DESPITE CHALLENGING SOCIO-ECONOMIC ENVIRONMENT, MAURITANIA COMMITTED TO ENSURING WOMEN’S RIGHTS, ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE TOLD

25 May 2007
WOM/1631

DESPITE CHALLENGING SOCIO-ECONOMIC ENVIRONMENT, MAURITANIA COMMITTED TO ENSURING WOMEN’S RIGHTS, ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE TOLD

25 May 2007
General Assembly
WOM/1631
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

787th & 788th Meetings (AM & PM)

DESPITE CHALLENGING SOCIO-ECONOMIC ENVIRONMENT, MAURITANIA COMMITTED TO ENSURING

WOMEN’S RIGHTS, ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE TOLD

 

When the sub-Saharan African country of Mauritania joined the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 2000, it had entered a “general” reservation to the text, the thrust of which was that Islamic law would prevail over the treaty in the case of a contradiction, but today the Government announced its intention to specify the provisions to which it had reservations, thereby removing its “general” reservation to the Convention.

The Minister for the Promotion of Women, Children and Family, Fatimetou Mint Khattri, presented Mauritania’s initial report to the expert Committee, which monitors compliance with the Convention.  She explained that the reservation concerned items in contradiction with sharia.  There was no contradiction between the Convention and local laws, however, as the only sources of legislation were Islam and the Convention.  A committee was reviewing all the treaty’s provisions, and it was hoped that it would be possible to withdraw the reservation, as, “in general, the Convention is not in contradiction with the sharia”, she said.

She stressed her country’s commitment to the Convention and pledged continued efforts to attain its goals.  She called the expert Committee a “true inspiration” and asked for “help to stand side by side with us at this decisive moment in our life, on the brink of a radical transformation of our society”.

Mauritania’s challenging socio-economic environment -- one in two families lived in poverty -- often impacted women, she said.  The maternal mortality rate, at 30 per cent, was among the highest in the world.  However, democracy and economic and social progress were seen as a way out for women, and Mauritania had made some gains.  A network of women parliamentarians had been established, and a children’s parliament had been created to prepare future generations to take part in the democratic process.  Efforts had also been made to ensure that education was accessible for all children.

Mauritanian law allowed for a 20 per cent quota for women in municipal councils, and the November 2006 elections had resulted in a more than 20 per cent representation of women, she noted.  Important legislative texts had been elaborated, and the country had ratified several other international human rights agreements.  Additionally, programmes had been launched to enhance implementation of the Women’s Convention, such as the international women’s fair sponsored by the First Lady; reproductive health week; Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation Day; and the World Day to Fight Violence against Women.

Pleased that, in future, Mauritania would withdraw its “general” reservation to the Convention, the expert from the Netherlands said that, over the years, the Committee had always held that a general reservation did not comply with the treaty’s article 28.  That provision had allowed for a reservation unless it was incompatible with the objective and purpose of the Convention.  Pressing the delegation, he questioned whether the reservation was “truly necessary”, especially since the delegation had said this morning that the principle and ideas of the Convention were in conformity with Islam.

Following on the delegation’s frankness about women’s health, especially reproductive health, the expert from Brazil said she was “very disconcerted” to read in the Government’s written responses to experts’ questions that, “as a result of the roles and rights assigned to each gender, women find themselves at a disadvantage when it comes to control of their sexuality and the possibility of protecting themselves from certain sexually transmitted diseases”.  Given Mauritanian women’s acknowledged difficulty to demand “safe sex”, she suggested that the emphasis in the new strategic framework to combat HIV/AIDS on mother-to-child transmission might be misplaced.

The expert from China also urged measures by the Government to implement the national health programme, especially ones targeting rural and poor urban women.  Also, if abortion was not prohibited, she wanted to know what kind of service the Government was providing to reduce the number of unsafe abortions, which also caused a high maternal mortality rate.  Along similar lines, the expert from Cuba noted that the fertility rate amounted to more than six children per woman and that there was a low use of contraceptives, at about 5 per cent.  Yet, the delegation had not offered information about any specific efforts under way in the context of that national programme to ensure the better spacing of children.

Joining Ms. Khattri today were Sidi Mohamed Ould Baidy, Legal Counsel to the Ministry on the Promotion of Women, Children and Family; Mary Mint Boida, Technical Counsellor and Coordinator of the Gender Mainstreaming Project; Yenserha Mint Mohamed Mahmoud, Director for Women’s Action in the Ministry on the Promotion of Women, Children and Family; and Cheikh Tourad Ould Mohamed, Director of Human Rights at the Ministry of Justice.

The Committee is scheduled to meet again in a formal meeting on Friday, 1 June, at 4 p.m. to adopt its report and conclude its work for the session.

Background

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met today to consider Mauritania’s report (document CEDAW/C/MRT/1).

Heading the delegation was Fatimetou Mint Khattri, Minister for the Promotion of Women, Children and Family.  Joining her were Sidi Mohamed Ould Baidy, Legal Counsel to the Ministry on the Promotion of Women, Children and Family; Mary Mint Boida, Technical Counsellor and Coordinator of the Gender Mainstreaming Project; Yenserha Mint Mohamed Mahmoud, Director for Women’s Action in the Ministry on the Promotion of Women, Children and Family; and Cheikh Tourad Ould Mohamed, Director of Human Rights at the Ministry of Justice.

Introduction of Report

Introducing the report, which combined the initial report and that for the period from 2001 to 2005, FATIMETOU MINT KHATTRI, Minister for the Promotion of Women, Children and Family, said that Mauritania had been party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women since 2000, underlining that women’s rights were a Government priority.  The report covered legal, administrative and other measures, including temporary measures to fight discrimination, taken within the context of the Convention.  Such measures were based on the 1991 Constitution, which had been revised in 1996.  International conventions ratified by the Government enjoyed supremacy over national laws, which allowed for their use directly in the courts.

Mauritania had seen some successes, she said, particularly in the full exercise of rights.  Among the recognized associations in her country were the Study Group on Research for Democracy and Social Development, Lawyers Without Borders and the Association for the Protection of Consumers.  Major legislative documents included the Code for Penal Procedure and the Code on the Reorganization of Justice.  The country had ratified several international human rights agreements, and created the National Commission on Audio-Visual Press.  Her Ministry was established in order to devise and monitor policies and strategies focused on women, children and family, she informed the Committee, adding that her country had faced some constraints in the implementation of the Convention.

On legislative, administrative and other measures, she said Mauritania had started codification work, updating texts including those on legal assistance and the protection of handicapped persons.  Moreover, her country had made efforts to ensure that education was accessible for all children.  Indeed, the school enrolment rate had increased from 89.5 per cent in the period 1997-1998 to 96 per cent in the period 2003-2004, and girls were encouraged to attend school.  Girls’ participation in secondary education was about 45.3 per cent, she continued, noting also that the Government maintained school feeding programmes.  Care for young children was also available and the access rate was about 32 per cent.

Regarding HIV/AIDS, Mauritania had established six monitoring sites for pregnant women and created programmes to care for the sick, she said.  Further, the Government was working to strengthen women’s ability to care for themselves, and had recently adopted a draft bill on protection against HIV/AIDS.

In the area of social promotion of children and the handicapped, Mauritania had established insurance for them and adopted policies including the National Strategy for the Promotion of Women and the National Policy on the Development of Young Children.  Priority was also placed on improving legal protection, particularly through the adoption of an ordinance outlining special educational methods and care centres.

With regard to women’s representation, she noted the establishment of the network of women parliamentarians.  Moreover, to prepare future generations for taking part in the democratic process, a children’s parliament had been created and was presided over by a 14-year-old girl.

Describing special temporary measures, she said the Government was encouraging increased access to decision-making roles for women, and had organized awards for girls who had excelled in the sciences.  Furthermore, Mauritanian law allowed for a 20 per cent quota for women in municipal councils, she continued, highlighting that the November election results had shown that the percentage of women had exceeded 20 per cent.  Today, there were 9 female and 53 male senators.

Mauritania had established programmes to enhance implementation of the Convention, she added, highlighting the international women’s fair sponsored by the First Lady; reproductive health week; Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation Day; and the World Day to Fight Violence against Women.

The challenging socio-economic environment in Mauritania often impacted women, she said, adding that that situation partially explained why one in two families lived in poverty.  There was a shortage of statistics, including those for basic social indicators.  Much work remained, she said, including in the adoption and implementation of strategies for rural women.  Efforts were also needed to enhance laws on gender preference and on female genital mutilation.  The law of nationality also needed revision.  Nonetheless, she stressed Mauritania’s commitment to the Convention’s tenets, and noted that democracy and economic and social progress could be used to help women.  Mauritania would continue its efforts to attain its goals.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

MARY SHANTHI DAIRIAM, Rapporteur and expert from Malaysia, asked whether a definition of discrimination existed in the legal framework, adding that such a definition should address both direct and indirect discrimination.  The identical treatment of two categories of people might result in discrimination because one category might have less capacity or capability than the other.  Reminding the delegation that the Convention required the State party to ensure practical realization of women’s rights, she asked what measures were in place in that regard to deal with the various categories of women in Mauritania, including the descendants of slaves.

HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, stressing that the treaty’s article 2 required that the Government establish protection of women on an equal basis as men, said she noticed that the country had an ombudsman, but she wanted to know how many women had actually used that human rights mechanism.  Also, was there any data on how many complaints had actually come from women?  Those had to be submitted through Parliament or the mayors, according to the delegation, so a woman might be in a less privileged position to register a complaint.  Why were the complaints not submitted directly?  Turning to rural women, she asked how it was ensured that they knew about their rights, including under the Convention.

CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, recalling that the country had accepted its obligation as a State party under the Convention, as long as it was not contrary to sharia and was in accordance with the Constitution, said that, over the years, the Committee had always held that a general reservation to the Convention did not comply with the treaty’s article 28.  That provision had allowed for a reservation unless it was incompatible with the objective and purpose of the Convention.  So, he had been happy to read in the delegation’s responses that, in future, Mauritania would specify the Convention’s provisions to which it had reservations, thereby replacing its “general” reservation.

Was the reservation “truly necessary”, he asked.  The delegation had said this morning that the principle and ideas of the Convention were in conformity with Islam.  He wanted to know to which article or articles the reservation applied.  He was pleased that the Convention prevailed over national law, but noting that there had been no related court cases thus far, asked whether that was because the judiciary was not aware of women’s rights under the Convention.

TIZIANA MAIOLO, expert from Italy, asked whether the “religious issue” and certain interpretation of sharia was an obstacle to affirming the supremacy of law over traditional practices where women were concerned.

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, Committee Chairperson and expert from Croatia, taking into consideration the country’s general declaration, asked how it was implementing the Convention and deciding which articles were not “implementable”.  She asked if it was the responsibility of the Ministry to make that decision, or whether other organs were doing that.  She also asked whether any ministry was responsible for revising or proposing changes in laws not in line with the Convention.  As for preparation of the initial report, that was a very important step for the Government, which should use non-governmental organizations, religious leaders, and, indeed, the whole community.  Dialogue was the next step, followed by the Committee’s concluding comments, which would provide guidance on future implementation.  She asked about the level of cooperation with non-governmental organizations.

Delegation’s Response

Ms. KHATTRI reminded experts that the country was living through a very important phase in its history, namely fair and transparent elections.  It was also living through a transitional stage that had involved legislative reforms.  Despite all of that, it had embarked on an awareness-raising campaign on women’s rights.  The reservation to the Convention concerned items in contradiction with sharia.  There was no contradiction between the Convention and local laws, however, as the only sources of legislation were Islam and the Convention.  There was now a committee to review all the provisions of the Convention, and it was hoped that it would be possible to withdraw the reservation, as, “in general, the Convention is not in contradiction with the sharia”, she said.

Another member of the delegation confirmed that the Constitution did not contain a definition of discrimination, but it prohibited discrimination.  There were other texts, however, that forbade all sorts of discrimination against women.  A text revision committee had been working for a number of years on making the necessary revisions to certain texts; the committee was responsible for adapting all those texts to international legal instruments signed by Mauritania and to sharia.  Since the Ministry’s creation, its work with regard to awareness-raising among women and men about mechanisms and conventions had been the objective of the national campaign.  The participation of civil society was vital to the promotion of women’s rights, he added.

There was no discrimination at the official levels against women or marginal groups in any segment of society, another member said.  Where traces of that existed in practice, there was cooperation with civil society to combat it.  All groups subjected to discrimination were protected, not only by the Government and civil society, but by the values of society.  All studies concerning the role of women indicated that women enjoyed freedom and participated actively at all levels of society.  They participated actively at the national level and in the country’s output.  It was understood by all that women’s improved situation would aid development.  It was also understood, however, that more work remained to inform women of their rights.

Another member said that her conservative Muslim society was committed to a positive image of women that was satisfactory to all.  That portrait was consistent with the spirit of the Convention, and was not in conflict with Islamic values.  The religious texts -- the Holy Koran and traditions of the Prophet -- were “always” in the interest of women and were consistent with the spirit of the Convention “for the most part”.

To reach women in the countryside, she said that Government had launched educational campaigns through the Ministry and non-governmental organizations.  There were also regional ministries covering the entire country, but knowledge was still lacking, and women in remote areas had received no education whatsoever and no access to mass media.  Rural women had been prioritized in the national plan of action this year.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

NAELA MOHAMED GABR, Vice-Chairperson and expert from Egypt, noted that there were three organs dealing with women -- the Ministry, the Ombudsman, and the national human rights commission.  She asked about the Ministry’s budget and for clarification about the budgetary allocation for the other two bodies.  Specifically, she wanted to know how the budget was set and how the relationship was defined between that “triangle”.  Additionally, who was entrusted with harmonizing the legislation?  Were there any statistics on complaints received?

MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, asked about the task of the gender-monitoring group and its relationship with other bodies.  As for the cross-cutting multisectoral approach mentioned by the delegation for the new strategy for women’s advancement 2005-2008, she said the answer had been “strange” because it talked of the future, but the strategy was already at its halfway point.  She wanted to know whether there had been any evaluation of its priorities and whether it was possible to consider a new approach.

VIOLETA NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, asked whether the national machinery for the status of women used the Convention as its legal framework.  When strategies and plans were developed, would the Convention guide the Ministry’s work?  Was there a systematic structure for monitoring gender mainstreaming at the governmental and regional levels?

SAISUREE CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, wondered how the Ministry was able to look after its nine responsibilities.  She noted that in evaluating the status of women, there were institutional constraints and problems in establishing relationships with civil society and the private sector.  In addition, how did the Ministry overcome the problem of inter-ministerial cooperation?

She was impressed with the proposed monitoring system, and said it would be a good model once completed.  She wondered how the Ministry was training staff to complete the monitoring system, and further, how the Ministry itself was structured.  Did a monitoring division still exist?

On the absence of a communications strategy, she asked whether the Ministry could tap into oral traditional media including folk songs.  If so, Mauritania could seek assistance in that connection from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Country Response

Ms. KHATTRI responded that Mauritania had achieved more successes than failures in its work on advancing the rights of women, noting particular efforts to advance women’s political participation.  Today, women’s issues enjoyed an increased profile, as the Ministry was able to address a range of issues on women, children and the family, putting it on equal footing with other ministries.  In the past, women’s issues had been addressed through a secretariat body that focused primarily on young children.

Another delegation member described a project under way to modify texts, including one that would further define the timeframe of the Ministry’s mandate.  Further, the Ombudsman was dealing with conflict between local and State institutions.  Women, like men, could now seek justice and had several mechanisms available to them.  The Office of the Ombudsman was funded by the State.

On the harmonization of national texts, a commission related to the Ministry of Justice was bringing legal texts in line with international policies, he continued, noting that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) was helping in that regard.  In the implementation of a national plan to promote human rights, Mauritania expected to undertake a “sensitization campaign” to raise awareness of women’s rights and the Convention’s provisions.  On the definition of discrimination, he said Mauritania did not yet have a precise definition.  However, the country’s legal corpus included texts that referred to equality between men and women.

Non-governmental organizations were integrated into the work of various ministries, said another member of the delegation, highlighting a nutrition project that involved 18 organizations.  The Government was also working with religious associations.

Adding to those comments, another delegate said women’s organizations had been involved in the presidential election campaign, noting that certain organizations had negotiated with all candidates in the area of quotas for women at executive and legislative levels.

On the Ministry’s mandate and its advancement from a secretariat body to a Ministry, another delegate said a department for advancing women’s socio-economic development had been created.  Further, the Ministry also sought to provide women’s organizations with loans, particularly in the area of microcredit.  Regarding women’s rights and women’s relationship with the family, she said women could contact the Ministry when facing family disputes, including divorce.  Legal fees would be covered in some cases.  In that context, the Ministry raised awareness among women of their rights through sensitization campaigns, which had not been done in the past.

In the area of inter-ministerial coordination, she said the promotion of the State Secretariat of Women’s Affairs to the Ministry level represented quite an achievement in that it enabled the Ministry to undertake new competencies and cooperate with other ministries.  While the budget for the Ministry was “rather modest”, the proposed funds would allow it to realize some of its objectives in coordination with its partners.

Regarding the capacity of staff to discharge their functions, she said many staff members held graduate degrees related to the advancement of women, while others had university qualifications in the legal, economics and education fields.  Further, courses were offered throughout the year to familiarize staff with any new approaches or policies.

On communications efforts, she said television and mass radio programmes were often used, as well as popular theatre productions.  A private rural radio system funded by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) also existed, and other channels offered sensitization programmes.  She noted that certain villages could be influenced through religion and the Ministry had presented ideas through the imams on issues including female circumcision and publicizing the Convention.  In 2003, the Ministry launched a media campaign with the World Bank to publicize the Convention.

Another delegate said that last year, Mauritania’s poverty programmes devoted attention to women.  The Ministry had created a national committee charged with integrating gender concerns into all policies.  That national-level committee was part of a multisectoral initiative involving all ministries.  Mauritania was working at the regional level with the United Nations and with Germany to implement policies that took the gender perspective into account.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

FRANÇOISE GASPARD, Vice-Chairperson and expert from France, said it seemed that Mauritania did not understand the scope of article 4 of the Convention.  The adoption of temporary special measures was intended to accelerate de facto equality not only in political life, but also economic, social and cultural life.

On the adoption of quotas for elections, she wondered whether the 2006 ordinance establishing quotas required respect for them at the administration level.  She was amazed that there were no women judges, noting that would create problems for women seeking help through the court system.  What measures would be considered for quotas at the magistrate level?

Delegation’s Response

As for participation, Ms. KHATTRI said there had been two female Secretaries-General and now there were four female Secretaries of State.  There was political will in the Government to reinforce women’s participation and establish a quota throughout the Administration.  Information was generally lacking, although there was a databank, which could be used by Government officials.  According to the legislation, women had the same opportunities as men to operate in all domains, so the lack of representation was not a question of legislation.

Access to the judiciary was open to all, another member of the delegation replied.  Gender was no motive for discrimination, and the legal texts were clear on that.  Last September, there was a national contest for inclusion in the judges’ corps, in which a number of women participated.  No women had been able to accede to the higher levels, but that had not been due to discrimination.  There were a great many women already participating in the judiciary, and he expected significant advances in the near future.

Another delegate added that the Government had decided to include in all its development programmes in all sectors, both nationally and regionally, a component in favour of women and another to combat illiteracy.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, Committee Chair and expert from Croatia, said that many countries had laws in place that were not discriminatory, but article 4.1 of the Convention called on countries to consider the adoption of temporary special measures to accelerate de facto equality between women and men.

GLENDA P. SIMMS, Vice-Chairperson and expert from Jamaica, pointed out that article 5 obligated a nation to modify discriminatory social and cultural patterns, in order to achieve equality and remove all prejudices against women.  She had been pleased at some steps taken by the Government, including the use of the media and discussions with religious leaders.  However, religion had nothing to do with some harmful practices, such as female genital mutilation and forced feeding.  Those had to do with customs that guaranteed that women stayed in a certain position in society.  Their basis was control of women’s bodies, their reproductive rights and reproduction, their status, and so forth.  Obviously, the attempts made thus far had not been enough.

For example, she said that, while female genital mutilation had been outlawed, nobody was tasked with monitoring that.  If it was illegal and if anyone committed it, then a crime was committed.  The Government, therefore, must take a strong stance, by either finding an alternative source of livelihood for the perpetrators or putting them in jail.  Parents who clandestinely subjected their daughters to inhumane practices must also be brought to justice because Mauritania had signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Female genital mutilation went against such conventions and against the humanity of the child.  Much remained to be done to rid the society of those practices.

Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, saying she did not have a whole picture of the violence committed against women in Mauritania, asked if the Government had conducted a study on the various forms of violence, such as female genital mutilation, forced feeding, rape, domestic violence, and slavery-like practices.  The delegation had asserted that there were no slavery-like practices in the country, but if a teenage girl was working as a domestic servant and if she was subjected to verbal, sexual and psychological abuse in an exploitative situation, then those were slavery-like practices.  Did the Government intend to carry out a nationwide study on all forms of violence against women, possibly with the assistance of United Nations agencies?

SILVIA PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, said she was touched by the immense challenges facing the Government.  In response to the list of written questions by the experts, the Government had referred to seven forms of violence.  It affirmed that, if such cases were brought to trial and if the plaintiff established that any of those forms of violence had been perpetrated against her, then the plaintiff “wins” the case.  Could the delegation provide more data on implementing the laws that prohibited violence?  Could it explain what specific forms of violence had been raised in the tribunals?  Some of those forms of violence were cruel enough to be interpreted as torture.  Was torture one of the arguments presented in support of the plaintiffs?  Were the Committee’s general recommendation 19, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention against Torture presented as arguments in support of the plaintiffs?

FERDOUS ARA BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, noted several laws on violence against women in Mauritania, including spousal rape.  Had that law been applied in practice, and had there been any convictions or arrests?  It was reported that the police and the judiciary rarely intervened in such cases, and that women continued to suffer from domestic violence and traditional forms of misconduct, especially in rural areas.  It was also reported that a woman has no right to refuse her husband’s wish to marry additional wives.  What steps had the Government taken to enforce the laws on violence against women?  What plans and programmes did it have to provide shelters and counselling to the women victims?  Was there any plan to study the economic and social situation of the descendants of slavery, as well as the question of how many were entitled to land?

Ms. GASPARD, Vice-Chairperson and expert from France, said that the kind of violence women experienced in Mauritania could impede their ability to live normal lives and their health.  The delegation had mentioned some campaigns that had been undertaken, and she encouraged more.  It was also urgent to raise the awareness of the police, the judges and educational staff, and to spread the message to everyone to fight those stereotypes, which were very dangerous to society as a whole.

MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, stressed the importance of achieving cultural change to ensure that women had access to their rights and to the measures recently adopted in the country.  She was concerned, on the basis of the report’s paragraph 124, that women must take responsibility for their role and translate that duty into action to avoid sexist patterns of thought, and that women must take concrete action to complement the Government’s actions.  Yet, in response to the experts’ written question 6, the delegation said that women were not always sufficiently confident to promote change.  Thus, it appeared that women were being made responsible for carrying out the policies when they were unable to do so.  Often, they did not even know them well enough, and so they were not carrying them out.  The Government must inform women of their rights.

She wished to hear the delegation’s thoughts on the matter, bearing in mind the duty of the State party, on the basis of article 5, to ensure by all possible and necessary means an end to discriminatory cultural patterns.  That must be accomplished, not just through isolated measures, but through a broad-based systematic programme to deal with the situation and change the cultural patterns.

Delegation’s Response

Ms. KHATTRI explained that attempts were being made to convey the text and spirit of the Convention to every woman in Mauritania.  Women in rural areas were of particular concern in that regard, owing to problems of poverty, illiteracy and other obstacles.

Yes, she replied to another question, the Convention could be used in court, for it had been “legalized” at the level of the Constitution.

She said that some traditions were attributable to Islam, but Islam had nothing to do with shameful and evil acts against women.

In changing stereotypical and sexist behaviour, another member of the delegation said, the main mission was to change the behaviour of the population, both men and women.  As for violence and female genital mutilation, sensitivity campaigns had been conducted throughout the country.  Mauritania’s partners, including the UNFPA and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), had assisted in spreading the word on the deleterious impact of that practice on the health of young girls.  It was decided that it should be prohibited by national legislation and, in 2005, a Penal Code for children was enacted.  However, the practice was not specifically prohibited, only its nefarious impacts on the health of the individual.  A draft law was being prepared on female genital mutilation, which would not only punish the perpetrators of that practice, but also anyone else associated with it, including accomplices, doctors and parents.

He said that there was a body of texts dealing with the many kinds of violence against women.  The Code of Personal Status provided for a judge in Muslim law, who was competent in every aspect of violence within marriage.  Criminal judges were also competent in that regard.  There were criminal courts for a spouse who beat his wife, and the Minister for the Promotion of Women, Children and Family sometimes accompanied the plaintiff to the court.

Another member of the delegation said he shared the expert’s concern that not all women in society had the confidence to defend their rights, but the problem was basically one of illiteracy and lack of awareness and knowledge of those rights.  Future work must focus on educating girls and increasing their awareness starting at an early age that there was a body of law that protected their rights.  The Mauritanian woman, however, had “great trust in herself”; trade and other sectors were dominated by women.

He said that the campaigns against female genital mutilation, domestic violence and slavery-like practices had achieved “great results”.  The phenomenon of female genital mutilation would be “fading soon”.  There was a high percentage of poor people, and some children were used in domestic work because the family needed their income.  There were no slaves, only traces of slavery.  Since the use of adolescents in domestic work was a kind of slavery, the Government was against it.  That was why anti-slavery organizations had been created.  As for obligatory feeding of girls constituting a form of violence, he said that phenomenon did not exist in Mauritania.  It had been witnessed in Bedouin areas, but all families fought forced feeding of girls.  Attempts had been made to combat forced obesity.  Again, “we are against this phenomenon”, he said.

Another delegate reiterated that there was a real political commitment to deal with those problems, underscoring that when cases came to court, women always won.  Additionally, Mauritania had established shelters for female victims of violence, including a special centre for victims of marital violence that was managed by non-governmental organization.

On litigation measures, she said a mediation mechanism had been created in an effort to avoid divorce and that there was “perfect cooperation” with non-governmental organizations in that context.

Turning to female genital mutilation, she conceded that work undertaken with partners had been “scattered,” but said efforts were under way to identify all protagonists and develop a strategy.  She also described a project done jointly with civil society to examine the situation, similar to one conducted in Morocco.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

Ms. CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, welcomed Mauritania’s accession to the protocol on trafficking to the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime, its adoption in 2003 of an act on trafficking in persons, and the creation of an inter-ministerial committee to address “slavery” problems.  However, she pressed the delegation to clarify vague statements on trafficking issues.  For example, regarding forced labour and the exploitation of girls, the report mentioned that a certain act and Labour Code provision had not been used, and she wanted to know why not.  The report also mentioned problems with awareness-raising seminars.  Could the delegation provide more information?

Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, Chairperson and expert from Croatia, also asked for more information about specific measures related to girls.

Delegation’s Response

Regarding the issue of slavery, one delegate stated that there was no slavery in Mauritania; rather an ignorance resulting from poverty.  Families were forced to allow their children to work.

On measures taken to prevent forced domestic service, another delegate clarified that the Ministry took up the question of slavery and acted against it with the help of non-governmental organizations.  With the political evolution of the country, the Government had committed itself to a policy of eradicating “the sequels of slavery”, and had adopted a national strategy to “fight against those sequels”.  That strategy included creating awareness of the issue, its origins and its consequences.  Moreover, the country had adopted a law to fight against all slavery issues so that everyone felt protected, especially those in the most underprivileged strata of society, where most “sequels” were found.  Measures taken in that regard had not been detailed in the report as they had fallen outside of the reporting period.

Legal aid was also a very important issue, he continued, noting that all underprivileged people had access to legal aid in defending their rights.  An office provided aid in each region and the legal system contained provisions for lawyers to be appointed on their behalf.

On the issue of education access for girls and girls working as domestic help, another delegate noted that the problem was not confined to girls in any particular category -- it was a universal problem.  The Ministry had worked with the World Bank to develop an awareness-raising project about the risks of dropping out of school and a law mandated the education of all children starting from the age of 6.  Those families not obliging by that law were penalized.

Returning to the question of whether slavery existed in Mauritania, another delegate reiterated that he did not see a contradiction in admitting his country had a legacy of social disparity -- between those who were educated, those who had financial resources and urban opportunities, and those who had been denied access to such potential.  There was no slavery as such, or people who were exploited by others; rather social conditions that had disproportionately impacted different segments of the population, he continued.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

Ms. GABR, expert from Egypt, said Egypt had dealt with similar problems of promoting women in the judiciary, and the experience of Islamic States could be beneficial to Mauritania in that regard.  On article 8, which addressed women and diplomacy, she said she had not noticed any female diplomats.  What was the problem?  How were diplomats chosen?  Also, she noticed that there were no women in the free press.

Ms. NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, commending the Government for having reached the 20 per cent quota for women elected to the municipality councils, reminded the delegation that article 7 obliged the Government to provide for equal participation among women and men.  She hoped to see more of a gender balance.

On the absence of women among magistrates, she understood the Ministry was maintaining its political will to increase women’s participation, but highlighted once again that gender equality meant equality of both opportunities and results.  She asked for more information on financial incentives for parties to have female candidates.  She also wanted to know what measures the Government intended to take to increase the number of women in high-level posts and other public decision-making positions.

Ms. BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, wondered why women remained underrepresented at the decision-making level.  Had any studies been conducted?  What time-bound programmes existed to ensure women’s equal participation?  Additionally, she asked what percentage of women from ethnic minorities participated in the Government and what opportunities existed for them to take part in decision-making processes.  Noting that women were not selected for judiciary posts, she wondered whether any training programmes existed.  The Government should take such steps so women could attain decision-making positions.

MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, congratulated the delegation on its equal proportion of high-level men and women present today and noted the outcome of recent elections in which women surpassed their minimum 20 per cent quota.  Indeed, Mauritania had come a long way.  However, the goal of the Convention was to arrive at gender parity.  Women represented a great deal of hope for change, and she wanted to see more women holding high-level positions, particularly in the constitutional council.  Many women had completed their legal studies and she encouraged Mauritania to open the doors of the judiciary to them.  “The results would be impressive,” she said.  Women represented 50 per cent of the judiciary in her country and she called on Mauritania to bring together experts from various human rights committees to find solutions.  Touching on religion, she said not all Islamic countries had the same legislation and it was important to work for equality without discrimination.

Delegation’s Response

Addressing questions on the absence of women in the field of information and mass media, Ms. KHATTRI assured the Committee that women in her country had a strong presence in journalism, and were represented by the Association of Journalists.

On the role of women in diplomacy, she explained that the general secretaries of Government ministries were appointed, and that, hopefully, Mauritanian women would succeed in filling 20 per cent or more of the country’s diplomatic posts.

Turning to women in political parties, she said that each party had its own policy on increasing the involvement of women, and the Government would be happy to provide information on that to the Committee.

Another member of the delegation explained that three journals were headed by women, and one of the most important figures in the field was actually a woman.  In addition, the Al Jazeera correspondent was a woman.  Women published on the Internet, in both Arabic and French, and were involved in news production and other technical fields relating to the news business.  The representatives of several news agencies were locally trained women.

Revisiting the topic of women in the field of diplomacy, he said women sometimes headed the country’s missions abroad, at the level of ambassador, consul and chargé d’affairs, in places such as Ottawa, Canada; the United Arab Emirates; and Paris, France.  A detailed study would be needed to gauge women’s involvement in general administrative posts, but the Committee could rest assured that Mauritanian women were active in Government, in Parliament and in the ministries.

He said there would soon be a women’s network for parliamentarians, and one for women occupying positions in Government, both of which were expected to be independent bodies.  In addition, women held high positions in political parties.  Mauritania was open to learning from other countries, and was closely observing developments in sub-Saharan Africa.  In fact, the Minister had met Thoraya Obaid yesterday to coordinate regional programmes on women’s leadership, and it was hoped that Governments from around the region would participate in those activities.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

Turning to equality with respect to nationality, Ms. GABR, expert from Egypt, asked for clarity on the situation concerning women married to foreigners.

Delegation’s Response

Ms. KHATTRI replied that the law was clear concerning the acquisition of nationality.  On her invitation, a member of the delegation read the relevant text, which said:  “regarding children of Mauritanian women with a foreign father, a decision on their nationality must be taken one year before they reach the age of majority.  Children of a second wife may gain Mauritanian nationality five years after their parents’ marriage.  Naturalization was required in other cases.  If the parents were not known, then the child was automatically given Mauritanian nationality.  Children with parents living abroad could also obtain Mauritanian nationality.”

Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, Committee Chair and expert from Croatia, said the Committee would study the issue at more length later, to assess its compatibility with the Convention.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

On the subject of education, Ms. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, noted that girls’ enrolment in school was lower than that of boys, but acknowledged that progress had been made in girls’ education.  Were there any special measures to ensure that ethnic minorities, such as black Africans descended from slaves, received a proper education?

ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, regretted that the report had not provided any information on the country’s literacy rate, school enrolment rate, dropout rate in both rural and urban areas, and male and female attendance at the tertiary level, as well as data on teachers.  The Minister had pointed out the difficulties in the area of education, and perhaps there was room to expand the level of international support in that field.  She asked about special measures to ensure access to education for girls, and wondered how many people had benefited from the Government’s literacy campaign of 2004.  What was being done to eradicate illiteracy in rural areas?

Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, said he could not find answers in the English version of the report concerning social, economic and cultural factors that impeded girls’ school attendance, and asked for more clarification.  What was the rate of participation of women in institutes of higher education, and in what fields of study?  Regarding the commission on scholarships, what were its policies and was there a focus on girls at all?

Delegation’s Response

On the situation of minorities, Ms. KHATTRI said there was equality in the treatment of all citizens.  She said inequality did not exist in Mauritania and added that “this is a fact”.

Turning to the questions on education, she said that, after the recent presidential elections, and after the formation of the new Government, a national education ministry was created to oversee primary, secondary and tertiary education.  It was headed by a female minister.  That ministry was trying to improve the level of education for both boys and girls, and to tackle problems left over from the previous era.  Reform of the education system was a main interest of the current President.

Another member of the delegation said that, in the last six years, girls’ enrolment rate stood at 89.5 per cent and that of boys at about 87 per cent.  In recent years, the rate for girls fell under that of boys only once, and only by a few percentage points.  In 2004, there was a 7 per cent decrease in the dropout rate, and 66 per cent of enrolees had stayed in school during that period.  The Ministry of Education’s 10-year programme (2000-2010) was meant to ensure that all children went to school and to reduce the gender gap.  There was also a school lunch programme.

He said some social, cultural and economic factors that impeded girls’ attendance in school included the distance away from school; the fact that some girls were expected to carry out household tasks; early marriage; and pregnancy.  Also, 30 per cent of primary school teachers, and 10 per cent of tertiary-level educators, were women.

Expanding on the education of girls, another delegate discussed programmes to increase girls’ access to schools.  Studies carried out by the Government had shown that girls were not attending school because of the distance from their homes.  Other times it was because the family had insisted that the girl remain at home to help with housework or to work in the fields.  Also, some of the poorer families could not afford school supplies.  In conjunction with UNDP and UNICEF, the Government bought buses to transport children to school in 14 regions, resulting in some female beneficiaries managing to reach secondary school.  In those 14 regions, the Government also subsidized school supplies for girls.

She added that fellowships were given to some girls to encourage their enrolment in tertiary education, where the rate for enrolment of women stood at 13 per cent.  Prizes were awarded to young women in science and mathematics.  Quotas had been imposed on grants and fellowships given to women, leading to many more women benefiting from those schemes.

Literacy was of “paramount importance”, she said, adding that the Government -- with the help of partners like the African Development Bank -- had enabled 1,000 women to read and write in five prefectures.  Civil society organizations specializing in education had been very active in rural areas, through a pilot project overseen by the Government.  Hopefully, it would be extended to other regions of the country.

Another member of the delegation addressed the issue of minorities.  For nearly two decades, the Government worked under the framework of a “school charter” and a “health charter”, through which the State distributed health and educational services according to demographic and economic criteria.  The school charter allowed local prefects to ensure “positive segregation” so that they could set up school in villages that had been ignored because of historical factors.  That policy had been in effect for some years to break down walls built around certain social groups.  To overcome social disparities between ethnic groups and the sexes in the long term, the country must be allowed to practice positive discrimination.

On dropout rates in rural areas, he said a number of initiatives were in place to ensure that the school system could meet the demands of rural populations.  Children could stay in the primary school system up to the age of 14 years for boys, and 16 years for girls, to ensure that they moved up to the secondary level.  Also, there were programmes to educate parents about the importance of schooling.

He said the best way of fighting illiteracy and to ensure better educated generations in the future was through education.  The buzz phrase in Mauritania was “to educate everybody”.  Civil society and the mosques were involved in that movement, especially in promoting free schooling.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, said that despite, the Government’s efforts, inequality existed in the labour market.  Women had few salaried jobs, at 12.4 per cent of the labour force, and those were mainly administrative and secretarial posts.  Women’s employment also varied as a function of their marital status.  She was also concerned about women’s salary levels, which were about 60 per cent lower than those of men.  Was the Government revisiting its employment policies?  Did it intend to enact a new law to guarantee the equal rights of women and men, including equal pay for equal work of equal value?  Among her other questions, she asked how the Government was trying to promote women’s equal participation in highly skilled jobs and senior management positions.  Also, there was no legal provision to address sexual harassment in the workplace.  What was envisaged to redress that, and were temporary special measures planned for both the educational and employment policies?

Adding her voice to the worrying situation of women in the labour force, RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, said the gender disaggregated data was sketchy.  More concrete legislation was needed to prevent discrimination on the basis of gender, marriage, parenthood, and so forth.  The limited vocational training, and the low level of women’s participation, was another concern.  The report indicated that there was “plenty” of maternity leave, but was there protection from firing for the mother once she returned to work?  What specific provision existed to enable her to accommodate motherhood with employment?

Delegation’s Response

Ms. KHATTRI stressed that the Labour Code did not treat men and women differently, but the Government had instituted “positive discrimination” to enable women to “get started”.

Another member of the delegation noted that the Government had ratified all of the conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO) to ensure that women and men were paid the same wages for the same work.  Article 57 of the national Labour Code provided for women to stipulate in their marriage contracts that they had the right to work.  Non-compliance with that stipulation could result in divorce.  There was vocational training geared towards women, and several centres had been established throughout the country for that purpose, he said.

He also cited the percentages of women in the Army, the police force, and the fire service, indicating that several held high-level administrative posts.

Another member of the delegation added that trade unions often assisted women in the labour market.  For example, health workers were strongly represented, and women’s organizations also supported women workers, she said.

Noting that 60 per cent of the successful scientific baccalaureate candidates were young women, another member of the delegation said that women nowadays entered all employment fields in Mauritania, including in petrochemicals, engineering and the oil industry.  He said that their wages were the same as men.  It was true, however, that, in general, there were a lot more men in senior administrative posts and they stayed on the job much longer.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

Ms. ZOU, expert from China, asked what kind of measures the Government had taken to implement the national health programme, especially ones targeted at rural and poor urban women.  She also asked whether the programme had been evaluated, especially since it was due to finish soon.  No information had been provided about abortion, and she asked if that was prohibited in the country.  If not, what kind of service did the Government provide to reduce the number of unsafe abortions, which also caused a high maternal mortality rate?

Saying she was “very disconcerted” about the responses the Government had provided on health rights, Ms. PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, also asked about the outcomes of the national health plan due to conclude in 2007.  Noting the high level of HIV/AIDS among females and the mention in the written report of women’s disadvantage owing to their difficulty controlling their sexuality and protecting themselves from certain sexually transmitted diseases, including the difficulty in demanding safe sex, she asked why the emphasis in the new strategic framework was on mother-to-child transmission.

Along the same lines, Ms. DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, said she had some doubts about the 2003-2007 national reproductive health programme since only very general information had been provided in response to the list of issues and questions of the experts.  The report stated that the fertility rate amounted to more than six children per woman and that there was a low use of contraceptives, at about 5 per cent.  What specific efforts were under way in the context of that national programme to ensure the better spacing of children?  How were men involved in specific programmes, including in order to enable women to be in a better situation to ask for safe sex?  She also asked about the statement in the report that women had limited access to information about how to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS.

Ms. DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, having read about the high rate of early pregnancy and the growing number of HIV/AIDS cases among youth, as well as increasing substance abuse, asked how the Government was addressing the question of adolescent health.  Was any study under way to address the scope of adolescent health in the country?  Had training been provided to health service workers, including to ensure that their attitudes were not discriminatory to young people?

Delegation’s Response

Ms. KHATTRI said that several projects had been established to improve the spacing of births and prenatal care.  There was the national reproductive health programme and the development of strategies to reduce maternal mortality, as Mauritania’s rates in that regard were among the highest in the world.  At 30 per cent, the rates were higher than in Mali and Senegal, for example.  The Government had established strategies to improve women’s access to affordable health care, including check-ups during pregnancy, and contraception and family planning was also offered.  The 2006-2012 health strategy also focused on reducing maternal mortality, combating malaria and epidemiological monitoring, among others.  A programme by which a fee had been set for obstetric care had also been launched; that was still under way, so the results had not yet been monitored.  She reported that a very small percentage of women had AIDS.

Another member of the delegation said the country had an independent national AIDS committee, within the Office of the Prime Minister, which gave great momentum to the cause.  The country had become a member of the board of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and hoped to benefit more from international assistance.  The new Government had created a ministry devoted to the youth, and a youth-oriented radio station was broadcasting programmes using all national languages.  While he did not wish to claim that there was no injustice in the country, there was certainly no discrimination towards youth.

Ms. KHATTRI added that combating AIDS was a priority in her country.  There were units at all levels of Government to sensitize women on the disease.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, asked about women’s access to credit.  While she commended the Government for its microcredit programme, she noted that access to microcredit did not necessarily contribute to a higher quality of life for women, because the men in their lives tended to give up their responsibilities once the women became more economically active.  Had there been a study on the role of those loans in actually improving women’s lives?  Were women able to obtain greater loans than when they first entered the system?  Were there plans to incorporate those microcredit programmes into national social security programmes and health insurance programmes, since many microcredit beneficiaries were in the informal sector where such benefits were not offered?

Delegation’s Response

Ms. KHATTRI said women in Mauritania played a strong role in trade, and had a proven ability in commerce.  Women had even created their own market.  The microcredit scheme had been designed to improve women’s access to the means of production.  Her Ministry would continue to work closely with the Ministry of Trade and Industry in that area.

Another member of the delegation said there were different levels of poverty.  Women were shown to benefit greatly from all types of loans.  UNICEF had helped finance a “bank” to benefit rural women in five of the poorest states, and in areas adjacent to the capital, giving out loans of $100 to $200.  Most women who took out loans from large banks were divorced and the heads of households.

Another delegate expanded on initiatives designed to improve the quality of life for women in Mauritania.  There was a special baccalaureate programme for women, and a loan from Syria had enabled the building of 100 houses for women.  There were also various health services offered to women of limited income.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, stressed that the Government was obliged to tackle the problems of rural women.  The report had noted the limited success of some activities, due to lack of management capacity and lack of technical qualification in the marketing and processing of products.  Since the adoption of the national policy on rural women, what policies and programmes were envisaged by the Government to enhance access to financial, technical and marketing services?  What actions had been undertaken to improve the economic infrastructure in rural areas?  Were there policies targeted at new small businesses, to facilitate women’s transition from the informal to the formal sector?  Were there networking arrangements for entrepreneurial women, such as market-based cooperatives?  What outreach programmes were in place to inform poor rural women in remote areas about those programmes?

ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, also asked about projects to build up infrastructure in rural areas, and asked for data on people with access to electricity.  Which regions were falling behind in that respect?  Also, what was the ratio of “regional health posts” to rural women?  On education, she noted that low literacy rates had been attributed to the high dropout rate in rural areas, especially among girls.  What was the cause, and what was being done to change the mindset of rural inhabitants to promote education among girls?  She also asked for data regarding the manufacture of traditional crafts by women.  As for access to credit, she asked for more information on the level of access to credit in each region, and whether the system was standardized across regions.

Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, asked whether women in rural areas were able to participate in the elaboration of development projects.  Also, were women able to own land in their own name?

Delegation’s Response

Ms. KHATTRI said that among the Government’s future plans was to prepare a policy on rural women.  There was no such policy at present.  As for health indicators in rural areas, she said she would provide the Committee with a table containing that information, covering all states, regions and provinces.

On the coverage of programmes, another delegate said Mauritania had regional frameworks geared towards rural development.  For example, every region was to have a school, pharmacy and various other establishments, to ensure genuine national coverage.

Another delegate said all macroeconomic data provided by the Government contained regional indicators.  The Ministry on the Promotion of Women, Children and Family collected employment statistics and the population’s socio-economic characteristics to make a tailored approach possible.  On decentralization, he said the Ministry planned to embark on an awareness-raising campaign, involving civil society and organs of various municipalities.

Most of the initiatives discussed this afternoon, said another delegate, were meant to improve the lives of rural women, including the provision of loans, education and literacy programmes and training.  The Ministry on the Promotion of Women, Children and Family had branch units in all states to help women to achieve their political and economic goals, also benefiting women.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

Ms. HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, asked about women’s rights to child support and alimony upon divorce, saying the report had not touched on that or other related issues, such as inheritance rights and rights to marital property.  She noted that, while the legal marriage age was 18, data showed that 28 per cent of 15- to 19-year-olds were married, and a considerable percentage of children married before the age of 15.  She asked for clarification on that issue, and also asked whether polygamy was permitted, notwithstanding the women’s ability to request that her husband refrain from that practice.

Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, asked about family law in Mauritania, which was one of the best the Committee had seen of the countries from that region of the world.  She noted that a wife-to-be was free to stipulate a number of provisions in the marriage contract, and suggested that the Government draft a general model marriage contract to be submitted to brides and grooms throughout the country so that there was no need for them to hire a solicitor to draft individual contracts, which could become costly.

Ms. TAN, expert from Singapore, asked about a provision in Mauritanian law which stated that a husband could have a right to the management of his wife’s property when she made a gift of more than one third of that property.  That provision seemed to imply that a man could gain control of his wife’s property if he wished.  Also, a wife could stipulate that her husband could not marry another woman, yet another article allowed the husband to marry more than one wife after “necessary conditions” were met.  What were the consequences for men that went against their wives’ wishes?

Regarding the “tewkil mandate”, what was the difference between single, double and triple repudiation?  In addition, the Personal Status Code seemed to gives preference to the mother in child custody cases, which was biased in assuming the stereotypical role of woman as mother.  Would the Code be reviewed to enable an objective decision?

Delegation’s Response

Ms. KHATTRI said that, in general, the Personal Status Code regulated relations between wife and husband, and took account of all rights and duties for both partners, ensuring the full rights of both men and women.

With respect to marriage before 18, another delegate said the girl’s guardian could not marry her off before 18 unless it was in her interest.  If the guardian had acted in his own personal interest, he was liable to punitive sanctions.  The Code was also clear on polygamy, which required the consent of both the first and second wife.  Also, the stipulation that the two wives must be treated equally amounted to an indirect ban on polygamy.  While the Personal Status Code gave women certain rights within marriage, the Civil Code also contained a marriage and divorce act.

He said if a woman used more than two thirds of her property in the interest of family and children, her husband had rights to that property also.

Ms. KHATTRI added that the law allowed men and women to acquire real estate on equal grounds.  Many women owned land in rural areas and towns.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

HANNA BEATE SCHÖPP-SHILLING, expert from Germany, acknowledged the constraints faced by the country.  She requested information on policies for disabled girls and women, in education, and for elderly women, in health.

Ms. PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, asked for clarification on forced feeding.  Regarding women’s health, she asked why there was the emphasis on women and childbirth and not on sexual relationships.

Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, urged the delegation to insist on 0.7 per cent of the gross national product of developed countries to be devoted to official development assistance, as was its right.  She also urged the end of female genital mutilation.

Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, Committee Chair and expert from Croatia, asked about the stipulation in the marriage contract on the woman’s right to work.  Was there a similar provision for men?

Delegation’s Response

Ms. KHATTRI said that a woman could stipulate whatever situation she wished in her marriage.  If the man agreed, the marriage was contracted; if not, the marriage was annulled.  On forced feeding, she said it was no longer practiced.

She said the Government would take Ms. Belmihoub-Zerdani’s recommendation into account.

Another delegate added that, regarding disabled girls and women, the country had specific institutions for children with special needs, whether they were blind, deaf, mute or otherwise disabled.  He then thanked the Committee for their recommendations, which had been extremely useful, and which would be considered most seriously.

Ms. KHATTRI thanked the Committee for its efforts in helping women throughout the world.  Its members were a true inspiration.  She asked for “help to stand side by side with us at this decisive moment in our life, on the brink of a radical transformation of our society”.

In closing remarks, Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, Committee Chair and expert from Croatia, thanked the delegation and said the Committee would soon be providing them with clear guidance on the implementation of the Convention.  The Committee was encouraged by the actions of the new Government, as well as of the Ministry, which would hopefully move forward many of the issues raised at today’s meeting.  Perhaps it was possible to revisit the general reservation and to consider the ratification of the Convention’s Optional Protocol.  Also, the country was urged to adopt laws prohibiting female genital mutilation and addressing domestic violence.  The campaigns against illiteracy and other fields were commendable, and hopefully the next country report would show more progress.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.