WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE TAKES UP GUYANA’S PERIODIC REPORT; STRENGTHENING GENDER EQUALITY BODIES, COMBATING VIOLENCE AMONG ISSUES

8 July 2005
WOM/1513

WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE TAKES UP GUYANA’S PERIODIC REPORT; STRENGTHENING GENDER EQUALITY BODIES, COMBATING VIOLENCE AMONG ISSUES

08/07/2005
Press ReleaseWOM/1513

Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

689th & 690th Meetings (AM & PM)

WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE TAKES UP GUYANA’S PERIODIC REPORT;

STRENGTHENING GENDER EQUALITY BODIES, COMBATING VIOLENCE AMONG ISSUES

Congratulating Guyana on its efforts to set up national gender equality bodies, members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women urged the country to strengthen those institutions, and step up efforts to combat violence against women, assist the victims of violence, and provide women with legal representation.

Acting in their personal capacities, the Committee’s 23 expert members monitor compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, often referred to as an “international bill of rights for women”.

Stressing that women’s institutions appeared to have “too many layers”, several speakers said that efforts should be made to strengthen existing bodies, rather than establish new organizations.  Noting that the Committee’s report was unclear about the exact role each body played, they also stressed the need for increased coordination among them to avoid duplication and confusion, and to produce more tangible results.

Responding to those concerns, Bibi Shadick, Minister in Guyana’s Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security explained that the Women’s Affairs Bureau functioned within the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security, and coordinated national and international efforts to eliminate discrimination against women and promote their equal participation.  Recently, the Bureau had been strengthened to include the Guyana Women’s Leadership Institute and the National Resource and Documentation Centre for Gender and Development.

Focusing on violence against women, experts emphasized the need to fund and establish institutions that would assist victims of violence, rather than rely on non-governmental organizations to protect them, as the country seemed to do.  Another major issue was trafficking in women and prostitution, as well as the access of sex workers to services mentioned in the report.  How was the Government dealing with those problems?

Noting that Guyana’s report had listed measures to reduce gender discrimination and violence against women, Silvia Pimentel, an expert from Brazil, pointed to a recent United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) study, which had shown concern over the level of domestic violence and sexual abuse against girls in Guyana, and questioned the Government’s plans to combat those crimes.  She also stressed the need to monitor various plans and strategies to assist women victims, and for dialogue with other countries of the region on their efforts to combat violence against women.

To those queries, Ms Shadick said the Government was obliged to fund shelters for victims of violence or abuse, but financial resources were not always available.  The Ministry had shelters it used for short-term intervals in different districts until victims could be relocated, and paid the rent on apartments for needy women.

Adding that the Government had also established emergency services for children who were orphaned by violence, she said it tried to place them with family members, but also used private or Government homes.  Currently, her Ministry was holding discussions with the Ministry of Health to set up a shelter for orphaned and vulnerable women and girls left destitute due to HIV/AIDS.

As for trafficking, she said Guyana was sharing its experiences on trafficking of persons with other Caribbean countries through meetings and talks, and that the International Organization for Migration (IOM) had conducted a regional study on the practice.  Regarding sexual abuses against children, the country had begun a project in 2003 called Children and Violence, and her Ministry had almost completed setting up a national monitoring base to track child victims of violence.

Other experts expressed concern over the access of women, especially victims of violence, to legal protection, noting that Guyanese women were reportedly reluctant to seek redress for a variety of reasons.  Did the Government intend to extend its outreach legal service programmes to all areas of the country, create legal officer posts to assist women, and set up low-cost, low-threshold remedies for women?

Responding, Ms. Shadick said the country had maintained a system of legal assistance, and had a legal officer in the Ministry, who was available for those who needed assistance.  Certain lawyers also volunteered to work at reduced rates for those who needed them.

Experts also stressed the need for action, as well as legislation, to eliminate discrimination in the country, to actively involve women Parliamentarians in implementation of the Convention, and for women to participate more actively in development planning.  They also underscored the need to:  collect sex-disaggregated data on women’s poverty and employment; educate and involve men in efforts to eradicate violence against women; and consider provisions of the Beijing Platform of Action in the Government’s new National Plan of Action for Women.

In concluding remarks, the Committee Vice-Chairman noted that mechanisms were lacking in Guyana to effectively monitor legislation that had been passed to empower women.  Despite adoption of the domestic violence act, violence -- especially sex-related violence -- had continued to be a “taboo” in the country.  She recommended that the Government adopt additional measures to eliminate violence against women, and develop a programme to increase the awareness of lawyers and society at large of such violence.

Guyana’s delegation also consisted of Hymawattie Lagan, Administrator of the Women’s Affairs Bureau, Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security; Magna Pollard, Gender Consultant of the Women’s Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security; and George Talbot and Donnette Critchlow, of the Permanent Mission of Guyana to the United Nations.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 12 July, to consider the initial and second periodic reports of Lebanon.

Background

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met today to consider the combined third, fourth, fifth and sixth reports of Guyana, which covers compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women since the country’s previous report in 1998.  Among other areas, the report reviews developments in legislation, gender stereotyping, political representation, education, employment, health, rural women and family life.

The report notes that legislation is considered effective in guaranteeing gender equality in Guyana, but that enforcement is lacking due to insufficient human and financial resources, and minimal civil society interest.  The Women’s Affairs Bureau has begun discussion with the Guyana Association of Women Lawyers to identify legislation that should be abolished or amended.

As for gender stereotyping, a predominance of behaviours exist at all societal levels supporting male superiority, although women challenge such beliefs by adopting roles as household heads and family providers.  As an example, the report notes that violence against women persists as a physical manifestation of males imposing their perceived superiority.  Police records indicate 627 reports of domestic violence during 2001 and 591 in 2002, with the majority of complaints coming from females and from rural communities, and the majority of abusers husbands or reputed husbands.

Regarding prostitution, legislation exists for charges under the Criminal Offences Act, but prosecution remains minimal, according to the report.  Of concern to the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security is prostitution among young hinterland Amerindian girls in coastal areas, particularly urban centres.  Many are subject to exploitation and abuse from employers and clients and have little recourse in environments that they are often unfamiliar with.

With respect to political representation, the number of women in Guyana’s Parliament increased from 12 (18.5 per cent) in 2000 to 20 (31 per cent) after the 2001 elections, there are now four female ministers, the Deputy Speaker of the House is female, the highest-ranking judiciary position -- that of Chancellor -- is held by a woman, and there are three female judges out of a total of eight.

However, the report states, women are insufficiently represented in top-level decision-making positions relative to their number, high levels of academic achievement and increasing participation in the labour force.  They are similarly underrepresented in the private sector, with only one female member in both the Private Sector Commission and the Board of the Consultative Association of Guyanese Industries.

In the educational field, career choice patterns continue to reflect gender stereotypes, with women opting for traditional female dominated fields.  At the University of Guyana from 1998 to 2000, females made up 77.6 per cent and 70.4 per cent of first-year social science students, while they accounted for a mere 6.8 per cent and 7.6 per cent in the technology faculty.  Of 2,256 students graduating from the Cyril Potter College of Education between 1998 and 2002, some 306 or 13.6 per cent were male and 1,950 or 86.4 per cent were women.

According to the 1999 Guyana Survey of Living Conditions, labour force participation for men was 76 per cent, compared to 39 per cent for women, and female unemployment stood at 14 per cent, compared to 6 per cent for males.  The same year, it was estimated that 50 per cent of women in Guyana lived in poverty, and 29.7 per cent of women household heads were enduring absolute poverty.  The Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper and the National Development Strategy Paper have both recognized that women account for most of the poor in Guyana.

As for health, the report notes that anaemia -- iron deficiency -- is a major problem in the country.  In 1997, deficient haemoglobin levels reached 29.9 per cent in pregnant women, 20.8 per cent in the 0 to 4 age group, and 15.5 per cent in the 5 to 14 age group.  Plans for food and drug supplementation for children under five and pregnant women have been initiated, and pregnant women are encouraged to enrol at antenatal clinics by the twelfth week of pregnancy.  Another serious area is improper nutrition, which leads to such chronic diseases as obesity, hypertension, diabetes and cancer.

The number of reported HIV/AIDS cases among women of childbearing age (15 to 45) increased from 49 in 1998 to 118 in 1999, according to the report.  In 2001, females comprised about 45 per cent of all victims, although in the 15 to 24 age groups many more females than males carried the virus.  Some 7.1 per cent of pregnant women tested positive for the virus in 2001, up from 3 per cent in 1995.  Orphaned children, loss of financial support in the home, and a depleted resource base are among the many consequences of the epidemic for Guyanese society.

Assessing rural women, the report notes that many of the rural poor occupy land leased from the Government, and are unable to obtain loans because that property cannot be used as collateral.  Land reform will allow lessees who have beneficially occupied the same plot of land for more than 15 years to covert to freehold.

Among social issues affecting Amerindian women are the illegal sale of alcohol in their communities, and traditional production and consumption of alcohol.  Other concerns include underage prostitution among Amerindian girls and lack of equal educational opportunities, inadequate access to land, low economic status, inadequate access to health services in emergencies, poverty, poor diet and nutrition, rape, and access to potable water.

As for family life, no direct measures have been taken by the Government to prevent forced or arranged marriages, which has traditionally been a characteristic of rural East Indian families.  The phenomenon appears to be declining, which may be due to re-acculturation of East Indian families and their incorporation into the mainstream culture.  Arranged marriages are also driven by economic reasons, or for migration and residency/citizenship, which are found among all races.

Introduction of Reports

BIBI SHADICK, Minister in the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security of Guyana, introducing the country’s report, said a focus in her country on achieving gender equality had resulted in legislation to ensure women enjoyed their full rights and economic freedoms, improved mechanisms to eliminate violence against women, and eradication of the feminization of poverty.  The country had continued to increase the participation of women in politics and decision-making, but challenges remained.  Patriarchal norms and stereotypical and discriminatory cultural practices towards women were not easily changed, requiring constant monitoring, advocacy and dialogue.  In addition, Guyana’s huge debt burden and unfavourable terms of trade for commodities on the international market had continued to negatively impact full implementation of the country’s National Plan of Action for Women.

She noted that there were currently 65 members of the country’s Parliament, of whom 30.7 per cent were women, and that women’s participation on the Regional Democratic Council had increased from 21 per cent in 1997 to 30 per cent in 2001.  Although improvement had been recorded in women’s representation at some levels of senior public office between 1993 and 2003, those numbers were still relatively low.  On the positive side, based on 2003 statistics, women were overtaking their male counterparts in middle management, and now accounted for 52 per cent of all such positions, as compared to 42 per cent in 1993.

In its attempts to ensure gender equality, she said, the Women’s Affairs Bureau within the Ministry of Labour had been extended to include the Guyana Women’s Leadership Institute, which had responsibility for capacity-building and skills training.  It also now included the National Resource Documentation Centre for Gender and Development, which provided information support for all initiatives to improve the status of women.  Guyana had also completed a new National Policy on Women, and was currently updating its National Action Plan for Women, which would cover the period from 2005 to 2007.  The new plan would constitute a comprehensive approach to critical issues affecting women in such areas as health, education, employment, leadership, gender-based violence, trafficking in persons and HIV/AIDS.

In the field of education, a special focus has been educational programmes in rural and hinterland locations, and measures were in place to boost their delivery in such areas, she said.  Those included distance education, dormitory facilities for children, increased allowances for teachers, and financial support for hinterland teachers to train outside their communities.  It had been recognized that there was a gender disparity in the rural school population, compared to the national population, which was almost gender equal.  The Women’s Studies Unit of the University of Guyana had just begun a study on reasons for early school dropouts.

To assist women living in poverty, the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security provided financial assistance for small “cottage” projects and cash crop ventures by providing sewing machines and other equipment to support small, income-generating ventures pursued by women, she said.  To assist poor rural women, the Government had set up a revolving loan scheme with a minimum interest rate in Moruca, a predominantly Amerindian populated area.  Financial assistance was also being given to women’s and youth groups to initiate and improve income-generating activities, particularly in agriculture.

Noting that violence against women was a significant issue in the country, she said the Domestic Violence Act of 1996 offered some measure of protection to women, but its implementation had not been as effective as had been expected.  The Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security led an intergovernmental and broad-based approach to address trafficking in women, in which the victims were primarily women and children.  Measures undertaken so far had included formulating a National Plan of Action; an intensive public awareness campaign across the country; enacting trafficking legislation; national and international training workshops on victim identification and protection; training key personnel and about 300 people across all regions to monitor the situation; and setting up victim protection programmes and shelters.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

As the Committee began its detailed consideration of the country’s reports, several experts focused on Guyana’s national gender equality machinery, temporary special measures for the advancement of women, domestic violence and protection of women under the law.

FUMIKO SAIGA, an expert from Japan, asked several questions regarding the composition and functioning of the country’s national machinery for the advancement of women.  The establishment of institutions was not a goal in itself, but Guyana’s national machinery appeared to have “too many layers”.  Instead of establishing new organizations, it was probably better to strengthen the existing bodies.

HEISOO SHIN, an expert from the Republic of Korea, wanted to know if there were long-term plans to strengthen the regional women’s affairs office.  She also asked about the national action plan, wondering if non-governmental organizations had been involved in its evaluation.  Once the national gender equality commission had been established, what would be its division of labour with existing bodies?  Regarding domestic violence, she asked how many women had been killed by their husbands last year.  Had the perpetrators been tried and convicted?  How many shelters were there in Guyana?  What measures were in place to deal with that phenomenon?

CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, an expert from the Netherlands, said that under the Convention, legal protection for women should be established on an equal basis with men.  He was glad that Guyana was prepared to work with women to make sure that they took full advantage of the means of redress available to them.  However, it had been reported that women in Guyana were reluctant to seek such redress for a variety of reasons.  He wanted to know if the Government intended to extend its outreach legal service programmes to all areas of the country and create legal officer posts to provide assistance to women.  It was also important to put in place low-cost, low-threshold remedies for women.

GLENDA P. SIMMS, an expert from Jamaica, said that the State had an obligation to fund and establish institutions that would provide assistance to victims of violence.  The country could not rely on non-governmental organizations to provide protection to women alone.  Other major issues in the whole Caribbean region included trafficking in women and freedom of sexual orientation.  What was the Government doing to deal with those problems?  One of the issues that needed to be addressed in that regard was sex workers’ access to the services mentioned in the report.

VICTORIA POPESCU, an expert from Romania, said that Guyana had adopted the Convention in 1982.  Since then, it must have had a series of national plans to advance the equality of women.  She wanted to hear an assessment of those plans’ effectiveness.  It was important to pinpoint the main achievements, evaluate the most important obstacles and determine the main actions that needed to be undertaken in the future.  She also asked if the new action plans included measures to improve access to communities in remote areas.  It was also important to involve the media in the efforts to overcome negative stereotypes.

MAGALYS AROCHA DOMÍNGUEZ, an expert from Cuba, said that today’s presentation had provided some important information to the members of the Committee.  In the Caribbean, great efforts had been made to increase efficiency of the countries’ national machinery for the advancement of women.  One of the main problems encountered in that regard was coordination among various bodies.  From the report before the Committee, the exact role of each body and interaction between various institutions were not quite clear.  She would also like to receive further information on the gathering, dissemination and use of statistical information.

PRAMILA PATTEN, an expert from Mauritius, focused on the special temporary measures listed in the report.  No less than four measures had been listed by the Government, but unfortunately, they were not really special temporary measures, but programmes designed to advance women’s equality.  She recommended that the members of the delegation familiarize themselves with the Committee’s general recommendation on that subject.

She also had questions on the subject of violence against women and measures to ensure their protection.  What steps were being taken to better understand the underlying causes of violence and improve the structures through which women could report acts of violence? she asked.

Country Response

Ms. SHADICK agreed that Guyana’s system could seem confusing from the outside.  The Women’s Affairs Bureau functioned within the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security.  It was tasked with the responsibility of coordinating national and international efforts at ensuring the removal of discrimination against women and promoting their equal participation.  Recently, the Bureau had been strengthened to include the Guyana Women’s Leadership Institute and the National Resource and Documentation Centre for Gender and Development.

Last year, the Constitution Reform Commission had responded positively to the establishment of the Women and Gender Equality Commission, which fell under the umbrella of the Human Rights Commission.  Another body established last year was the National Commission on Women, which had been named and would commence operations shortly.

The Constitutional Commission should have already been appointed by the National Assembly, she said, but the process of naming members of that Commission had taken over one year.  Only yesterday, the Assembly had approved the names put forward for membership to the Commission.  The nominations now had to be approved by the Government.  The Constitutional Commission would not be housed within the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security, but within the Human Rights Secretariat.  It was an oversight body and a forum where women could take their complaints.  What her Ministry had put in place was an office that would link the work of the Commission with various ministries.

Regarding regional assistance for women, she said the central Government could not perform all administrative duties, and regional councils were provided with a budget to perform gender-related work.  Each region had a women’s affairs committee made up of councillors and other civil society members.  One person from the committee served as a regional officer to liaise with the central Women’s Affairs Bureau.  Those officers, who met with the central Bureau at least once annually, informed the Bureau about programmes that needed to be carried out and training and materials that were needed.

As for the question about the women’s shelter, she said the shelter had initially been set up by the Government, but was later given over to a non-governmental organization.  The non-governmental organization found that they were running short of funding, and had to close it down in 2003, and the Government gave them enough money to run it for one year.  Attached to that shelter was a chicken farm, which had helped to run the shelter through its profits, but it had been closed down and now must be restarted.  Early this year the shelter found it needed renovations, and six weeks ago the Government approved a sum to cover that work.  It now intended to provide the non-governmental organization with annual funds to cover the shelter’s costs.

With respect to long-term plans for regional bodies, she additional personnel were needed.  The current National Plan of Action was being updated, and she would provide information when it was available.

Regarding violence, she said the number of women killed through violence against women had probably doubled, but she did not have an exact number.  All the killers had been charged, except for one who had so far evaded capture.  Often, men who had killed women went to police stations and gave themselves up.

As a result of the Domestic Violence Act, more charges of violence against women were now being laid and people were more aware of it.  Policemen were routinely trained, and every station had at least one officer responsible for domestic violence cases.

As for the number of shelters in the country, she said there were not many, but in addition there was a home previously run by the Ministry, and now managed by a non-governmental organization.  The Ministry also had places it used for short-term intervals in the different districts until victims could be relocated, and paid the rent on apartments for needy women.  The Government was obliged to fund shelters, but financial resources were not always available.  Presently, her Ministry was in discussions with the Ministry of Health to set up a shelter for orphaned and vulnerable left destitute by deaths due to HIV/AIDS.

Regarding emergency services, she said the Government had established services for children who were orphaned by violence.  It tried to place them with family members, but could also place them in private or Government homes.

Regarding legal services for women victims, the country had maintained a system of assistance, and now also had a legal officer in the Ministry, who was available for those who needed assistance.  Certain lawyers also volunteered to work at reduced rates for those who needed them.

As for prostitution, which was illegal in the country, the Ministry tried to find alternative employment for women employed in that sector.  Trafficking and prostitution were treated as related issues.

Regarding racial tension, people of different races lived well together in their communities, although politicians used such tension to obtain votes at election time.  As for the media, the Ministry had held several meetings with journalists to sensitize them about reporting and the positive impact they could have on attitudes within society.

To another query, she said an inter-ministerial committee made up of high-level people within ministries met once a month to discuss programmes on women’s issues, as well as what other ministries could do to promote those concerns.  In addition, the permanent secretaries of key ministries sometimes met once a week.

Experts’ Questions

MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, an expert from Portugal, said that the report’s concept regarding special temporary measures for the advancement of women was not exactly in line with article 4 of the Convention, which sought to accelerate gender equality.  Some issues, including women’s participation, could not just be “left to time and change”.  In the area of education, for example, it was necessary to accelerate change in the area of education.

KRISZTINA MORVAI, an expert from Hungary, said that the country was fortunate to have rich natural resources, but many of its people lived in poverty.  Who controlled the use of resources and profits from such commodities as gold and diamonds?  She wanted to know if any members of the Guyana Gold Board were women.  How did women in Guyana profit from the country’s rich resources?  When elaborating its development plans, did the Government reach actively to women’s groups and female academics?  From the report, it appeared that women should only be involved in the part of the development plan relating to women.  On the contrary, women should be involved in development plans for the whole country.

SALMA KHAN, an expert from Bangladesh, wondered if the Convention was being actively disseminated in the country and if any studies had been carried out to study the dropout rates for girls.

She added that in the delegation’s oral presentation, it appeared that the main goal was gender equity (fairness and justice), but not real equality.  In view of a strong gender bias in the country’s society, the national policy should be interpreted in line with the Convention, which required States parties to advance equality between men and women.  Since there was a reasonably good number of women parliamentarians in Guyana, they could play an important role in that regard.

ZOU XIAOQIAO, an expert from China, noted Guyana’s legislative acts aimed at the elimination of discrimination of women.  However, the country should not rely on legislative action alone.  She realized that Guyana was facing such challenges as the lack of resources and the lack of public awareness of gender issues.  In that connection, she wanted to know what was being done to sensitize the public to gender issues.

HANNA BEATE SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, an expert from Germany, said that some of the issues in the report were a source of concern.  For example, Guyana had not been following the regular reporting procedure under the Convention.  Its first report had been due one year after ratification and subsequent reports every four years thereafter.  While containing a frank assessment of the situation, the report in some sections consisted of a very general description of social policies.  She sensed a lack of women-centred policies in many areas.  The Government had referred to a heavy debt burden -– did that affect women disproportionately?  Was there a gender-targeted budget that was going to that group?

HUGUETTE BOKPE GNACADJA, an expert from Benin, said that only a partial answer had been given to a question regarding composition of certain national bodies for the promotion of women and asked for further clarifications in that regard.  The question still remained concerning how tasks were divided among various bodies.  She was concerned about possible duplication of functions and confusion about particular roles of all those institutions.  That could explain why there seemed to be a lack of tangible results in recent years.  The final impression was that there was “a kind of scattering of various activities”.  She wanted to know who was ultimately responsible for the implementation of the Convention.

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, an expert from Croatia, sought clarification regarding the position of the Convention versus recent amendments to the Constitution.  Was the Convention directly applicable in the country, or did it still need to be incorporated into national laws?  It had also been stated that the Government was currently updating its national plan for 2005-2007.  She wanted to know if that plan would take into account the provisions of the Beijing Platform for Action. During a recent review of the implementation of the Beijing Conference, the mutually reinforcing roles of the Convention and the outcome of the Women’s Conference had been stressed.

Ms. PIMENTEL said that Guyana’s report and presentation listed important measures to reduce gender discrimination and violence against women.  It had also been stated that alleviation of domestic violence was accorded high priority by the Government.  However, a recent United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) study had shown that there was concern over the level of domestic violence and sexual abuse against girls.  Was there a national plan to combat that harmful practice?  The outcome of recent international conventions could form a good basis for the work of a national task force on violence against women.  She also highlighted the necessity of monitoring the effectiveness of various plans and strategies and suggested a dialogue with other countries of the region on their efforts to combat violence against women.

Country Response

Regarding equity and equality, Ms. SHADICK noted that one third of the country’s regional democratic councillors were women, but no visible change could be detected, compared to when those bodies were made up of all men.  The country wanted equitable participation but also wanted to see equal benefits.  Some 35 per cent of Guyana’s Parliament was female, but how much difference did that make?  They spoke the same as male parliamentarians, and did not necessarily address women’s concerns.  There was currently a programme under way to address gender equity in governance, where the presence of women must bring about some kind of change.

Culturally, she continued, women tended to take a back seat.  If a man and a woman with equal qualifications applied for the same job, the woman tended to sacrifice her desires for the man.  The highest judicial office in the country had been held by a woman until earlier this year, when she was appointed to the Caribbean Court of Justice, but how much she judicially appreciated the needs of women was questionable.  It was not that women were invisible, but that their impact was not yet visible.

On the country’s reporting cycle to the Committee, she said the Ministry had tried to bring it up to date, and had largely succeeded.  The report was prepared in consultation with non-governmental organizations and civil society, and then submitted to the country’s Cabinet for discussion.

As for women and poverty, she said they made up the majority of the poor because of the tasks they had to accomplish, in addition to earning a wage.  Families that were cared for by single men often had support from the man’s mother, and were not the same as households headed by single women.  There was a tendency for men to react negatively when they perceived that women’s issues were being addressed.  Sometimes violence could be the result, if men felt they were being marginalized.

Regarding Guyana’s wealth, the country wasn’t capable of carrying out all of its own mining, and had to rely on international conglomerates.  And despite the royalties and other profits it received from gold and diamonds, it had inherited a huge foreign debt and any earned resources went to that.  Moreover, the price of sugar, which was the mainstay of the economy, was declining.  The European Union had just announced that it would no longer provide preferential sugar markets to Guyana, and prices were likely to drop by about 42 per cent.

As for other questions, she said the Constitutional Commission was essentially a monitoring body, which had the authority to perform various functions.  On trafficking, she said Guyana was sharing its experiences on combating trafficking of persons with other Caribbean countries through meetings and talks, and that the International Organization for Migration (IOM) had conducted a regional study on it.  It was also exchanging information on migration, and the loss of teachers and nurses.

Regarding sexual abuse against children, the country had recognized that that crime was on the rise.  In 2003, it had begun a project called Children and Violence, and the Ministry had almost completed setting up a national monitoring base to track child victims of violence.

Experts’ Comments

FRANÇOISE GASPARD, an expert from France, commended the sincerity of the report and the depth of resolve demonstrated by the delegation.  From the answers provided by country representatives, she now better understood the situation in the country, but she still wanted to receive further clarifications, on particular on the issues of the law on quotas and Guyana’s nationality laws.  She added that one of the issues addressed by the Committee was how to involve men in the efforts to achieve gender equality, she continued.  Guyana’s delegation was entirely composed of women, for example.

MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria and Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, also welcomed Ms. Shaddick’s sincerity and conviction.  The country had many difficulties, which included an immense amount of external debt.  Despite the challenges, the women of the country did not remain inactive, however.  For example, there was now 31 per cent female representation in the Parliament of Guyana.  Women members of the Parliament needed to advocate the cause of gender equality.  Women’s issues also needed to be addressed at the economic level.  She wanted to know about the proportion of Amerindian indigenous women elected to the Parliament.  All women of Guyana should be adequately represented.

Country Response

Ms. SHADICK replied that the all-female composition of the delegation was not deliberate.  For instance, the male member of the country’s Permanent Mission was on vacation right now.

Regarding elections, she said that the Constitution provided that the list of candidates from each political party must be one third women.  That did not mean that the same proportion of women should be elected to the Parliament.  There were three Amerindian women in the Parliament.  One was a minister responsible for the Amerindian affairs.  Regarding transmission of nationality to alien women, she said that they “may or may not” take their husband’s nationality, but the children took the nationality of the father.  An alien woman could not transfer her nationality to her children.  While in 1993-1996, up to 70 per cent of the national revenue had gone towards the repayment of the country’s external debt, today, that figure had been reduced to just over 20 per cent.

Experts’ Questions

Ms. POPESCU said that the country’s reports testified to the equality of access of boys and girls to various forms of education, but after a certain level of education, disparities emerged.  Primary education was free and compulsory.  She wanted to know if there was illiteracy in the country and if the rate of dropouts was the same among boys and girls.  Could girls who gave birth at an early age go back to school?  What measures were being taken to encourage girls to opt for traditionally-male fields of education?

Ms. PATTEN expressed concern over the lack of sex-disaggregated data on women’s employment.  What sanctions were in place for non-compliance with existing legislation?  Did the country have special industrial quotas?  What was being done to facilitate women’s access to justice?  She also asked about discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy and marital situation of women.

She added that in the country’s legislation, there was no provision for an obligatory maternity leave for women, but States parties had the responsibility to introduce such measures.  Among the problems women encountered in the labour field was the fact that women had little or no bargaining power and poor working conditions.  Was the Government envisaging specific employment policies to integrate the gender perspective?

Ms. ZOU noted that the unemployment rate for women in Guyana was twice that for men.  Were there any specific measures to address that situation?

MARY SHANTHI DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, said it was unclear how poverty among women was being addressed in the country.  There was some indication of action to combat it through “social safety nets” by the Ministry of Labour, but those interventions were interim measures and would not sustain the economic well-being of women in the long-term.  How would women benefit from poverty reduction strategy papers, what categories of the population would they target, and was there sex-disaggregated data on poverty elimination?  What was the Women’s Bureau doing to design gender-sensitive poverty strategies for women?

Ms. KHAN asked whether the country’s microcredit programmes required collateral, and the types of self-employment for women.  Also, did the country have a long-term strategic plan for poverty eradication?  Was there a provision for maternity leave from employment for women in both the public and private sectors?

Ms. DA SILVA asked about strategies to combat HIV/AIDS in women, and to address the responsibility of men with regard to the epidemic.  She also noted that prostitution was criminalized with respect to women, but clients were not held liable.  Men should also be held responsible for the solutions to such problems.

Country Response

Ms. SHADICK said Guyana’s educational system favoured girls’ access to education at the primary, secondary, and university levels, which was provided free of cost at State schools.  In Guyana, there was no discrimination on the basis of sex for employment.  More women were employed in the civil service than men, although more men were employed at senior levels.  Women worked both inside and outside the home, and efforts were now being made to get men to pay national insurance contributions for women who worked in the home.

Regarding the country’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, consultations took place about it in villages and towns, which were attended by Government ministers.  At all of those meetings, the majority of participants were women.  In Amerindian communities, women did the farming and planting, and raised questions about their working needs.

This year, she said, the Government had allocated $30 million to provide school uniforms for those who could not afford them, which was direct assistance to single female household heads.

She noted that when poverty levels were measured, they were often done by international organizations, rather than the country itself.  But, the idea of poverty was relative.  Amerindians were considered to be poor, for example, but they themselves did not necessarily consider themselves to be so.  Adding that women sometimes did not apply for jobs because they were already working in the home, she said the country’s numbers of unemployed did not necessarily refer to capabilities.

Regarding pregnancy, women were entitled to 13 weeks of maternity leave, and the country practised no discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy and maternity.

Statistics showed that females were more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS than males, she continued.  However, it was also important to look into the root problems that led to the spread of that disease.  For example, the rates of infection were high among certain ethnic groups, where parents refused to recognize that their children were sexually active.  With that information, action could be taken to rectify the situation.  The reality in Guyana’s society was that a man could use a condom when he had a relationship with a woman outside of marriage, but with his wife, he refused to do that.  Thus, the country’s education programmes were geared at combating such attitudes and providing the people with education regarding the dangers of HIV/AIDS and the ways of preventing it.

Prostitution was not legal in Guyana, she said.  The age of consent had been set at 13 years, but discussions were under way to amend a relevant act to raise the age of consent to 16.

Regarding the legal status of the Convention and the Constitution, she said that an amendment to the Constitution had automatically incorporated into domestic legislation all international instruments that the country was party to.  Thus, the Convention could be directly invoked in domestic courts.  Guyana was the only country in the Caribbean that had such automatic provisions.

Experts’ Comments

Ms. MORVAI welcomed the constructive dialogue with the delegation and said that a concrete plan of action was needed to educate men and change entrenched attitudes to gender roles.  Men needed to be educated as to what it meant to be a real man and what women were for.  They needed to understand that women had not been created to pleasure men and satisfy their sexual needs.  Traditional attitudes about gender roles had a lot to do with such phenomena as violence against women, men’s lack of responsibility in sexual relations and use of abortion as birth control.

Ms. SHANTHI DAIRIAM congratulated the country on the fact that several gender-specific health services were being developed in Guyana.  However, States parties to the Convention were obliged to address all aspects of women’s health -- not just their reproductive and sexual health.  She had questions about women’s access to health services and trends in maternal mortality and morbidity.  More monitoring was needed to see if women were actually using the services that were available to them.  How was low contraceptive prevalence impacting on fertility in the country?

ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, said that the report provided specific information on rural women in Guyana, listing such problems as access to water and the impact of a recent hurricane.  She wanted to know how many women had benefited from the Government’s water access programmes and what measures were being taken to prevent pollution of water sources by gold-prospecting companies.

Ms. SIMMS said that the age of consent at 13 meant that young girls’ sexuality was being bartered in Guyana.  One had to admit that most people who had sex with 13-year-old girls were old men -- not 13-year-old boys.  That was a serious problem that needed to be addressed.  Boys were also sacrificed in a homophobic society, which would never admit that men had sex with men.  Caribbean women should not continue to condone sexual exploitation of younger girls.

DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, said that in a country with limited resources, the rural population was at a disadvantage when it came to access to clean water, education, and health and social services.  Thus, rural women in Guyana continued to suffer disadvantages in those areas.  According to a study cited in the report, Amerindian women, who often lived in hard-to-access rural areas, often suffered from alcohol consumption, prostitution and lack of education.  What were the causes of those problems?  She also wanted to know if women in rural areas benefited directly from social programmes, as required under the Convention.

Country Response

Regarding male behaviour, Ms. SHADICK said traditional male attitudes could not be changed overnight.  Programmes to raise women’s awareness had resulted in domestic violence in some cases, and it was necessary to work more with men.  Women must be educated to protect themselves until efforts could be made to change the attitudes of men.  She added that efforts should also be made to address the plight of boys, who were also being sexually abused -- by women, as well as men.

As for HIV/AIDS, she said the country had been doing much to fight the pandemic since the report had been prepared.  For one thing, the country’s debt payments had decreased, and more resources were available for social services.

With respect to education, every child in the country had access to primary education and more than 80 per cent to secondary education.  Facilities for children were comparable in the interior and rural areas to those on the coast.  If Guyana was not at the level of developed countries, it was trying to reach that as quickly as possible.

As for electricity, Guyana was currently working to provide every household in the country with electricity, which should be achieved by the end of next year.  Currently, although the country had only one State-owned electricity company, the situation was improving, and blackouts were fewer.

On communication in remote villages, she said that every village had a radio for communication with other villages, since transportation was difficult.

Experts’ Questions

Ms. TAN asked for further information about the contents of the family court bill, and how it would function once it became law.

Ms. COKER-APPIAH asked about problems affecting enforcement of existing laws to combat violence against women, and what the Government was doing to address those problems.  Did the Government plan to enact legislation for the provision of free legal aid, especially for indigent women?

Ms. ZERDANI asked whether there was any discrimination in Guyana in the field of marriage, with respect to parental consent or other relations of parents with children.

Ms. GNACADJA asked what the Government was doing to ensure that the family court bill was still being drafted.  Why had a simple amendment not been submitted to the General Assembly?  There appeared to be no time-bound commitment on the bill.

Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ asked for an update on how the country was addressing cases of discrimination in male-female roles that went against the Convention.

Country Response

Ms. SHADICK said that the family court bill was being considered now.  The main point was that when a new court was created, specialized magistrates and judges were needed to deal with such family matters as divorces and property rights.  It was true that the Married Persons’ Property Act granted different rights to property for married and unmarried women.  Both married people, the husband and wife, became entitled to part of the other’s property upon marriage.

There was also a law that discriminated against women, who were only married in a religious ceremony, but were not legally married, she said.  The Government was aware of the fact that obsolete legislation needed to be changed.  However, she was unable to provide a timeline, in that regard.  Changing the age of consent legislation would require changing only one provision of an act, but there was resistance to action in that regard, and further consultations were necessary.  With regard to property rights, it was important to recognize the rights of both working and non-working women, she continued.  A non-working wife should be entitled to the same share of family property as a working woman.

Regarding free legal assistance to women, she agreed that one lawyer was not enough and expressed hope that in several years, the country would be able to increase the number of lawyers.  There was no legislation for free legal aid, but the reality was that free and low-cost legal aid was, in fact, available to the people who could not afford the high cost of legal assistance.

Turning to international assistance, she said that international agencies routinely provided assistance to developing countries, but she was not aware of any individual donor country providing the 0.7 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) to the countries of the Caribbean.

On other discriminatory provisions of the law, she said that, indeed, there was a provision in the country’s Criminal Code, under which a female could be sent to prison for being engaged in prostitution with a man, but such cases never came before the courts.

Follow-up Questions

Ms. MORVAI recalled her previous question about women’s impact on the country’s economy.

Ms. SHIN said that nine women and two men had been recently killed in domestic violence in Guyana.  However, in her experience, the motives for killings within the family were different when men and women were involved.  Usually, if a woman was pushed to murder, it was for reasons of prolonged abuse.

Ms. SHANTHI DAIRIAM asked if particular initiatives were being planned by the Government to address poverty among women.  It was important to look into underlying causes of poverty and link gender-related programmes to the country’s overall development strategy.

Ms. PATTEN inquired about the implementation of laws on sexual harassment in the workplace and maternity protection awarded to part-time workers.

Ms. COKER-APPIAH asked for further clarification regarding the country’s nationality law and the high incidence of alcoholism among Amerindian women.

Country Response

Ms. SHADICK said that during Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers discussions, women were very vocal, and their opinions were heard within the country.  Poor women were targeted by the Government’s assistance programmes.  The Government was also trying to address the root cause of women’s poverty and vulnerability.  Women were taught new skills and encouraged to improve their education.

There had been very few complaints of sexual harassment or discrimination in the workplace.  Whenever there were complaints, matters were usually settled outside of courts.  The culture was “not there yet” for a woman to go to court with a complaint of sexual harassment.  The situation was similar with rape cases, where women were reluctant to be ostracized and face embarrassment.

There were very few part-time workers in Guyana, she continued.  Most part-time workers were domestic help, and there were laws in place that regulated their situation.  Any child born in Guyana was entitled to the country’s citizenship.  She was not aware of reports of large-scale alcoholic consumption among Amerindian women.

Concluding Remarks

Committee Vice-Chairman SILVIA PIMENTAL of Brazil noted that mechanisms were lacking in Guyana to effectively monitor legislation that had been passed to empower women.  Despite adoption of the domestic violence act, violence had continued to be a “taboo” in the country, especially in the sexual field.  She recommended that the Government adopt measures to eliminate violence against women, and develop a programme to increase the awareness of lawyers and society at large of such violence.

She then clarified the Committee’s use of the terms “equality” and “equity”.  This Committee and other human rights committees had recommended using the word equality instead of equity, since it had less ambiguity than equity did.  In some regions, equity, although it may refer to justice and fairness, meant less than equality.  Adding that Guyana’s Government had done much to implement the Convention, she said that much more needed to be done.

Ms. SHADICK said there was no lack of will in her Government to improve the status of women.  Any country that had committed resources to women’s empowerment at the Beijing Conference should encourage their governments to honour those commitments.  “We can find a way, but that way may be expensive.”

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For information media  Ÿ  not an official record

For information media. Not an official record.