PROCESS OF WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT WELL UNDER WAY, ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE TOLD, AS IT CONSIDERS NEPAL’S REPORT
PROCESS OF WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT WELL UNDER WAY, ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE TOLD, AS IT CONSIDERS NEPAL’S REPORT
Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
630th & 631st Meetings (AM & PM)
PROCESS OF WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT WELL UNDER WAY, ANTI-DISCRIMINATION
COMMITTEE TOLD, AS IT CONSIDERS NEPAL’S REPORT
But Experts Say Women Have ‘Long Road
Ahead’ in Overcoming Discriminatory Laws, Customs
Despite the ratification, without reservations, of the Women’s Convention and the primacy of international treaty obligations over domestic legislation, Nepalese women still had a long road ahead in overcoming the country’s internal conflict and numerous discriminatory laws and customs, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was told today as it took up Nepal’s report.
The Committee’s 23 experts, acting in their personal capacities, monitor compliance with the Convention, which is often described as an “international bill of rights for women”. Nepal ratified the Convention in 1991, 10 years after its entry into force in 1981.
Introducing Nepal’s report, Renu Kumari Yadav, the Minister of State for Women, Children and Social Welfare, acknowledged that, like any society, Nepalese society was not problem-free and its achievements “may not be up to the expectation”. Overall, however, the process of women’s socio-economic empowerment was well under way. No longer were gender issues the primary concerns only of a few early pioneers. Step by step, gender issues were being integrated into development policies, and consensus was building among development partners about the need to place women high on the national agenda.
During the day-long discussion, experts, while praising Nepal’s delegation for its frank description of the obstacles facing Nepalese women, also expressed frustration that many of the country’s legal provisions, even those that had been amended, were still discriminatory. Particular attention was drawn to early marriage, polygamy, domestic violence, high illiteracy rates, especially among rural women, poor health care, discriminatory citizenship and land ownership rights, and deeply rooted patriarchal norms and values that were, in themselves, unfavourable to women.
In a closing statement, the Committee Chairperson, Ayse Feride Acar, said that, given the precedence of the Convention over Nepal’s domestic legislation, there was no reason why some very significant steps could not be taken to eliminate that “blatantly discriminatory” legislation against women. Some specific changes could be ensured, even in the absence of Parliament.
The citizenship law, in particular, required serious attention, she said. The fact that it did not give the same rights to women nationals of Nepal as it did to its men nationals in passing on citizenship to their offspring “flew in the face” of the Convention, and some urgent action was required. While war and conflict appeared to have affected the Convention’s implementation, efforts to include women in the peace process would yield double dividends -- both as an input into the success of the peace efforts and as a means to empower women in the long term.
In response, a large delegation headed by Nepal’s Minister of State for Women, Children and Social Welfare emphasized the persistence of internal State conflict and the absence of a functioning parliament, which was thwarting the constitutional and legal reform. At the same time, gains had been made, particularly through the establishment of a national machinery for women, which included a national commission for women, the women’s ministry, a human rights commission, and a national CEDAW committee. One delegate acknowledged, however, that the budget was “very, very insufficient” to enable those bodies to play their role effectively. Concerning persistent discriminatory laws, delegates assured the experts that the Government was very much committed to not having discriminatory provisions and would deal with them accordingly.
Also participating in Nepal’s presentation were: Shashi Kant Mainali, Secretary, Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare; Arjun Bahadur Thapa, Chargé d’Affaires, a.i., Permanent Mission of Nepal to the United Nations; Shyam Sunder Sharma, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare; Pratap Kumar Pathak, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Labour and Transport Management; Babu Ram Regmi, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs; Durga Pokharel, Chairperson, National Women’s Commission; Indira Rana, Member, National Human Rights Commission; Durga Sopb, Member-Secretary, National Dalit Commission; and Ram Babu Dhakal, First Secretary, Permanent Mission of Nepal to the United Nations.
The Committee will meet again tomorrow, 14 January, at 10 a.m. to take up the second periodic report of Kyrgyzstan.
When the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning, it had before it the combined second and third periodic report of Nepal, dated 7 April 2003 (document CEDAW/C/NPL/2-3). Part I of the report describes developments flowing from the areas of concern and recommendations of the Committee. Part II identifies new developments in the area of the elimination of discrimination against women.
In the legal arena, the report finds that many discriminatory provisions of law were being “progressively” reviewed. Initiatives in that regard had taken place at five levels: Government; Parliament; Judiciary; political parties; and civil society organizations. Despite the growing sensitivity regarding the elimination of discriminatory laws, there was much to be accomplished, for which a gradual approach was needed. That also had to be achieved against the background of cultural practices and traditions that were “substantially influenced by patriarchal norms and values”. The Government had constituted a high-level commission to present a report on all existing discriminatory laws against women. Its work was in progress.
The Constitution guarantees basic human rights and fundamental freedoms to every citizen, the report continues. Part III of the Constitution codifies them. The Constitution also provides for effective remedy and enforcement of those rights. The Supreme Court was empowered, under its extraordinary jurisdiction, to protect fundamental rights by issuing various forms of writs. Promotion and protection of human rights was also one of the directive principles of State policy.
To accelerate the realization of gender equality, the Government had initiated some legal measures in favour of women, the report notes. The conventional assumptions on women’s role and position, which put women at an inferior level, however, “have not changed very much in Nepal”, and “the movement towards gender equality has not been able to substantially change women’s status”. Training and educational interventions had been made to improve the situation.
According to prevailing law, traffickers were liable to a maximum of 20 years imprisonment, which should be a strong deterrent against that heinous crime, the report states further. Legal provisions alone, however, could not stop trafficking in women. That problem was “deeply rooted in the harsh economic conditions of some communities”. The Government had adopted a three-pronged strategy to address the problem. It consisted of law enforcement measures, income generation schemes, and educational opportunities. But, those measures would take time to bear fruit.
Turning to political participation, the report finds that women’s representation in political and administrative offices was “very poor”. There was a strong tendency among political parties to confine themselves to the constitutional minimum (5 per cent) when it came to fielding candidates in elections. Similarly, in the Judiciary, women judges accounted for only 1.3 per cent of the total number, and the Supreme Court had only one woman judge. In other constitutional bodies, women occupied some positions at the middle-management level, leaving all decision-making positions for men. The Public Service Commission had one woman member. The National Planning Commission had never had a woman member. Poor representation of women could also be observed in the Cabinet.
The report says that the most important step in creating opportunities for political participation of women had been the enactment of the Local Self-Governance Act (1999), which foresaw at least 20 per cent representation of women in local bodies. In addition, a policy was adopted to increase the access of women to political institutions, including through appropriate legislation. The Government was also cooperating with non-governmental organizations in improving women’s overall status. Those were effectively organizing networks and lobbying groups to create pressure on the Government to introduce policies and affirmative actions in women’s favour.
Women had equal rights and opportunities to represent the Government at the international level, the report states. They could also participate in the work of international organizations on an equal footing. As a result, women leaders and officers had become team leaders, as well as members of government delegations representing the country. Despite that, however, “women’s participation was nominal”.
Regarding nationality, a woman did not fall under the descent of the family, under the Constitution, the report further states. In other words, she alone could not give any identity to her children. Citizenship could be acquired either through father or husband. A foreign woman who was married to a Nepali citizen might acquire Nepali citizenship, but a foreign man married to a Nepali woman was not entitled to Nepali citizenship through such marriage. The role of the Judiciary had been contributory to enhancing women’s status in terms of citizenship rights.
Nepal had made substantial progress in education during the past 50 years, the report says. The literacy rate had increased from approximately 2 per cent in 1951 to 58 per cent in 2000. The number of schools and students at all levels had been steadily rising. Since the mid-1970’s, the Government had been focusing on women’s education. There had been substantial effort to reduce gender disparity in education through general, as well as special focused educational programmes. As a result, the overall literacy rate had gone up for both sexes, but there “still exists a gap between literacy rates of the two sexes”.
The report says that, in order to address those problems, the Government had been emphasizing effective implementation of basic primary education; it was now mandatory that all primary schools have at least one woman teacher. The Government had also been emphasizing training for them. There were several targeted programmes, such as alternative schools, out-of-school programmes, incentives programmes for girls and disadvantaged children, and adult literacy promotion through formal and non-formal education. Rampant poverty, inappropriate division of labour between sexes, and gender-biased cultural perceptions stood in the way of promoting female education.
In terms of employment, the labour force participation rate of women was 66 per cent, with agriculture having the highest number among the economically active population, the report states. The Constitution guarantees equal pay for men and women workers for similar jobs. Working conditions in general are governed by the Labour Act and the Trade Union. Migration for employment is a major source of income for both men and women. The Government had taken several initiatives to enhance the status of employment for women. Despite the significant inter-sectoral restructuring of the labour market during the last decade, agriculture is still the most important sector for women’s employment, but that sector is not developing very well.
On health, the report says that “Nepali women do not enjoy a sound health status”. Nepal is among those very few countries where women’s life expectancy at birth is lower than that of men. Factors contributing to the high mortality of women include the risks of childbirth and women’s limited access to knowledge, food, and care. Early marriage and pregnancy, low literacy, and inadequate family planning services also undermine the health status of women. Access to family planning services is also limited. The per capita daily access to nutrition for women falls short of the recommended minimum. The increasing cases of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS also reflected on women’s poor health status.
The Government has taken several measures to enhance women’s health status, the report recalls. First of all, emphasis is being given to quality and coverage of health services. Health case services in Nepal are based on integrated primary health care and referral curative systems. With the overall goal to reduce maternal-neonatal mortality/morbidity during pregnancy and childbirth, a plan of action for a safe motherhood programme has been prepared. The Government has also taken steps to introduce legal reforms in the health sector, especially in reproductive health. Clearly, the poor socio-economic infrastructure of the country affects the health sector.
Property rights are guaranteed by the Constitution, the report says. Accordingly, women enjoy equal rights to receive family benefits, bank loans, mortgages, and other forms of financial credit. The Contract Act (2000) empowers women, for example, to enter into financial contracts in any form and establish private firms or companies. They can buy shares of a company and obtain benefits from them. The Constitution also guarantees the rights to culture and religion, but, in the family, a woman is supposed to be a responsible daughter, an affectionate mother, and a faithful and disciplined wife. Women are regarded as weak and needing protection at every stage of their lives.
The report goes on to say that traditional culture and social norms highly restrict women’s participation in socio-economic development. In the context of inheritance rights, a woman’s status is defined in terms of her marital status. The laws do not restrict equal opportunities of participation in sports and cultural activities. One of the major initiatives taken by the Government is the recently accomplished amendment to the Country Code, with the objective of enhancing women’s property rights, especially regarding parental property. Patriarchal values and traditional understanding of gender roles, however, still undermine women’s social status.
Regarding women in rural areas, the report notes that the country’s level of urbanization is low compared to other developing countries. The health status of rural women is comparatively poor. The burden of household chores and early marriages often result in high fertility, morbidity and mortality. The Government had undertaken several initiatives to address that problem, including providing micro-credit services, creating opportunities in agriculture, enhancing capacity in development planning, and widening the range of social services. Rural women are being seen as an integral part of development planning.
The report explains that the Local Self Governance Act (1999) ensures that women are involved in planning and implementing activities under community development projects. Rural women are also being targeted for the delivery of social services, including health, education, drinking water and sanitation. The “dualistic” character of the Nepalese economy poses a formidable challenge for integrating the rural economy with the national economy. Lack of adequately developed infrastructure and inaccessibility also hinder implementation of development activities. Scattered settlements, especially in the hilly areas, further complicate the delivery of public services. Due to limited mobility, economic opportunities are more limited for women than men. Also in terms of social development, rural areas are lagging behind.
The Constitution guarantees all citizens equality before law and equal protection of law, the report further states. The Government has constituted a high-level commission to present a report on all existing discriminatory laws against women. Further, awareness-raising programmes have also been launched. Deep-rooted cultural norms and patriarchal values are themselves unfavourable to women. As a result, social preference for sons in schooling, neglect of women’s health needs, child marriage and unmatched marriage, bigamy/polygamy are still part of the reality. Dowry and domestic violence are still other problems.
Although family relations are governed by civil law, women are not treated equally with men, the report says. The Government wants to address these problems through: implementation of poverty reduction measures; public awareness campaigns; and institutional measures for an effective enforcement of the legal provisions. Rampant poverty and a low level of social awareness are the primary problems in this area. Some socio-psychological institutions also contribute to perpetuating the existing situation.
The report finds that Nepal is fully committed to implementing the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Despite that, however, there was much room for improvement. The country suffers even today from gender disparity and social, economic, and legal discrimination against women. The Government is fully aware of this and is implementing all measures within its means with a view to meeting its obligations. A national Plan of Action has been formulated and put into effect covering all critical areas of concern.
Introduction of Report
RENU KUMARI YADAV, Minister of State for Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare for Nepal, said that the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) represented the collective will of all for freedom, equality and advancement. It was about doing away with persisting bias against women, which had been experienced in various forms in all societies. It was also about securing a just world for all and better futures for the girl-child. The Convention, therefore, was basic to Nepal’s development efforts and had been the source of inspiration for developmental interventions devoted to achieving substantive equality for women and eliminating all forms of discrimination against them on all fronts. It had also been instrumental in strengthening State mechanisms to better realize the obligation to promote the status of women.
She said that, like any society, Nepalese society was not problem-free. In comparison to more advanced societies, its achievements “may not be up to the expectation”. Overall, the process of women’s socio-economic empowerment was well under way in Nepal. No longer were gender issues the primary concerns only of a few early pioneers or of a specialized government agency, such as her Ministry. Step by step, gender issues were being integrated into sectoral development policies, and a consensus was being reached among all development partners about the need for placing them at the top of the national agenda.
Committed efforts for overall socio-economic development had been hindered by the violent activities perpetrated by the so-called Maoists since 1996, she noted. The Government was fully committed to protecting the life and property of the people. At the same time, it had undertaken special measures to protect the rights and freedoms of more vulnerable groups, such as women and children. Collaboration and partnership with civil society and development partners had been encouraging. As a result, there had been substantial improvements in creating an enabling environment, gender sensitization and institutional development at the national and village levels. Many outstanding issues in the context of CEDAW and the Beijing Platform for Action, however, still needed to be addressed.
Given that development required maximum participation of women on equal terms with men in all fields, she said that Nepal’s current tenth plan had placed women in the centre of development. The plan had recognized equality for women, their empowerment, and gender mainstreaming as the basis for targets of overall development. The plan also prioritized women’s empowerment for productive human resource development. The major strategic policies included gender mainstreaming and awareness raising, increasing women’s participation in policy-making and expediting legislative reforms for ensuring equality. Her Government had recently approved a CEDAW Plan of Action, which would be a common platform of action for development partners.
Continuing the presentation, PRATAP KUMAN RATHAK, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Labour and Transport Management for Nepal, focused on new initiatives, which included policy and strategy development. The tenth plan on gender equality and human rights and the national human rights action plan had been formulated for the promotion of women’s rights. Nepal had also approved a national strategy on “education for all”. A review of the existing plan on trafficking in women had also taken place. In the area of governance reform, gender equality had been considered a core concern. Nepal had formed a committee for women in civil service to ensure equal participation of women in decision-making positions.
A programme for strengthening gender focal points in the various ministries had also been implemented, he said. In the area of legislative developments, a high-level committee formed by the Government had reviewed existing discriminatory laws with the active involvement of civil society. A report had been submitted to the Prime Minister, who had directed the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare to take immediate action on its conclusions.
Regarding reproductive rights, procedures for safe abortion had been put into effect, he said. A bill on domestic violence had been submitted to Parliament for amendment. The Government had lifted a ban on migrant women workers and women were, for the first time, being considered for work in the armed forces. A gender dimension was being incorporated into national budgets, and a programme to support women affected by violence had been enacted. Substantial developments had taken place during the reporting period.
He said major challenges included prevailing patriarchal customs; negative attitudes; gender-based violence; lack of awareness of women’s rights; and a lack of institutional capacity for policy planning and effective law enforcement. Economic challenges included lack of access to resources and the feminization of poverty. Discriminatory legal provisions also persisted. The low participation of men in gender issues was another problem.
The Government had in place a road map to implement the CEDAW action plan, he said. The strategy to implement the road map included policy and legislative development, social inclusion, capacity-building, networking and partnership building. Nepal’s efforts were focused on social development, which required international assistance.
Committee Chairperson, AYSE FERIDE ACAR, expert from Turkey, on the Committee’s behalf, congratulated the delegation and turned the floor over to the first group of experts.
MARÍA YOLANDA FERRER GÓMEZ, expert from Cuba, said there were very deep-rooted stereotypes, which had put Nepalese women at a “completely disadvantaged” position. In the country report, reference had been made to training as an essential tool and that a group of training institutions had included gender perspectives in their programmes. She asked how many individuals had been trained and in which sectors, and what was the forecast for extending that work in the area of awareness campaigns and training for political authorities and in basic sectors, such as the educational, health and legal spheres.
Also, she asked how the Government intended to work with women from various ethnic groups, as those represented some 36 per cent of the women in Nepal. Certain societal aspects were quite serious, such as the caste system. She sought further information about the process of obtaining legal changes, especially given that legal advances to change cultural practices were influenced by patriarchal views.
FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, said she had a sense that in Nepal, comprised of so many small villages scattered around the country, probably not many women or men were aware of the women’s rights. Her first question, therefore, concerned whether the Government had done any survey or data collection among the women, particularly in remote areas, of their awareness of changed laws and emerging strategies. If so, what conclusion had been drawn from that and where would those lead?
She sought additional information about the relationships among the various national machineries, including the National Council, the National CEDAW Committee, and the National Women’s Coordination Committee. Also, the mandate of the National Commission for Women was very broad. And, what was the procedure for proposing an amendment to a law? Finally, was an evaluation done of implementation of the ninth plan and what was the new element in the tenth plan?
CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, drew attention to repeated references to existing discriminatory provisions in the law, which were rightly considered a top priority now. The second top concern seemed to be the provision of education for all, especially for girls. He was pleased that that was also considered to be a top priority, to be realized by 2015. He also sought clarification on the relationships among the various machineries concerned with women’s rights. He asked about the legal nature of the findings of the National Human Rights Commission. Could it give final, binding decisions and what was its relationship to the courts?
KRISZTINA MORVAI, expert from Hungary, suggested that problematic stakeholders be made aware of the fact that women’s rights were not matters of private opinion, but Nepal’s legal international treaty obligations. How had the Committee’s concluding comments been disseminated in Nepal and who was responsible for monitoring those comments? Congratulating Nepal for signing the Optional Protocol, she asked when the Government planned on ratifying it.
She also asked for an explanation of the difference in inheritance rights of men and women at the current stage under the law. Were procedures in place to protect women from sexual harassment? Nepalese widows lived in very difficult circumstances. How would the delegation characterize the situation of widows from a legal and sociological point of view?
GÖRAN MELANDER, an expert from Sweden, said that trafficking in women was a serious problem in Nepal and was seen as such in the country’s legal framework. Given the seriousness of the punishment for trafficking, some 20 years imprisonment, he suggested that negative attitudes could be amended through legislation. He questioned the huge discrepancy between total case files and cases brought to court. On the refugee issue, he asked to what extent refugee women were able to apply for refugee status in their own right.
MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, the expert from Portugal, congratulated the delegation for its frank and open report and for achievements in the Convention’s implementation, including the establishment of national mechanisms, the strategy on gender equality and the CEDAW plan of action. However, the report was more of a descriptive view of the situation of women in Nepal and all their handicaps, and not forward-looking and strategic. While the report centred on women and their role in development, it did not centre enough on giving women equal rights. The area of childcare was seen exclusively as a women’s domain. Maternity care and protection were not privileges, but rights. Focus needed to change in that regard.
The report accepted inequality as a fate not fully questioned, she added, for example, in the case of citizenship rights. Traditional practices such as polygamy were not sufficiently addressed in the report. What policies did Government intend to adopt to change people’s minds regarding norms and traditions and to regard gender equality as a common concern of men and women?
FATIMA KWAKU, expert from Nigeria, said that the effectiveness of any national machinery depended largely on the financial resources accorded it. She, therefore, asked whether the budgetary allocation for the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, particularly for 2003-2004, was sufficient. Secondly, what percentage of the general national budget did that allocation represent?
FRANÇOISE GASPARD, expert from France, said the report had been presented sincerely and had acknowledged the existence of many serious kinds of discrimination against women, resulting both from laws and the social and cultural environment. The report and the statements made today had indicated that numerous projects had been designed to eliminate that discrimination. It was urgent to implement the Convention on both the constitutional and legislative levels. The will to make progress in that area had been confirmed today, but that will was encountering numerous obstacles.
She said that note had been taken of the lack of will in the political sphere to commit to certain results in the area of gender equality. There were few women elected on the national level, but it had been mentioned that a group of women had been established within the Chamber of Representatives. She asked about the status of that group -- whether it had been formed on a voluntary or institutional basis and whether men also followed its work, as it was very important to involve men in the reform process.
She also asked whether the periodic report had been submitted to parliament and debated by it. Given the delegations’ stated objectives, there was a clear need to make progress, and much work remained to be done, including political consciousness raising. In the area of nationality, not only did the laws need to be amended, but also the relevant parts of the Constitution, which was even more difficult.
SALMA KAHN, expert from Bangladesh, said she was disappointed in some of the sketchy answers to questions posed by the Committee. She was also disappointed at the composition of the delegation, which consisted mostly of men. It was very heartening, however, to know that Nepal had ratified the Convention without reservation, and was the only country in the region to have a Treaty Act (1991), under which the full implementation of the Convention assumed a greater significance. At the same time, the Government should take all necessary measures, on an urgent basis, to bring domestic legislation in line with the Convention. She was confused about how much of the Convention was being taken seriously because there was a lack of understanding of it.
She said she understood from other sources that there were as many as 290 legal provisions in the Constitution, acts and regulations that discriminated against women. What was the Government’s response? Had the non-governmental organizations involved in that study supplied the Government with any information about it? And, what steps had the Government taken to remedy that? What concrete measures were under way to change the traditional and harmful practices, and had measures been taken to ban some of those?
NAELA GABR, expert from Egypt, said she appreciated the interest of Nepal’s non-governmental organizations in the Convention. The large number of non-governmental organizations attending the meeting reflected the Government’s desire to cooperate with civil society. In her view, there was more than one way to face the problems of women in Nepal. Discriminatory laws and stereotypes were two of the main difficulties facing the advancement of women’s rights in the country. The Government must organize to face those challenges. How did the Government regard the use of article 4 of the Convention on special measures?
HANNA BEATE SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked if the recommendations and analyses of the civil society sector had been included in the report. While she applauded the fact that the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare had been given the task of amending discriminatory legislation, did the Ministry have the human and financial resources to do so? Law reform was usually the domain of the Ministry of Justice. Was the Government planning to amend discriminatory legislation individually or would it consider a framework law that would list the discriminatory provisions of current legislation? That could accelerate the process of law reform. Once legislation was amended, was the country planning an awareness-raising campaign and what kind of international cooperation would be needed to do that? Also, what was the timetable for ratifying the Optional Protocol?
DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIC, the expert from Croatia, praised the delegation for the frank and self-critical report. The report acknowledged that women still suffered from political, economic and social discrimination. She was also pleased that the process of amending discriminatory laws was under way. More information on specific laws to be amended, including the Constitution, was needed. Would the Constitution be amended to include a clear principle of gender equality? Some provisions of the Constitution contradicted the principles of gender equality and human rights. The Government’s political will to change was clear. In connection with the CEDAW plan of action and the road map to implement it, was there a concrete timetable to repeal specific laws?
The Chairperson of the National Commission for Women of Nepal said the Women’s Ministry was not only for women, but also for children and social welfare. Thus, in order to specialize on women’s issues, the Women’s Commission was born. Following the establishment of the National Commission, additional needs were identified, and other bodies were born. The Human Rights Commission, for example, was dealing with women and children, but its mission had been overlooked because of the internal conflict and an accumulation of related problems.
As a result, she said, the Commission had decided to tour the country. The subsequent report, which she would have distributed to the Committee, divided data by ecological zones, ethnicity and other categories. The report had concluded, to her amazement, that the human rights of women had not been understood in Nepal. As the data came from the districts -- and she had done the analysis herself -– she began to see a pattern, which enabled her to create a framework that was in line with the Convention and the work of United Nations Agencies. Above all had been the need to promote an understanding of women’s human rights and then undertake legal and political reforms.
Since women were most affected by the war, the Commission was concentrating on that problem and working together with other bodies. Some of that effort overlapped, but in the Commission, action-oriented programmes and legal reform was stressed. So many positive things were moving forward since the drafting of the report, she added.
A representative of the Human Rights Commission of Nepal said that on 5 June 2000, the Commission had been established. That had been an important milestone in fulfilling the longstanding goal of promoting women’s status and adhering to the country’s national and international human rights commitments. With its broad mandate, the Commission had been committed fully to making a substantial contribution to implementing human rights standards in Nepal. The Human Rights act of 1997, which had provided for the establishment of an independent and autonomous human rights body, was the only bill ever introduced and adopted as a “private members bill” in the history of the parliament of Nepal.
The Commission had five members now, including the chairperson, the representative said. In order to protect and promote human rights, it could conduct inquiries and investigations into matters involving alleged violations or negligence in the prevention of human rights. It could also conduct public hearings or inquiries, inspect and observe any government organization and submit recommendations, if necessary, on reforms for the protection of human rights. Each year, the Commission prepared an annual report of its activities for the King and the Parliament.
Another representative explained that the national machinery was a government mechanism that was totally under the authority of the executive branch. A high-level committee had been established especially to identify discriminatory laws and to submit proposals for their amendment. The National Women’s Commission was an independent body, which had been formed by the Government and was informed by the decisions of the Government, and of specialized agencies, in its efforts to empower Nepalese women. The National Council had become less effective after the creation of the Ministry for Women, Children and Social Welfare. A national CEDAW committee was a special committee within the structure of the Ministry. Its main function was to coordinate and expedite implementation of CEDAW. Another responsibility was to prepare the report.
Responding to another series of questions, he said that an evaluation had been done on the ninth plan by individual consultants and experts from various fields. During preparation of the tenth plan, the Government had provided an opportunity for civil society and professional experts to participate. The tenth plan was “far ahead” of the former plan, primarily owing to its inclusion of specific targets. Those included the requirement of at least 20 per cent of women at policy-making levels.
He also drew attention to the passage by the House of Representatives of an amended proposal on domestic violence. But, because of the conflict, the functioning of parliament had halted. On the budgetary questions, he said the budget was “very, very insufficient” to enable the National Ministry to play its role effectively. The Ministry had put that issue before the Minister of Finance and National Planning Commission. Meanwhile, several budgets addressed women’s issues, including in the Ministries of Health and Education, which took into account the strategic and practical needs of women.
Nevertheless, the budgetary allocation for the national machinery was insufficient and inadequate, he stressed.
Experts’ Questions, Comments
Ms. MORVAI, expert from Hungary, said there was very severe internal unrest in Nepal, and that had informed a revision of her comments and questions. When did the delegates expect that Parliament would be in session again? Also, what was the actual constitutional process, specifically, how could it be amended? Regarding citizenship, the law clearly stated that a mother’s citizenship could not be transferred to her children. That was a clear violation of the Convention, about which something must be done. What sort of timeline could the Committee expect? She also asked to what extent and in what form women were participating in peace talks, and whether the refugee camps had any gender-specific violations.
She recalled that the report had stated that the primary cause of trafficking in women was poverty. That issue must be addressed. Another underlying reason was the existence of prostitution and the fact that it had been institutionalized that “men can buy women’s flesh the way they buy furniture and cars”. That must also be addressed. It was not possible to address the trafficking issue without dealing with prostitution.
MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, said that, given the situation in Nepal and its multi-ethic and religious composition, it was not easy to govern it. Thus, the Government should be credited with ratifying the Convention unconditionally and to giving primacy to the application of international treaties and conventions in the law. She asked how the Government should function during that interim period when there was no longer a functioning parliament. In Nepal, as in all developing countries, it was difficult to move things forward because of all the diversity, but CEDAW sought to assist such countries in correcting policies that ran counter to its aims.
She said she hoped that things would improve for Nepalese women. In that regard, their election to government should be ensured. Why had only three women been elected to Parliament, when there should be 20, or 30 or 40? Otherwise, it would not be possible to mobilize those who did not believe in the struggle for progress. Internationally, Nepalese women were known for their courage, skill and knowledge. Why would they then not represent their country abroad? When children were born in Nepal of an unknown father, what was their status?
CHRISTINE KAPALATA, expert from the United Republic of Tanzania, said she hoped that the issue of women’s participation in political life would be considered in the process or amending the Constitution to ensure equal participation in the formulation of government policy. The situation of internal conflict in Nepal was a debilitating factor and its impact on women an important issue. How were women being incorporated into the peace process?
VICTORIA POPESCU SANDRU, the expert from Romania, also thanked the delegation for their frank description of the situation of women in Nepal. Was the committee on reservations targeting the number of women in the civil service? How could the country in a time of warfare identify and recruit women candidates? She also noted that very few women served in the foreign office.
Ms. GASPARD, the expert from France, addressed the Constitution and the minimum percentage of women elected to Parliament. Five per cent was not much. Quotas often acted as ceilings and were rarely exceeded. Progressive quotas were needed. She also asked about women in local government bodies and the civil service. Had the Government considered how to increase the percentage of women and what other measures were being taken?
The quota system had set minimum numbers of women serving in decision-making positions, a representative of the delegation of Nepal said. The question was how to ensure that all ethnic groups were represented in the 20 per cent quota. An act was also being considered to ensure 20 per cent representation of women in local government bodies.
The matter of women’s representation in policy and decision-making had been discussed during the meetings on governance reform, another representative said. Gender equality had been considered an integral part of governance reform. The increasing number of women in civil service was a vital issue. The reform programme included several strategies, including capacity-building and legal change. The Government was also considering how to increase the number of applicants for civil-service positions. The Ministry of Women was acting in line with the need to increase women’s participation.
The reservations committee had a three-month period in which to submit its report to the Government, he said. The Government was ready to incorporate the reservations provisions within the Civil Service Act, which was in the process of amendment. It was high time for the Government to have meaningful reservations for women in policy-making.
HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, noting that some 88 per cent of the population lived in rural areas, said the reality for rural women was low literacy rates, or some 22 per cent. It was extremely important that efforts be made to improve the lives of rural women, not only in household work and child-rearing but also in production. She commended the Government to improve the lives of rural women by creating microcredit projects. The report did not provide enough statistics on education and women in rural areas. Did women have the right to own land in rural areas? Also, while women’s participation in production in agricultural areas was important, how many agricultural development projects were led by women? It was not enough to include 20 to 30 per cent of women in development projects.
PRAMILA PATTEN, the expert from Mauritius, asked to what extent men were being targeted in public information campaigns. What statistics were there on efforts to improve women’s access to health care? She also asked about women’s access to health care in refugee camps. She was concerned about the success of microcredit services in the absence of data to reflect the trend in the last five years. Without data, it was difficult to gage the success of those programmes.
ROSARIO MANALO, an expert from the Philippines, said she was sad and frustrated by the status of education for Nepalese girls and women. She could not comprehend why a country struggling to overcome poverty had failed to adopt more effective means to conquer poverty and illiteracy. While there was a plan for action for education, it seemed inadequate. The low rate of tertiary education was disappointing. Vocational training was limited to low-level employment and low salaries. The very low budgeting allocation for the education of girls was also troublesome. A central strategic programme of education for girls, which was seen as a “priority of priorities”, along with international assistance, could perhaps lead to progress in the education of young girls.
SJAMSIAH ACHMAD, the expert from Indonesia, said there was a need to focus on real equality between men and women. Nepal could make use of the Millennium Development Goals to reach the goal of universal education. Equal access to curriculum in all areas of education was needed. Stereotypical attitudes, including in teaching methods, had to be addressed. Training for judicial and administrative personnel was also needed. She also emphasized the importance of the girl child in education. Unless education started with the girl child, equal partnerships between girls and boys would be impossible.
Ms. SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, the expert from Germany, underlined the absolute priority of education for girls and women. Did the new plan contain appropriate budgetary allocations? Were financial incentives being planned for families to send girls to schools? To what extent were literacy programmes for Dalit women being planned?
Ms. POPESCU SANDRU, the expert from Romania, asked the delegation for a concrete explanation of the main objectives of the national strategy of education for all. She also asked for additional info on the situation of university education.
Regarding the involvement of women in the peace process, a representative said that a woman had played an active role in the peace process. It was also noted that Nepal’s country reports were not submitted to Parliament before being submitted to the women’s anti-discrimination Committee. In addition, consultations on the ratification of the Optional Protocol were currently under way.
On the issue of training, another representative said that training programmes existed at the national and local levels, especially in the area of employment. Regarding plans and strategies to end harmful practices, Nepal’s Constitution prohibited all forms of discrimination. The Government dealt with the issue from both a sociocultural and legal position. Civil society participation has helped to enhance the quality of the report. The Optional Protocol was currently being discussed by the different government ministries, and it was difficult to provide a definite time frame for its ratification.
Regarding gender-specific violence, he said there were no plans to carry out a government study on the issue. Civil society had played a creative role in drafting legislation on domestic violence. The Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare had carried out a general assessment of women in civil service.
Concerning education in rural areas, the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare had carried out a report on the education sector, he added. The Government had noted many gaps in the educational field, especially regarding rural women. Only some 42 per cent of the total budget allocation for the education of women had been absorbed by the target group. The Government was conducting several projects for rural women, including women’s cooperatives. Most of those projects had been led by women. There were 75 women development offices in the country.
Another member of the delegation addressed the issue of training in human rights for judges and parliamentarians, noting that an office now existed for the training of judicial officers. A judicial academy was also being planned. Regarding discriminatory laws, a high-level committee had been formed to determine which laws were inconsistent with the provisions of the Convention. The expert committee had submitted its views and the Prime Minister had submitted that information to the women’s Ministry. At present there was no house of representatives. Parliamentary elections would take place next year. A draft bill had been prepared and it was currently in the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare.
Concerning the process of constitutional amendment, he said a bill to amend any part of the Constitution could be introduced to either house of Parliament. If each house passed a bill by at least two thirds of its members, it would be submitted to the King for assent. General acts could be amended by a simple act of Parliament, however.
Another representative said that the Human Right Commission was an independent body, which could not make binding recommendations. At the same time, it could initiate proceedings on its own and investigate any allegation of human rights violation. He did not have the exact number of cases that had been reported to the Commission, only that it was investigating violations and making recommendations to the Government. Regarding discriminatory laws on citizenship, he gathered from the questions the impression that women were deprived citizenship in Nepal. If a woman was married to a foreigner, then the chances were very good that the children could acquire the citizenship of their father. Women were not deprived of their citizenship rights in Nepal.
Seeking to clarify further the citizenship issue, another representative said that women in Nepal gained citizenship only from their fathers or husbands. No woman married to a foreigner would ever get Nepalese citizenship.
HUGUETE BOKPE GNANCADJA, expert from Benin, said that, despite efforts made and the will demonstrated, there were still some discriminatory provisions, even in laws that had already been amended. That applied to the Land Act, which had been revised but was still discriminatory. She believed that the amended law allowed early marriage and even bigamy. The content of the law, therefore, did not prohibit such marriage, but merely imposed a fine. Nor did it declare a marriage null and void if, in the interim, the woman turned 18, unless she herself had called for nullification. Fifteen years of age seemed to be the average age for marriage and there were few young women who would be brave enough to challenge such a marriage. That was an amended law, yet it still contained discriminatory provisions.
She wondered what had happened to the bills submitted to Parliament, such as the one on domestic violence and on the family courts. She was also concerned that women were not considered capable of receiving court notices or summons. Regarding property, the daughter required the permission of her father and a wife required the consent of her husband in order to acquire property.
Ms. FERRER said that the presence of domestic violence had been acknowledged, and the report explained that deep-rooted patriarchal norms and values were, in themselves, unfavourable to women. Reference had also been made to preferential treatment for boys. With all due respect, she did not think that the representative could describe as “values” patriarchal attitudes that showed disrespect for women or violated their human rights.
The report also stated that women were still discriminated against in marriage and civil affairs, and that while there were legal provisions against such discriminatory practices, those had not yet proven effective. The reason given in the report was the association of those issues with prevailing social “values”. Those could not be described as social or cultural values. She urged the Government to strengthen its political will to comply with the provisions of the women’s Convention and step up the administrative or legal steps they had taken or were about to take. It should also design educational and consciousness raising campaigns directed also to men. It was not just a question of adopting laws; those had to be applied in practice.
Ms. KWAKU, expert from Nigeria, said the country had reported that the issue of bigamy had been addressed. She sought more detail on what the report meant by “conditions, sanctions and consequences”. She also asked whether the measures that were now imposed had in any way reduced or tried to eradicate the incidences of polygamy in Nepal.
Regarding the question of discriminatory provisions, one representative said that if any existed, even after the eleventh amendment to the civil code, those would be dealt with accordingly -- if there were any such provisions. All of the discriminatory laws had been reviewed and bills had been drafted. So, the Government was very much committed to not having discriminatory provisions.
Turning to the questions about bigamy, another representative said women also had several husbands, which was equally bad. Polygamy was illegal by law. Nonetheless, there were many polygamist marriages in Nepal. Legally, men could have two wives if the first wife was infertile for 10 years after marriage or if she had some incurable disease or went blind or became disabled.
Regarding property rights, she said the wife could not inherit land; she had to have the consent of her husband or son. In the case of unmarried daughters, they needed the consent of their fathers. Work was under way to change those provisions.
Ms. SAIGA, expert from Japan, said that according to the report, “daughter” had not yet been included in the definition of family. Equal rights to food and clothing were granted to daughters as to sons. There was nothing special about that; that was a natural right for both boys and girls. Also, the report quotes a decision that preference be given to daughters over adopted or stepsons. She asked about the ramifications of that Supreme Court decision.
Also, concerning the replies about transmission of nationality to children, she said that the response was somewhat surprising. Because Nepal did not allow dual nationality, usually the children had the father’s nationality; that was why the Nepalese women were not allowed to transfer their nationality to children. But, that way of thinking was the opposite of what it should be, namely, that children should have the freedom or right to choose, or the woman should be able to transfer her own nationality to children.
Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, asked about the procedure for applying for passports. Did women still need the permission of a husband or father to apply for a passport? If so, she appealed to the Government to immediately change that procedure, as it would not cost anything for the Government to effect such a change. While the ban on migration had been lifted, women were still not allowed to seek employment in the Gulf countries. Also, while it was good that the abortion ban had been lifted, if there were no abortion services, lifting the ban would be meaningless.
Ms. ŠIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked for further explanation on the nationality issue.
Ms. SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, said that while legal reform and education were utmost priorities, women’s health must also constitute a priority. Women’s health in Nepal was poor. Within the overall CEDAW implementation plan, what budgetary allocations had been allocated for women’s health care?
The expert from Hungary, Ms. MORVAI, asked if she was correct in saying that the Government did not see the citizenship law as discriminatory. The fact that Nepalese women could not transmit their nationality to their husband raised issues under article 16 of the Convention. A Nepalese man was free to marry any nationality, whereas the law restricted the right of the woman.
Ms. ACHMAD, expert from Indonesia, emphasized the importance of training, particularly in the area of women’s human rights. There seemed to be confusion about the meaning of discrimination. From the perspective of women, the definition of discrimination contained in the Convention was very clear.
Ms. GNANCADJA, expert from Benin, said that questions of discrimination should not be held hostage by slow procedures. She asked for further explanation on a comprehensive bill to amend discriminatory legislation.
Ms. KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, raised the issue of family planning. Although the abortion ban had been lifted, were women still in prisons due to abortion-related offences?
Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, asked about implementation of the Convention in light of the fact that the Parliament had not met for some
18 months. Although there was currently no parliament, the Government should be able to implement legislation. Referring to the Beijing Platform of Action, she asked whether Nepal had received international assistance to help it carry out its development goals.
Replying to a question about land rights and the definition of family, a representative said that the definition was provided for differently in different acts. The Land Act abolished tenant rights, for both men and women. Ownership could be distributed between the tenant and the landowner, so no more tenants could be created. The Government had adopted a single ownership policy and if tenant rights had been created before the Act, those should be divided equally between the tenant and the owners.
Regarding abortion service, the eleventh amendment had provided for some circumstances for safe abortion. But, for some time, the procedures had not been approved and the service had not been provided. The Cabinet had now approved the procedures and those were in place. After the abortion act, women were no longer imprisoned for safe abortion under certain circumstances. Women were imprisoned for infanticide, however, and cases were pending.
Regarding citizenship, the representative said it was widely accepted that citizenship was not acquired on the basis of marriage, but either from birth or by descent. Nepal accepted the principle of descent. So, citizenship could neither be lost nor acquired on the basis of marital status. The situation was in line with CEDAW.
Another representative, replying to a question about female migrant workers, said there had been a ban against such women workers, but that ban had been lifted for work in an organized sector or organized enterprise. The Government, however, had not lifted the ban for domestic helpers. There were several reasons behind that. Addressing that issue required the setting up of diplomatic offices in receiving countries. Nepal was seeking bilateral agreements in that regard, and in the case of Malaysia, was finalizing one. The Government had no intention presently to ban women from working in the Gulf countries. In fact, it was drafting a new act on foreign employment to address gender issues and it was trying to introduce some acts specifically geared towards female migrant workers.
Responding to a query about passports, another representative said he had not come across any case where a Nepalese woman had asked for a passport without the authorization of a man.
Chairperson ACAR thanked the delegation for their presentation and for responding to the questions raised by the pre-session working group. She was gratified to have had the presence of the Minister and a distinguished delegation of experts. As had been expressed by many experts, she appreciated the frank manner in which they had approached the issues. Nonetheless, in the future, she sought more concrete action and in–depth attention to women’s human rights matters in Nepal. She urged the delegation, especially since there was no parliament at the moment, to ensure that women’s human rights issues were not put on the back burner. She assumed that other matters were being taken care of through some mechanism that allowed the country to continue running.
She said it had been the Committee’s experience that in many times of transition and crisis where existing political authority had the will in favour of promoting women’s human rights, much ground could be covered. As a State that had ratified the Convention without reservations and as a political system where international obligations had precedence over domestic legislation, there was no reason why some very significant steps could not be taken to eliminate “blatantly discriminatory” legislation against women. Some specific changes could be ensured, even in the absence of parliament, and the groundwork could be laid for infrastructure and parliamentary action in the future.
Personally, she said she felt that the citizenship law required serious attention. The fact that it did not give the same rights to female nationals of Nepal as it did to its male nationals in passing on citizenship to their offspring “flew in the face” of the Convention, and some urgent action was required. Similarly, laws on violence against women and legislation that outlawed harmful traditions relating to marriage, including early marriage, polygamy and land ownership, must be put in place. Also important was to ensure effective implementation of existing laws.
At the same time, she said she was pleased that gender equality was considered a priority matter of the Government. It had also been encouraging to learn that it had embarked on several critical activities, such as the establishment of human and women’s rights commissions. She was also pleased at the creation of a national CEDAW committee. The presence of such a statutory body was a sign of the importance the Government attached to the Convention. She urged it to ensure that adequate power and financial and personnel resources were allocated to those institutions for their effective functioning.
In Nepal, where war and conflict appeared to affect efforts to implement the Convention, efforts to include women in the peace process would yield double dividends -- both as an input into the success of the peace efforts and as a means to empower women in the long term. There was a “long distance to be crossed” in achieving gender equality for women in Nepal. Also welcome had been the Government’s prioritization of the education issue. Yet, the persistence of stereotypical attitudes and discriminatory patriarchal values were of “great concern” to the Committee. Culture was not a static phenomenon; it was a changing one, and efforts to eliminate discriminatory values were precisely built into the provisions of the Convention. So, she encouraged the Government to take concrete steps along those lines by putting in place awareness campaigns and all kinds of other measures.
Ms. YADAV, Minister of State of the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, said she had been impressed by the deliberations on the report. She thanked representatives of non-governmental organizations for their contribution to the process. The Committee had been receptive and its suggestions thoughtful. The delegation had taken note of its comments and wished to continue the dialogue in the future. She reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to the Convention, and stated that it would continue taking necessary reform measures. International assistance would be required in that regard.
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