31 January 1997


31 January 1997

Press Release


19970131 The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women concluded its sixteenth session this afternoon with the adoption of its final report, which contained concluding comments and recommendations on the reports presented by States parties. It also adopted, on principle, the report of its working group II and acted on the recommendations of its other working group charged with examining Committee work methods.

After adopting a number of recommendations by its working group I this morning, the Committee, which monitors the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, acted on the remaining issues, including guidelines for States parties in the formulation of reports and experts' areas of specialization. It continued its revision of its draft rules of procedure, particularly those governing reports on an exceptional basis.

The Committee also invited the Special Rapporteur on violence against women to report to it and asked the Secretariat to provide texts and the status of reservations entered by States parties.

Working group II advises the Committee on the implementation of article 21 of the Convention, which requires that the Committee report annually to the General Assembly on its activities and make recommendations based on the reports of States parties. During the current session, the working group made a number of comments and recommendations on the implementation of article 7, which obligates States parties to eliminate discrimination against women in political and public life and on article 8, which requires them to ensure women have an equal opportunity to represent their governments internationally.

The working group examined the reasons for women's low participation in political and public life, the role of different political systems and cultural and traditional factors. The working group stated that women must be able to exercise political and economic power on an equal basis with men at both international and international levels to protect their interests and advance society as a whole. It pointed out that, according to current

research, when women's participation in decision-making reached 30 to 35 per cent they had a real impact on political style and content, and political life was revitalized.

Although most States parties had constitutional or legal measures granting both men and women the equal right to vote in all elections and public referenda, the working pointed out that, in many nations, women experienced difficulties exercising that right. Their illiteracy, and failure to understand the rights, responsibilities and opportunities for change conferred by franchise, meant women did not always register to vote.

The working group said States parties should explain the reason for their reservations to the Convention, indicate whether they reflected traditional or stereotyped attitudes towards women's roles in society and the steps taken to change those attitudes. They should review their reservations and include in their reports a timetable to remove them.

The working group stated that under article 7, measures should: aim for a balance between women and men in public office; ensure women understood the importance of their right to vote and how to exercise it; and overcome such barriers as illiteracy, language and poverty. Other measures should ensure women's equal representation in formulating government policy. Non- governmental organizations and public and political associations should adopt strategies to encourage women's participation in their work.

When reporting under article 7, the working group said States parties should: describe legal provisions which give effect to the rights covered by the article; provide details on any legal, traditional, religious or cultural reasons for restricting them; describe measures to overcome barriers to exercise the rights; include statistical data, disaggregated by sex, showing the percentage of women compared to men who enjoy those rights; describe how women participate in policy formation; and provide information on women's underrepresentation in political parties, trade unions, employers organizations and professional associations.

Under article 8, according to the working group, measures should ensure a better gender balance in membership of all United Nations bodies, including the Main Committees of the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, treaty bodies and in appointments to independent working groups or as special rapporteurs.

The working group recommended that when reporting under article 8, States parties should: provide statistics on the percentage of women working in the foreign service; describe the processes for appointing and promoting women; and provide information on discrimination against women because of

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their political activities, whether as individuals or as members of organizations.

Also this afternoon, the Committee adopted the report of its former Chairperson on activities between the fifteenth and sixteenth sessions. Among the highlights was a Round Table on Human Rights Approaches to Women's Health, with a focus on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights, which was co- sponsored by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Division for the Advancement of Women and the Human Rights Committee and held in Glen Cove, New York, from 9 to 11 December. The Round Table was first time the chairpersons of the human rights treaty bodies had met to discuss thematic issues.

During the three-week session, which began on 13 January, the Committee heard and commented upon country reports from Morocco, Slovenia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Turkey, Venezuela, Philippines, Denmark, Canada and Zaire.

It also heard reports from a number of specialized agencies on Convention-related activities, reports by Committee focal points on the activities of other treaty bodies, as well as a report on the meeting of chairpersons of the treaty bodies. The Committee received an update on the progress of the working group of the Commission on the Status of Women, which was developing a draft optional protocol to the Convention that world allow individuals and groups to petition the Committee directly.

The Committee of experts, who serve in their personal capacity, monitors implementation of the Convention, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 1979, opened for signature in March 1980, and entered into force in 1981. The Convention -- ratified by 155 countries as of January 1997 -- requires States parties to eliminate discrimination against women in the enjoyment of all civil, political, economic and cultural rights. In pursuing the Convention's goals, States parties are encouraged to introduce affirmative action measures designed to promote equality between women and men.

Often described as an international bill of rights for women, the Convention, in its 30 articles, defines discrimination against women and provides an agenda for national action to end such discrimination. With 155 signatories, the Convention is now among the international human rights treaties with the largest number of ratifications. However, it is also among the treaties with the highest number of reservations by States parties.

Committee Recommendations on Country Reports

On the initial report of Morocco, the Committee welcomed efforts by the State party to revise and amend the personal status code, which contained a number of discriminatory provisions. However, it said, profound inequalities still affected the status of women in Morocco. Considerable discrimination

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existed in marriage, conjugal relations, divorce, child custody, punishment of adultery and the passing of nationality. Blatant discrimination also existed in the public sphere in regard to women's recruitment, wages and leave entitlements. In addition, no legislation was envisaged to protect women against all forms of violence.

The experts also expressed concern over the number and importance of Morocco's reservations to the Convention and the unlikelihood of their withdrawal, particularly the reservation to article 2 on legislative and constitutional measures which ensure the rights of women. Cultural characteristics could not be allowed to undermine the universality of human rights or prevent the adoption of appropriate measures in favour of women, the experts concluded.

The Committee recommended the consolidation of the principle of women's equality with men in all spheres in order to bring the Constitution of Morocco into line with relevant international norms. Specific machinery should be established to coordinate action in favour of women and prevent the persistence of discriminatory attitudes, prejudices and stereotypes. The Government should continue its efforts to modify and amend legislation that was still discriminatory and persevere in using the positive interpretation of sacred texts to give impetus to improving the status of women. Muslim culture, with its values of equality, justice and tolerance, could ensure the development and observance of women's rights, the Committee said.

In its commentary on the initial report of Slovenia, the Committee applauded the extensive human rights guarantees in the Constitution, in particular the guarantees for women, and welcomed the Government's efforts to eliminate stereotyped images of women. Those sex-stereotyped roles might become even more pervasive and persistent, because of the difficult economic, social and cultural changes faced by a country in transition. The Committee pointed out that market economies tended to favour male employees, who, by virtue of traditional roles and work allocation, were deemed unencumbered by family responsibilities. The high number of young unemployed women who were looking for a first job was a possible reflection of that phenomenon.

The Committee recommended that the ongoing revision of the laws should take account of hidden, indirect and structural discrimination. Temporary measures should be formulated in the fields of politics, education and employment to implement equality for women. New efforts should be directed at the political education of women and men -- and at political parties -- to ensure more effective measures to increase the representation of women at all levels of political life. Structured efforts should also be made to overcome the clustering of female students in certain disciplines at schools and universities.

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In the workplace, the Committee strongly recommended that revised labour legislation should contain equality and anti-discrimination provisions with strong sanctions for non-compliance. Temporary special measures with concrete numerical goals and timetables were also recommended to overcome employment segregation. Specific government-subsidized employment opportunities for young women, including quotas, should be created. Other suggested measures included the expansion of formal child care and the adoption of parental leave legislation, making part of the leave mandatory for the father.

Responding to the combined initial, second and third periodic reports of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Committee said its format was well- structured and provided excellent data. The current legal system in the country did not allow for the direct enforcement of the Convention and, as it was not part of domestic law, women could not fully exercise their rights under the Convention. Pervasive traditional, social, and cultural values, as well as behaviour, impeded the advancement of women. Rampant domestic violence was also of great concern to the Committee. The very high rate of unemployment among women increased their vulnerability to domestic violence. The economic situation contributed to the high rate of female migration outside the country, which also affected children and the elderly, the Committee stated.

The Committee expressed its concern that the Government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines had not made use of affirmative action measures to improve the status of women, particularly in the areas of employment and public service. The next report must indicate measures taken by the Government and the political parties to close the gap between de jure and de facto equality, particularly in the area of political decision-making and employment, the experts said. Also government, non-governmental organizations and churches must increase family-life education to curb the very high rates of pre-teen and teenage pregnancy. Further, the laws on abortion should be reviewed and the penal nature of the law removed; the law limited women's rights to choice and safe motherhood and to take control of their reproductive health.

In examining Turkey's consolidated second and third periodic reports, Committee members expressed deep concern with reservations to: article 9 regarding women's nationality rights; article 15 on property rights and their right to chose domicile; and article 16 on women's rights in marriage. Expressing concern over prolonged discussions of and resistance to reform of the Civil Code, the Committee urged the Government to facilitate and hasten the process so that the Law on Citizenship, the Civil Code and the Criminal and Penal Codes could be brought into conformity with articles of the Convention.

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Various provisions in the Penal Code, such as the differentiation between the rape of minors and majors and rape that violated virginity, as well as articles on abduction of single or married women and adultery, were in flagrant violation of article 2 of the Convention, the Committee said. Comprehensive legislation, public education campaigns and gender sensitive training for the police, judges, prosecutors and lawyers were urgently needed to combat widespread domestic violence.

Other areas of concern, said the Committee, were: the high level of illiteracy; the low minimum employment age in contravention of International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions; the high unemployment rate among migrant female workers and the lack of measures to integrate them into labour markets; the persistent occupational segregation in lower-paying jobs; women's limited access to microcredit facilities and the exclusion of married and single women from the Social Pension Fund. Rural women working in family enterprises were excluded from social security benefits, health services, including family planning, and educational and literacy programmes, the Committee stated.

The Committee, in examining Venezuela's third period report, said 77 per cent of the country's urban population and 75 per cent of rural population lived in poverty. That was the most serious obstacle to implementing the Convention. The economic situation was exacerbated by persistent, entrenched patriarchal patterns and stereotypes and prejudices against women. The Committee was extremely concerned at the absence of any practical plans at the grass-roots level to put forward women's demands and the difficulty of passing legislative proposals to meet their needs.

The experts stated that Venezuela had not made much real progress in implementing the Convention and, despite government efforts, there had been no effective response to such problems as domestic violence, prostitution, early pregnancy, female illiteracy, discriminatory wages, the high numbers of women receiving less than minimum wage and the elimination of stereotypes. There had been no change in the legal system which reinforced existing stereotypes. The Government had also failed to set up a national programme to implement the Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995).

Other areas of concern included: the reduction in health budgets; the rise in the maternal mortality rate; the lack of, or limited access to, public health services and family-planning programmes, especially for teenagers; the lack of statistics on AIDS; and the criminalization of abortion, even in cases of incest or rape. Because of cutbacks in the State employment sector, women had been forced into the informal job market and into low-paid service work. Although Venezuela had ratified the Convention without reservations, discrimination against women in citizenship rights continued. A husband could

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confer citizenship upon his spouse, but a women could not, which was in violation of article 9 of the Convention, said the Committee.

On the third and fourth periodic reports of the Philippines, the Committee commended the allocation of a given percentage of all governmental budgets to women-specific programmes and projects. Satisfaction was also expressed over programmes of credit assistance, legislation prohibiting sexual harassment, raising the minimum wage for domestic workers and increased maternity and paternity benefits. The Committee noted with concern the absence of monitoring mechanisms and indicators to measure the effect of government policies and programmes and legislation.

The Committee expressed grave concern about the economic reforms that had resulted in the growth of the gross national product (GNP), on one hand, and, on the other, an increasing gap between the rates of employment of women and men. Rural women appeared to be migrating to urban areas where unemployment was higher than ever, which could account for the large number of sex workers and the high proportion of women migrating as overseas contract workers. Deficiencies in the legal system on violence against women were also a matter of deep concern said the experts.

The Committee urged the Philippine Government to adopt a top-priority policy of creating safe and protected jobs for women as a viable economic alternative to current unemployment. The Government should also re-examine its economic policy, in light of indicators that economic growth was occurring while women were being widely marginalized and exploited. A national focal point should be established to provide information and support services to women before departure for overseas work. Appropriate measures for dealing with prostitution should focus on penalizing traffickers and creating job opportunities for the women.

In its consideration of the third periodic report of Denmark, the Committee acknowledged the country's exemplary commitment to high standards of gender equality. Concern was raised, however, about a tendency to de- emphasize affirmative action politics. The removal of quotas by political parties could represent a kind of "backlash". Stereotypical gender role perceptions continued to exist in society and were related to the persistence of attitudes and behaviour that kept women away from decision-making positions. The disproportionate effect of unemployment on women and the existence of a serious gender-based salary gap were matters of serious concern, said the Committee.

Affirmative-action measures should be maintained and strengthened in Denmark, particularly in the areas of reducing unemployment among women, ensuring equal pay for work of equal value and increasing participation in private-sector decision-making, said the experts. Each affirmative-action

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initiative should include quantitative targets, resources and time limits. More research should be conducted on the incidence of various forms of violence against women, and a specific law to combat such violence should be considered. The experts requested that information be included in the next report on such areas as: implementation on the Beijing Platform for Action; the numbers of women and men who work part-time and on flexible time; and steps by trade unions and business organizations to implement the principle of equal pay.

On the third and fourth periodic reports of Canada, the Committee noted that, although the Government had introduced many measures designed to improve the status of women, economic restructuring was seriously threatening to erode significant gains by Canadian women. Canada's landmark decision making gender-based violence a basis for granting asylum to women once again led the way for other countries.

The Committee expressed concern, though, that, while laws were in place to address violence against women, the incidence of such violence was not decreasing. The alarming levels of violence against Canadian women, in general, and sexually exploited women and girls, in particular, required urgent action. The rising teenage pregnancy rate and the trend towards privatization of health-care programmes, which could affect access and availability, were also areas of concern. There also appeared to be little understanding about the impact that economic and structural changes could have on women, or about the deepening poverty among women which was aggravated by the weakening of social assistance programmes. Methodologies to assess the progress in closing the gap in pay between men and women should be developed.

In addition, the Committee recommended that a comprehensive picture of the situation of aboriginal women should be provided, including their position in the labour force, their educational situation and a description and evaluation of federal and provincial programmes for aboriginal women. Future reports should integrate federal and provincial information in an article-by- article evaluation of the Government's compliance with the Convention.

Also during its sixteenth session, the Committee considered an oral report, presented on an extraordinary basis, by the representative of Zaire. The schedule had originally called for the initial report to be introduced at the sixteenth session. However, as a result of a breakdown in communication between New York and Kinshasa, the Government did not inform the Secretariat of its readiness to present its report. When the representative of Zaire arrived in New York expecting to present an initial report, the Committee agreed to the oral report on an exceptional basis. In the presentation, the representative of Zaire stated that eastern Zaire was in a state of rebellion, and as many as 600,000 Zairians, predominantly women and children, were displaced.

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The Committee reiterated that the oral report had been heard on an exceptional basis, as a matter of courtesy for the delegation of Zaire, and the regular report would be rescheduled. It expressed its particular concern for the situation of Zairian women in those areas where conflict occurred and refugee populations were high. The Committee regretted that the oral report had not sufficiently reflected the close link that existed between discrimination against women, gender-based violence and violation of the rights and fundamental freedoms of women, particularly in light of the current situation in the country.

Effective and immediate measures had not been taken to protect the physical and moral integrity of refugee women and of all women victims of armed conflicts, the Committee stated. Zaire's Government was encouraged to provide information in its subsequent report on the consequences of armed conflict within Zaire for the lives of Zairian women, as well as refugees coming from other countries neighbouring Zaire.

States Parties

The following 155 States have either ratified or acceded to the Convention, which entered into force on 3 September 1981: Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Latvia, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania and Luxembourg.

Also, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Sweden, Tajikistan, Thailand, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Yugoslavia, Zaire, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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Committee Membership

The 23 expert members of the Committee, serving in their personal capacity, are: Charlotte Abaka, of Ghana; Ayse Feride Acar, of Turkey; Emna Aouij, of Tunisia; Tendai Ruth Bare, of Zimbabwe; Desiree Patricia Bernard, of Guyana; Carlota Bustelo Garcia del Real, of Spain; Silvia Rose Cartwright, of New Zealand; Ivanka Corti, of Italy; Aurora Javate de Dios, of the Philippines; Miriam Yolanda Castillo, of Ecuador; Yolanda Ferrer Gomez, of Cuba; Aida Gonzalez Martinez, of Mexico; Sunaryati Hartono, of Indonesia; Salma Khan, of Bangladesh; Yung-Chung Kim, of the Republic of Korea; Ahoua Ouedraogo, of Burkina Faso; Anne Lise Ryel, of Norway; Ginko Sato, of Japan; Hanna Beate Schopp-Schilling, of Germany; Carmel Shalev, of Israel; Lin Shangzhen, of China; Kongit Sinegiorgis, of Ethiopia; and Mervat Tallaway, of Egypt.


Salma Khan (Bangladesh) was elected Chairperson. Elected as Vice- Chairpersons were Charlotte Abaka (Ghana), Carlota Bustelo del Real (Spain), Miriam Estrada Castillo (Ecuador), and, as Rapporteur, Aurora Javate de Dios (Philippines).

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For information media. Not an official record.