Ethiopian Delegation, Presenting Report to Anti-Discrimination Committee, Defends Record in Combating Customs that Harm Women, Improving Conditions for Refugees

15 July 2011
WOM/1871

Ethiopian Delegation, Presenting Report to Anti-Discrimination Committee, Defends Record in Combating Customs that Harm Women, Improving Conditions for Refugees

15 July 2011
General Assembly
WOM/1871
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Committee on Elimination of

 Discrimination against Women

984th & 985th Meetings (AM & PM)

Ethiopian Delegation, Presenting Report to Anti-Discrimination Committee, Defends

Record in Combating Customs that Harm Women, Improving Conditions for Refugees

Experts Raise Questions about Legality

Of Marriage by Abduction, Alleged Rape of Women in Conflict Zone

Defending Ethiopia’s track record in combating harmful traditional practices, improving “degrading” humanitarian conditions in refugee camps and enforcing a law that restricted the provision of humanitarian services to local charities, officials presenting their country’s combined sixth and seventh periodic reports to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women said today that the Government was doing its best to live up to its domestic and international obligations.

Zenebu Tadesse, Minister for Women, Youth and Children Affairs, who presented the reports, said the principles of women’s equality and non-discrimination had been incorporated into Ethiopia’s Federal Constitution and resonated across its federal and regional laws, including the revised Federal Family Code and the new Criminal Code, which contained “strong and comprehensive” measures to support women’s rights.  Among them were new provisions penalizing trafficking in women and children, and establishing units to investigate and prosecute criminal acts against women.

Moreover, she said, the Government had criminalized early marriage — among the most endemic traditional practices harmful to women — and provided a range of awareness-raising, sensitization, advocacy and other programmes jointly with national and international partners.  Regions in which early marriage was practised had adopted systems to ensure that girls attained the legal minimum age, which was 18 years, according to the revised Federal Family Code.

Explaining the Charities and Societies Proclamation, she said it reserved the Government’s right to engage exclusively with “endogenous” charities in the area of gender equality because foreign funding in that field usually did more harm than good, creating “worship” of foreign dependence and potentially failing to pursue the domestic agenda, which was critical to Ethiopia’s democratic transformation.  She said charges that the law negatively impacted non-governmental organizations working on women’s rights issues were “unfounded”, as seen in the growing numbers of women’s groups that had registered and were operating in the country.

Following her presentation, the Committee’s expert members emphasized that more training and awareness-raising was needed in respect of laws that prevented all forms of violence against women, as was wider social acceptance of that issue, especially by men and religious institutions in Ethiopia’s patriarchal society.  One expert, pointing to the ongoing conflict in the Ogaden region, pressed the 11‑member delegation to explain reports of sexual violence against women and girls by security forces, saying that the Government’s “systematic pattern of denial” was a source of concern.

Other experts, citing outside sources, said marriage by abduction was a major problem in Ethiopia, which raised the question of whether the practice was illegal, and if so, whether the related legal provisions were being enforced.  Further clarification was also needed on the distinction between sharia and customary legal systems, and about the issue of consent in cases of children in forced marriages.  Still other questions were raised about the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association, whose assets had been frozen and staff cut by more than 80 per cent under the new Proclamation on Charities.

Responding to queries about the alleged rape of women by Ethiopian troops, one delegation member said such behaviour ran “completely contrary” to the nature of the “highly disciplined” and professional defence forces.  The Government had conducted a thorough investigation and found the charges to be completely unfounded.  “This is not a blanket denial,” he emphasized, noting that more than 100 cases had been taken to court and the perpetrators punished.  On a related issue, he said Ethiopia hosted refugees from Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan, emphasizing that the Government did not discriminate between refugees and citizens.

Another official added that the new Charities Proclamation had been drafted to realize rights under article 31 of the Constitution.  While its aims might not be satisfactory for others, they were satisfactory for Ethiopia, he stressed.  It prohibited Ethiopian charities from receiving more than 10 per cent of their funding from foreign sources, which was why the assets of the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association had been frozen.  The group had also planned to participate in activities forbidden under article 14 of the Constitution, he said, adding, however, that 10 per cent of its funds would be released.

Explaining the differences between various court systems, another delegation member said that when parties accepted sharia adjudication, they must sign a form to that effect.  In regular courts, the parties had the right to consult lawyers.  Sharia, customary law and family law all recognized three types of marriage — civil, customary and religious.  The legal effects of all three were the same, especially in terms of property and child custody, he said.

The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 19 July, to take up the seventh periodic report of the Republic of Korea.

Background

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to consider the combined sixth and seventh periodic reports of Ethiopia (document CEDAW/C/ETH/6-7).

Leading the Ethiopian delegation was Zenebu Tadesse, Minister for Women, Youth and Children Affairs, who was joined by Tekeda Alemu, Permanent Representative of Ethiopia to the United Nations; Aman Hassen Bame, Deputy Permanent Representative; Desalegn Berhe Bayru, President, Federal First Instance Courts; Tesfayenesh Lema Aregaw, Director, Women and Youth Affairs Mainstreaming Directorate, Ministry of Women, Youth and Children Affairs; and Zenebe Kebede Korcho, Director-General for International Legal Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The delegation also included Fassikaw Molla Amera, Prosecutor and Coordinator, International Cooperation on Legal Affairs, Ministry of Justice; Mekdes Eyoel Jersa, Director, Gender Directorate, Ministry of Education; Mihret Hiluf Nigussie, Director, Agrarian Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Directorate, Ministry of Health; Atsede Guta Wage, Senior Expert, Women and Youth Affairs Mainstreaming Directorate, Ministry of Women, Youth and Children Affairs; and Woinshet Tadesse, Minister Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Ethiopia.

Introduction of Report

Ms. TADESSE presented her country’s combined sixth and seventh periodic reports, outlining several measures taken to ensure gender equality and the protection of women’s rights.  The methodology used in preparing the reports had been both participatory and comprehensive, and followed the Committee’s latest reporting guidelines.  It had benefited from data gathered from the Federal Government as well as regional governments, non-governmental organizations, civil society groups and academic institutions.

Providing background, she said Ethiopia was governed by constitutions at both the federal and regional levels, noting that the 1995 promulgation of the Federal Constitution had marked a turning point in the recognition and implementation of women’s rights.  The charter enshrined almost all basic human rights and fundamental freedoms, and included a specific provision on women’s rights under article 35.  The principles of women’s equality and non-discrimination had been incorporated into the Constitution and resonated across the relevant federal and regional laws, including the revised Federal Family Code, as well as all labourand nationality-oriented legislation.  “The Government has been exerting its utmost efforts on eliminating discrimination against women in every sector,” she said.

At the same time, it could not be denied that violence against women was a deep-rooted problem due to gender inequality sanctioned by patriarchal cultural legacies and traditional norms, she said, noting that women suffered violence at home, as well as in schools, offices and other public places.  Yet reporting male violence was considered taboo and law-enforcement agencies were not trained to handle such cases.  However, the new Criminal Code and gender sensitization programmes had led to changes, she said, noting that the Code contained “strong and comprehensive” measures to support women’s rights.

No less important were special prosecution and investigation units mandated to investigate and prosecute criminal acts against women and provide counselling, she continued.  The Government had also carried out campaigns to raise awareness of the need to end discriminatory traditional stereotypes and prejudices, which had brought about substantial changes and totally eradicated some harmful traditional practices against women.  But much remained to be done in changing long-standing misperceptions and stereotypes embedded in cultural practices, she said.

She went on to say that many young women, migrating overseas in search of a better life, had fallen victim to illegal trafficking, and Ethiopia had worked to combat that crime at the national and regional levels.  New provisions penalizing trafficking in women and children had been incorporated into the new criminal law, and the Government was collaborating with consulates to provide training for federal and regional law-enforcement officials.  It had also signed bilateral and multilateral agreements with neighbouring countries to prevent trafficking and smuggling.

In its work on gender-equality issues, she said, Ethiopia reserved the right to engage exclusively with endogenous charities because foreign funding in that field usually did more harm than good, given the inevitable “worshipping” of foreign dependence it engendered.  Women’s participation in politics had increased in the last two decades as the application of such provisional measures as affirmative action had elevated them to important public offices through recruitment, transfer and promotion.  In the education field, Ethiopia’s policy aimed to democratize the national culture and decentralize opportunities on the basis of equity and equality.  As a result, female school enrolment had risen and the drop-out rate had declined, allowing the country to meet its Millennium Development Goal relating to that sector by 2015.

In other areas, Ethiopia’s policy aimed to realize a significant reduction in poverty among women, since the root causes of the challenges facing them could be traced to economic dependence and the entrenched patriarchal culture.  Unless the latter was patriarchal and women were economically emancipated, not much could be accomplished, she stressed.  Raising awareness and providing “incentive packages” had been carried out in rural areas to encourage parents to send their children, especially daughters, to school.  In the area of health, the Government had undertaken a range of efforts to improve access to, and raise the quality of, family planning services, while the health policy emphasized universal access to essential services, particularly for the poor.  While maternal mortality had declined, there was a long way to go before Ethiopia realized the goal of “no mother shall die while giving birth”.

As for harmful traditional practices, she said the Government had criminalized the main problem — early marriage — and provided a range of awareness-raising, sensitization, advocacy and other programmes jointly with national and international partners.  Regions where early marriage was practised had adopted systems to ensure that girls attained the legal minimum age, which, according to the revised Federal Family Code, was 18 years.  While the Government had committed itself in general to the full implementation of women’s rights, it recognized fully the value of international cooperation, she said.  Similarly, it understood that the contribution of civil society was vital if it was to meet its obligations under international and regional human rights instruments.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

PRAMILA PATTEN, expert member from Mauritius, commended Ethiopia’s progress since the review of its last report, but noted that many concerns remained.  The present report showed a major gap in respect of the ongoing conflict in the Ogaden region, she said.  While it stated that women and girls suffered no sexual violence, including in cases of conflict or at the hands of security forces, many such cases had been widely reported, and Ethiopia’s “systematic pattern of denial” was a source of concern.  States parties to the Convention had an obligation to investigate and take action against perpetrators of sexual violence, and victims had a right to both justice and reparations, she stressed.  A State might even be responsible for private acts of violence if it did not fulfil its investigatory obligations.  In that light, what measures was the Government taking to investigate, discipline and control perpetrators of sexual violence? she asked.  How was the legislative system involved?

She went on to state that the Committee had received reports of degrading humanitarian conditions in refugee camps, noting that States parties also bore responsibility in that area.  What policies were in place to address the needs of refugee women and girls, and what measures were in place to counter sexual violence against them? Were “user-friendly” mechanisms in place to enable them to report cases of abuse?  In the absence of a national policy on internally displaced persons, how did the Government provide support for and meet the needs of female internally displaced persons?

PATRICIA SCHULZ, expert member from Switzerland, agreed that Ethiopia had taken important steps to counter discrimination against women, but there was still insufficient knowledge of the Convention at the local level, including among local judges.  The relevant training programme had stopped functioning in 2008, she noted, asking whether it would be reinstated.  Would religious courts be included in human rights training?  What other plans were in place to ensure that judges were properly trained on the Convention and the rights that it sought to protect?  Saying she was very concerned that Ethiopia had passed a law severely restricting the activities of non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations, she noted that the Charities and Societies Proclamation had decimated their contributions, including to improving the situation of women.  One example of an organization that had suffered was the Red Cross working in the Ogaden region, she said, urging the Government to reconsider that legislation.

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert member from Croatia, asked whether Ethiopia had plans to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention.  Although the Constitution stated that international agreements were integral parts of the law of the land, there was no official requirement to translate or publish international conventions, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  That severely limited women’s awareness of their rights, she pointed out, requesting additional information on plans to publish a translation of the instrument.  She also asked requested examples of judicial cases in which the courts had been able to apply the Convention despite having no access to the text.

RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert member from Israel, said Ethiopia was “far from living up to the requirements” of the Convention.  Although the report explained that Ethiopians enjoyed the “free choice” to be adjudicated on matters of marriage, divorce and personal status, either by State courts or sharia courts based on religious law, the Committee was very concerned about the lack of safeguards to ensure free consent.  What measures were in place to ensure the absence of duress? she asked. What happened when children were involved in legal disputes, and how was their consent handled?  Was there any process under way to harmonize religious laws?

Citing outsides sources, she said marriage by abduction was a major problem in Ethiopia, with a national average of 69 per cent, although the report did not provide information on that prevalence.  Was the criminalization of marriage by abduction enforced? she asked.  If it was considered valid under customary law, had the choice of law by which to be adjudicated not already been forced on abducted women?  She also asked whether Ethiopia had an official method of supervising sharia courts, noting that the report mentioned only a body governing administrative supervision, but none for substantive issues.  Did any women preside as judges in sharia courts? she asked.  She also requested information on the practice of polygamy — prohibited nationally but permitted under sharia — seeking details about actions to enforce laws against property grabbing.

Delegation’s Responses

Responding, one delegation member said that all international agreements Ethiopia had ratified were part of national law, as expressed through special references to those agreements in domestic law.  Human rights treaties to which Ethiopia had acceded held supremacy over other sources of laws except the Federal Constitution, which was the supreme law of the land.  All core human rights instruments had been translated into the federal working language, he said.  Moreover, a five-year project implemented from 2003 to 2008 had seen more than 4,000 judges, prosecutors and police officers, among others, trained on the nature and applicability of human rights instruments, including the Convention.

Turning to the operations of sharia courts, he said article 34 of the Federal Constitution dealt with marital, personal and family rights, and provided that the Constitution should not preclude the adjudication of disputes, with the consent of the parties concerned.  One particular proclamation gave sharia courts jurisdiction only when the parties had consented to be adjudicated under Islamic law.  Without that consent, the case would be transferred to a regular federal court.

Once a case was before a sharia court with the full consent of the parties, there would be no grounds to transfer it to a federal court, he continued, pointing out that the sharia system had a high court and a supreme court.  An aggrieved party could appeal, and in the event of an “error of law”, the Federal Supreme Court could review the sharia court’s verdict.  A format for obtaining the consent of parties to be adjudicated by sharia or civil courts ensured there was no manipulation.

Regarding alleged rape cases by Ethiopian troops, he said such behaviour ran “completely contrary” to the nature of the highly disciplined and professional defence forces.  That had been confirmed at the international and regional levels, whereby they had exercised in peacekeeping operations in other African countries, including Sudan.  The allegations had been raised on several occasions and the Government had conducted a thorough investigation, finding them completely unfounded.  “This is not a blanket denial,” he emphasized, noting that more than 100 cases had been taken to court and the perpetrators punished.  The Government took the matter seriously, he added.

Regarding civil law, another official said the Charity and Societies Proclamation had been devised after an examination of how to reform service delivery.  The civil society sector had previously been governed by laws adopted in 1959 and 1960, and the new Proclamation had been drafted to realize citizens’ rights under article 31 of the Constitution to facilitate a role for charities in the lives of Ethiopians and foster transparency and accountability.  The Proclamation reserved the right of local charities alone to intervene in activities covered under its article 14.

Clarifying that he had not come before the Committee to convince members of anything, he said that while the Proclamation’s aims might not be satisfactory for others, they were satisfactory for Ethiopia.  “We are here to tell you frankly what the law is and what the stance of the Government is,” he added.  In that context, he said the Proclamation prohibited Ethiopian charities receiving more than 10 per cent of their funding from foreign sources from intervening in activities outlined under article 14.  The rationale behind the prohibition was a belief that freedom of association was a right to be claimed exclusively by citizens.

In the long run, that decision would create a more stable society, he said, noting that foreign funding might entail reporting to donors rather than focusing on real problems in the country, which, in turn, could harm the social-political situation.  That would constitute an unjustified influence in the democratic situation being built by the Government, and while the decision might not be comfortable for some individuals, it was a constitutional stand and various local women’s associations had flourished as a result of it.  Ethiopia was also establishing a charities and societies working group whereby the Development Assistance Group and charities, among others, would work to create more favourable conditions for civil society groups operating in the country.

Regarding the training of judicial officials, he cited a 2008 project that informed officials about international treaties, including the Convention.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

VIOLETA NEUBAUER, expert member from Slovenia, worried that the Ministry of Women, Youth and Children Affairs lacked sufficient resources and office facilities to function effectively in Ethiopia’s various regions.  There was a “striking knowledge gap” in local and regional organs with regard to women and children.  Recalling that the Committee on the Rights of the Child had recommended in 2006 that the State ensure adequate human and financial resources to bridge those gaps, she asked whether it accepted those and other recommendations to mobilize resources.  Were any efforts being made to mobilize funding and technical assistance in that regard, including by prioritizing women’s and children’s issues in development assistance negotiations?

She noted that the report mentioned the development of a gender-mainstreaming plan and asked for updates on that document.  How would the Government ensure support and funding for gender mainstreaming and how would it be monitored?  Did Ethiopia have any working body on the advancement of women’s rights?

NICOLE AMELINE, Committee Vice-Chairperson and expert member from France, said women in Ethiopia were most vulnerable to all forms of violence, including, but not limited to, forced marriage, rape, domestic violence and genital mutilation.  Urgent mobilization by the Government and the international community was needed to rectify the situation, she said, seeking the delegation’s reassurance that the Government had the political will to ensure that those responsible were punished.

Since two separate legal systems existed in Ethiopia, a free-consent choice should be provided to give women access to “normal justice”, as opposed to traditional justice, she said, adding that there must therefore be widespread training of judges.  If Ethiopia believed that international assistance was not needed in that area, would the Government provide the budget required to train judges and ensure women’s access to justice?

ZOHRA RASEKH, Committee Vice-Chairperson and expert member from Afghanistan, said the law was one component of affirmative action, while implementation, accountability and monitoring were the others.  According to the report, some such measures had been taken in the area of higher education for women, but it provided no information on affirmative-action measures in the area of economic development or economic independence.  Who ensured that temporary measures for women were not dropped from the agenda? she asked.  Who monitored the funding for those measures?

VIOLET TSISIGA AWORI, Committee Rapporteur and expert member from Kenya, recalled that the Government was developing a national strategy to combat harmful traditional practices and gender violence, and requested details.  With regard to the reporting, prosecution and conviction of offenders of domestic violence, she said the delegation’s brief response had not provided sufficient data, and requested that the Committee receive such data now.

Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, noted that Ethiopia had general prohibitions against harmful traditional practices, the number of which seemed to be declining.  By contrast, statistics on prosecutions were scarce.  What was the actual content of the law? she asked.  Did the delegation feel that more legislation was needed to prevent female genital mutilation?  She also asked about the existence of specific awareness-raising campaigns for different ethnic groups in various parts of the country, and about actions and plans to address early marriage at all levels of society.

AYSE FERIDE ACAR, expert member from Turkey, said the concept of “free choice” being discussed relative to legal systems could only be considered meaningfully in a general context of equality and non-discrimination.  If those conditions did not exist, the State’s obligation was to protect the rights of women with the best available instruments.  In the case of Ethiopia, that might be a law providing for positive marital relations and an end to stereotypes.  There was a lack of “convincing information” on actions being taken to counter negative stereotypes of women, as well as a problematic lack of data.  There was also a shortage of data on sex-abuse cases involving domestic workers.

NAELA MOHAMED GABR, expert member from Egypt, said further training and awareness-raising was needed on laws preventing all forms of violence against women.  There was also a need for wider social acceptance on that issue, especially by men and religious institutions.  In that light, did the national strategy cover the media? she asked.  Was it designed to reach traditional or religious leaders?  Was civil society actively participating in that strategy?

Women faced psychological barriers to speaking about sexual violence, she said, adding that they needed more support and wider social awareness, which had nothing to do with religion.  With regard to trafficking in women, Ethiopia had some programmes in place, but would a common programme be adopted with neighbouring countries?  Were statistics available on the subject?  Were there shelters for women or a trust fund for victims, she asked, stressing that it was critical to deal with the root causes of trafficking.

SILVIA PIMENTEL, Committee Chairperson and expert member from Brazil, asked for details on a “change package” published by the Ministry of Women, Youth and Children Affairs.  Noting the pervasive nature of domestic violence — and that the Committee had urged in its last review that Ethiopia arrange for the collection of data on all forms of violence against women — did relevant data now exist?  Had measures put in place had any impact?

Meanwhile, the report stated that the armed forces did not commit sexual violence against women and girls, she said, adding that there was a strong reason to suspect that was not true.  Did the delegation have information on the source of that statement? she asked.

Ms. AWORI, Rapporteur and expert from Kenya, commended efforts made to combat human trafficking, but noted that information received from outside sources indicated that unless the root cause of trafficking — the “persistent social and economic insecurity of women” — was clearly addressed, the impact of those efforts might not be very significant.  Should alternative opportunities not be provided for women, they would continue to be drawn to trafficking schemes simply to survive, she warned, asking what plans were envisaged in that respect.  What was the impact of the various measures already in place, particularly on female internally displaced persons and other vulnerable women?

Finally, she said, outside sources had suggested that Ethiopia’s track record for punishing traffickers was “dismal”, and requested detailed information on the number of prosecutions and convictions in trafficking cases that had been conducted to date.

Delegation’s Responses

Ms. TADESSE, addressing questions about stereotypes, described a campaign that had resulted in a substantial change in attitudes and the eradication of some harmful practices against women.  Circumcision, even for males, was no longer practised in the traditional way, and other harmful traditions were declining.  The best ways to tackle those included grass-roots gender activities focused on “self-motivation”.  Missions had also been undertaken to teach communities about violence against women and other harmful practices.

In some regions, development armies comprising 25 to 30 women advocated the abandonment of harmful practices and engagement in economic activities, she said, noting that religious and clan leaders played important roles in shaping norms relating to women.  The State Council had passed a resolution on the role of those leaders in combating harmful traditional practices in emerging regions.  “For us, it’s a good achievement,” she said, noting that stereotypical attitudes towards women with disabilities were changing as a result of intensive awareness-raising.

Turning to trafficking, she said a national committee comprising officials from the Ministries of Labour and Social Affairs, Women, Youth and Children Affairs, Foreign Affairs, and Education, among others, was mandated to protect the rights and dignity of Ethiopian citizens.  Its action plan focused on preventing human trafficking, she said, adding that a special police and prosecution unit had been created to protect women’s rights and help victims, while federal weekly radio programmes raised awareness about combating trafficking.  She also cited the national action plan to eliminate the worst forms of child labour, adding that, in other areas, the Government had taken measures to combat illegal private employment agencies, including through the creation of an independent directorate that trained private employment agencies.

Regarding the women’s machinery, another delegate said the Ministry of Women, Youth and Children Affairs was enhancing its capacity to discharge its duties.  Thanks to national civil service reform efforts, the Ministry now had more than 200 staff.  Regional states had women’s affairs bureaus and gender focal persons in each sector, as well as a decentralized structure to foster gender mainstreaming in the specific context of each.

On horizontal coordination, she said the Ministry held annual and biannual consultative meetings with regional machineries to discuss performance reports, while the federal women’s machinery had established forums to create greater synergies.  Gender-mainstreaming tools had been developed and distributed to various sectors and the accountability system had been strengthened.  Proclamation 619 (2010) provided that each ministry was responsible for integrating gender into each sector, she said.

Another delegate, focusing on temporary measures, said the Government had worked to ensure women’s participation in economic growth, notably by introducing technologies to upgrade their businesses and develop entrepreneurship.  Other small-scale development initiatives had benefited 11,000 women in 2005, through the provision of credit, technical assistance and training in capacity-building.  A “leave no woman behind” programme had trained 154,000 entrepreneurs and promoted their businesses through credit schemes.

In other areas, the Government had taken a comprehensive approach to eliminating gender inequality and empowering women by using legal measures and administrative decisions to supplement policy measures.  In terms of marital property, the Federal Family Code and those of the regional governments conformed to the Constitution and recognized the property of a husband and wife as common property, to be shared equally in the event of divorce.  On the issue of polygamy, he said it was prohibited by law and by the regional family codes.  Yet, a constitutional provision recognized marriage under religious and customary practices, the administration of which was based on “common yardsticks” applied to everyone, and therefore could not contravene the Constitution.

Turning to the question of refugees, he said those in Ethiopia were from Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan, emphasizing that the Government did not discriminate between refugees and citizens.  It had done its best to handle those issues, in collaboration with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  Describing human trafficking as a “daunting” problem, he said the Government was raising awareness, prosecuting perpetrators and conducting a fundamental measure to resolve the root cause of trafficking — poverty.  For the last eight years, Ethiopia had enjoyed double-digit economic growth in various sectors and its five-year growth and transformation plan aimed to bolster increase development so as to reduce poverty.

As for internally displaced persons, a delegate said that the Ministry of Agriculture had an agency dedicated to them, which aimed to strengthen the management of all types of emergencies, bring relief and recovery and move towards sustainability.  A new risk-management policy that gave special attention to internally displaced women and children was in place, he said, adding that the Ministry of Federal Affairs had the power to manage conflicts and provide humanitarian and other aid to the displaced.

He said a national strategic plan to combat violence against women and children had been drafted and its endorsement was expected in the near future, while another plan, to combat harmful traditional practices, was operational and had established special prosecution units.  Women were entitled to free legal aid, and a woman- and child-friendly custody system was in place, he said, noting that the Minister for Justice was charged with protecting women and children unable to represent themselves in court.  The Human Rights Council had signed an agreement with more than 15 universities to help protect the legal rights of women.  Meanwhile, a multisectoral victim’s centre had been established in Addis Ababa to provide comprehensive support for women.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, addressed the delegation’s claim that the proclamation restricting civil society organizations had had no negative impact, asking about the case of the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association, an organization mentioned frequently in the report.  It was understood that the organization had suffered severely under the new law, having had many of its assets frozen and more than 80 per cent of its staff cut.  She requested clarification of the statement that the proclamation had not had a negative impact in light of that example.

Ms. HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, returned to the issue of religious courts and consent, requesting the specific consent document mentioned by the delegation.  Under that sign-off document, were women fully aware of the consequences of choosing to be tried under religious law? she asked.  Could legal consultations be provided to that effect?  Additionally, she requested further clarification of the distinction between the sharia and customary legal systems, and reiterated her earlier questions about consent in cases involving children or forced marriage.

Ms. NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, asked for more concrete statistics on the declining incidences of violence against women.

Delegation’s Responses

Responding to several questions, a delegation member said the founding documents for the sharia courts could be provided.  As to whether women were informed about their rights, he said that, in general, they were taught about their rights under the Constitution, family law, sharia and all other subordinate law sources.  That did not mean everything was “rosy and absolute”, given Ethiopia’s deep-rooted traditional and cultural background, he said, but the Government was doing its best to fulfil its obligations under the various international instruments it had ratified.

Explaining the differences between court systems, he said that when parties accepted sharia adjudication, they must sign a form to that effect.  In regular courts, the parties had the right to consult their lawyers.  Legal aid providers were also available at the regional and federal levels.  Regarding children, he said their parents cared for them until the age of 18, exercising their rights on their behalf.

He went on to say that sharia, customary law and family law all recognized three types of marriage — civil, customary and religious.  Civil marriages were performed in municipalities, according to the Civil Code, customary marriages were concluded in accordance with the customs of each partner and religious marriages were performed in conformity with their respective religions.  The legal effects of all three types of marriage were the same, especially in terms of property and child custody, he said.  A marriage performed under sharia was considered a religious one, and would be adjudicated either by a sharia court or a regular court, depending on the partners’ wishes.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

SOLEDAD MURILLO DE LA VEGA, expert member from Spain, said female political candidates had been unable to find a foothold in Ethiopia.  While there was a clear commitment by women to running as candidates, they were not able to win seats in the Federal Parliament or the State Council, and attitudes towards women remained negative.  Could the Government conduct a campaign to raise awareness among men of women’s importance in public life? she asked.

Regarding the controversial legislation on civil society and non-governmental organizations, she urged the delegation to reconsider its position, saying that it was worth recalling that those organizations had played a key role in supporting Ethiopia during the 1980s, particularly with regard to human rights issues.  Finally, she asked why the report did not list abduction and female genital mutilation as crimes.

OLINDA BAREIRO-BOBADILLA, expert member from Paraguay, noted the existence of a permanent commission charged with supervising draft laws on women’s rights, and asked how it could be that female genital mutilation was punishable by only three months in prison or a monetary fine.  That “slap on the wrist” sent a bad message, she said, urging the Government to consider enacting stronger laws.

She asked whether Ethiopia would attempt to achieve parity in women’s participation.  What kind of measures might be effective regarding women in public administration, particularly at the lower levels?  What measures had been taken in directing political parties to ensure greater participation by women in decision-making?  How were independent women’s organizations supported?

BARBARA EVELYN BAILEY, expert member from Jamaica, said education and training policies that paid special attention to girls and women had been in place since 1990, but still faced many challenges.  The overall net primary school enrolment rate for girls was high, but showed serious regional disparities, particularly in respect of the pastoralist and ethnic Somali communities.  How did the Government monitor measures seeking to reverse that trend, and how effective had it been?

It was critically important to ensure the completion of schooling, not just enrolment, she stressed, pointing out that more than half the girls enrolled in primary school did not complete their studies.  How effective were measures aimed at rectifying that challenge? she asked.  In light of the prevalence of early and forced marriages, was there a concrete re-entry policy allowing women to return to school after pregnancy?  She also requested additional information on the “serious imbalance” between men and women in the technical fields, and about literacy programmes for women.

ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert member from China, also asked whether updated information on women’s literacy was available.  What measures had been taken to reduce illiteracy, and how effective had they been?  Noting that the Government had had a programme in place for development of the education sector between 2005 and 2010 — including quotas requiring specific numbers of women in teacher training colleges and technical programmes — she asked what would happen if those targets were not met.

Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, addressed the issue of women’s employment, asking whether anything had been done to counter sexual harassment.  Was the Government considering the inclusion of a related provision in the labour laws?  Some jobs were considered to be hazardous or harmful and women were legally prohibited from holding them, she noted.  Was the list of such jobs subject to review, and how often did that happen? she asked, stressing the critical importance of ensuring that women did not face discrimination.

Pointing out that the report lacked information on women in the informal sector, she asked what policies were in place to protect their rights.  She went on to note the significant disparities between the employment numbers of men and women, and asked whether there any temporary special measures in place to remedy that situation, including quotas.  Were there any measures designed to narrow the pay gap?  Was the principle of equal pay incorporated into labour legislation?

NIKLAS BRUUN, expert member from Finland, raised the issue of child labour, especially among girls, citing alarming reports by the International Labour Organization (ILO).  What was the current situation of child labour in Ethiopia, and what measures were being taken to combat it?  Regarding the much-discussed Charities and Societies Proclamation, he asked whether it was also applicable to trade unions.  If so, it might be in breach of ILO Conventions 87 and 98 on freedom of association, which stated that trade unions must be allowed to receive economic support from foreign donors, he said, pointing out that Ethiopia had ratified both instruments.

Ms AMELINE, Vice-Chairperson and expert from France, asked about the dangers of early childbirth.  Had any specific measures been taken to increase the care offered to girls who gave birth at a young age?  Had efforts been undertaken to reduce the added burden of social exclusion following delivery?

MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert member from Cuba, said that the health of women in Ethiopia continued to be alarmingly poor.  Maternal mortality remained high, HIV and AIDS disproportionately affected women, and the average life expectancy for women was 58 years of age.  Those problems were due largely to cultural patterns and a lack of economic resources, she said, noting that although the report mentioned some measures to reverse those trends, little information was available to enable an assessment of their effectiveness.  What kind of coverage did primary care institutions have, and were staff sufficiently trained? she asked.  What was being done to change the cultural patterns of medical affairs?

She went on to ask what data was available regarding the average age of women at the first pregnancy, and on the use of contraceptives.  How was the health-care system’s work integrated into the Health Ministry, and how did the media raise awareness of the health risks posed by early marriage?

Ms. PIMENTEL, Chairperson and expert from Brazil, noted that Ethiopia had a relatively high rate of malarial deaths, and requested an update on the number of malaria cases, as well as instances of treatment, disaggregated by gender.  What measures were in place to prevent and treat malaria?  What was being done to help women access health care, in particular over long distances?  Could the delegation discuss the allocation of resources to such programmes?

YOKO HAYASHI, expert member from Japan, said the participation of women in the workforce was largely confined to domestic work, which contributed to their lower social status.  The report mentioned that women’s credit associations and saving unions had been established, she noted, asking how many had been created.  How much capital had been made available through those programmes, and did they have a visible impact?

As for the restrictions imposed by the Charities Proclamation, she stressed that non-governmental organizations created employment for women, and asked the State to revisit that law from the viewpoint of women’s economic empowerment.

Ms. ZOU, expert from China, said the report made little mention of the poverty of rural women.  Had anything changed on that issue since 2005, when the latest available data had been collected?  What measures had the Government taken to eliminate rural poverty?  How were poverty-eradication policies formulated and had their targets been met? Finally, she wondered whether women in rural areas were provided with safe abortion services.

ISMAT JAHAN, expert member from Bangladesh, said there were serious concerns about the vast disparities between the access of men and women to basic services, health care, land and drinking water.  What monitoring mechanisms were in place in that respect?  There was evidence of rural women being denied ownership of livestock, which was a major form of currency, she said, asking what was being done to reverse that trend.  Flagging the fact that the Committee had requested, but not received, additional information on the availability of safe drinking water, she asked the delegation to supply it.  She also noted that Ethiopia and many other African countries were leasing vast areas of land to foreign companies, asking what, in a food-insecure country like Ethiopia, might be the impact of such activities on women’s well-being.  Had any studies been conducted on that matter?

Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, asked about the nationality of children born in Ethiopia to foreign parents.

Delegation’s Responses

Responding, Ms. TADESSE described grass-roots campaigns and an adult literacy programme aimed at making women aware of their rights.  Measures had also been taken to empower women economically, including through microfinance programmes and others to increase market access.  Gender activities carried out by “women’s development armies” included visits to rural households to ensure pregnant women received antenatal and postnatal services.  Data on female genital mutilation showed that the practice had declined, dropping to 37.4 per cent in 2009 from 74 per cent in years past.

On employment, she said article 14 of the Constitution stipulated that any person had the right to pursue a livelihood of his or her choice, and it would be unlawful for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, sex or other factors.  Article 9 of the Constitution also stated that all international agreements were considered to be the law of the land, which demonstrated Ethiopia’s adherence to its international obligations.  Other directives protected women’s rights in the labour market so as to ensure equal opportunities, she said, adding that a trade union association was among the tools to protect female workers.

There was no difference in wages based on gender, as outlined in article 41 of the Constitution, she said, noting that the Government was working to enhance women’s bargaining power in the informal labour market.  Different social protection schemes, including safety nets, also existed.  The sexual harassment law was being amended by the Ministry of Labour and any sexual violence at the workplace was penalized under the Criminal Code.

As for child labour, she said Ethiopia was a signatory to the ILO Convention on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, and was ready to implement a national plan of action to combat it.  A programme to rehabilitate street children was also being implemented, as were interventions that included skill training and job programmes.

Another delegate, addressing claims that the Government had systematically denied the rape of women by security forces in the Ogaden region, reiterated that the Government had responded to that issue.  It had investigated each claim by international non-governmental organizations and treaty bodies, determining that there had never been any Government involvement in rape, whether inside the country or outside.  Recalling that Ethiopian forces had been deployed in Liberia, Burundi and Rwanda, he said they were now also in Abyei, Sudan, thanks to their discipline and efficiency.  Different perpetrators had committed the rapes, he said, stressing that between 2001 and 2007, 3,119 perpetrators had been prosecuted and 2,111 sentenced.  “This has nothing to do with the armed forces,” he insisted.

On the leasing of land to foreigners, and whether that had impacted Ethiopian women, he said the country had a large amount of arable land, especially in the unpopulated lowlands.  The amount of land leased to foreigners was minimal and the idea was to fulfil Ethiopia’s food security needs through the agriculture sector, a main income generator.  No one had been evicted in the leasing of land to foreigners, he added.

Responding to concerns that the Charities Proclamation affected the right of association and assembly, he said it did not prohibit citizens from enjoying those rights.  It did, however, prohibit foreign intervention in political activities, especially through “invisible hands” like resources, which created a “dependency syndrome”.  Regarding children born to foreigners, he said that if one or both parents were Ethiopian, the child could obtain Ethiopian nationality, he said, adding that other options included naturalization.  Abandoned children could also attain nationality as a way to avoid statelessness.

Another delegate spoke about efforts to make religious and customary courts more “women friendly”, saying that the use of courts was new.  They must be careful not to violate the supreme law of the land or international covenants to which Ethiopia was a party, he cautioned, saying that one way to maximize the system’s potential would be to use the courts to ensure the rights of women and children.  One state had tried to incorporate customary rules into the social courts, which were allowed to use the wisdom of elders in protecting and promoting women’s rights.  He said “formal” courts were now “victim friendly” at the federal and regional levels, meaning that victims could testify from a remote location through closed-circuit television to avoid being harassed.

Another delegate said the Ministry of Education was addressing the gaps between pastoralist areas and other parts of the country by giving sheep to parents who sent their daughters to school, setting up school feeding programmes and girls’ scholarships, and building boarding schools for indigenous girls.  Data indicated that Ethiopia had achieved some positive changes in school enrolment levels, she added.  The Government was also making schools “girl friendly” through the 2006 general education quality improvement programme, which was combating violence, she said.  About 80 per cent of primary schools had developed a school improvement programme, and parent-teacher associations had been established in all primary and secondary schools.  An adult education strategy prioritized women, she added.

Returning to the Charities Proclamation, another delegate said the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association had been found to have received all its funding from foreign sources, and had also planned to participate in activities forbidden under article 14 of the Constitution.  That was why its assets had been frozen, but 10 per cent of the funds would be released.

Expert’s Questions and Comments

Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, requested further follow-up on the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association, asking whether it would continue its work.  More than 90 per cent of non-governmental organizations received more than 10 per cent of their funding from outsides sources, she pointed out, asking how many were still working in the country?  Which organizations had been consulted in the drafting of the periodic report?  Could certain high-profile organizations, such as Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch, be registered in Ethiopia under the new law?

Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, said she did not agree that leasing land to foreigners was a “great opportunity”, and did not understand the logic in depriving civil society and non-governmental organizations of foreign assistance for fear of dependence on foreigners.  There had been conflicting information on the land-leasing question, she said.  On the one hand, the delegation had said that no one had been evicted, but on the other hand, compensation had reportedly been paid to those removed.  Could the delegation provide clarification?  She also requested additional information on women in the informal sector.

MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERANDI, expert from Algeria, wondered if political parties in Ethiopia received State subsidies.  If so, could such subsidies be targeted to support female candidates in particular?

Ms. PIMENTEL, Chairperson and expert from Brazil, suggested that the delegation utilize the 28 general recommendations issued by the Committee, as they were very concrete in nature.

Delegation’s Responses

In response, a member of the delegation said that neither Amnesty International nor Human Rights Watch could be registered in Ethiopia.  They were not allowed under the Charities Proclamation law, “period”.  He clarified that the land leased to foreign corporations were in low-lying areas with very few settlements.  In the rare cases where settlements were displaced, all the rights of the residents were respected and compensation was provided.  He also noted that one year after the Proclamation’s enactment, local non-governmental organizations were not only still functioning, but flourishing.  More than 500 new civil society organizations had been registered during the year, and some older ones had reregistered.

Another delegate added that the Election Code of Conduct already provided for additional subsidies for political parties fielding female candidates.  Yet another delegate offered a list of some of the civil society organizations that had contributed to the drafting of Ethiopia’s report.  She emphasized that the State maintained good relations with the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association, among many other organizations.  Women’s problems could only be solved through their own committed engagement, she added.

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