Constitutional Process in Nepal Considers Inclusion of Anti-Discrimination Measures, Minority Protections in Draft, Women’s Committee Assured
Constitutional Process in Nepal Considers Inclusion of Anti-Discrimination Measures, Minority Protections in Draft, Women’s Committee Assured
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
989th & 990th Meetings (AM & PM)
Constitutional Process in Nepal Considers Inclusion of Anti-Discrimination
Measures, Minority Protections in Draft, Women’s Committee Assured
‘We Will Go Forward, Not Backward,’ Pledges Delegation, but Committee Experts
Say Draft Lacks Definition of Discrimination, While Harmful Social Customs Persist
The delegation of Nepal today assured experts of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women that gender violence, discrimination and protection of minorities were being considered in the constitutional process under way and that strong measures were being taken to combat human trafficking and harmful social practices, as that country’s combined fourth and fifth periodic report came under review.
“We will always go forward, we will not go backward,” Gyan Chandra Acharya, Permanent Representative of Nepal to the United Nations and head of its delegation today, told the Committee that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, noting that the interim Constitution already included women’s fundamental rights and explicitly addressed ending gender discrimination and ensuring women’s proportionate participation in all parts of the State machinery, and included measures to be taken in respect of education, health care and employment.
Mr. Acharya said that, following the popular movement of April 2006, work on anti-discrimination measures and affirmative action had not waited until the end of the transition and the peace process, for which the participation of women was deemed indispensable. Accordingly, in May 2006, the House of Representatives had adopted a resolution calling for at least 33 per cent representation of women in all parts of the State structure, and shortly thereafter, 65 provisions in various existing acts found to be discriminatory against women had been either amended or appealed.
In addition, Parliament continued to work to pass new laws to advance gender equality and prohibit violence and discrimination against women, curb human trafficking and harmful social practices and prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. In development policy, gender considerations had been mainstreamed into all sectors and levels. Among programmes instituted to implement the Convention, he described welcome-to-school campaigns, maternity incentive schemes, micro-credit services, cash-transfer plans, policy-level consultations and community-based access-to-justice initiatives.
To confront violence against women, he said, the Government had made the issue a priority, with 2010 declared as the Year against Gender-Related Violence, a national action plan and efforts to raise awareness, establish referral mechanisms and extend services to the needy. Gender parity had been achieved in primary education and the gap in male and female literacy rates had narrowed. The 2010 progress report indicated that Nepal was on course to achieve many targets of the Millennium Development Goals, “provided that global support was scaled up consistent with our national efforts”.
However, there were still matters of concern that combined to lead to disempowerment of women, the delegation said. Early marriage, for instance, frequently deprived girls of schooling, took its toll on health and was likely to weaken the girl’s position in the family. However, with such achievements as parity in primary education, further progress would be made, as educated women were less likely to be vulnerable.
Following that presentation, Committee experts said that they were pleased at the progress made in light of the transition and the cultural complexity of the country. They expressed concern, however, over the status of international treaties such as the Convention in the new Constitution, as well as whether the new document would include strong provisions prohibiting discrimination and promoting women’s empowerment. They pointed out that there was no definition of discrimination in the new document.
As the Constitution was still being revised, the delegation said, they could not predict the language that would result, but assured experts that those issues were being addressed in drafting discussions. International treaties were in any case equivalent to domestic law, they said.
Many concerns were also raised about the situations of minority women, rural women and refugees. Mr. Acharya said there were multiple interventions to deal with that so-called “multiple discrimination” against women, nationalities and regional peoples. He said that no refugees were being deported, but were instead provided protection and shelter. However, in follow-up questions, the experts continued to raise concerns about acquisition of citizenship, identity papers and specific minorities.
Much attention was paid to efforts to prevent trafficking in persons, which the delegation acknowledged was still a severe problem, despite many initiatives to stop it, including legislation and awareness-raising, and cooperation at the international and bilateral levels. Much concern was also expressed over harmful social practices, such as payment of dowries, widespread son preference, witchcraft and polygamy, as well as early marriage. The delegation described the progress of draft legislation meant to counteract those traditions.
The experts also noted that women made up of only 13.29 per cent of the civil service and available figures showed equally low participation in other fields. They wondered about the efficacy of the 33 per cent quota. Mr. Acharya maintained that the quota effort had brought about a very big change, but the country had started from a very low base of 2-3 per cent of women’s participation in such jobs. Much more needed to be done to actually reach the minimum of 33 per cent participation, and it could not be accomplished overnight.
Problems and programmes for rural women, narrowing the large literacy gap between men and women, access to maternal health and sex education, interventions to prevent child and bonded labour, women’s land-owning rights and other issues were also highlighted by the experts. Mr. Acharya said that all such issues would be an ongoing concern of the Government, which intended to pay constant attention to the Convention and make progress in an integrated manner that would really make a difference on the ground.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women will meet again at 10 a.m. Thursday, 21 July, to consider the combined initial, second and third periodic reports of Djibouti.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to consider the combined fourth and fifth periodic reports of Nepal (document CEDAW/C/NPL/4-5).
Leading the Nepalese delegation was Gyan Chandra Acharya, Permanent Representative of Nepal to the United Nations, who was joined by Anand Raj Pokhrel, Secretary of the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare; Sudha Sharma, Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Population; Kedar Poudyal, Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Law and Justice; and Dilli Raj Ghimire, Joint Secretary of the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers.
The delegation also included Hari Poudyal, Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare; Sewa Adhikari, Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Laca Dev Awasthi, Director-General of the Department of Education; and Ram Lal Bishwokarma, Personal Secretary to the Minister for Women, Children and Social Welfare.
Joining them, from the National Women Commission, were Chair Nainakala Thapa and member Mohna Ansari.
Introduction of Report
Mr. ACHARYA, affirming that the preparation of the report provided a valuable opportunity to assess his country’s efforts to achieve its aspirations for a discrimination-free and empowered society, said that the Government had approved a holistic National Action Plan on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 2003, in consultation with all stakeholders as the basis of its implementation. The Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare was coordinating its implementation.
Following the popular movement of April 2006, he said, Nepal had undergone far-reaching political changes, with the Constituent Assembly in the final stage of drawing up a new Constitution. Work on anti-discrimination measures and affirmative action had not waited until the end of the transition and the peace process, for which the participation of women was deemed indispensable.
Accordingly, in May 2006, the House of Representatives had adopted a resolution calling for at least 33 per cent representation of women in all parts of the State structure, he noted. In September, 65 provisions in various existing acts that were found to be discriminatory against women had been either amended or appealed. The interim Constitution for the first time included women’s fundamental rights and explicitly addressed ending gender discrimination, ensuring women’s proportionate participation in all parts of the State machinery and taking special measures in respect of education, health care and employment. In addition, Parliament continued to pass new laws to advance gender equality, prohibit violence and discrimination against women, curb human trafficking and harmful social practices and prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
In development policy, he said, gender considerations had been mainstreamed in to all sectors and levels. Due to the 33 per cent minimum participation, women’s presence had increased in community-based organizations as well as in the civil service, the Nepal police and other institutions. More than 150 laws contained provisions promoting women’s involvement in various public spheres. The current three-year strategy aimed to further advance progress in all areas. The high level accorded the gender focal point in development ministries was indicative of the importance given to gender mainstreaming, which was also being ensured in decentralized planning and review. The Ministry of Finance coordinated gender-responsive budgeting, the Ministry of General Administration took the lead in affirmative action reforms and several ministries worked in cooperation to execute social inclusion, legal reform, health and women’s empowerment in the workplace, in close cooperation with non-governmental organizations.
Among programmes instituted to implement the Convention, he described welcome-to-school campaigns, maternity incentive schemes, micro-credit services, cash-transfer plans, policy-level consultations and community-based access to justice initiatives. The women development programme targeted an estimated 3.9 rural million women who had missed out on schooling or other opportunities, as well as adolescent girls, and helped to create forums for participation and fostering women’s micro-enterprise. Women had pulled together to fight discrimination and violence and create a force for social change. Many civil society programmes had augmented those efforts.
Efforts to mobilize additional funding for gender programmes had led to their gradual increase. In the 2011/12 budget, 19 per cent was allocated to women-related programmes and 45 per cent was targeted at closing the gender gap, he said. Laws required that at least 10 per cent of village development grants be spent on programmes directly related to women. He thanked United Nations agencies and other partners for their assistance in gender-specific programmes.
To confront violence against women, he said, the Government had made the issue a priority, with 2010 declared as the Year against Gender-Related Violence. A national action plan had also been developed, and efforts were under way to raise awareness, establish referral mechanisms and extend services to the needy. Women and children service cells had been created in district police offices, along with networks of community service centres with safe houses. Those networks would be further expanded, and an interministerial committee had been formed to oversee the implementation of the entire action plan. Anti-trafficking efforts had also been stepped up in coordination with efforts against domestic violence, given the linkage. Life skills and livelihood support programmes for vulnerable girls, as well as rehabilitation centres for trafficking survivors had been established in eight districts. A high-level support programme for a five-year action plan to implement Security Council resolutions 1325 (2000) and 1820 (2008) had also been set up.
As a result of all those efforts, poverty had been reduced and women’s life expectancy had increased to greater than that of men’s, he said. Maternal mortality had been reduced. Additionally, gender parity had been achieved in primary education, and the gap in male and female literacy rates had narrowed to 22.3 percentage points.
Experts’ Questions and Comments
Opening the question-and-answer session segment on the first articles of the Convention, PRAMILA PATTEN, expert member from Mauritius, expressed her disappointment that a discriminatory article concerning citizenship had not been repealed from the Nepalese Constitution, as recommended by the Committee in its last review. What plans were in place regarding that article? What was the time frame for the provision’s repeal in the Constitution, as well as that of the many other discriminatory terms that persisted in Nepalese law?
Concerning caste discrimination in Nepal, she requested information about the situation of Dalit, or low caste, women, who faced discrimination in areas such as education, employment, access to basic services, and many others. What measures were in place to rectify that situation? Was any legislation planned that specifically outlawed discrimination based on caste? Additionally, she reminded the delegation that Nepal should allow Tibetan women safe passage on their way through Nepal, and refrain from deportations. What measures were in place with regard to officials who committed sexual abuses?
DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert member from Croatia, asked about the planned status of international treaties in the country’s new Constitution. In the preliminary draft of that document, an article proposed that international agreements would be implemented as domestic law. What would be the status of those agreements in practice? Were they directly applicable?
She further wondered if the principle of gender equality was addressed by the Gender Equality Act of 2006. Would the new Constitution contain such a provision? Did Nepal’s current prohibition of discrimination include both direct and non-direct discrimination, and did it cover both State and non-State actors?
PATRICIA SCHULZ, expert member from Switzerland, commended the delegation for the “very deep, transformative process” under way in Nepal. However, questions remained. Had the country considered repealing laws that allowed for the deportation of Tibetan women in Nepal? Had it considered ratifying the United NationsConvention Relating to the Status of Refugees? What other measures were in place in that respect?
Further, did any national laws allow for compensation in cases of discrimination? Concerning the problem of multiple forms of discrimination, she wondered how Nepal dealt with the situation of women who, besides facing discrimination as females, also suffered from discrimination based on caste, clan, poverty, indigenous or other status. Noting that women suffered more from hunger in Nepal due to their “secondary status”, she also wondered how the country was addressing the basic right to food.
Turning to the Convention’s article 3, MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert member from Cuba, said that the information provided on measures aimed at strengthening the institutional machinery protecting women were not clear. Such information was scattered throughout the report, she said. For example, references existed to a 2006 gender strategy, as well as to a national action plan for the implementation of the Convention. Which, then, was the main plan for ensuring the empowerment of women in Nepal? Within the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, which was extremely broad based, which specific body dealt with women, and how was it structured? What resources or budget did it have?
What type of coordination existed between ministers in different sectors who were engaged in women’s empowerment? Who appointed those ministers, and to whom were they accountable? The report stated that all women working in the various ministries had received gender training, she noted. Why only women? How could the implementation of a gender perspective be ensured if all ministers did not receive relevant training? Finally, she requested more information on the Government’s stated view that it was “premature” to talk about the constitutional status of the women’s body mentioned in the report. On what grounds was that doubt was based?
Mr. ACHARYA said that the whole issue of nationality had been looked at from many perspectives and was under consideration during the constitution-making process. The high-level committee had been established to ensure that anti-discriminatory legal reforms were resolutely implemented and that existing laws were reviewed for discriminatory provisions. What he called “affirmative discrimination” was being promoted, however, to empower women. He had not heard the reports about refugees that had been referred to, but refugees had not been deported, according to a strict policy. Shelter and protection had been provided. They were not put into closed camps.
A delegate from the Ministry of Law and Justice reiterated descriptions of work ongoing for the Constitution and the elimination of discriminatory laws, as well as the efforts of the high-level committee overseeing the process. That body had proposed laws increasing punishment for marital rape and other sexual crimes, and preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. All legal codes were being reviewed for purposes of gender reforms. Transitional justice for victims of the recent armed conflict was also being addressed. Regulations on domestic relations and a bill on discrimination had been prepared by the Women’s Ministry.
A delegate from the Ministry of Health said that inclusiveness was the focus of the five-year plan that had begun last year, targeting marginalized groups and areas. She said that poor women and children were assisted by nutritional programmes, and worm infections were countered by special postnatal programmes. A recent nutritional assessment had shown areas in need of further actions, particularly in institution-building, funding and integrated approach. A development group had been formed to respond to those needs. She hoped to get additional support to address malnutrition.
A delegate from the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare restated the major national policy initiatives and programmes under the Ministry’s purview in all sectors. Describing the Ministry’s structure, the delegate said that there were 75 women’s offices. Training programmes targeting rural women were under the Ministry of Local Development. The Ministry monitored local-level activities, as well as gender-related activities of the line ministries.
Mr. ACHARYA added that 73 billion Nepalese rupees were directed to women-related programmes, or 22 per cent of the entire national budget. He said that international treaties were treated as national law. There were multiple interventions to deal with what so-called “multiple discrimination” against women, nationalities and regional peoples. The Ministry of Women ensured national coordination of all related programmes. Training was being carried out at all levels, with both women and men trained in appropriate skills.
Experts’ Questions and Comments
Ms. SCHULZ, expert from Switzerland, said that, despite the implementation of affirmative action measures in Nepal, information received from non-governmental organizations indicated that such measures were not regularly implemented. Could the delegation comment on that issue? Further, would Nepal consider making its successful special temporary measures — such as the implementation of a quota for women in Parliament — permanent? If that quota was retained, would it continue to require one third of Parliament to be filled by women, or would it aim for complete parity?
To address gender inequalities in the ownership of houses and land, would Nepal go beyond the one measure mentioned in the report, which called for the reduction by 25 per cent of land fees for women? That might be a way to efficiently address the right to food, as well as the equality of women. Regarding special temporary measures to counter multiple forms of discrimination, was the Government using a systematic approach to their implementation?
VIOLET TSISIGA AWORI, Committee Rapporteur and expert member from Kenya, noted that the delegation had admitted that discrimination was still “rampant” in many parts of Nepal. Many women did not even know that discrimination was illegal, she added, asking for information on any awareness-raising campaigns to increase women’s knowledge, particularly in rural areas.
Many harmful traditional practices were also still in place in the country, including the payment of dowries, widespread son preference, child marriage, witchcraft and polygamy. What measures were in place to counteract the use of those practices? Several draft bills to that effect had been mentioned in the report. Could the delegation elaborate on them, as well as on their progress in the legislative process? What was a likely timeframe for their implementation?
Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, asked what measures had been taken to counter impunity and strengthen accountability in cases of rape. What had been done to ensure the prosecution of sexual violence, including through the 2006 peace agreement? What had been done to strengthen the capacity of national institutions to prevent, counter and investigate such acts? Had such investigations been conducted, or any perpetrators brought to justice? She pointed to incidents of sexual abuse of internally displaced persons and refuges, especially in Bhutanese camps, and asked what measures were in place to address that problem?
Taking the floor next, NAELA MOHAMED GABR, expert member from Egypt, commended the strong partnership that was growing between Nepal and the United Nations human rights system. Nonetheless, gender stereotypes still prevailed in Nepal, and the patriarchal social system remained deeply entrenched. Could the delegation talk about methods identified to respond to those issues?
Regarding trafficking in women, which was a major problem in Nepal, she asked whether the country currently adhered to the Palermo Protocol or would potentially adhere to it. Was there a national entity coordinating Nepal’s various anti-trafficking activities? As women migrant workers were especially vulnerable to trafficking schemes, she hoped that Nepal was instituting programmes to alert them to their rights. She also requested information on any counselling programmes available to victims of trafficking, and asked the delegation to address Nepal’s relationship with the new International Labour Organization (ILO) convention on domestic workers.
Ms. AWORI, Rapporteur and expert from Kenya, asked whether any reliable data collection system was available on trafficking and prostitution in Nepal. While the 2007 Human Trafficking and Transportation Act was a good law, its problem now was implementation, she stressed.
Additionally, outside information before the Committee indicated that some Nepalese officials were involved in the facilitation of trafficking, including through the ownership of nightclubs and bars in Kathmandu, where trafficked women worked or stayed. The delegation’s report firmly denied those allegations, she noted, but reports of corruption continued to arise from varied sources. Could the delegation comment? Were any measures planned to investigate those allegations?
Mr. ACHARYA said many affirmative action policies were already in place, in sectors from legal reform to education. There had been a great change since 2005, with many targeted programmes instituted and ministries in place to coordinate and monitor them. A visitor would notice the change immediately. It was an ongoing process, however, and the time frame for the total achievement of all objectives could not be foreseen. There had been very strong awareness built, so there was no doubt that progress would continue, from the central to the local level. Getting rid of school fees for girls had been a major achievement and there had been major impact on the ground from all programmes, even in the most remote regions among the most vulnerable peoples.
As the country was mostly rural, he said, the focus was on the rural areas, and programmes for deprived and poor communities were centred there. In addition, traditional practices were strongest in rural areas, including dowry, polygamy and child marriage, all of which were addressed by recent efforts. Awareness programmes on the radio and other media had made a big difference in those areas. On gender-based violence, he reiterated that there were many institutional and programmatic initiatives.
Another delegate added that there was a zero-tolerance for gender-based violence in Nepal, which was the basis of the 2010 one-year action plan. Legal and policy measures had been developed to implement the plan under an interministerial coordination committee, which included civil society members. It had met many times and taken almost 100 decisions. An innovative monitoring mechanism was also in place, with a unit that received complaints to facilitate the resolution of individual violence issues. All 75 districts were involved in the effort and all districts also carried out efforts to counteract trafficking. Social awareness and protection centres for domestic violence had already provided services to nearly 1,000 women. There was a fund to assist victims of gender-based violence, and compensation was available to them. A manual of services was also available to direct women at the district level.
Another delegate said that legal measures were being taken to counter harmful social practices, bolstered by the efforts of non-governmental organizations. He also restated the institutional structure of gender efforts in the country, adding that there was a women’s policy parliamentary caucus group.
Mr. ACHARYA said that rape had never been used as a systematic weapon of war during the conflict, but some cases had been referred to the court system. He did not know of systematic violence against internally displaced persons or refugees. Trafficking in persons was related to poverty and harmful cultural practices. There was a strong national determination to deal with it via legal, institutional and support measures. He introduced a delegate who outlined the legal and institutional framework to fight trafficking at the central, district and local levels. There were many regional seminars to train officials on enforcing the national action plan on trafficking. There were eight rehabilitation centres for victims of trafficking set up in collaboration with non-governmental organizations.
He added that there was cooperation with other countries on trafficking. Overall, a tremendous effort was being made to counter the issue. There was no evidence of widespread participation of police officers in trafficking, with the few cases having been prosecuted. Women who went abroad to work received awareness training to fight trafficking, but it remained a big challenge.
Experts’ Questions and Comments
Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, said several questions remained unanswered with respect to the new Constitution. For example, what was the position of the Convention and other international treaties in the text and what anti-discrimination provisions would be included? Additionally, she noted that a new statute of limitation of 90 days had been instituted in prosecuting cases of rape, and asked if an exception would be made for rapes committed during the civil war.
SOLEDAD MURILLO DE LA VEGA, expert member from Spain, asked for more information about the law on gender-based violence, as the report omitted any reference to convictions and sentences for perpetrators of such violence. Further, the Committee had received reports of some 33,000 women who had disappeared and were presumably involved in trafficking schemes. What specific plans were in place to punish the traffickers and how were they penalized? What provisions were in place to ensure police prosecution? How many perpetrators had been found guilty and sentenced?
ZOHRA RASEKH, Committee Vice-Chairperson and expert member from Afghanistan, said Nepal had taken many actions aimed at abolishing violence and discrimination. However, without monitoring, follow-up plans, strong leadership and adequate resources, the situation of women would not change. With its Constitution still being drafted, Nepal was in a very good place to ensure that the implementation of those measures was in fact taking place.
Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, said a clear answer had not been given regarding the discriminatory article IX of the interim Constitution. Had it been removed from the draft? Additionally, had there been any investigation of violence committed against internally displaced persons and refugees? If so, had an “enabling environment” for such crimes been identified or subsequent actions to be taken to remedy it?
Ms. SCHULZ, expert from Switzerland, asked about measures to punish discrimination by non-State and private actors. A plan referring to “natural and unnatural acts” had been proposed for the Constitution, she noted, and asked about the Government’s position with regard to the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons?
Ms. GABR, expert from Egypt, again requested more information about Nepal’s view of the ILO convention on domestic workers.
The head of the delegation said that Nepal’s Treaty Act — which provided for the implementation of international conventions as if they were law — would remain in place even as the new Constitution came into force. The new document would include a specific section on the principle of equality between men and women, he said, adding: “we will always go forward; we will not go backward”.
No decision had yet been taken concerning the controversial article IX of the draft, he said. The delegation could not yet comment on the exact language since the drafting was not complete. With regard to the law on gender violence, he agreed that leadership was indeed very important. Committees had been created to sensitize high levels of Government on gender issues, which would trickle down to other levels. There was no policy or legal vacuum in that respect, he stressed.
With regard to the rights of lesbian gay, bisexual and transgender people, the Government was very sensitive to the issue, and several steps had been taken to prohibit discrimination. Concerning the ILO convention on domestic workers, Nepal hoped to hold several intensive multistakeholder dialogues in its upcoming consideration of the Convention and its provisions.
The Government was trying hard to establish a reliable data collection system, said a second delegate. It hoped that the 2011 census, which was now complete, would yield such data. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, among others, had created a working committee to collect information on human trafficking. Data-sharing was also under way with other countries. He listed various figures of court cases and convictions relating to trafficking.
The objective of the legal reform currently under way was to fulfil Nepal’s international obligations and to conform to international standards on equality, emphasized another member of the delegation. Nepal was committed to promoting the rights of minorities, and all discrimination on grounds of minority status were prohibited. Regarding the ILO convention, he said high-ranking advisers had recommended to the Government that it become a party to the agreement.
Concerning the 33,000 disappeared women, he explained that the number was based on 2001 census information, which did not distinguish between reasons for a child’s absence. There were many explanations for why children might not be present with their parents at the time of the census — not just trafficking. He urged the Committee to refer instead to the current census, which was more comprehensive. Efforts had been made to obtain as much specific information as possible on matters related to trafficking. In addition, many serious efforts to obtain reliable data were under way, including through partnership with non-governmental organizations, and more disaggregated data was expected soon.
Experts’ Questions and Comments
Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, asked if the small number of women in Parliament, the judiciary and other areas showed that the quota of 33 per cent participation was not working. She asked about the participation of indigenous women, as well.
OLINDA BAREIRO-BOBADILLA, expert member from Paraguay, asked for details about how participation worked out in the various chambers of the legislature. She asked for the number of female ministers, noting that the Minister for women’s issues was a man and that the delegation today was predominantly male.
MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERANDI, expert member from Algeria, asked about the situation of Dalit minority women, as well as for the number of female judges and women in local administration and the Human Rights Commission. She congratulated the country on being one of the very few that had ratified the women’s Convention without reservations.
YOKO HAYASHI, expert member from Japan, noted that only children whose parents were both Nepalese could be born with Nepalese citizenship. She asked how the country planned to counter statelessness that might have resulted from that provision and how many children had been naturalized. Lack of identity papers could make women vulnerable to many problems.
Mr. ACHARYA said he did not have all the statistics on hand concerning women’s participation in various fields. However, the quota effort had brought about a very big change. The country had started from a very low base of 2‑3 per cent women’s participation, but much more needed to be done to actually reach the minimum of 33 per cent. That could not be accomplished overnight.
The Secretary of the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare said Nepal had an elected assembly with an increasing percentage of female members. Under the current quota requiring one third of Parliament to be composed of women — which was imposed through a special temporary measure — a full 32 per cent of that body was made up of women. Additionally, 14 per cent of all civil service jobs were filled by women. While the quota in fact was temporary, he stressed that it was designed to move the political representation of women forward in the long term.
Turning to another question, he said that particular provisions protecting the rights of Dalits, indigenous women and women of other minorities were reflected in Nepal’s laws.
In 2010, a national action plan pursuant to Security Council resolutions 1325 (2000) and 1820 (2008) had been prepared in consultation with non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders, as well as with victims of the conflict themselves. It tackled not only post-conflict issues, but also general issues relating to gender empowerment, aiming to ensure that women were at the forefront of post-conflict development.
Returning to the question of women in positions of political leadership, he noted that there was a strong gender-sensitization process under way within political parties. Nonetheless, there remained “a long way to go”. In response to one expert, who had asked why the Minister of Women, Children and Social Welfare was a man, he said that a woman had initially been elected to that position, but had chosen not to accept the role.
With regard to the imbalance in the number of male and female ministers in general, he said that the situation was unavoidable at the moment, adding, “that is reality”. The Government had tried its best and hoped the ratio of female ministers would improve in the future. Additionally, while there was only one female Nepalese ambassador presently, there were several new posts opening, and the number of female ambassadors should improve “sooner rather than later”.
Several issues had been raised relating to Nepal’s ethnic and national diversity, the delegate noted. Because of that wide diversity, he said, the country had imposed proportional representation in the Parliament to ensure that all were represented; there were 49 Members of Parliament from the Dalit community, for example, 22 of whom were women. The same rule of proportion applied to the local levels of government, and there were now many women active in local parliaments. Again, those quotas were temporary in nature, but it was hoped they would bring about long-lasting change.
With regard to the high-level task force addressed by several experts, a number of changes had been made, he said. Nonetheless, some matters — including those relating to nationality — needed to be considered by the Constitutional Assembly itself. Finally, he clarified that, in terms of the naturalization process, a “citizenship certificate” was also available, not only from the father’s side of the family, but also from the mother’s side. No law prohibited married women from obtaining citizenship simply because she lacked her husband’s consent.
Experts’ Questions and Comments
Ms. HAYASHI, expert from Japan, commending progress in girls’ education, but noting that many challenges remained, asked whether the act on obligatory education that was being developed included free education until secondary school. Citing reports of high dropout rates, she asked what additional solutions were being sought. She also asked if sex education was included in the curriculum.
BARBARA EVELYN BAILEY, expert member from Jamaica, noted that the literacy gap had been narrowed, but was still wide, particularly among vulnerable women, and asked what measures were being taken to address that. She also noted that female teachers only made up less than 30 per cent of staff and asked whether that contributed to sexual exploitation and the dropout rate of girls. She also asked if efforts were being made to keep girls who had married early in school.
NIKLAS BRUUN, expert member from Finland, noted low women’s employment and pay rates in the formal employment sector and asked what was being done about it and when long-pending legislation on harassment in the workplace would be adopted. He also asked about measures addressing child and bonded labour, which was common among an indigenous group. Even if that had been outlawed, there were reports that the practice still existed.
Ms. RASEKH, Vice-Chairperson and expert from Afghanistan, asked whether or not there was a ban on women leaving the country to do domestic work and, if so, why, noting that women then had to go through informal channels in which they were vulnerable to trafficking and other exploitation.
Ms. MURILLO DE LA VEGA, expert from Spain, commented that there seemed to be a large number of women leaving the country, which had many implications. She asked whether proportional opportunities in the forestry sector were guaranteed for women, and what kind of training was available for them in various other areas. She also asked whether co-ownership of property between women and men was being considered. Noting that more Nepalese men seemed to be working in the Nepalese household than in the Spanish household, she sought information on regulations related to domestic work.
VICTORIA POPESCU, Committee Vice-Chairperson and expert member from Romania, noting rights to health services, asked about reports of lack of access to such services by many poor and vulnerable women. She asked what plans existed to facilitate access to those, as well as to maternity services. She also asked what was being done to reduce the health problems of young mothers and to ensure access to family planning and safe abortions. She also requested the delegation to address HIV issues, as well as trauma suffered by women affected by conflict.
SILVIA PIMENTEL, Committee Chairperson and expert member from Brazil, asked about efforts to ensure that all women in Nepal had access to contraceptives.
Ms. RASEKH, Vice-Chairperson and expert from Afghanistan, stressed the need to reduce the maternal mortality rate, asking about initiatives in that area in general and as regarding young mothers. She also asked about frozen funding for some programmes, including to address food and nutrition, as well as economic independence programmes for rural women.
ISMAT JAHAN, expert member from Bangladesh, asked about programmes to empower women to gain access to services and how the increase of the representation of women in certain local-level forums was being carried out. She pointed to a gap in access to training and technology, and commented that the right to food must be extended to all women, particularly female heads of household. Access to safe drinking water, alternative fuels and justice were also needed, as were land rights. She asked what had been done to promote women’s awareness of their legal rights.
RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert member from Israel, asked about the framework for divorce proceedings and awareness of rights in that area. She also sought clarification on measures to prevent bigamy, as well as for details on the regime concerning division of property between divorcing spouses and about the rights of daughters to inherit property. She also asked about rights for same-sex couples.
In response, a delegate from the Department of Education told the Committee that gender gaps in education could largely be connected with regional differences and related factors. Additionally, the completion of schooling for girls was a major challenge across the country. The Government, therefore, was implementing a series of scholarships schemes, material incentives and social and other interventions, with a special focus on girls.
He said the 2011 budget indicated that there would be free education up to grade 12, he said, and that special emphasis would be placed on ensuring that girls continued their education through that final grade. In addition, vacant teaching posts were now being filled exclusively by female teachers, whose engagement was closely linked to the success of girl students. Starting in 2012, a new special support programme to keep girls in schools was planned, making use of “poverty-means testing” and other successful methods.
The lack of retention of female students was also linked to their perception of school as an “alien environment”, he continued. In response, “mother tongue” education and other targeted measures were being imposed. A “continuous assessment system”, through which no final examination was required, would also be employed, as the exam posed a challenge to many girl students. Special re-entry programmes were geared to those female students who bore particular social and family responsibilities and were forced to leave school. Finally, the multipronged approach included local support in the form of networks of parents, teachers and non-governmental organizations.
Sex education was in place beginning in the lower secondary grades, he explained. As literacy remained a major challenge, a new strategy — including the case-by-case identification of all illiterate populations across Nepal — was slated to begin in 2012. Targeted education and livelihood development programmes were in gear, with the support of non-governmental organizations.
The head of the delegation added that no particular pattern of sexual abuse in schools had been noted. Regarding child labour, he also noted that Nepal had a long-standing partnership with ILO, which had led to “very extensive support” from the international community. Strong national mechanisms had also been developed in that area; as a result, the problem, once a major challenge, had been drastically reduced. Addressing other areas of labour, he said that discussions had commenced with all relevant stakeholders on matters concerning domestic work. Comprehensive programmes had been instituted to counter the bonded labour system, as well as to support victims coming out of it.
Taking the floor, a delegate from the Office of the Prime Minister said that technical education and vocational training was being widely provided, and many non-collateral loan schemes were being put in place. Priority for that training was given to conflict victims and members of other vulnerable groups. More than 20,000 people had received vocational training in 2008-2009, and a comparable number would be trained in the next two years.
A social capital development fund was in place and had helped more than 500,000 people, he said, with more than 13,000 income-generation projects created. Many of the fund’s recipients were members of the Dalit or other minority communities. Additionally, legislation was being designed to protect the principle of “equal work for equal pay”, in the spirit of the Convention. Finally, he presented some data on bonded labour, including the fact that more than 27,000 out of 31,000 former labourers had been rehabilitated. The Government had also applied an emergency child rescue and rehabilitation fund and a 10-year action plan to support and protect former child labourers.
The safety and security of migrant women in destination countries also remained a major source of concern. Some targeted measures had been implemented in that regard, he said.
Another delegate noted that free health care was guaranteed to all in Nepal, with special outreach programmes aimed at rural and remote communities. Campaigns to raise awareness of access to health services were aimed at such districts. There were signs that progress had been made in reducing maternal mortality, and Nepal believed that it was on track to achieve Millennium Development Goal on maternal health by 2015.
Over 95 per cent of providers of maternal health were women, she continued. Starting in 2005, Nepal had provided cash incentives, especially in transport support costs, for women to give birth in medical facilities. Starting in 2007, free delivery care was available to all women. Many additional birthing facilities were being created around the country, and more midwives and birth attendants were trained. There were new incentive schemes for doctors to work in remote areas. In recent years, the average percentage of births that took place in medical facilities had risen from 19 to 38 per cent. Family planning programmes were widely available, with a special focus on adolescent mothers, and the country’s total fertility rate had also dropped.
Additionally, regarding the prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission, prophylactics were provided to pregnant women in order to prevent transmission. That programme was expanding, she said.
Responding to a question about the public participation of women in rural areas, the head of the delegation said that the Local Self-Governance Act had a strong provision for the participation of all people, including women. The new Constitution would also set in motion new programmes supporting the political participation of women at the local and village levels.
Regarding the collection of firewood and water, he said that biogas was one of the most successful programmes in Nepal, and had brought about major change in many villages — in particular by reducing walking time once needed to gather resources. Rural water programmes had also been successful and were being scaled up to reach more communities.
With regard to paralegal assistance, he stressed that a full legal structure was not possible in all places. In non-criminal cases, for example, paralegal provisions were very useful. A colleague from the Ministry of Justice then discussed programmes for enhancing rural women’s access to the justice system. Free legal aid was guaranteed to all Nepalese, while various other agencies and partners contributed to providing legal aid in several specific areas.
A bill was close to being enacted for the prohibition of bigamy, he said, and a law was already in place providing equal access to property for both husband and wife. The Government was conducting a study related to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, but no provision of same-sex marriage presently existed.
Another delegate said that the Government’s abortion provision programme was a success story, with some 402,000 women having been assisted with legal abortions as of June 2010. Medical abortions were also available in Nepal, she added.
Experts’ Questions and Comments
Ms. RASEKH, Vice-Chairperson and expert from Afghanistan, said that there was no definition of discrimination in the interim Constitution and asked whether there would be one in the new document, and if there would be any additional measures to prevent statelessness.
Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, noting that there was no definition of discrimination in the interim Constitution, asked if that lack was being addressed in the drafting process for the new one.
Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, asked about impunity for rapes committed during the war, noting the 90-day statute of limitation on rape charges.
Ms. BAREIRO-BOBADILLA, expert from Paraguay, asked if there was a time limit on drafting the Constitution and said it might be best to send recommendations directly to the Constituent Assembly during the drafting process.
Mr. ACHARYA said he had taken note of comments on the discrimination and citizenship issue in relationship to the Constitution. Those recommendations would definitely be taken into consideration. In regard to women’s participation in the process, he pointed to what he had already said. Inclusiveness and empowerment started from the top, but had to be extended to the middle and lower levels.
In conclusion, he said that issues under the Convention would be a constant concern of the Government, which intended to make progress in an integrated manner that would really make a difference on the ground, reiterating that there had been much improvement. Any lag in implementation did not show a lack of commitment, but a lack of resources, infrastructure and institutional capability. Serving women in areas without roads was difficult, for example, but his Government aimed to do everything to improve the situation for women and in a comprehensive manner.
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