ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE EXPERTS WELCOME NAMIBIA’S STEPS TO ADVANCE WOMEN’S EQUALITY, URGE INTRODUCTION OF STRATEGIES TO CHANGE STEREOTYPES
ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE EXPERTS WELCOME NAMIBIA’S STEPS TO ADVANCE WOMEN’S EQUALITY, URGE INTRODUCTION OF STRATEGIES TO CHANGE STEREOTYPES
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Anti-discrimination committee experts welcome namibia’s steps to advance women’s
equality, urge introduction of strategies to change stereotypes
Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare Presents Report,
National Gender Policy, Domestic Violence Act among Measures Highlighted
Expert members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today welcomed Namibia’s important steps for the advancement of women in the context of its difficult socio-economic situation, and urged the Government to go beyond the adoption of legal measures and introduce strategies to change the stereotypes and combat the practices that perpetuated women’s inequality.
Having ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1992, Namibia -- a large and sparsely populated country of under 2 million situated in the South-West of Africa -- presented its combined second and third periodic reports to the experts monitoring the implementation of that instrument in Chamber A today.
Introducing the reports, Namibia’s Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, Marlene Mungunda, listed numerous measures introduced by the Government to improve the situation of women, including the adoption of the national gender policy; elevation of a department for women’s affairs to a full Ministry; introduction of awareness and training programmes; and numerous acts of legislation, including the Affirmative Action (Employment) Act of 1998, the Combating of Rape Act of 2000 and the Domestic Violence Act of 2003.
Although Namibia had made significant progress since its last periodic review, challenges to achieving full gender equality still existed, she said. Indeed, much more would be done, as the Government was committed to the implementation of the Convention. The challenge was to maximize the advantage of the current momentum to keep women’s issues “on the front burner”. The Government of Namibia would, therefore, continue to adopt measures and initiatives that would progressively propel the country towards empowerment of women and gender equality.
Namibia has some 12 ethnic groups, and after the country achieved independence after years of colonial rule and apartheid in 1990, traditional royal houses and counsels acquired renewed authority, with recognized power to run their own office in their traditional areas, she said. Under the country’s Constitution, “both the customary and common law in Namibia in force on the date of Independence shall remain valid to the extent to which such customary or common law does not conflict with the Constitution or any other statutory law.”
Members of the Committee raised numerous questions regarding the country’s customary laws that were detrimental to women, customary marriages, the situation of rural and vulnerable women, women’s employment, education and health. An expert wondered why the whole area of traditional authority was immune from the Convention’s directive of equal representation. Namibia had ratified the Convention without any reservation regarding traditional or customary laws and had responsibilities in that regard, she said.
Another expert commented that, much as she appreciated the need to preserve traditional institutions, it was also important to ensure that those institutions did not further subordinate women. Customs and traditions were usually not friendly to women. While noting the preservation of tradition from a historical perspective, she also stressed the need to address discriminatory cultural practices.
Members of the delegation, however, insisted that Namibia was “moving with the times”. Each ethnic group had a chief or queen and their advisers. As a part of the Traditional Authority Act, advisers were encouraged to put forward women candidates for positions in traditional bodies. In fact, some of the customs were contributing to the betterment of communities. For example, the rates of HIV/AIDS and domestic violence were very low in one of the regions, as the traditional leadership and royal houses were very strong there.
Country representatives also explained that customary and civil laws complemented -- and did not contradict -- each other. The Constitution was the only supreme law of the land. International conventions could not contradict the Constitution.
Ms. Mungunda said that community courts consisted of traditional leaders living in villages and communities. The country’s legislation gave traditional leaders the right to quickly react to any violation of customary law. During a 1993 conference with traditional leaders, amendments had been made to customary practices. Before that conference, if a husband died, the wife and child were chased from the land or were given the chance to pay for the land where they had been living. Traditional leaders had changed the customary law, so that women had the right to occupy the land of their husbands and fathers. The Community Court Act gave traditional leaders a quick response in such cases.
In another aspect of the discussion, one of the experts encouraged the Government to take a fresh look at the way it addressed violence against women. Despite the fact that many progressive laws were in place in Namibia, the reporting of violence was low, she said. The presence of the law did not automatically translate into victims making use of it. Women’s subordinate position in society and prevalence of negative traditional practices influenced the occurrence of violence in many societies. For that reason, it was important to introduce strategies to combat the practices that perpetuated violence.
Experts participating in the meeting included: Dorcas Coker-Appiah ( Ghana), Shanti Dairiam ( Malaysia), Cees Flinterman ( Netherlands), Naela Gabr ( Egypt), Ruth Halperin-Kaddari ( Israel), Violeta Neubauer ( Slovenia), Silvia Pimentel ( Brazil), Fumiko Saiga ( Japan), Hanna Beate Schöpp-Schilling ( Germany), Heisoo Shin ( Republic of Korea) and Glenda Simms ( Jamaica).
The experts in Chamber A will take up India’s reports at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 18 January.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met in Chamber A this morning to take up the combined second and third periodic reports of Namibia (document CEDAW/C/NAM/2-3). The country ratified the Convention in 1992 and presented its first report to the United Nations in July 1997.
Introduction of Report
Namibia’s reports were presented to the Committee by the country’s delegation, headed by its Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, Marlene Mungunda. Other members of the delegation were: Namibia’s Permanent Representative, Kaire Mbuende; Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, Sirkka Ausiku; Director of Gender Equality and International Affairs, Victor Shipoh; David Thomas of Namibia’s Mission to the United Nations; Legal Adviser, Anna-Letu Haitembu; Development Planner, Monalisa Zatjirua; and Personal Assistant to the Minister, Cecilia Annastasia Violet Hanse.
Introducing the reports, Ms. MUNGUNDA said that the report was a product of broad consultations, which involved all stakeholders in Government, private sector and civil society.
With the adoption of the national gender policy in 1997, significant changes had taken place in the country, she said, not only in terms of law reform, but also at institutional and administrative levels to address issues of gender equality. The policy provided guidelines and set out the principles for implementation and coordination of gender issues. The policy was currently under review to close existing gaps and incorporate such issues as gender and HIV/AIDS, gender mainstreaming and monitoring.
During the period under review, the Department of Women’s Affairs had been elevated to a fully fledged Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Child Welfare in 2000, she continued. It became the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare in 2005. The mandate of the Ministry was to ensure an enabling environment in which gender equality and well-being of all women and children could be realized, protecting their rights and advocating for change in traditional practices and attitudes. Through the Ministry, the Government, among other things, was also addressing the problem of human rights education, conducting basic legal literacy workshops countrywide. The Government also sought to sensitize the population on gender issues through awareness and training workshops, targeting the traditional leaders, councillors, parents and youth.
According to the report, article 10 of the country’s Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, as confirmed by the High Court of Namibia in its interpretation of a case before it. With regard to other legislation, the Government reported that the Labour Act of 1992 had outlawed discrimination on the basis of sex in most aspects of employment, and the Income Tax Act of 1981 had done away with sex discrimination by a series of amendments.
Regarding women’s participation, she said that the number of women in Parliament had increased from 20 to 27 per cent after the general elections in 2004. For the first time, Namibia had appointed women as Deputy Prime Minister, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Minister of Justice and Attorney General, and Minister of Finance. The country’s enhanced Local Authority Act of 1992 ensured higher representation of women in the decision-making process. Women candidates had won in 43 per cent of local elections in 2004. Women held 33 per cent of Namibia’s public service management positions.
The Government had also enacted an Affirmative Action (Employment) Act in 1998, which encouraged participation of women in the formal workforce. According to the report, the Act requires that all employers prepare affirmative action plans, “targeting blacks, women and persons with disabilities for affirmative action”. The Government had also established an Employment Equity Commission to ensure that all employers were fully aware of their rights and obligations under the Act.
According to the report, each year about 600 cases of rape and 150 cases of attempted rape are reported to the police in Namibia. A total of 70,000 people had been diagnosed with HIV in 2000, and during the same year, 2,868 people were reported to have died from AIDS-related diseases. A sample of 3,890 women were tested and about 22.3 per cent were found to be positive with the virus. The fact that women are mostly the victims of domestic violence, especially rape, renders them more vulnerable to contract HIV/AIDS.
Ms. Mungunda said that the Combating of Rape Act of 2000 and the Domestic Violence Act of 2003 were among the measures adopted to combat violence against women. The Combating of Rape Act covered rape within marriage. Through the Ministry of Safety and Security, the Government had established women and child protection units in all 13 regions of the country to facilitate effective implementation of the Domestic Violence Act. Professional medical, police and social work staff were being trained on how to deal with victims of domestic violence. The training was conducted in conjunction with United Nations agencies and other development partners. The Government was also in the process of drafting the Recognition of Customary Marriage Bill, which was aimed at addressing traditional practices that hindered the spirit of the Convention. The draft would also address polygamous marriages and the registration of customary marriages.
In respect of land ownership by women, Namibia had adopted a National Land Policy in 1998, under which a unitary land system was introduced, whereby all citizens had equal rights, opportunities and security across a range of tenure and management systems. The Communal Land Reform Act of 2002 provided for equal opportunities for both men and women to apply for and be granted land rights in communal areas. The Act further provided for the establishment of Communal Land Boards, which consist of 12 members -- not less than 4 of them women.
The Labour Act of 1992 was currently under review, she said. The review of maternity leave was highly emphasized, with countrywide consultations taking place with stakeholders, partners, unions and employers.
On abortion, she said that the Abortion and Sterilization Act of 1975 addressed that issue. The general public was being educated through gender sensitization and health education on the danger of performing abortions without expert medical involvement. Family planning services were freely available to all Namibians. In addressing teenage pregnancy in schools, the Educational Policy provided that a pregnant girl could continue with her education at school, until the time of her confinement, or an earlier date on the advice of a medical practitioner. After giving birth, and provided that a social worker was satisfied that the infant would be cared for by a responsible adult, the girl had the right of readmission to the same school within 12 months after the date when she left school.
Namibia had also developed an education and training sector improvement programme, she continued. Programmes were in place to encourage women to design projects, with the assistance of small and medium enterprises. The Government further encouraged the private sector, especially financial institutions, to provide financial assistance to women in order to create self-employment projects. In order to alleviate poverty in rural areas, the Government had established regional development committees that mobilized communities to initiate income-generating projects, including pottery-making, leather work, tailoring, brick-making, gardening and hair-dressing. The Gender Equality Ministry facilitated women’s participation in trade fairs.
To address discrimination in the family, the Government had enacted the married Persons Equality Act in 1996, she said, which abolished the marital power of the husband and provided for equal power of spouses to jointly decide on the administration of their joint property. The spouses also had equal rights and obligations with respect to the support of their children.
In conclusion, she said that Namibia had made significant progress since its last periodic review. However, challenges to achieve full gender equality still existed. Indeed, much more would be done, but the Government was committed to the implementation of the Convention. The challenge was to maximize the advantage of the current momentum to keep women’s issues on the front burner. The Government of Namibia would, therefore, continue to adopt measures and initiatives that would progressively propel the country towards empowerment of women and gender equality.
In an opening round of questions, experts expressed appreciation for Namibia’s presentation, noting that almost 10 years had passed since the Committee’s first constructive dialogue with Namibia. Important and significant steps had taken place since 2001, including Namibia’s ratification of the Convention’s Optional Protocol, which enabled women’s organizations to submit communications to the Committee, following the exhaustion of all domestic remedies, on alleged violations of rights under the Convention. Experts also asked the delegation to clarify issues surrounding the Convention’s visibility in the context of Namibia’s legal order in light of the existence of customary law.
CEES FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, said it was particularly gratifying, 10 years after the Committee’s consideration of the country’s initial report, to have the Minister of Gender Affairs present today. Noting the ratification of the Optional Protocol, he wondered what domestic remedies existed for women. Was it possible for a woman to directly invoke the rights enshrined in the Convention? From the case law presented to the Committee, he did not see any references to rights in the Convention, but only to the rights enshrined in Namibia’s Constitution. What exactly was the status of the Convention in Namibia’s domestic legal order? If the courts were not allowed to directly invoke the provisions of the Convention, was the judiciary required to interpret the Constitution and the laws in line with the Convention?
Noting a reference by the Human Rights Committee in 2004 that Namibia’s Constitution negatively affected the full implementation of the Convention on Civil and Political Rights, he wanted to know how article 144 of Namibia’s Convention affected the full implementation of the Women’s Convention. He was pleased that the Community Courts Bill had become the Community Courts Parliamentary Act, which was aimed at regulating the jurisdiction of traditional tribunals to ensure that they conformed to the Constitution. In that connection, he wondered if the community courts were empowered to review customary law under the provisions of the Convention. Since the adoption of the act in 2003, had there been any relevant case law? He also asked about the organization of basic literacy workshops, noting that there was no specific reference to the Women’s Convention as such.
SILVIA PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, asked for information on the participation of the judiciary, legislature and civil society in the report’s preparation. Saying it was commendable that the Community Courts Act of October 2003 was now an act of Parliament, she said greater clarity was needed on the impact of the act on women. She also asked for information on the details of the gender training manual and the workshops at which the guide was used.
HANNA BEATE SCHÖPP-SHILLING, expert from Germany, congratulated the Government on progress made in the context of a very difficult socio-economic situation. She would have preferred, however, stronger language on some of the existing obstacles to women’s empowerment in Namibia. For example, she did not have a clear understanding of the context of the various customary laws that were detrimental to women. What percentage of women was covered by customary laws? She also pointed to a possible conceptual problem in the country’s gender policy, noting that the report indicated that one of the weaknesses of the policy was that it was a policy and not a legal document. The Committee had made clear since 1996 that the Beijing Platform of Action could easily be linked to the various articles of the Convention. The policy did, therefore, have a legal basis and the country was legally obliged to fulfil what was spelled out in it. Stressing the need for gender mainstreaming of all national policies and frameworks, she asked if the country’s other national plans, such as Vision 2030, had been gender mainstreamed.
Regarding temporary special measures, while she commended the affirmative action employment act, she had a conceptual problem with the way it had been designed. Three groups had been categorized under the act, namely race, women and disabled people. As women accounted for more than 50 per cent of the population, they were also members of the other groups. How was the affirmative action plan being implemented, since women were represented in the racial groups and the disabled peoples groups? Detailed information was needed on the results of the act.
VIOLETA NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, said considerable progress had been achieved in strengthening the institutional structures for the development of gender equality policies. Structures aimed at assessing the outcomes of that policy had also been put in place. She noted with satisfaction that the delegation was aware that an assessment of the potential of existing mechanisms was needed and an analysis had been carried out to identify deficits, weak points and barriers that prevented the mechanisms from realizing their full potential. Had a new national gender plan of action been drafted following the 1998 to 2003 plan? she asked. She also stressed the need to strengthen instruments for monitoring the implementation of national gender equality policies and government commitments.
She also asked for an update on developments on gender mainstreaming in the last five years. On existing gender stereotypes, she was concerned that the only response to tackle cultural barriers had been in the field of education.
Responding to questions on legal issues, a member of the delegation said that, according to Namibia’s Constitution, any ratified international agreement became Namibian law. Any customary law which was in force during Namibia’s independence was valid, to the extent that it was not in conflict with the Convention. Article 144 of the Constitution recognized any international convention as part and parcel of Namibian law. Different remedies were not needed, as women could approach any court in relation to grievances under the provisions of the Convention.
On community courts and customary law, she said community courts consisted of traditional leaders living in villages and communities. The act gave traditional leaders the right to quickly react to any violation of customary law. During a 1993 conference with traditional leaders, amendments had been made to customary practices. Before that conference, if a husband died, the wife and child were chased from the land or were given the chance to pay for the land where they had been living. Traditional leaders had changed the customary law, so that women had the right to occupy the land of their husbands and fathers. The Community Court Act gave traditional leaders a quick response in such cases.
On the issue of community courts, Ms. MUNGUNDA said Namibian laws were subject to public hearings before they were passed, with input from many quarters. Regional political leaders, traditional authorities and churches participated in the process. The strategic plan included deadlines for implementation by the Ministry. Gender training workshops took place in the communities and at the local level.
On existing obstacles and customary laws, another member of the delegation said the country was developing a bill to regulate all customary practices. One of the obstacles was the registration of customary law. In some communities, women married under customary law were not registered. Women married under customary law did have the right to inheritance.
Another member of the delegation said that the bill would also cover the issue of polygamy, which it would seek to discourage. Among the issues connected with polygamous marriage, he mentioned the fact that, when a spouse in such a marriage passed away, a problem of who would inherit the property often arose.
Gender mainstreaming programmes were in place in Namibia, the Minister said, as well as gender focal points. The country’s affirmative action programme addressed the issues of race and gender, as well as the rights of people with disabilities. “We know that disabled people are the most affected and discriminated against. It is still like that in some cases,” she said. However, non-governmental organizations and civil society players advocated those people’s rights, and affirmative action was a tool to make participation easier for those people. All public buildings, for example, now had special access for people with disabilities.
Another member of the delegation said that Namibia’s national development plan was under review, and efforts were being made to introduce gender mainstreaming in that area, with assistance from international partners. Also with international assistance, the country was reviewing its gender equality plan. The Ministry had developed gender mainstreaming guidelines. The Government was also considering ways of introducing the gender perspective in school curricula.
In the second round of questions and comments, experts focused on discriminatory practices, stereotypes and violence against women in Namibia. They also sought further information on Namibia’s non-governmental organizations, the incidence of trafficking in human beings, and availability of sex-disaggregated statistics. Several experts also noted that the report seemed to accord low priority to trafficking in people, saying that the issue should be seriously addressed.
HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, stressed that the Optional Protocol was an important tool with which women could assert their rights. She commended the country for having ratified that instrument in 2000 and asked what was being done to publicize it. The Committee had received complaints regarding violations of women’s rights in the country, mostly in the area of violence, and she believed the Protocol could help the Government to address the problem. The Rape Act could also be useful, with a heavier sentence of up to life imprisonment. However, the rate of reporting of that crime to the police was under 5 per cent, and she wondered if reporting had improved. Had research been done to evaluate the impact of the new law? She also wanted to know more about the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act, a crime that also had a low rate of reporting.
NAELA GABR, expert from Egypt, commended the progress achieved in Namibia, especially in combating traditional attitudes, increasing the number of women occupying high-ranking positions, and introducing important legislative acts. However, the degrading stereotypical vision of women persisted, and many traditions had a negative impact on the status of women. It was very important to increase awareness of the issue. Stereotypes were closely connected to the problem of violence against women, including rape. She wanted to know how information was collected about cases brought before the courts and asked about a number of persons conducting investigations in those sensitive cases, as well as the training they received.
DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, encouraged the Government to take a fresh look at the way it addressed violence against women. Despite the fact that many progressive laws were in place in Namibia, the reporting of violence was low. The presence of law alone did not automatically translate into victims making use of it. Women’s subordinate position in society and the prevalence of negative traditional practices influenced the prevalence of violence in many societies. For that reason, it was important to introduce strategies to change the stereotypes and combat the practices that perpetuated violence.
Responding to those comments, Ms. MUNGUNDA said that the Government was using the media to publicize any convention, protocol or law. Private-public partnerships were also important. Information was also disseminated through seminars, workshops and literacy programmes. As for the impact of the new legislation, she said that, after the Rape Act and the Act on Domestic Violence were introduced, more cases got reported, and a conducive environment was being created to empower the victims. The Gender Equality Ministry’s database on domestic violence clearly indicated what type of injuries, what was being reported and how the cases were dealt with. During a recent “16 days of activism on violence” campaign, for the first time the Chief Justice gave clear statistics on violence cases. Reports were also available on the basis of research of the phenomenon that had been conducted by the Government, several non-governmental organizations and other partners. Training was provided to the police on the sensitive issues involved and centres were being created to provide assistance to victims.
“Peace must start in your mind,” she added. For that reason, efforts were being made to train boys at an early stage that they must have peace in their homes and refrain from violence.
A member of the delegation said that regional forums met to discuss issues of gender offences. As part of the country’s strategy, efforts were being made to empower women through income-generating projects, to allow them to stand up against violence. Communities were encouraged to report cases of violence. A conference was being planned next June to discuss the issue of domestic violence and come up with a national strategy. The issue of trafficking would be part of that discussion.
Ms. MUGUNDA agreed that laws alone could not combat violence. For that reason, the Government introduced various strategies to address the problem. In African culture, women, because of poverty, illiteracy and traditions, suffered silently from violence, although laws were in place. The Government was trying to teach them about their rights and remedies. There was a great improvement in the literacy rates in Namibia, which now were over 90 per cent. People now better understood their rights and were better economically empowered. However, the legal instruments needed to be in place first.
Clarifying a previous question, Ms. GABR said article 5 provided the foundation for questions on negative stereotypes of women in society. One of the first steps in finding a solution to the crucial problem of negative stereotypes was to study the situation. What studies had been conducted on the existence of negative stereotypes? She also asked for information on the issue of human trafficking and cases involving rape.
Experts then initiated a round of follow-up questions, seeking greater clarity on the Conventions’ status within Namibia’s legal system. An expert asked if the Convention had the same status as domestic law, in which case it could be set aside by a later domestic law. If, however, the Convention had the same status as the Constitution, later laws would need to be reviewed both under the Constitution and the Convention. It did not appear that the provisions of the Convention had played an essential role for Namibian women. The Convention was more than a domestic legal instrument -- it was a dynamic international instrument. The Convention, as domestic law in Namibia, should not only be interpreted as domestic law, but in light of the Convention’s interpretation by the Committee. Women must be made aware of their rights, not only under the Constitution, but also under the Convention.
On violence against women, another expert asked the delegation to provide the “whole picture” of domestic violence, including statistics on general trends. She had also asked for information on the two male non-governmental organizations. Had the Government promoted an active and positive role by the media to address the issue of gender stereotypes? another expert asked.
Responding to the question on the Convention’s status in domestic law, a member of the delegation noted that international agreements or conventions were published in the Government gazette, in many cases before the instrument was ratified or introduced to Parliament. The law’s relationship to national or customary law was also reviewed. That process did not wave the provisions of international law, but did, sometimes, result in amendments to national law or the adoption of international conventions with reservations. In short, the Constitution did not waive obligations under international law. It was the duty of the various ministries to inform people of their rights, either under international conventions or the Constitution.
On the issue of civil society, another member of the delegation described the organization “Men for Change”, noting that it was an advocate for peace and the need to change men’s negative attitudes towards women. The organization also taught boys to understand the issue of women’s rights and gender equity.
On gender mainstreaming, the media was considered a partner and stakeholder in addressing the issue of gender equality, another delegate said. Namibia was encouraging the media to come up with their own gender policies. Campaigns had been spearheaded by several media houses. A national forum coordinated the activities of all Namibian non-governmental organizations. Following an analysis of crucial issues, a conference would be held in June to come up with a national strategy on domestic violence. Other issues to be addressed were of HIV/AIDS, vulnerable children and orphans, poverty, women in Parliament and women in decision-making.
Regarding the issue of gender focal points, she added that gender focal points were not appointed by Governments, but carried out that function in addition to their other responsibilities. The Government had proposed, however, the establishment of gender units in all Government ministries and units.
As the Committee proceeded to the next round of comments, experts noted an increase in women’s participation in public life following the most recent elections in Namibia and posed questions about the country’s next elections, women’s representation in decision-making, the role that the Affirmative Action Act had played in that regard, the role of women at the National Assembly and in the country’s judiciary.
FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, said that the Committee, in its previous concluding comments, had made a recommendation to the country’s political parties to encourage women’s participation. She wanted to know what had been done to implement that recommendation. Did the parties have quotas for the number of women on their election lists? Also, among 78 members of the National Assembly, there were 6 appointed members. How many of them were women?
RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, echoed other experts’ questions regarding the distribution of roles between civil and traditional authorities and the relation between civil and customary laws. She asked why the whole area of traditional authority was immune from the Convention’s directive of equal representation. Namibia had ratified the Convention without any reservation regarding traditional or customary laws and had responsibilities in that regard. She also asked for details about the power of the Employment Equity Commission.
Ms. MUNGUNDA said that there had been an increase in the number of women in decision-making positions. Elections were held every five years, and after the 2004 general elections, 27 per cent of the seats in Parliament were held by women. However, different electoral systems related to elections at the national and local levels. The quota system had been put in the electoral system at the local level, which had raised the number of women office-holders to 43 per cent.
Under the Affirmative Action Employment Act, non-compliance with its provisions was punishable by law. The legislation also provided for rewards for compliance. Some 50 per cent of the members of the National Assembly appointed by the President were women. However, at the regional level, only 3 of the 13 governors were women.
From a historical perspective, she said that Namibia -- a small nation of under 2 million people -- had about 12 ethnic groups. After independence, traditional royal houses and kingdoms acquired renewed importance. Traditional counsels acquired new authority. They had a recognized power to run their own office in their traditional areas. In fact, some of the customs were contributing to the betterment of communities. For example, the rates of HIV/AIDS and domestic violence were very low in one of the regions, as the traditional leadership and royal houses were very strong.
In a follow-up question, Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, said that much as she appreciated the need to preserve traditional institutions, it was also important to ensure that those institutions did not further subordinate women. Customs and traditions were usually not friendly to women. While noting the preservation of tradition from a historical perspective, she also stressed the need to address discriminatory cultural practices that subordinated women.
Responding, Ms. MUNGUNDA said the majority population in Namibia had a woman chief. There were, in fact, many traditional women chiefs. Gender was mainstreamed within the traditional structures. Namibia was moving with the times. Each ethnic group had a chief or queen and advisers. As a part of the Traditional Authority Act, advisers were encouraged to put forward women candidates for positions in traditional bodies.
In response to another question, she said that marital rape was considered by Namibian law. Also, women accounted for 39 per cent of the judiciary.
Elaborating on the issue of civil and customary law, another member of the delegation explained that those laws complemented -- and did not contradict -- each other. The Constitution was the only supreme law of the land. International conventions could not contradict the Constitution. Customary law co-existed with civil law.
Addressing the issues of education, several experts asked for information about policies to encourage young women to continue education at the higher levels, measures to reduce dropout rates among girls, and implementation of the legislation to allow young mothers to return to school, in particular in the areas of the country where minority ethnic groups live. Serious concern was expressed about the high incidence of pregnancy among minors.
Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands commended the Government for its important achievements in the field of education. He asked if the provisions of the Constitution, according to which all persons had the right to education, had been implemented throughout the country. He also said that measures should be taken to reduce underage pregnancies.
Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, noted that, according to a table in the responses to questions posed by the pre-session working group, up to eighth grade girls did better than boys, but the situation deteriorated in later stages of education. The Government needed to make a strong effort to prevent that from happening. Targeted measures were needed to ensure respect for girls’ right to education, which had implications for women throughout their lives.
Ms. SCHÖPP-SHILLING, expert from Germany, expressed concern about the employment situation of Namibian women, saying that she was disappointed about the information provided in the report in that regard. The document did not talk about any measures to deal with women’s unemployment. She also asked if the State sector provided maternity leave for women. According to information received from non-governmental organizations, the Employment Equity Commission was very disappointed in the performance of the State sector in that regard.
She also expressed concern that the new land law did not contain any monitoring mechanism to ensure its implementation. “Paper is patient, but what is really happening on the ground?” she asked.
SHANTI DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, agreed that the report provided no sense of what was happening in terms of implementing various programmes adopted by the Government. She said that, according to the report, one of the goals of the health programme was equitable distribution of resources in terms of equal access to services. However, there was no way of assessing how that noble goal was being realized and what specific advantages were reserved for underprivileged women. She also wanted to know who benefited from that scheme. Her other questions related to maternal mortality, women’s access to natal and prenatal services and the reason why only 50 per cent of women had access to hospital delivery services.
Regarding abortion, she noted that as a more liberalized abortion law could not be passed in the country, the Government dealt with the issue by educating people on the dangers of unprofessional illegal abortion. She asked if the rates of abortion were dropping because of the education programmes in place.
GLENDA SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, stressed the importance of prevention in tackling HIV/AIDS, which was a major challenge for the country.
Responding to questions, Ms. MUNGUNDA said, after independence, Namibia introduced the policy of education for all, opening up mobile schools. The Government had put a strong emphasis on education for “San” children. Other ethnic groups were also being targeted. On school dropout, she noted that girl-child programmes taught girls life skills, including HIV/AIDS and pregnancy prevention. More girls were remaining in school as a result of the programme. In cases of teenage pregnancy, it was mostly the girl who suffered. Not enough emphasis had been placed on that issue.
On the one-year policy for girls to return to school following childbirth, she said there were several reasons for that, including the need for the girl to recover strength and to breastfeed the child. It was also a psychological issue and the year provided the child with room to cope with the many issues she faced following childbirth. With the enforcement of the girl-child programmes, more girls were completing school.
Regarding the issue of women’s employment, she said the report did, in fact, include statistics on the labour market. The majority of Namibian women worked in the informal sector. Rural women were given grants and loans, as well as training in such fields as business and accounting. The 1992 Labour Act provided for maternity leave. According to that Act, however, when a working mother took maternity leave, she only received a certain percentage of social security benefits. The new act would call for full benefits for three months. Many women had benefited from the Land Reform Act. The Government was also strengthening communal land policies, which enabled people not only to survive, but also to contribute to the country’s economy.
Concerning the issue of abortion she said the people had rejected the practice of abortion. The Namibian Government did not make laws, but reflected the will of the people. The people had chosen life. The Government did, however, provide alternatives to abortion, and would do more in that regard.
On HIV/AIDS, she said voluntary testing centres had been established around the country. Community-based programmes also existed with the support of international organizations. HIV/AIDS was not only a health issue, but also a developmental and social threat.
On the issue of education, another member of the delegation said there were programmes specifically tailored to girls in areas with high dropout rates. Those programmes were supported by organizations such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The country had achieved the Southern African Development Community (SADC) target of more than 30 per cent of women in management positions. On the Land Act, and the lack of an enforcement mechanism, she said land boards in the various regions had the responsibility of ensuring that the Act was implemented. There were also procedures on how the boards monitored the Act.
Another member of the delegation, addressing a comment on affirmative action, said the Government was doing its best to comply with the Act.
Several experts also addressed the situation of rural women, their access to land, inheritance and ownership rights.
Ms. GABR said that it was important to incorporate a gender perspective in the country’s development strategy, paying particular attention to the situation of rural women. Feminization of poverty was a priority that deserved particular attention.
Regarding cultural traditions, Ms. COKER-APPIAH noted from the report that promiscuity among men was culturally accepted, but it was unacceptable for women. With a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, that made women particularly vulnerable to infection. The Government needed to address such contributing factors of the disease, as well as the problems of early marriages, illiteracy among women, and teenage pregnancies.
Country representatives explained that there was increasing recognition that the education sector had an important role to play in the prevention of HIV infection and maintaining service delivery. Men were encouraged to use condoms, but when they were reluctant to do so, efforts were being made to promote the use of femidoms. As part of the education programme, the Government also sought to address the stigma and discrimination related to HIV/AIDS.
Regarding women’s ownership of land, a delegate said that the law clearly stipulated that women had equal access to land. While violations happened, efforts were being made to educate the population that, unless they were reported, measures to correct the situation could not be taken.
It was true that women were the ones predominantly occupied in the fields, but not the ones to benefit and become wealthy from their work, Ms. MUNGUNDA said. Poverty reduction was a serious concern for the Government. To create an equal playing field, the Government was making efforts to empower women, provide microcredit, promote the use of best practices and ensure training for them. The Government was also trying to “add value” to traditional occupations. For example, where people used to just gather herbs, factories were being put in place to manufacture products that could later be exported for more money.
A poverty monitoring strategy had been developed to see how the Government was addressing the issue of poverty, including the situation of rural women, another delegate said. Communities were encouraged to come up with their own income-generating programmes, which the Government could fund.
Responding to a question on health services, several members of the delegation explained that there were clinics within a certain distance from each village. There were also mobile clinics, ambulances, and vehicles that could take people in need of special care to regional hospitals. Since independence, the number of health centres had increased.
As the Committee turned to the situation of women in family life, Ms. HALPERIN-KADDARI said that women in customary marriage did not receive any protection of their rights with respect to property or protection from polygamous marriages. She also wanted to know more about the progress as far as the efforts to register customary marriages were concerned and had questions about underage marriages, the divorce rate, the age of consent, and the functioning of the Marriage Equality Law.
On land inheritance, specifically the Land Reform Act, Ms. SAIGA said that, according to the response this morning, when a person with the right to communal land died, that land was returned to the chief or traditional authority. There was also a communal land board, on which women sat, and that board administered customary land rights and decided on applications for leasing and so forth. This morning’s explanation had implied, however, that the traditional authorities were the ones who allocated the land and, thus, she sought clarification on the matter.
Ms. COKER-APPIAH asked in what areas customary law versus personal law operated. In the area of personal laws, what did it mean if a person was married under the Married Persons Equality Act? How did that relate to the customary laws, when a married person was given certain rights under the act?
Responding to questions, a member of the delegation said that, on the composition of the Equity Commission, the law was clear that the Commission should be chaired by the Commissioner, and she thought there were 15 members. The Commission oversaw implementation of the act. Each institution, be it private or public, was required to come up with an affirmative action plan, which was reviewed annually. Once reviewed, it was sent to the Commission. Non-compliance was now punishable by law, and the Commission was the body that took such decisions. Offences in that regard had already been determined, and punishment had ranged from monetary fines to prison terms.
The legal adviser, on questions concerning marriage, said that customary law was applicable to the community and varied from community to community. Civil law was binding on all citizens; customary law was applied in certain communities where the customs were accepted and where those did not conflict with the supreme law, or the Constitution. On marriage, the law allowed people to marry any way they wished, including under customary law. When they married, whatever belonged to each of the partners then belonged to both of them “50-50”.
On divorce and marriage age, he said that the law was very clear: marriage started from the age of 18, but the law allowed for some exceptions. If a person wanted to marry at the age of 16, they could, with the consent of the minister or parents.
Before turning to the Land Reform Act and inheritance rights, another member of the delegation wanted to be sure that the delegates did not misunderstand -- they were not saying that customary marriages were not recognized. Article 4 of the Constitution recognized that a person could gain Namibian citizenship irrespective of whether their marriage had been customary or civil; both were well protected by the Constitution. Customary practices only existed in Namibia as long as they were not in conflict with the Constitution. So, if there was any ongoing discrimination against women, such as in rural areas, it was only because “it has not caught up”, she added.
The communal land act provided for a communal land board, which registered both communal and private land, she said. Last year, the communal land act had been tested, and it proved to be practicable; the mechanism was sound and in place. What was needed was better dissemination of information, so that people knew what their rights were and how to defend them.
Ms. MUNGUNDA thanked the experts and said that struggle for gender equality in Namibia would certainly continue.
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