WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE HEARS REPLIES TO EXPERTS’ QUESTIONS FROM BHUTAN, KUWAIT
WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE HEARS REPLIES TO EXPERTS’ QUESTIONS FROM BHUTAN, KUWAIT
Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
641st & 642nd Meetings (AM & PM)
WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE HEARS REPLIES
TO EXPERTS’ QUESTIONS FROM BHUTAN, KUWAIT
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which monitors implementation of the Women’s Convention, heard replies today from the Governments of Bhutan and Kuwait to questions it posed to those delegations last week following presentations of their reports.
In the morning session, the 23 Committee experts, who serve in their personal capacities, heard Bhutan’s response to their observation last week that, while many efforts were indeed under way to improve women’s welfare in that small, landlocked country, its report had revealed a “certain hesitation” about plans to address discrimination.
The Minister for Labour and Human Resources of Bhutan, Lyonpo Ugyen Tshering, said that social and traditional perceptions and practices in Bhutan generally favoured women, including in matters of inheritance. He stressed that there had been no instances of female infanticide, dowry deaths, bride burning, vicious acid attacks and organized trafficking in women and children. Nevertheless, certain perceptions might hinder the full realization of gender development in Bhutan. With increasing capacity and experience it would be possible to “step up targeted advocacy and awareness programmes” to address that, he said.
Touching on the numerous questions of the experts, speakers, addressing concerns about education, explained that, in the past four decades, the Government had been able to create a modern educational system. Enrolment had increased over the years at an impressive rate, supported by specific efforts to increase girls’ enrolment. With the pace of development and urbanization weakening traditional family ties and community-based social support systems, educators had responded by strengthening values education in schools. Also, reproductive health education was now an important part of the school curriculums.
Regarding Bhutan’s high population growth rate, another representative said Bhutan was in the process of finalizing its population policy, which outlined strategies to address that major concern. Aimed at encouraging a “small family” norm, several family-planning options had been made available to women and couples, and counselling had been provided. In view of the high birth rate, the Government had been expanding the use of contraceptives through advocacy and awareness programmes.
The practice of polygamy and polyandry was not widespread in Bhutan, a speaker replied in a response to a series of question on that subject. The law specified, however, that it could be practised with the consent of the spouse, but with socio-economic changes and increasing education, such practices were fast declining. According to the Marriage Act, either the husband or wife could petition the court for divorce on various grounds, including adultery, cruelty, separation, abandonment, sterility and wilful negligence.
Wrapping up consideration of Bhutan’s initial through sixth reports, the Committee Chairperson and expert from Turkey, Ayse Feride Acar, said the country was at an exciting crossroads in drafting its first-ever constitution and putting in place a modern political and legal framework. She urged the inclusion in the constitution of the essential building blocks of a non-discriminatory social and political system, adding that the opportunity did not arise every day to forge a constitution and should be seized. Specifically, inclusion of a definition of discrimination was a very important safeguard.
This afternoon, the delegation of Kuwait responded to questions posed to it on 15 January, when it presented its combined initial and second reports. Addressing the issue of Kuwait’s reservations to several of the Convention’s articles, including the reservation to the article on women’s right to vote, one member of the delegation said the Government wished to introduce a draft to the Parliament giving women the right to vote. The reservation to article 7 (a) of the Convention would be lifted when women were allowed to vote. Kuwaiti women had made great progress, and she was convinced that the Parliament would soon approve political rights for women.
Regarding the Convention’s applicability to Kuwait’s domestic legislation, another speaker noted that in her view, Kuwait’s Constitution did not contradict the provisions of the Convention. Each society had its own values, and the Government was attempting to implement the Convention in a way that it did not clash with Islamic Sharia, which was a way of life in Kuwait.
Other topics addressed by Kuwait’s delegation included the right to citizenship, given Kuwait’s large non-Kuwaiti population; women’s participation in the military, diplomatic service and the judiciary; family life; violence against women; and prostitution. Speakers also provided a detailed review of legislation covering health care, including the situation under the law of persons with disabilities, pregnant women, the provision of childcare, illnesses affecting women, such as HIV/AIDS, and female circumcision.
In closing, the Committee Chairperson called for a more concrete demonstration of the Government’s political will to implement the Convention. That instrument was as much about the elimination of de facto discrimination against women as it was about de jure discrimination, and as much about the elimination of direct discrimination as it was about eliminating indirect discrimination. The Committee, therefore, was very keen to hear about measures and policies taken by the Government to ensure full implementation in all its facets. She urged the Government to embark on a nationwide campaign to educate all about the Convention’s letter and spirit.
Prior to hearing replies from delegations, Maria Francisca Ize-Charrin, Chief, Treaties and Commission Branch, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, updated the Committee on recent developments as they pertained to human rights treaty bodies.
Also part of Bhutan’s delegation were: Daw Penjo, Permanent Representative of Bhutan to the United Nations; Tshering Penjoy, First Secretary; Ugyen Wangdi, Office of Legal Affairs; Rinchhen Chophel, Ministry of Health; Kesang Choden, Department of Aid and Debt Management; Yangey Penjor, Youth Development Fund; Tshering Pem, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Thimphu; Sangye Rinchhen, International Convention Division; Kinga Singye, Head, Policy Planning Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Participating in Kuwait’s delegation was: Nabeela Abdulla Al-Mulla, Permanent Representative of Kuwait to the United Nations; Fatma Nazar, Attaché, Ministry of Education; and Tahani Al-Turkait, Attaché, Ministry of Information.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow to take up the combined fourth through sixth reports of Belarus.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met today to hear replies from the delegation of Bhutan to the questions posed during that Government’s presentation of its combined initial, second through sixth reports (document CEDAW/C/BTN/1-6) on 16 January. (For details of that presentation and ensuing discussion, please see Press Release WOM/1426.)
At its afternoon session, the Committee was expected to hear replies from the delegation of Kuwait, which presented the Government’s combined initial and second periodic reports (document CEDAW/C/KWT/1-2) on 15 January. (For details of that report and discussion, please see Press Release WOM/1425.)
Briefing by Chief of Treaties and Commission Branch
Briefing the Committee on recent developments, MARIA FRANCISCA IZE-CHARRIN, Chief, Treaties and Commission Branch, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the second half of 2003 had been a difficult time for the Office, as it had been much affected by the death of the late High Commissioner, Sergio Vieira de Mello. The staff had been strengthened by the many statements of solidarity it had received, however, including from the Committee. The staff had decided to continue the work of the late High Commissioner, and much had been achieved under the leadership of the acting High Commissioner, Bertrand Ramcharan. Mr. Vieira de Mello had initiated several changes, including the establishment of a new branch, the Special Procedures Branch.
The Treaties and Commission Branch had been restructured through the creation of a pooling system to ensure flexible staffing to service the seven treaty bodies, she said. The pooling system was designed to assist in the preparation of the introduction of the expanded core document. The Branch was working on draft guidelines for the extended core document and for harmonizing guidelines for the treaty bodies. Those new guidelines would be presented at the meeting of chairs of treaty bodies in June in Geneva.
She said the Branch had also been working closely with the Division for the Advancement of Women. It had also met with United Nations agencies concerning the expanded core document and was organizing a meeting with non-governmental organization (NGO) representatives. The treaty reform process was a complex task. The more one worked on it, the more complex it became. The Branch was committed to carrying the exercise to the best of its ability, as it was the future of the treaty body system.
She was especially keen that the newly established and long-awaited Committee on the Rights of Migrants would adopt innovative reporting methods reflective of the reform proposals which were now being developed. In 2003, the treaty bodies based in Geneva had reviewed a total of 84 States reports. All the committees had adopted procedures that allowed them to review the situation in countries whose initial or periodic reports were overdue. Several of the treaty bodies were now focusing on follow-up to concluding observations. In December, the second workshop on follow-up to the concluding observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child had been held. She hoped to organize a follow-up workshop on the concluding observations of the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee, as well.
For the first time, in November 2003, a training session had been held for representatives of governments, NGOs, national institutions and the media, she continued. The training session had taken place when three treaty bodies were meeting in Geneva, allowing for interaction between the two. Regarding the Secretary-General’s recommendation to enhance the protection at the national level, the Branch was helping 14 countries to present country profiles that included information on the recommendations of all treaty bodies.
An independent expert to study violence against children had been appointed in February 2003, she said. He would carry out the study with the collaboration of the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO). A director for the study had also been identified. A meeting to develop a questionnaire for governments’ request for information on violence against children had been held. The questionnaire would be sent to all United Nations Member States. The expert wanted to engage with treaty bodies regarding the study, and would be grateful to discuss ways to collaborate on it.
The office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was working on ways to participate in the Barcelona Forum, a cultural and intellectual event to take place in Barcelona in May. The Forum would be structured around 45 dialogues divided into 11 thematic blocks. The Forum would host a women’s world forum in July, while a world youth festival would take place in August. Both activities were natural focuses for the Committee and she would be grateful for its input in that regard.
Summary of Bhutan’s Response
LYONPO UGYEN TSHERING, Minister for Labour and Human Resources, introducing the country’s response, said there would be gaps. Additional information where possible, therefore, would be included in the country’s next report. (The delegation circulated a written response to the experts’ questions posed last week. The following summary reflects several members of the delegation as they read from that response.
Responding to questions about the lateness in the country’s submission of its report, a speaker recalled that Bhutan ratified the Convention in 1981, without reservation. The delay in reporting had been due to a lack of capacity and resources. The absence of appropriate institutions, trained and experienced personnel, compounded by the paucity of disaggregated data, contributed largely to the delay. But, many initiatives had been taken to put in place the capacity and the institutions necessary to fulfil the reporting obligation.
Concerning the extent to which the Convention had been disseminated, the speaker said that the English version was first disseminated among the government agencies during the ratification process. Translation of the full version in different local languages was undertaken last year, with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Those texts had been circulated to all branches of the government, both national and local, civil society and non-governmental organizations.
The delegate said that the Government had made “conscious efforts” to internalize different legal measures, as required by the Convention, into all new laws and amendments. The Citizenship Act of 1985, the amendment to the Marriage Act of 1996, the Rape Act of 1996, and the Criminal Procedure Code 2001 were in harmony with the Convention. The Government was continuing to take measures necessary to harmonize the principles of the Convention into domestic laws.
Social and traditional perceptions and practices in Bhutan generally favoured women, the speaker stressed. Overall, parents did not have preference for sons and gave as much care to girls as boys. Women were favoured in terms of inheritance in many part of the country. Instances of female infanticide, dowry deaths, bride burning, vicious acid attacks and organized trafficking in women and children “are absent”, he said.
Nevertheless, the speaker said, the country was conscious that some perceptions might hinder the full realization of gender development in Bhutan, which should be addressed. With increasing capacity and experience, it would be possible to “step up targeted advocacy and awareness programmes” to do so.
In terms of temporary special measures, in the 40 years of planned socio-economic development, women and children’s concerns had always received priority, the speaker said. Starting in 1992, all five-year development plans had incorporated separate chapters highlighting the special needs of women and children and providing guidelines to mainstream gender concerns into sectoral plans and programmes. On the legislative front, the drafting of various new laws had adequately covered women’s concerns.
Replying to another set of questions, another delegate said that the National Commission on Women and Children would be the national machinery to monitor implementation of the Convention. In order to improve data collection, the Central Statistical Organization had appointed 20 new trained statisticians in all 20 districts. Further, the organization was recently restructured into an autonomous body as the National Statistical Bureau. At present, there were many data-collection systems by which individual sectors and agencies generated relevant data. The collection of gender-disaggregated data would be made mandatory by the National Statistical Bureau.
To questions concerning the refugees, the delegate said that economic immigration was the root cause of the problem of the people in the camps. The first influx of Nepalese immigrants into southern Bhutan began in the first half of the twentieth century. Those immigrants were granted Bhutanese citizenship in 1958. The influx of illegal economic migrants increased significantly after Bhutan embarked on its first five-year plan in 1961. Preoccupied with development activities and with few resources to police its borders, it was only in the latter half of the 1980s that Bhutan realized the extent of illegal immigration into the country.
The speaker noted that thousands of rural Nepalese from the region, driven by poverty, population explosion, and environmental degradation, took advantage of the porous Indo-Bhutan border to illegally settle in the largely uninhabited and fertile belts of southern Bhutan. Being a small country with a tiny population of about 600,000 at that time, it was imperative for Bhutan’s survival to stem the continuous tide of economic migrants. In a short-time span, Bhutan had absorbed an immigrant population of about 23 per cent of its population and granted them citizenship. It would have been difficult to accept more.
The national census of 1988 revealed a large number of illegal settlers, the speaker said. That exercise was opposed by politically motivated people, who launched activities to oppose the census and any policies aimed at curbing the illegal immigration, and they carried out terrorist activities. Failing to win mass support, they began a campaign to congregate as many people as possible in refugee camps in eastern Nepal. Their objective was to start a political campaign based on ethnicity, baseless accusations of human rights violations, and slogans of democracy, aimed at achieving their narrow political ends.
The speaker said that, starting in 1993, the two Governments engaged in direct bilateral talks to find a lasting and durable solution to the problem of the people in the camps in eastern Nepal, and the two countries had set up a Ministerial Joint Committee to deal with the matter. Significant progress had been made in recent years. Bhutan had agreed to take full responsibility for any Bhutanese found to have been forcefully evicted from Bhutan. It had been agreed that those who had emigrated would be dealt with in accordance with the citizenship and immigration laws of the two countries.
Bhutan fully appreciated and understood the humanitarian aspects of that complex problem and was doing everything possible to reach a just and durable solution, the representative said.
Turning to a question about domestic violence, the speaker said that that was a criminal offence and punishable under law. While there was no specific provision on domestic violence against women, there were provisions that dealt with different forms of violence, such as assault, battery and so forth, under the draft penal code. Through education, workshops and awareness training, judges, police, doctors, teachers, mass media representatives and political leaders were being sensitized on violence against women and sexual abuse/harassment to make their interventions more effective.
As to when the draft constitution would be enacted, the speaker said that the drafting process began in November 2001, and the first internal draft was completed at the end of 2002. A second internal draft was completed in August 2003. It was likely that the drafting committee would make several more revisions before submitting a working draft to the King and the Government. Once that text was available, it would be sent to all districts and blocks for further discussion. The draft would be finalized and enacted by the Parliament after that process was completed.
A representative explained, to another question, that the National Women’s Association of Bhutan was established in 1981 with the aim of improving the living standards and socio-economic status of women, especially rural women. It sought to create awareness among women of the importance of proper maternal and childcare, among other aspects of their health. Among its other tasks, it also sought to encourage women to take an active part in implementation of development programmes. The Association was an NGO and was fully autonomous and self-sustaining. Over the years, it had developed several alternative, income-generating activities to improve the socio-economic status of rural women and encourage the sustainable use of natural resources.
Regarding the inclusion of gender concerns in government policies, the speaker said that, since the seventh plan, it had been the policy that measures related to the promotion of women in development would be incorporated in all sectoral projects and programmes. Accordingly, appropriate strategies for women in development had been incorporated in all sectoral plans. The establishment of the National Commission for Women and Children, the ongoing focus on generation of disaggregated data and the capacity-building of gender focal points in all relevant agencies would further ensure that gender concerns were taken into account when formulating policies.
Education, the speaker said to another set of questions, was recognized both as a basic right and as a prerequisite for achieving the wider social, cultural and economic goals set for the country. One strategic objective of that sector was to continuously improve the quality and relevance of education to ensure holistic development of the child, irrespective of gender. More specifically, school textbooks used terms like he/she, human (instead of men and women), and the use of gender-biased words were avoided. Textbooks and other learning materials incorporated changes through “gender neutral” words and pictures. In addition, programmes, such as Scouting and Career Counselling, encouraged girls to participate equally in all spheres.
The report’s reference to “immoral trafficking” was not a qualification of trafficking, the speaker said. That was purely a linguistic style. The victim’s morality was not an issue in trafficking. Bhutan ratified in 2003 the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution. It had been assumed that the 1949 Convention on Suppression of Prostitution was similar in substance, but, based on the expert’s recommendation, the Government would study it.
To reverse stereotypical views, the speaker said the Government was promoting the importance of women by linking the education of girls to Bhutan’s development objective of “Gross National Happiness”. An important step in that regard had been the media campaign to raise awareness about women’s contribution to society and their role in nation building. Girl’s education had been given the highest priority, and career counselling was also targeting girls, sending the message that there was no barrier to what they could achieve.
Turning to political participation, the speaker noted that the number of women in the National Assembly had increased over the years. Today, 13 out of the 100 elected representatives were women. Women also participated in the District Development and the Block Development Committees, for which data would be provided in the next report. In the judiciary, modern legal education started in the 1990s. The first “batch” of lawyers graduated in 1994, and today there were more than 60 law graduates, of whom 16 were women. Previously, one of the justices of the high court was a woman. Currently, one woman served as a district judge. The number of women undertaking legal studies outside the country was increasing, and further data would be provided.
Concerning foreign service, the speaker said that Bhutan had no serving woman ambassador. The Foreign Secretary of Bhutan, which was the second highest position in the diplomatic services, was a woman. The Deputy Chief in two of Bhutan’s six missions was a woman. Women diplomats comprised 44 per cent of all training and fellowships offered in the ministry. Currently, of three diplomats in post-graduate studies, two were women. In the last decade, one out of two delegates sent from the capital to the United Nations General Assembly had been a woman diplomat. An attempt was being made to ensure that there was at least one woman diplomat in each mission abroad.
On the issue of citizenship, a member of the delegation said the 1958 and 1977 Citizenship Acts granted citizenship to children of a Bhutanese father. Non-Bhutanese spouses and children of non-Bhutanese fathers would be granted residence status with provision for naturalization. The 1985 Citizenship Act was gender neutral and a person would acquire citizenship in several ways, including by naturalization. Marriage to non-Bhutanese did not change the nationality of a woman. Women were neither rendered Stateless nor forced to acquire the nationality of their husbands. For non-Bhutanese spouses and children, access to health, basic education and other services was available without restriction.
Regarding education, a member of the delegation said modern education in Bhutan had started in the late 1950s. Within four decades, the Government had been able to create a modern education system and enrolment had increased over the years at an impressive rate. Efforts had been made to enhance the enrolment of girls. Bhutan was committed to eliminating gender disparity in primary education by 2005. Girls and boys had equal opportunities in access to education, including technical education. Some 40 per cent of the education budget constituted international aid. Most of the budget for infrastructure development was in the form of soft loans from the World Bank.
The pace of development and urbanization was weakening traditional family ties and community-based social support systems, the speaker said. While challenge was inevitable, the challenge was to strike a balance between progress developing and preserving the tested value system of a traditional society. Bhutanese educators had responded by strengthening values education in schools. Reproductive health education was now an important part of the school curriculum which responded to the needs of girls, in particular. In 2003, the percentage of female teachers was some 36 per cent -– a 1 per cent increase over the previous year. Non-formal education had overwhelmingly benefited women, which constituted the majority of the country’s illiterate population. The Government’s goal was complete literacy by 2012.
Concerning the issue of employment, a member of the delegation said there was no discrimination in terms of equal employment opportunity for Bhutanese women. Royal Civil Service Commission regulations served as a standard for many private enterprises, as well as regarding equal pay and opportunity. A national labour policy and legislation under formulation would ensure equal pay for equal work and equal employment opportunities for all Bhutanese.
Regarding Bhutan’s high growth rate, another representative said Bhutan was in the process of finalizing its Population Policy. The draft policy outlined strategies to address the issue of growth rate, as population growth had been a major concern. The Royal Decree on Population Planning, issued in 1995, was a landmark policy directive encouraging all families to adopt the small family norm. Several family planning options were available to women and couples, and adequate counselling was provided so that they could make informed choices. In view of the high birth rate, the Government had been expanding the use of contraceptives through advocacy and awareness programmes. Bhutan had the highest rate of vasectomy in South-East Asia.
The Baseline Gender Pilot Study found that rural women in Bhutan were involved in productive, as well as household, work, the representative said. Rural women were engaged in agricultural-related economic activities, as well as supplementary activities, such as weaving, kitchen gardening and other off-farm wage labour. There was no distinct division of roles between women and men in most rural areas.
Addressing the issue of marriage law, a delegate said a Bhutanese person could legally marry at age 18. Without obtaining a marriage certificate from the court, the marriage was not legally recognized. Underage marriages did take place in rural areas. The courts would not issue marriage certificates for such marriages. Women were free to choose their spouses. Non-Bhutanese husbands were granted residency status with provisions for naturalization.
The practice of polygamy and polyandry was not widespread in Bhutan, the speaker said. The law specified, however, that it could be practised with the consent of the spouse. With socio-economic changes and increasing education, such practices were fast declining. According to the Marriage Act, either the husband or wife could petition the court for divorce on various grounds, including adultery, cruelty, separation, abandonment, sterility and wilful negligence.
Regarding land-ownership patterns in urban areas, a member of the delegation noted that the previously mentioned Pilot Study found that, in rural areas, some 60 per cent of women owned property, as opposed to 40 per cent for men. In urban areas, however, 55 per cent of men as compared to 36 per cent of women owned property.
HANNA BEATE SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, reiterated that it would be very welcome if the constitution could, at least, take up the definition of discrimination, of purpose and effect, as enshrined in the Women’s Convention. The Committee was planning to adopt a general recommendation on temporary special measures. It was very important to have that reference in the constitution. Was the country shifting the burden of proof onto the woman in cases of discrimination? she asked. In the case of an employment grievance, the burden of proof should be on the employer and not the plaintiff woman. Also, the right to equal pay for equal work was most important.
HEISOO SHIN, Vice-Chairperson and expert from the Republic of Korea, said the right to equal pay for equal work should also incorporate the concept of equal pay for work of equal value, which might be more applicable in terms of gender equality. Regarding the unequal enrolment of female students in technical institutions, the answer indicated that admission was granted on the basis of merit alone. Applying a temporary special measure did not necessarily mean unequal admission criteria. She hoped the Government would consider that.
FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, noted that the delegation had stated that it was generally understood that domestic law would prevail. What was the relationship with international law? she asked. She sought clarification on the Citizenship Act of 1985, specifically whether the new law had superseded the former ones. Also, was a child “stateless” until reaching a certain age?
CHRISTINE KAPALATA, Rapporteur and expert from the United Republic of Tanzania, asked the Government to conduct an assessment of areas where temporary special measures were needed. The delegation should also look at articles 7 and 8 of the Convention, respectively, on political and public life and representation at the international level, to see whether those could be applied. Also, she wanted to know whether any provision had been envisaged by the Government to provide training for women diplomats.
SJAMSIAH ACHMAD, expert from Indonesia, noticed that the description of the constitutional reform process had been entirely internal. Had that process included experts in international treaties, given the country’s obligation under those instruments? Noting that the five-year development plan would include a separate chapter on women, children and gender, she suggested that there should be a separate chapter on women alone, and be guided by the Convention, lest they be perceived solely as mothers.
PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, said that since there was no specific anti-discrimination legislation, the Government should include a provision, in the Labour Act, to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sex, marital status, family responsibility, and pregnancy or potential pregnancy, and on preventing sexual harassment at work.
DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, noting that the lack of technical institutional capacity had been cited as the main obstacle to joining international treaties, said technical assistance was available through the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Also, while drafting of the constitution, it was very important to use, as an inspiration, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, among other texts.
A member of the delegation thanked the experts for their interest in the situation of Bhutanese women. He agreed that the crucial phase the country was going through in terms of legislative and social change provided an opportunity to guide the thinking on women’s issues and concerns. The issue of discrimination was a complex one. More focused definitions of discrimination would produce more focused remedies. Temporary measures were necessary, and he looked forward to the Committee’s recommendations on the matter.
He said he had taken note of the two points raised on the Labour Act, including ways to collect evidence of discrimination in the workplace. While progress had been made on the issue of equal pay for equal work, more needed to be done in that regard. Although Bhutan’s legal system stressed the importance of international instruments over domestic legislation, the domestication of the Convention would need to be further studied.
Health and education had been the focus of Bhutan’s development activities, he said. He agreed that the issue of women and children should be broadened to all spheres of socio-economic and political activity. Regarding the training of diplomats, he said the number of training sessions for women diplomats was perhaps higher than the number of sessions for men.
The 1958 Citizenship Act was important in that it provided citizenship of a large group of people whose status had been unclear, he added. Each Act following that had introduced change, and the 1985 Act was gender neutral.
In closing, Committee Chairperson and expert from Turkey, Ayse Feride Acar, thanked the delegation for its diligent and careful response. The Committee was cognizant of the steps taken to implement the Convention in Bhutan, which had shown how ratification of an international Convention had enhanced efforts to promote women’s human rights. She hoped that the Government would consider ratifying the remaining human rights instruments, so that those could pave the way for the creation of a comprehensive, enabling environment for implementation of the Women’s Convention in its entirety, and human rights, in general. The country was at an exciting crossroads and embarking on very significant efforts.
She said that the drafting of the constitution was a great opportunity. She urged it to include the essential building blocks of a non-discriminatory social and political system. That opportunity did not arise everyday and should be seized. Specifically, the constitution should include a definition of discrimination, as contained in the Convention, as a very import safeguard for the future.
The delegation had also highlighted some traditions that were supportive of women. She urged it to take advantage of those. In building a modern system and creating a legal framework, such traditions should be preserved. The fact, for instance, that women were favoured in the matter of inheritance in some parts of the country provided a certain infrastructure on which the country could build. At the same time, she cautioned against “assuming too much and in a gender blind fashion” with regard to the stereotypical roles and traditions.
She also drew attention to the need to adopt specific legislation on violence against women. The Committee’s experience had suggested that, in the absence of such legislation, the many forms of violence faced by women often went unpunished and even unnoticed. She had been pleased to learn that efforts were already in place for the training of legal and security personnel in that regard, but those also needed a law on which to act.
Collecting and organizing sex-disaggregated statistics on all of the issues discussed was also vital, she said. Without such data, it would never be possible to identify the problems accurately and to put in place policies and measures to eliminate discrimination against women where it existed. She expected to see that data in the country’s next report in 2006.
Also, she said, efforts should be stepped up to increase women’s participation at the decision-making level, in diplomacy and the judiciary, at the present early stage of Bhutan’s efforts to develop good governance and modern political and legal systems. She admired the efforts to increase primary school enrolment. That had been no small undertaking and she congratulated the Government on the result. She also underlined the need to accelerate measures to ensure girl’s enrolment in secondary, technical and higher education institutions. The literacy training of adult women was another critical area.
On employment, she encouraged the Government to examine the experiences of other countries in designing their employment policies. Once again, the need for sex disaggregated data was basic. It would also help if some research was conducted on global experiences of gender discrimination in the labour market, particularly the negative implications of sex-segregated markets and the resulting “de facto” wage gaps. She remained concerned about polygamy and insisted that steps be taken to abolish it, as well as to prevent and eliminate underage marriages, which, although not legal, were still practised in different parts of the country.
Summary of Kuwait’s Response
NABEELA ABDULLA AL-MULLA, the Permanent Representative of Kuwait to the United Nations, said the last time she had been before the Committee, she had not yet presented her credentials, but now she was “kosher”. She introduced the members of her delegation, which included Fatma Nazar from the Ministry of Education and Tahani Al-Turkait from the Ministry of Information, Kuwait’s first media attaché.
Concerning the Convention’s dissemination in Kuwait, a member of the delegation said the Convention had been published in Kuwait’s official newspaper in 1994.
Addressing Kuwait’s reservations to several articles of the Convention, she said that the reservation to article 7 was limited to sub-paragraph a, which related to granting women the right to vote in elections and be eligible for election to all publicly elected bodies. Kuwait’s reservation to article 7a stemmed from the fact that there was a discrepancy between the provisions of the Convention and Kuwaiti law. However, the Government wished to publish a law granting women the right to vote. When that draft was accepted, the reservation would be withdrawn.
Regarding the reservation to article 9, concerning nationality, she said that Kuwait’s reservation was limited to paragraph 2 regarding the equal right of women concerning the nationality of their children. That article ran counter to the law on Kuwaiti nationality. The children of a Kuwaiti woman married to a foreigner acquired Kuwaiti citizenship only in special situations.
Concerning the reservation to article 16(f), on marriage and family life, she said the question of guardianship was governed by Kuwaiti civil law and law governing the rights of private individuals stemming from Islamic Sharia on adoption. Kuwait’s Constitution stated that treaties were adopted by decree. Treaties had the force of law after adoption and after they were published in official documents. Regarding protections under the Constitution for non-Kuwaitis, she said the Constitution stated that people were equal before the law regardless of race, origin, language or religion.
Addressing the issue of sexual violence, she said the Kuwaiti penal code stated sexual attacks and prostitution were punishable criminal offences.
The Constitution, she noted, did not explicitly mention women. That question was currently under consideration. The Constitution addressed human beings in general. The Constitution allowed women to enjoy all rights without discrimination. It provided general provisions and did not go into detail.
Concerning women and family life, she said the cohesion of the family was intrinsic to Islamic society. The family was the foundation of society, which was based on religion, ethics and love of homeland.
Regarding capital punishment and women, she said capital punishment was one of the major punishments under Kuwaiti penal law that applied to both men and women. If it were proven that the woman to be executed was pregnant, the sentence of capital punishment would be changed to life imprisonment.
Prostitution in all its aspects and manifestations was considered a criminal act, she said. The Kuwaiti penal code provided penalties for acts including debauchery, prostitution, pimping and maintaining brothels. Sentences would also be imposed on those who printed, sold or distributed pornographic material.
On the question of “honour crimes”, she said that while Kuwaiti law contained no specific wording under that heading, the penal code dealt with crimes under the heading of “crimes involving reputation”.
If a man found his wife, mother, daughter or sister having sexual relations with a man, and if he killed the man or both of them, he would be subject to a sentence of up to three years, she noted. Sexual relations by force or threat carried with it the sentence of capital punishment or life in prison. If the person committing the act was a relation of the victim, or worked as a servant in that house, the punishment was capital punishment. Any married individual, man or woman, who had sexual intercourse with an individual other than his or her spouse, without consent, would receive up to a five year prison term.
Regarding political parties in Kuwait, she said the Constitution stipulated the right to establish associations and unions on a national basis. It did not, however, force individuals to join assemblies or unions.
On the issue of women in the Kuwaiti judiciary, she said that while there were a number of female lawyers, there were no female judges. That did not mean that the situation could not change, however.
Concerning women’s work in the military, she said that a ministerial decree stipulated that any Kuwaiti, man or woman, could volunteer for the army. Some women had been accepted to work in the army for administrative work. There were no laws governing the rights of women, such as maternity leave, sick days and so forth, and it had been requested that the law regarding women in the army be made compatible with their nature.
She said that the draft was before the People’s Assembly. If the amendments were adopted, it would be possible for women to be accepted into the military. There was nothing to keep them from joining the military ranks, “as long as they were entrusted with work that was in harmony with their nature” -- such as administrative work and work specifically adapted to women.
Presently, four Kuwaiti women were serving as diplomats, she replied to another question. In the informal sector, statistics for 2002 showed that women’s participation in the private sector was approximately 50,775, and in the governmental sector, 106,663. As to why the report highlighted certain jobs where women were allowed to work in the evening, such as in the pharmaceutical or entertainment fields, a decree stipulated that women could work in certain sectors during the evening in those areas. The nature of that work was consistent with the nature of women and enabled owners of such businesses to provide transportation home for the women.
As far as equal pay for equal work, she said that the labour law stipulated that there should be no salary discrimination. Women should receive equal salaries as men, if they were doing the same work.
Concerning the series of questions about nationality, she said that maintaining nationality was stipulated in Act 1959. Retaining Kuwaiti nationality depended on the woman not having the nationality of another country and the need to relinquish the earlier nationality from naturalized individuals. That meant that those persons must comply with the acts clearly stipulated in the law on Kuwaiti nationality.
Another speaker detailed the reasons for the withdrawal of citizenship. Women could not transfer their nationality to their family. A foreign woman could acquire Kuwaiti nationality when she was married to a Kuwaiti. She could not claim nationality simply by residing in Kuwait.
She also provided a detailed review of legislation covering health care, including the situation under the law concerning persons with disabilities, pregnant women, the provision of childcare, illnesses affecting women such as HIV/AIDS, and female circumcision. The number of women admitted to the hospital for contagious diseases had been more than 1,000. Only 12 cases of women were reportedly suffering from AIDS. Female circumcision among foreigners was virtually non-existent in Kuwait.
Regarding the waiting period for divorce, that period was planned according to Islam, firstly, to allow the couple to reconcile after a conflict, and secondly, to be sure the woman was not pregnant. There was also an ethical reason for that waiting period, namely, to be sure the woman would have peace restored to her life, following a divorce. According to Kuwaiti law, both men and women must wait before remarrying. If a man wanted to marry his wife’s sister, then the waiting period was clearly spelled out.
Women could marry at the age of 15, she replied to another set of queries. The civil code specifically stated that the marriage could not take place if the woman was under the age of 15 or if the man was under the age of 17. The request to marry could be made by any individual of the age of maturity. As for the management of property acquired during the marriage, the property of each spouse was separate under the Islamic Sharia.
Regarding violence against women, according to the Koran, God had created man and woman that they might find peace with each other in a spirit of compassion. Therefore, violence against one’s wife was a crime under the law. The civil code stipulated that each spouse could request a separation if he or she felt that they had been offended within the marriage and could not continue it. Each had the right to request the dissolution of the marriage if there was a problem that could harm one of the partners or impede the quality of the marriage, whether or not the problem had existed before the marriage.
She added that the dissolution of the marriage could take place with the consent of either party. A woman’s request for dissolution of the marriage, for whatever reason, was entirely valid. For example, she could seek a divorce if the man was not supporting the family materially and providing for expenses for a four-month period, without any arrangement having been made between the couple.
Ms. SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, said that while she noted that reservations were allowed under the Convention, more information was needed on the impact of the current reservations on Kuwaiti women and children, particularly given the large number of non-Kuwaiti residents in the country. She encouraged the Government to continue to push for a change in the law regarding the right of women to vote and be elected, which could lead to the lifting of the reservations. The nationality law was complex. A review of the matter could lead to the lifting of the reservation regarding nationality.
Ms. SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, noted that she had not received an answer to her question on the preparation of the report. Also, what happened in cases of inconsistencies between the Constitution and the implementation of the Convention?
Ms. MORVAI, expert from Hungary, asked about the Government’s intention regarding the follow-up to the report and dialogue. She hoped that when Kuwait next reported, its delegation would include women members of Parliament.
MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, asked if the Constitution permitted the creation of political parties comprised solely of Kuwaiti women.
A member of the delegation noted that NGOs, various ministries and government bodies had prepared Kuwait’s report. She realized that there were gaps in the information provided. The New York office would be submitting the missing details. The Constitution, in her view, did not contravene the provisions of the Convention. Each society had its own values, and the Government was attempting to implement the Convention in a way that it did not clash with Islamic Sharia, which was a way of life in Kuwait. The Constitution did not ban political parties comprised of men or women. Up until now, however, there had been no female political parties.
She said she was convinced that Kuwait’s Parliament would adopt laws providing political rights for women. Kuwaiti women had made great progress in terms of Kuwaiti society and institutions, both nationally and internationally. She hoped that women members would soon be introduced in Parliament.
In closing, the Committee Chairperson and expert from Turkey, Ms. ACAR, said the experts had all been very engaged in its consideration of Kuwait’s combined initial and second reports and would like to see a more concrete demonstration of the Government’s political will to implement the Convention. The Convention was as much about the elimination of de facto discrimination against women as it was about de jure discrimination. It was as much about the elimination of direct discrimination as it was about eliminating indirect discrimination.
She said that, given the very broad and multifaceted nature of the Convention, the Committee was very keen to hear about measures and policies taken by the Government to ensure the Convention’s full implementation in all its facets. In order to properly understand the instrument’s complexity, civil society and government officials, as well as members of the judicial community and lawmakers, should gain knowledge about the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Thus, she urged the Government to embark on a nationwide campaign to educate all about the letter and spirit of the provisions of the Convention.
The delegation had told the Committee that several concerns about women’s human rights, including the issue of voting rights, were under consideration, she recalled. It was also time to cooperate with civil society and NGOs to step up efforts to eliminate the discrimination against women. She hoped that consultation would be sought with civil society in preparing the country’s next report. The Committee’s concluding comments should form the basis for implementation and be widely disseminated in Kuwaiti society.
She stressed that there was a particular need for statistical data, disaggregated by sex in the key areas, including employment, education, and public service. She looked forward to receiving that by 2007 in the combined third and fourth reports.
The Committee understood that reservations to treaty provisions were allowed under international law, but she reminded the delegation that sovereign States ratifying international conventions did so with a view to implementing them in their entirety. Meanwhile, she urged the Government to consider withdrawing its reservation to article 7(a), relating to women’s voting and participation in public life. She also asked it to consider withdrawing from its other reservations under articles 9 and 16, which referred, respectively, to nationality and marriage and family life.
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