications.

SJAMSIAH ACHMAD, expert from Indonesia, noting that the majority of poor women lived in urban areas, asked if urban poverty was related to urban development, which often caused the displacement of people.  Poverty in urban areas was usually worse than in rural areas, particularly in the health sphere, she said, asking how the Government was addressing the problem.

Country Response

Ms. ESPINOZA, speaking during the afternoon meeting, said Peru had ratified the International Labour Organization Convention on equal pay for equal work value.  The possibility of dismissals based on pregnancy had been severely limited.  She noted, however, that even when normative frameworks for non-discrimination in the workplace were in place instances of discrimination probably still occurred.  But in anticipation of such cases, the Government actively worked to ensure that avenues of complaint were available for women as well as men.

On measures being considered for elderly persons, she said the relevant national initiative was relatively new, having been approved only two months ago.  Peru would submit to the Committee specific information on the working plans for that initiative at a later date.  In the meantime, Government policies would aim to address the overarching issue of healthy ageing as well as specific matters such as the needs of elderly rural populations and continuing education.

Returning to the issue of abortion, she said the fact that doctors or medical staff were obliged to report suspected abortions to the police could often deter women from seeking treatment or other reproductive health care options.  While that could often lead to death, in some cases, statistics had shown that maternal mortality rates were declining.

Acknowledging that there were high concentrations of Peruvians living in urban areas, she said the exodus from rural locales had been primarily due to abiding poverty in the countryside and as well as political violence.  In any case, the Government was now adjusting its policies and programmes to better address the economic and social aspects of the country’s rapid urbanization.  She said that rural areas were still not completely abandoned when it came to providing access to basic health care.  Women’s and adolescents’ civil society organizations were active in information sharing and dissemination campaigns on health issues for rural women.

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For information media. Not an official record.