WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE EXPERTS COMMENDS ARGENTINA FOR STEPS TAKEN TO EMPOWER WOMEN IN MIDST OF SOCIO-ECONOMIC CRISES

16 July 2004
WOM/1459

WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE EXPERTS COMMENDS ARGENTINA FOR STEPS TAKEN TO EMPOWER WOMEN IN MIDST OF SOCIO-ECONOMIC CRISES

16/07/2004
Press ReleaseWOM/1459

Committee on Elimination of                                      

 Discrimination against Women                                    

660th & 661st Meetings (AM & PM)

women’s anti-discrimination committee experts commends argentina for

steps taken to empower women in midst of socio-economic crises

Urges Country to Step Up Efforts to Combat Violence Against Women;

Angola Responds to Questions Posed in Response to 12 July Presentation

Members of the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee commended Argentina for the major steps it had taken to empower women in the midst of socio-economic crisis, but urged the country to step up its efforts to tackle violence against women, the feminization of poverty and women’s health problems, as they considered the situation in that country today.

Acting in their personal capacities, the Committee’s 23 expert members monitor compliance with the Convention, often referred to as an “international bill of rights for women”.  Having ratified the Convention in 1982, and the Optional Protocol in 1985, Argentina was presenting a follow-up to its fifth periodic report.

Several experts during the article-by-article review underscored the heavy burden poverty had placed on female-headed households, especially in rural areas.  For women, Bagladesh’s expert said, poverty meant social isolation as well as threats to security and bodily integrity, exposing them to severe acts of violence.  Poverty policies must give women access to social safety nets, and focus on improvements to health and education.

Responding to those concerns, Maria Lucila Colombo, President of the National Council for Women, who also introduced the country’s report, noted that the “Let’s Get to Work” programme was attempting to provide money to heads of households, and that food security had taken a giant leap forward.  The country had developed poverty alleviation policies in 2002-2003, which had led to increased salaries, and the union quota law had encouraged employees to discuss new working conditions.

Juliana di Tullio, of the Argentinean Ministry of External Relations, International Commerce and Culture, added that several banks, with the help of non-governmental organizations, were granting loans to microenterprises in the neediest sectors.  Through the plan, almost 650 microbusinesses had been set up, allowing many people to switch from the informal to the formal sector.

Turning to women’s health, experts noted that the national programme for sexual health and responsible parenthood sought to reduce the number of abortions, maternal mortality and adolescent pregnancy.  However, they pointed out, contraception was difficult to obtain, incidences of syphilis and genital disease had sharply increased, and adolescent pregnancies had risen, one third of which ended in abortion.

Ms. Colombo responded that the country had a draft law on the table that would require public and private health systems to assist women about to give birth, and to improve general patient care.  Maria Teresa Puga-Marin, President of the Foundation for Women, Peace and Development, added that the Government provided health centres and gynaecologists in all provinces with oral contraceptives, and that over a million intrauterine devices had been distributed.

Experts also commented that the report failed to analyze women’s complaints, or include information about the perpetrators of domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation and prostitution, or sex education in schools.  Statistics on education were also lacking, she pointed out, and more data was needed on vocational and technical education by gender, fields of study, university level, and sex.

In concluding remarks, Committee Chairperson Ayse Feride Acar welcomed steps the country had taken to boost the standing of its National Council of Women, but lamented its lack of funds in coping with the grave problems Argentine women faced.  Noting that blatant violations of women’s rights increased in dire socio-economic times, she stressed that violence against women needed special attention.  Moreover, the country must employ a specific gender perspective in tackling the feminization of poverty, and carry out at a major campaign to change gender stereotypes.

Also today, the Angolan delegation responded to questions posed to it on 12 July, when it presented its combined initial, second and third periodic reports, as well as its combined fourth and fifth periodic reports.  Addressing particular concerns on the impact of years of war on Angolan women, Filomena Delgado, Vice-Minister for Family and Promotion of Women, described efforts to reintegrate displaced populations.  Some four million people had been internally displaced and some 3.3 million had been returned by December 2003. 

Regarding current developments, she noted that a draft of Angola’s new constitution had been elaborated from a gender perspective and would be open for public discussion.  The present composition of Parliament was based on the results of the first fair and just elections in 1992, and significant changes were expected in the next elections.  Other topics addressed by Angola’s delegation included measures to address gender-based stereotypes, as well as efforts to improve womens’ access to education, employment and sexual and reproductive health care.

In closing, Committee Vice-Chairperson and expert from Cuba, Maria Yolanda Ferrer Gomez, said the Committee was aware of the difficult and complex situation the country had been in, with its long war and consequences, and commended it for developing programmes incorporating the gender issue.  Acknowledging that Angola faced a great challenge in complying with the Convention, she said the country’s peace and reconciliation process and its new constitution offered excellent opportunities to establish provisions on gender equality and discrimination.

Also participating in the Argentine delegation were César Mayoral, Permanent Representative of the Argentine Mission to the United Nations; Estela Palomeque, President of the Nation Bank Foundation; and Gustavo Ainchil as well as Gabriela Martinic, of the Argentine Mission to the United Nations.

The Committee will meet again at 10:00 a.m. on Monday, 19 July, to hear replies from the Latvian and Maltese delegations.

Background

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to consider a follow-up report to the fifth periodic report of Argentina (CEDAW/C/ARG/5/Add.1).  It considered the fourth (September 1996-October 1999) and fifth (February 2000-December 2001) reports, as well as the country’s replies to questions raised by the pre-session working group, and noted the lack of information provided on the impact of the economic crisis on the female population and its negative effect on the implementation of the Convention.

Consequently, the Committee decided to request Argentina to submit a follow-up report in January 2004, taking into account the areas of concern under the Convention and the Committee’s recommendations in its concluding comments and including expanded, updated and systematized information and sex-disaggregated data as far as possible about the impact of the crisis on the country’s female population and measures adopted to reduce and overcome its negative effects on women.

As a result of Argentina’s serious institutional, political, economic and social crisis, which led to the resignation of the president-elect in 1999, a process of institutional change began in 2002 and led to the 2003 elections, following which Mr. Néstor Kirchner took office as President on 25 May 2003.  Regarding compliance with the women’s quota, the current female membership of the National Congress is the highest ever attained (41.67 per cent in the Senate and 33 per cent in the House of Representatives).  Legislative elections in most of the provinces also met that quota, in accordance with the provisions governing each jurisdiction. 

The data continue to show the effects of a structural crisis that was particularly severe during the 1990s, and the impact of poverty is greater among multi-occupancy households, especially those headed by women, the report says.  The under-15 age group has been hardest-hit (7 out of 10 are classified poor), and both genders have been equally affected.  The differences in unemployment rates between men and women are minimal, whether among the poor or the non-poor.  The poor have clearly been significantly affected by unemployment. 

For the year 2002, unemployment rose among men and women, and in 2003 employment levels picked up among both groups.  In 2003, unemployment rates for poor heads of household were higher among men.  In the case of women heads of household, unemployment fell sharply from 2002 to 2003 (from 23.1 per cent to 12.9 per cent).  One of the newest tools for softening the impact of the crisis is the programme “The right to social inclusion:  Programme for unemployed heads of household”, introduced in April 2002.  The design, implementation and evaluation of the Programme do not take the gender perspective into account.

The Programme is scheduled to continue during 2004, with certain modifications, the report states.  The restructured Programme is expected to incorporate the gender perspective over the short and medium term, combining policies on active equality with policies designed to reduce risks and uncertainties and to enable participants to learn the skills and attitudes they will need if they wish to enter the workplace.  The differences between the Programme’s impact on men and women should also be studied, as this would provide the basis for designing targeted solutions for each category.

At present, 46 per cent of women work in the informal sector of the economy, which is slightly lower than the percentage for men.  Informal employment rose between 2001 and 2002, but declined in 2003.  Among employed women, salaried workers account for 79 per cent (for men, this figure is lower, at 67 per cent).  However, 55 per cent of salaried women receive either no social benefits at all or only partial benefits. 

The proportion of women employed in skilled professional positions is low (8 per cent), according to the report.  Among men the proportion is similar, indicating that there is no gender-based difference in that sector of the labour market.  Most women (70 per cent) perform unskilled jobs.  They are mostly employed in domestic service, teaching, social services and health care, the textile industry, other personal services, restaurants and hotels, public administration and defence and the retail trade.  Nearly two thirds of women work in those professions.

In the area of comprehensive health care for women, the report notes that the maternal mortality rate (MMR) was relatively stable throughout the 1990s, sometimes showing a slightly declining trend.  However, there was a fairly significant increase when comparing 2000 levels with those of 2002, with the rate rising from 39 to 46 per 100,000 live births over the period.  However, the national averages hide significant regional differences.  Whereas the 2002 rate was 46 per 100,000 live births at the national level, in Buenos Aires the figure was 14 per 100,000 live births and over 160 in Formosa.

One third of maternal mortality is due to intentional abortion which, because it is illegal, affects almost exclusively poor women, especially those in the 20 to 34 age group.  Thirty-one per cent of maternal deaths are due to complications from abortion, 53 per cent to direct obstetric causes, and 16 per cent to indirect obstetric causes.  Breast cancer is the most common cause of tumour-related deaths, responsible for an average of 4,830 female deaths a year over the last decade.  Unsystematic data show that some women have an annual mammogram, while others have no access to such technology.

The report says that by May 2002, the cumulative total of AIDS cases in Argentina had reached 21,865.  Currently, 79 per cent of reported cases in individuals over 12 occur in males and 21 per cent in females.  The increase in the number of cases of AIDS among women and the extent of heterosexual transmission shows that women have become a vulnerable group.  

According to the report, the establishment of the National Programme for Sexual Health and Responsible Parenthood marks an effective step towards the attainment of respect for human rights through the reduction of maternal mortality, the number of hospital admissions for abortions and the adolescent fertility rate.  Its significance lies in its emphasis on prevention, the free and universal provision of contraceptives, access to information and counselling, early detection, the promotion of female participation in decision-making and the quality and extent of sexual and reproductive health services.

The report says that the activities undertaken within the framework of the National Programme for Sexual Health and Responsible Parenthood include the distribution of contraceptives to all jurisdictions; monitoring the distribution of contraceptives, carried out by the Monitoring and Assessment Unit of the Mother and Child Programme; and training for health workers involved in the Programme.  Project LUSIDA for the prevention and control of HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) was launched in 1997.  Its main achievements include:  making use of civil society networks as the driving force behind its activities; human resources training and the transfer of technology to provincial and municipal programmes; and wider coverage for prevention programmes through gradual adaptation of services to local conditions and needs. 

At present, the report states, the National Programme is continuing the work begun by LUSIDA by, among other things, continuing to disseminate preventive messages through television commercials, campaigns geared towards adolescents and young people, the launch of the free telephone assessment service on HIV/AIDS and the preparation, publication and distribution of training materials on sexual and reproductive health.  In addition, public hospitals meet the full cost of testing, care and drugs for women who lack social security coverage or prepaid medical care and they provide infant formula to prevent transmission through breastfeeding.

In designing education policies, priority is given to ensuring that students -- both boys and girls -- enter and remain in school, reducing grade repetition and drop-out rates, the report says.  Throughout the country, basic mandatory enrolment applies to all children from 4 to 14 years old.  In all provinces, mandatory basic general education and non-mandatory multi-track education is free in State-run, public schools.  Under the current administration, the 2004 education budget has increased by 20 per cent over that of 2003.  Illiteracy is almost non-existent in Argentina and gender differences are not noticeable. 

As requested, data was collected to determine whether there was a link between increased domestic violence and the crisis in Argentina, the report says.  An analysis of the number of complaints filed with the courts between 1995 and 2003 shows a slight but steady increase, which can be attributed to awareness-raising and to women’s increased awareness of their rights and of how to exercise them effectively.

According to the report, despite major policy strides and progress in the implementation of actions in that area, it should be noted that much still remains to be done on many fronts, including the creation of specialized services to treat female victims of violence in most of the provinces; accessibility to the courts with free legal aid; and greater dissemination of information on the protection of rights.  It will also be essential to conduct national campaigns to stop violence against women, to train the judiciary and members of the police force on gender violence, and to establish shelters throughout the country, as well as a programme to support and reintegrate female victims of violence. 

The National Women’s Council (CNM), created in 1992, suffered budget cuts in 2000 affecting the performance of its mandate and functions, the report states.  Since 2003, the Council has been implementing various programmes and activities to promote gender equality and equity and the empowerment of women, including programmes of training and assistance relating to the gender perspective; women’s rights and citizenship; political participation; women, equity and work; sexual health and responsible parenthood; violence against women; strategic planning; and project development.  These activities are carried out nationwide through the provincial and municipal women’s offices, government agencies and civil society organizations.

AYSE FERIDE ACAR, Committee Chairperson and expert from Turkey, said the body had expressed dissatisfaction with Argentina’s combined fourth and fifth periodic reports at the time of its consideration in 2002.  The Committee had, therefore, decided to request the State party to submit a follow-up report, which would take into account areas of concern and include expanded information on the impact of the national crisis on the country’s female population. 

Introduction of Report

Introducing her country’s report, MARIA LUCILA COLOMBO, President of the National Council for Women, said the current Government, which took office on 25 May 2003, represented Argentina’s new position in the socio-economic, political, cultural and human rights fields.  The devastating effects of policies implemented since the mid-1970s had become evident during the crisis, which would continue for some years to come.  In addition to poverty, social fragmentation had taken place.  The neo-liberal model followed during those years had replaced the institutions in place during the 1950s, when Argentina had been at the forefront in the field of labour, social security, education, health, employment and women’s political participation.

Transforming that reality was the Government’s big challenge, she said.  The State was recovering a fundamental role with a model of social inclusion for both men and women.  Civil society had played an important role to restore the country’s social fabric.  Its participation was organized through consultative councils at all levels.  The reconstruction required an assertive State that combated corruption and ended impunity.  The Government had set out a profound reform of the judiciary, beginning with the Supreme Court.  The national executive had created a mechanism for the transparent selection of judges, which incorporated a system of public hearings.

The Government had also responded to the society’s call for the implementation of a firm human rights policy, she said.  The establishment of the “museum of memory”, in a place of past repression, was an important step.  The Government wanted to promote the access of men and women to good jobs.  The budget for social expenditures had been increased and a federal network of policies, including nation plans for local development, had also been established.  The Ministry of Social Development had also worked to increase efficiency.  The Government was playing an active role in the negotiation of public debt. 

In 2002-2003, the Government had put forward policy to alleviate poverty, she continued.  As of June 2003, the three national plans of social policy were being implemented.  There had been increases in salaries, and workers representatives were beginning to discuss new working conditions.  The union quota law made it obligatory to participate in the discussion of work agreements.  This year had seen an increase in the minimum wage in 2004, as well as in benefits for the public sector.  The increase in the budget for social expenditures had allowed for the expansion of benefits for women, including universal pensions for people over 70.

The Government was continuing to work toward social justice, including the eradication of past policies and the achievement of shared objectives, she said.  An enormous fount of energy among the country’s people, especially women, had led to the implementation of many new strategies.  The Government was working to channel that energy for the recovery of rights, the dignity of work, and the possibility of equal opportunity for men and women. 

The National Council of Women had agreements with different bodies of the executive for the development of strategic policies, she said.  It was also carrying out different programmes to train and provide technical assistance for the promotion of rights based on equality of opportunity.  International financing programmes were being adapted to meet the needs of women and families.  The budget for the promotion of women’s rights was not only administered through the National Council, but also through various programmes and policies.  Provinces were autonomous in deciding on their own mechanisms.  In plans such as “Let’s get to work”, the Government was working to recover dignity in work.  Changing reality was a challenge the Government had taken up, she said.

Questions from Experts

AIDA GONZALEZ, expert from Mexico, commented on the shrinking budget of the National Council for Women, compared to earlier years.  The National Council now seemed better placed to reverse that trend, since it was functioning at the institutional level and headed by a Minister, but women still seemed to be losing political power.  What was the status of a bill currently in the Senate that would increase the budget?  Did any women’s programmes in the country enjoy international financing?  How did Argentina plan to strengthen its family plan?

Response from Delegation

Ms. COLOMBO said the National Council for Women was now functioning at the level of a State Secretariat, and belonged to the National Coordinating Council.  That made the Women’s Council a governmental body, rather than a sub-unit at the administrative level.  The Ministry of the Economy and the Ministry of Planning were also on the Coordinating Council and an attempt was being made to make better use of resources for women’s programmes.

Regarding internationally funded programmes, she said they had been underway for some time, but had suffered from the economic crisis.  The Women’s Council had been working on programmes with the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank in an effort to reach its overall aims.  One of the programmes had been extended for three months, and the Council was working for a further extension of two years.

Questions from Experts

HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, said she was disappointed that the report lacked any real information on efforts to combat violence against women and change gender stereotyping.  It also failed to analyze women’s complaints, provide any correlation between violence against women and the economic crisis, and include information about the perpetrators of violence.  Nor did it give information about rape, sexual harassment, or sexual exploitation and prostitution.  No effort had been made to mainstream women’s concerns into other social policies.  How did the Council mainstream efforts to combat violence into the family plan, for example, or into food security policy?

ROSARIO MANALO, expert from the Philippines, noting that the report’s educational statistics only showed levels and gender, she asked for information and data on types of vocational and technical education by gender, by fields of study, by university level, and sex.  How did the country ensure that effective sexual education was taught in all schools and universities?  Was there a focus programme in the formal curricula at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels on violence against women?

Response from Delegation

Regarding violence, Ms. COLOMBO said the Women’s Council was applying general policy guidelines on the basis of provincial decisions.  There was often no short-term reflection of national efforts in the provinces.  Some delicate subjects, such as violence, generated different responses from different provincial governments.  The Women’s Council was working to unite all efforts in achieving a public policy for a society that was truly free of violence.

The Council was aware that the economic crisis had caused a deterioration in personal relations, which had encouraged violence, she said.  The middle class was confronting enormous difficulties, as was the working class.  The decline in ethical thresholds, especially for men, had had an effect as well.  The Council was trying to recognize the everyday realities of men and women, and was committed to developing policies against violence in the security forces, health services, and educational institutions.  It was also addressing the problems of the victims and working to improve the registry of cases.

Regarding education, she said she would try to obtain more detailed information about stereotypes.  Argentina was lagging behind in eliminating stereotypes because many problems were being dealt with at the same time.  For example, teachers must now respond to previously unheard of situations.  However, the Government was committed to ensuring that discrimination disappeared from schools.

JULIANA DI TULLIO, Ministry of External Relations, International Commerce and Culture, said that the declaration by the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) presidents provided a mandate for member countries on the issue of trafficking in women, and work to improve State action had begun.  Institutionalized meetings took place periodically and the law was being redesigned in order to establish a council against trafficking.  It was not just a question of taking care of the victim, but also ending criminal organizations in Argentina.  The next meeting of MERCOSUR presidents would take place at the triple border area as part of the Government’s desire to eradicate the phenomenon.

Ms. COLOMBO said the quota law had been applied for the first time in the 2001 senatorial elections.  A decree had ensured 33 per cent representation by women in the Senate.  After 2003, some 41 per cent of senators and 27 per cent of deputies in provincial legislatures were women.  The National Council had been carrying out steady work in that field, and for the first tine, a woman was heading the confederation of labour.

Questions from Experts

SALMA KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, said that one of the Committee’s major concerns had been the disproportionately heavy impact of poverty on women.  There had been signs of recovery in 2002 and 2003 and the number of households under the poverty line had declined.  Data continued to show, however, that poverty on female-headed households was still critical.  While the report contained data, it was difficult to establish the consistency of the statistics provided.  What special measures were being taken to incorporate the gender aspect of poverty into the country’s overall policy?  While the immediate survival of women had been targeted, women had to be seen as part of the entire process.  For women, poverty was an issue of social isolation and threats to security and bodily integrity.  As poverty exposed women to various acts of violence, poverty policies must allow them access to social safety nets.  Instead of treating women from a welfare perspective, measures should include development in the areas of health and education.  Single women with children were still in extremely difficult situations.

PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, said the report did not contain concrete measures to improve women’s living conditions.  What was the budgetary allocation for the rural women’s project?  How many rural women had benefited from training programmes?  What were the current obstacles facing them regarding access to agricultural credit?  She also asked for information on the programme for the construction of rural schools.  Was a review of the abortion envisaged?

Ms. GONZALEZ, expert from Mexico, asked about health programmes mentioned in the report, including the national programme for sexual health and responsible parenthood, which sought to reduce the number of abortions, as well as maternal mortality and adolescent pregnancy.  The programme had been applied unevenly, however, and contained some weaknesses, including the fact that contraception was not available at all health centres.  How did the Council plan to strengthen its implementation?  The report contained no reference to sexually transmitted diseases, which had increased.  Syphilis, for example, had doubled and genital diseases had also increased.  Had the Government been able to reduce the incidence of infection?  There had been a serious increase in adolescent pregnancies, one third of which ended in abortion.  What administrative measures were being planned to remedy that?  To what extent was sexual education being publicized? 

MARIA YOLANDA FERRER GOMEZ, expert from Cuba, requested information on the inclusion of the gender perspective in the network of social policies, including the national food security programme, the local government plan and the family plan.  What changes were envisaged regarding unemployed heads of households?

Salaried women did not receive social benefits, she noted, asking how that problem could be solved.  Had progress been made in including the gender perspective in the “Let’s get to work” plan?  As many older persons did receive pensions, what was the situation of retired women?  What measures had the Government taken to reduce the salary gap between men and women?  What was the situation of the plan for equal treatment in the work place?  She also asked for more information on the tax system. 

Response from Delegation

Ms. COLOMBO noted that while policies did not always spell out a gender component, women were included as beneficiaries.  The Government was seeking recognition of women’s work at home.  Small businesswomen received a grace period for paying taxes.  The “Lets’ get to work” programme was aimed at providing heads of households with money.  The Government’s idea was to find people with paid employment and to encourage the sharing of family responsibilities.  There had been a qualitative leap ahead in the area of food security.  As the programme was just getting started, indicators were still uncertain.  There was a huge number of beneficiaries.  Just providing assistance did not help people find work.  Ensuring that families became self-supporting was critical. 

On employment, she continued, two things had occurred since the January report.  The Ministry of Labour had decided that single family allowances should be paid directly by the State, whereas they had previously been financed by the State and paid by businesses, which complicated the process and encouraged fraud.  Secondly, the Ministry had doubled the number of inspectors to check on jobs in the informal economy, where workers received no social benefits.  Now, businesses that failed to pay social security and other benefits were subject to real penalties.  The Government had also adopted policies to bring small businesses into the official labour system.

As for rural women, the Women’s Council and rural workers’ unions had been working to find better work for rural women.  The “Women at Work” programme also took account of women’s rights, and had explored jobs, health, violence, and work done in the home.

Ms. DI TULLIO added that the financial system had adopted policies to provide loans to microenterprises in the neediest sectors.  Those policies had been designed by and were being implemented with the help of non-governmental organizations that had also assisted in developing the businesses.  Through the plan, almost 650 microbusinesses were included in the formal economy.  Several banks were cooperating to finance various microbusinesses, which would help many people to leave the informal sector.

Regarding health, she said, the Women’s Council and the Ministry of Health was working on a programme that would introduce training and follow-up in provincial health centres, with particular emphasis on women, but including men.  The country also had a draft law on the table that would require public and private health systems to provide technological assistance for women about to give birth.  The draft also included a component on improving patient care.

Planned parenthood was relatively new, she said, adding that policies were needed in the area.

MARIA TERESA PUGA-MARIN, President of the Foundation for Women, Peace and Development, said the Government provided oral contraceptives to health centres and gynaecologists in all provinces.  Over a million intrauterine devices had also been distributed in the provinces.  HIV/AIDS had fallen prey to feminization and had a high incidence among young people, as in other parts of the world.

Questions from Experts

Ms. KHAN asked how far the “Let’s get to work programme” was targeted at women and whether credit was offered without collateral.  Regarding the budget, had a system of gender analysis been introduced? 

CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, said it appeared that the present Government was committed to the cause of human rights.  The protection of human rights started at the domestic level and international recourse procedures were important in strengthening the protection of human rights at home.  Was Argentina planning to ratify the Convention’s Optional Protocol?

NAELA GABR, expert from Egypt, said she was concerned about the mortality rate due to cancer.  Did the Government have plans to combat cancer, particularly breast cancer?  What was the fate of the child protection bill?

Ms. FERRER GOMEZ, expert from Cuba, suggested that the next report provide disaggregated data by province and region.  Argentina was a very large country with differences between the various provinces.

MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, asked if there was a comprehensive, national campaign policy to combat gender violence.  As gender violence was not just a private matter, did the Government have a sense of responsibility in that regard?

Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, said she, too, was concerned at the increased rates of breast and cervical cancer.  On the issue of HIV/AIDS and STDs, had there been an evaluation of the LUCIDA project?  To what extent were rural areas covered by it?

Ms. GONZALEZ, expert from Mexico, asked if adolescents had the right to confidential medical treatment.

Response from Delegation

Ms. COLOMBO said there were more than 100 projects in the different provinces under the family plan, whose goal was to remove the barriers to paid jobs, as well as to prevent violence and early pregnancy, among other things.  It also supported the “Let’s get to work” programme.  Finding employment was one of the fundamental pillars in overcoming poverty.  Regarding the increase in women’s mortality, the Government had certain very clear health programmes.  Pregnant women were covered through social services and had to be offered an HIV test.  While Argentina did not have much of a culture of prevention, a lot of work was being done in that regard.  It was right to say that a clear vision had not been established.  The Government, in an attempt to spread resources throughout the country, had a so-called “social services” train with technical teams from the Ministries of Health and Labor that went throughout the country providing services.

Adolescents could receive confidential medical appointments at the age of 14, she added.  The Government wanted to promote dialogue between adults and young people.  The subject of voluntary sterilization was being discussed in several provinces.  It was important to ensure democratic, universal access to contraceptive methods. 

Regarding human rights, she said Argentina had been working on a number of fronts.  The Government attached great priority to the defence of human rights and would support ratification of the Optional Protocol.  The cabinet was working to promote the Protocol. 

Ms. FERIDE ACAR, Committee Chairperson and expert from Turkey, commended the steps taken to do away with the negative elements of the past.  Efforts to rebuild Argentina’s social fabric were impressive and the Government had made commendable efforts to deal with the day-to-day exigencies of the crisis and to consolidate the fabric of a democratic society.  The improvements in the institutional and legal standing of the National Council of Women, and its rise in the political hierarchy were welcome development.  The Committee was concerned, however, that the national machinery for women as a whole was not sufficiently empowered and funded to cope with the kinds of problems facing Argentine women.  The crisis had impacted the National Council greatly in the implementation of internationally and federally funded programmes.  She urged the delegation to provide information on how the various programmes had impacted women specifically. 

She said the issue of violence needed to be specifically targeted.  Educational programmes and public awareness campaigns were essential for raising public sensitivity and changing men’s attitudes in a time of economic crisis.  Given that the blatant violations of women’s human rights increased during dire socio-economic times, they must not be doubly victimized.  It was essential that the Government’s response to the continuing crisis include an enhanced sensitivity to the specific impact of the situation on women.  A specific gender perspective was needed in responding to the feminization of poverty.  Prioritizing a gender perspective in all policies was necessary, as was a major campaign for changing gender stereotypes. 

Meeting this afternoon the Committee then took up the combined initial, second and third reports of Angola, as well as its combined fourth and fifth reports.

Summary of Angola’s Response

FILOMENA DELGADO, Vice-Minister for Family and Promotion of Women, responding to questions asked in a previous meeting, introduced her country’s report, saying the number of questions posed by experts reflected the Committee’s interest in the situation of Angolan women.  Regarding national reconciliation, she said Parliament had created the Commission for Peace Process and National Reconciliation into which women had been integrated.  Regarding female genital mutilation, that practice was not a part of Angolan tradition and culture.  There were no concrete figures for violence during the civil war, bur some 1.5 million children had been directly affected.

The strategy for promoting gender equality up until 2000 had been developed in 1995 following Angola’s participation in the Beijing Conference on Women, she said.  In 2000, the strategy had been evaluated and on the basis of the Beijing Platform, the Ministry had elaborated the Strategic Framework for Gender Equality until 2005.  The implementation of the first strategy had not been a success due to the difficulties facing the country in recent years.  The Government had programmes in dealing with displaced persons, including the reintegration of the war-affected population, support for at-risk children and disabled persons and social assistance to families living in extreme poverty.  Some 4 million people had been internally displaced and by December 2003, some 3.3 million had been returned. 

On the issue of voluntary repatriation, she noted that tripartite agreements for the repatriation of Angolan refugees had been signed in 2002 and 2003 between the Governments of Angola and asylum countries.  The returnees had been integrated into the National Programme of Reintegration.  All returnees had access to land according to the norms and procedures for return and resettlement of displaced persons.  Spontaneous returnees had the same rights as those of the organized repatriation. 

The Ministry of Family and Promotion of Women had a budget of some $1.21 million, or about 0.02 per cent of the global budget for 2004, she said.  Some $92,351 had been allocated to support gender issues.  The main objective of the family-counselling centre was to provide psychological and legal assistance and to disseminate their social, civil, political, economic and cultural rights.  The Ministry’s’ strategy for the elimination of gender-based stereotypes included sensitization through the mass media, workshops, and school presentations.  Focal points had been established in all ministries to ensure that gender aspects were taken into consideration in all sectoral initiatives. 

Regarding constitutional law, she said the draft of the new constitution had been elaborated from a gender perspective and would be open for public discussion.  A constitutional court already existed.  The present composition of Parliament was based on the results of the first fair and just elections in 1992.  Significant changes were expected in the next elections.  Only three parties had women in the Parliament, including the ruling MPLA, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and the PLD, a party led by women.  A better gender balance in the Parliament should be included in the next Electoral Law.

Responding to several other questions, she said that labour inspections ensured nationwide compliance with labour law, which was partly based on 33 international conventions ratified by Angola.  They include stipulations on equality of remuneration and employment discrimination.  Due to the country’s socio-economic situation, children currently formed part of the workforce, but had no knowledge of labour law.  The Government would like to free children from work, so they could complete their education and integrate into society.  It recognized, however, that child labour was poverty-related, and that the long-term solution depended on economic growth, social progress, poverty reduction and access to universal education.

Angolan education was free and compulsory until the end of the fourth grade, she said.  The country aimed to ensure that all children, including girls and ethnic minorities, had access to primary education by 2015; increase the number of adults in literacy classes, particularly women, by 2015; eliminate gender disparities in primary and secondary school by 2005; and reach gender equality in education by 2015.

Some 70 per cent of women and 60 per cent of Angolan men were illiterate, she said.  The institute for adult education had representatives at the provincial and municipal levels for literacy teaching.  Studies had not been carried out on the reasons for gender disparities in the education field.  An educational gender programme had been implemented for the period 2000-2005 to improve girls’ access to schools.  It included the creation of the National Commission on Gender, teacher training and the definition of indicators for the reduction of gender stereotypes in education.  School curricula had been revised in selected schools to include, among other things, gender issues, HIV/AIDS, human rights and reproductive health.

Concerning HIV/AIDS, Ms. DELGADO noted that Angola had a strategic plan for sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS for the period 2003-2008.  In June 2001, the Government had approved the programme for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission.  Studies on pregnant women in hospitals in Luanda had indicated that the disease was quickly spreading, increasing from 3.4 per cent in 1999 to 8.6 per cent in 2001.  The prevalence among prostitutes in Luanda had increased from 20 per cent in 1999 to 33 per cent in 2001.  About 60 per cent of the cases were between the ages of 20 and 39, and more often in young women between 15 and 39, due to an increasingly early sexual life among young girls and an increase of commercial sex practices. 

The provision of quality sexual and reproductive health care was the main part of the goal of reducing maternal morbidity and mortality, she said.  In 1995, the Ministry of Health had elaborated the first document on norms and policies of sexual and reproductive health.  That document had been revised to address the basic necessities of women’s and men’s sexual and reproductive health.   The revised document aimed to raise the competence of health leaders at the national, provincial and municipal levels.  The strategy also promoted women’s capacity to decide on their sexual and reproductive health needs. 

A five-year operational programme for maternal-infant health had been launched in 1989, she said.  Most of the health infrastructure had been destroyed during the war, greatly reducing the Government’s ability to purchase medicines and other emergency supplies.  The Ministry of Health had been promoting family planning to increase the spacing between births and to avoid unwanted pregnancies.  The Ministry of Health supported community programmes to increase access to contraceptives.  The long distances separating rural areas had encouraged the Health Ministry to support non-governmental organizations in the training of traditional midwives.  The causes of maternal death reflected the low coverage and quality of prenatal assistance.  

Questions from Experts

HUGUETTE BOKPE GNACADJA, expert from Benin, noted that the country’s replies on culture had been brief.  Tradition could be changed and adapted.  Men created tradition; tradition did not create men.  There was only one possible reading of the Convention.  When tradition conflicted with the Convention, the provisions of the Convention prevailed.  That was why she invited the Angolan Government to make further progress in areas already initiated.  Such progress was not automatic. 

DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked if the draft constitution contained a provision for the direct implementation of the conventions to which Angola was a party.  Did the new draft constitution contain a definition of discrimination according to the Convention? she asked. 

HANNA BEATE SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, stressed that temporary special measures were the best way to improve conditions for women.  Angola should translate the Committee’s most important recommendations into such measures.

SJAMSIAH ACHMAD, expert from Indonesia, asked for information about private schools, and to what extent the Government monitored their compliance with the Convention and the national constitution.

FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, asked for clarification about the role of the legal advice centres.

Response from Delegation

Ms. DELGADO conceded that conflicts existed between traditional and modern life.  What prevailed was “positive law”, or legal norms.  However, in rural areas, people still resolved conflicts in the traditional way.

Regarding temporary special measures, she drew attention to the Ministry for the Advancement of Women, which was at cabinet level.  It worked to implement women’s policies and to mainstream gender equality programmes.

Continuing, she said there were no statistics on private schools, but that they were required to comply with country policy. As for the legal counselling centres, their aim was to distribute information about the socio-economic, civil, and political rights of citizens.  They also provided legal aid to those in need.

Closing Remarks

Ms. FERRER GOMEZ, expert from Cuba, said Angola’s peace and reconciliation process, as well as its new constitution, were good opportunities to establish provisions on gender equality and discrimination.  The Committee was aware of the difficult and complex situation the country had been in, with its long war and its consequences, and commended it for developing programmes incorporating the gender issue.  The country faced a great challenge in complying with the Convention.  The report had noted the need to address violence against women, especially enforcement against perpetrators, and emphasis had also been placed on educational matters, such as the large number of illiterate women.  As for health, the report had observed the need to focus attention on HIV/AIDS, infant and maternal mortality, and sex education, so that couples could take responsible decisions and reduce adolescent maternity.

She hoped that more financing would be available for the promotion of gender equality and that the Government would be able to count on the provision of resources to promote women’s equality.  She stressed the importance of Angola’s report having begun with a message by the President, which was a clear reflection of the Government’s political will.  She hoped the Committee’s recommendations would serve for the promotion of further work and that they would be widely disseminated.

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For information media. Not an official record.