Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women
12 to 30 January 2004
Closing comments by
Ms. Feride Acar, Chairperson of the Committee
We have thus come to the end of the thirtieth session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. I am sure you will all agree that it was a very intense session during which the Committee not only reviewed the reports of eight States parties but also discussed and took action on a number of matters towards the overall goals of the Convention and its implementation in all States parties.
Let me begin with a word on the consideration of States parties reports. We have considered two initial reports, those of Bhutan and Kuwait. One of those reports was significantly delayed, the other somewhat less so. The Committee was very pleased to hold this first dialogue with these two reporting States, and was very happy with the commitment made, especially by Bhutan, of more regular reporting in the future. The Committee was also pleased to consider the periodic reports of Belarus, Ethiopia, Germany, Nepal, Nigeria and Kyrgyzstan. Several of the reporting States, including Ethiopia, Nigeria, Bhutan, and Nepal, were represented at a high level, led by Ministers, to present their reports and to engage in a constructive dialogue with the Committee. The Committee was also very pleased that the political leadership of several delegations was complemented by high-quality technical expertise. This allowed for a careful probing by the Committee of important aspects that either facilitate, or hinder, implementation of the Convention in those countries. I would like to thank all States parties for their useful and productive participation in this reporting exercise.
The Committee’s concluding comments will be, as usual, transmitted to States parties in the next few days and we request the reporting States to give wide publicity to these concluding comments, not only among public officials, but society at large. The Committee hopes and expects that these concluding comments will now be the basis for specific follow-up action in the area of legislative initiatives, policy and programme development, and administrative and other measures. In all instances, the Committee has emphasized the important role of civil society and in particular of women’s NGOs, in the promotion of women’s human rights and the implementation of the Convention. While reporting is of course an obligation of States parties under the Convention, the Committee encourages States parties to facilitate the active participation of civil society in the full implementation of the Convention. To that end, the Committee has urged States parties to cooperate more effectively with women’s NGOs in the implementation of the Convention and of the concluding comments. I should also like to stress that the Committee has pointed to the critical role of Parliamentarians, and has encouraged States to place priority emphasis on the implementation of the Convention in their legislative initiatives. In this regard, I would like to remind the room of the Handbook for Parliamentarians on the Convention, which was published last year jointly by the Division for the Advancement of Women and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), with the support of Ms. Francoise Gaspard, a member of this Committee. I understand that the UN language versions of the Handbook have been completed and will be available very soon. A Turkish language version will be launched shortly as well.
While the status of the implementation of the Convention is specific to each reporting State, several commonalities have once again emerged. This session, we have noticed a series of factors in all reporting States that continue to constitute challenges to the achievement of the goals of gender equality. Such factors could perhaps be grouped around the provisions of article 5 of the Convention, that is social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, and the persistence of prejudices and customary and other practices, or stereotyped roles of women and men that continue to make the achievement of gender equality an ongoing responsibility of all members of society. These factors take different forms in different countries: sometimes we are confronted with entrenched patriarchal and discriminatory values and attitudes towards women; sometimes we find that cultural, ethnic or religious diversity has come to function as an obstacle to achievement of gender equality; sometimes we see entrenched traditions that clearly circumscribe the space women may occupy in the public and in the private sphere. In all these instances, the Committee has taken the firm view that States parties have a clear obligation under the Convention to eliminate such discriminatory practices without delay. While tradition and culture are certainly sources of richness for a country, they cannot be allowed to function as impediments to women’s enjoyment of their human rights. States parties have an obligation to act forcefully and creatively to eliminate such discrimination de jure as well as de facto.
During its thirtieth session, the Committee noticed progress in many areas, such as legislative revisions in regard to penal codes, family and civil codes. It also assessed national action plans for gender equality, and sectoral policies as well as increasing efforts at gender mainstreaming. We have also seen that in some countries, courts are taking an increasingly active role, by using the Convention directly, to forge a jurisprudence of gender equality. At the same time, the Committee insisted with the States parties that much more emphasis must be placed in the reports and in the work at the national level on the impact of actions taken. We have encouraged States parties to set timetables for implementing particular actions, to prioritise their activities, and to monitor the impact of their policies and programmes so that corrective action can be taken. We have also emphasized with all States parties that there is a need for much greater awareness of the Convention and of women’s human rights. We have, consequently, encouraged States parties to undertake information campaigns to enhance knowledge about the rights of women, to also target men in these efforts and to strengthen the capacity of all concerned to act in support of women’s human rights and the implementation of the Convention.
The thirtieth session has also witnessed the culmination of efforts to elaborate and adopt a general recommendation on article 4, paragraph 1 of the Convention. I am particularly pleased that the Committee has adopted general recommendation 25 on temporary special measures at this session. I would like to thank all members who have actively contributed to the successful completion of this critical new general recommendation, but especially Ms. Schöpp-Schilling who has been the driving force behind this effort. I am confident that it will greatly facilitate the understanding of States parties and other interested actors on how to use temporary special measures – a critical tool indeed – in order to accelerate the de facto implementation of the Convention.
The Committee continued to review the effectiveness of its working methods. I am very pleased that we will be able to hold an informal meeting in May, at the invitation of the Government of the Netherlands and at the suggestion of Mr. Flinterman, in Utrecht, when we hope to have a very focused discussion on aspects of the reporting process, and the Committee’s working methods with a view to making them more effective and efficient.
I am also pleased with the Committee’s progress in its work under the Optional Protocol. Its Working Group on Communications under the Optional Protocol has now registered three communications, and we have continued to implement our mandate under article 8 of the Optional Protocol, to conduct inquiries into alleged grave or systematic violations of the rights protected under the Convention. I thank all the members of the Committee for their professionalism and hard work as the Committee implements these responsibilities.
During this session, the Committee has had opportunities to dialogue with a representative of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights from Geneva, Ms. Maria Francisca Ize Charrin, on issues of mutual ongoing interest pertaining to the reform of the human rights treaty system, and with Ms. Yakin Ertürk, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, on the matter of enhanced cooperation between the Committee and the Special Rapporteur. Both instances were fruitful and have given us reason to look forward to an even more effective and comprehensive role this Committee can be expected to play in the human rights system of the United Nations in the future.
During this session, the Committee focused its attention again on the situation of women in Iraq. The Committee noted a decision by the Governing Council of Iraq to repeal existing civil statutes governing issues related to marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance. We adopted a statement in support of the women of Iraq which draws attention to the fact that Iraq is a State party to the Convention and emphasizes the essential importance of women’s enjoyment of their human rights to the development of Iraqi society. The Committee calls on all responsible authorities in Iraq, with the assistance of the international community, to ensure full compliance with and implementation of all the provisions of the Convention.
As we conclude this thirtieth session, I should like to thank all of you very much for the hard work, team spirit and collegiality with which you have discharged your responsibilities as expert members of this Committee. I thank you for your clear focus on the mandate of the Committee and your efforts to implement that mandate in a forward-looking, principled and consistent manner. I extend my sincere gratitude to the members of the Bureau for their cooperation, constructive views and readiness to tackle difficult issues and help forge consensus in the Committee. I would also like to express my gratitude to the Secretariat. Under the very productive and competent leadership of Ms. Christine Brautigam, the Women’s Rights Section has once again provided us with quality support and made our load a lot easier to carry in these three weeks.
My particular thanks go to Ms. Angela King, for the unwavering support that this Committee has always enjoyed from her. I add our deep appreciation to Ms. Carolyn Hannan for all her efforts. I thank them both very much, once again, and wish them success in all the efforts they will continue to undertake for the cause of the world’s women here at the United Nations.
My sincere appreciation also goes to the interpreters and the conference servicing staff for their hard work during these three weeks, and a special word of gratitude to Jacques, who has kept us going with a steady supply of tea.
Thank you all very much, and I look forward to seeing you in July 2004.