1 February 2002


Press Release

Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

Twenty-sixth Session

549th Meeting (PM)

 and Round-up



Recommendations Adopted Concerning Fiji, Iceland, Estonia,

Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, Portugal, Russian Federation, Sri Lanka

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women concluded its three-week session this afternoon, having considered reports of eight States parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  As the Convention’s monitoring body, the Committee made recommendations for the advancement of women in Fiji, Iceland, Estonia, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, Portugal, Russian Federation and Sri Lanka. 

The recommendations of the Committee’s 23 expert members are contained in the final report for the Committee’s twenty-sixth session, which was adopted today.  The document is to be issued at a later date.  The outcome of the session also includes the Committee’s statements on solidarity with the women of Afghanistan and on ending discrimination against older women.  The former was transmitted to the interim leader of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, through the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, on 30 January. 

[After the Taliban took over Kabul in 1996, the international community learned of the severe limitations placed on Afghan women and girls.  At that point, the then Chairperson of the Committee, Ivanka Corti (Italy), was among those who expressed alarm at reports that Afghan women were being denied access to education and employment.  Now that international efforts are under way for the reconstruction and development of war-torn Afghanistan, members of the Committee have expressed full solidarity with, and respect for, the women of Afghanistan in their statement.]

Recognizing that Afghan women had suffered “every privation known to humankind”, losing all their fundamental human rights, particularly the right to life, education, health and work, the Committee stressed the importance of Afghan women’s participation “as full and equal partners with men” in the reconstruction and development of the country.  All parties concerned were called upon to respect internationally recognized principles, norms and standards of human rights, including those of women.  That was considered essential to achieve peace and stability in the country.  The human rights of women, as provided for in the

Convention (which Afghanistan signed in 1980) should guide all actions there in both the public and private spheres.

Two other statements adopted today are to be forwarded to the Preparatory Committees for the World Summit on Sustainable Development to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa, from 26 August to 4 September; and the World Assembly on Ageing in Madrid, Spain (8 to 12 April).  Subject to the availability of resources, the Committee also decided to nominate one of its members to attend the World Assembly on its behalf.  A similar decision was taken regarding the General Assembly special session on children, which is scheduled to take place on 8-10 May.

During the twenty-sixth session, the Committee also continued its work on the general recommendation on temporary special measures for the advancement of women under article 4 of the Convention, which would encourage legal and policy initiatives to accelerate de facto equality.  The members of the monitoring body agreed to hold an open discussion on the matter with representatives of various bodies of the United Nations system and non-governmental organizations next June.  Hanna Schopp-Schilling was authorized to prepare a draft general recommendation on article 4.1 of the Convention, to be submitted to the Secretariat prior to 31 October. 

In other action, the Committee finalized the draft model communications form on the Optional Protocol to the Convention, which entitles the Committee to conduct inquiries into grave or systematic violations of the Convention’s provisions and to consider individual and group petitions in those cases when all national remedies have been exhausted.

Also this afternoon, the Committee took action on the membership and dates of work of the pre-session working group and decided that, at its twenty-seventh session in June, it would consider the reports of Costa Rica, Congo, St. Kitts and Nevis, Belgium, Zambia, Tunisia, Ukraine and Denmark.  In the event that one of those States should be unable to present its report, the Committee will consider the initial report of Suriname. 

In conformity with General Assembly resolution 56/229, this year the Committee is also going to hold an exceptional session in August, during which -- as it was decided today -- the experts are going to take up the reports of Armenia, Czech Republic, Uganda, Guatemala, Barbados, Yemen, Argentina, Greece, Hungary, Mexico and Peru.  [The session is being held in order to reduce the backlog of reports awaiting review by the Committee.]  Decisions were also taken regarding the lists of reports to be considered during the Committee’s twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth sessions, which are going to be held next year.

In her closing remarks, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women Carolyn Hannan congratulated the experts on their achievements during the session.  The vibrant and constructive dialogue between the members of the Committee and the government representatives provided a framework for better implementation of the Convention, not only in the countries reviewed, but in the rest of the 168 States parties.  She was confident that the statement on solidarity with Afghan women would become an important tool for women in that country, especially as they lobbied for the ratification of the Convention there. 

She said the Committee’s contributions to the upcoming summits were also timely and should ensure that a gender-sensitive rights-based approach was integrated into the preparations for those events.  The forthcoming meeting of the expert group in Lund, Sweden, would provide the Committee with an opportunity to further reflect on its methods of work and ways of creating better conditions for the implementation of the Convention and the Committee’s recommendations.  The efforts of the inter-session working groups would lay the groundwork for the Committee's further efforts, including its work under the Optional Protocol.

She also informed the experts that during the session, two more States, Germany and Greece, had ratified the Optional Protocol, thus bringing the number of its States parties to 30.  Regarding the exceptional August session, she said that with the backlog (one of the major disincentives to reporting) removed, the Division would consider ways of encouraging reporting, particularly with regard to initial reports.

A closing statement was also made by the Committee’s Chairperson, Charlotte Abaka of Ghana, who said that the session had been fruitful and challenging.  As a result of mutual support, commitment and solidarity, the Committee had completed the tasks set before it.

Overview of Debate

During the Committee’s session, which began on 14 January, eight countries reported on their efforts to advance gender equality:  Fiji, Iceland, Estonia, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, Portugal, Russian Federation and Sri Lanka.  Delegations described their efforts to eliminate discrimination against women in the enjoyment of all civil, political, economic and cultural rights, as required by the Convention.  Both the achievements and drawbacks in the implementation of the provisions of the Convention became a subject of serious discussion during the Committee’s 21 open meetings held during the session. 

Although manifestations of gender inequality took various shapes in the countries presenting their cases to the Committee, domestic violence and prevalence of patriarchal stereotypes emerged as serious issues affecting most countries.  Besides legislative and political measures to ensure gender equality, the experts stressed the need for the collection of accurate statistics on violence against women and provision of training for law enforcement officials to handle cases of violence.  Also of great importance were measures of awareness-raising among the general public and education of women themselves. 

All the countries reporting to the Committee admitted that violence against women was a source of concern.  In Russia, for example, some 14,000 women died as a result of domestic violence each year.  Also, in Fiji, the first country of the Pacific region to report to the Committee, the custom of apology and reconciliation -- "bulu bulu" -- was legally accepted for the crime of rape.  Its acceptance, however, often caused women not to report such crimes as rape.  The Government was addressing the recurrent abuse of that custom by enhancing awareness of the practice. 

One of the experts cited Portugal’s efforts to understand the causes of violence as an example to other countries.  That country had not only introduced legislation to protect women victims of violence, but also had established prevention and support systems for women.  The representative of Portugal said, in particular, that outmoded visions of social relations between men and women often led to violence against women, segregation in the labour market and under-representation of women in the decision-making process.  Speakers in the debate noted the low number of men prosecuted and convicted for violence against women.  It was not proportionate to the high incidence of that phenomenon.

Great concern was expressed over the resurgence of traditional gender stereotypes towards women reported by Estonia, where according to a recent survey even most highly educated people believed that women should not participate in politics.  Responding to the experts' comments, the country representatives said that lately attitudes regarding women's role in society had begun to change.  Two thirds of the population admitted to the existence of discrimination against women in the labour market, and a special strategy was being drafted to address that matter.

The Committee members remarked on the striking contrast between Sri Lanka's many well-educated and accomplished women and boats full of people, who left that country "in practically slavery conditions" in search of work.  They noted Sri Lanka’s sincere efforts to implement the Convention, despite a long period of civil strife and economic difficulties, however.  Pointing out the measures to protect ethnic women undertaken by that country, the experts also stressed the need to educate women in conflict zones about their rights and grievance procedures.  Experts also noted that while several women had held the country’s presidency since 1994, they were still underrepresented at the decision-making level.

Although the status of women in Trinidad and Tobago compared favourably with that of other middle-income developing countries, women continued to be subject to a wide range of gender-based constraints there.  As stressed in the debate, well-educated women continued to be underpaid in every sector of employment, except when employed by the State.  The experts praised the Government for enacting equal opportunities legislation and other innovative laws to promote the advancement of women.

Experts also expressed great concern over the slow pace of the implementation of the Convention in Uruguay, saying that the country had not followed the guidelines for reporting under the Convention.  There was neither de facto nor de jure equality in Uruguay, one expert said, questioning the country's commitment to the implementation of the Convention.

While welcoming "visible achievements" in the implementation of the Convention in Iceland, members of the Committee questioned that country's decision not to incorporate the treaty into domestic law.  Also noted was a gender gap in pay and a high percentage of women in part-time jobs.  The speakers were impressed, however, with the participation of men in women's issues in Iceland and the country's excellent achievements in the field of education.

It was encouraging to see that the Government of the Russian Federation considered the recent radical transformation in the country “as a time of opportunity for women”, experts said.  It was important to ensure that the anti-discrimination process was not slowed down by periods of social transition, and that women’s rights were not violated or overlooked.  In the discussion of that country’s report, experts expressed their appreciation for the many policies and

mechanisms put in place for the advancement of women in Russia.  Many questions were asked about the situation of women in Chechnya.

Background on Committee

The Committee comprises 23 experts from around the world who, acting in their personal capacities, monitor compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.  This year, the Committee, which normally meets twice a year, will meet three times following the General Assembly’s approval to hold an extraordinary three-week session in 2002 to reduce the backlog of the country’s reports.

Previously, the Committee adopted general recommendations covering such issues as women's economic position; the impact of structural adjustment policies; maternity leave; measures taken to allow women to combine childbearing with employment; violence against women; the dissemination of the Convention and its provisions; and the extent to which NGOs have been incorporated into the process of preparing reports on the implementation of the Convention.  As of 31 May 2001, there were 24 general recommendations.  During the current session, the Committee continued its work on a twenty-fifth general recommendation.  The new recommendation will address article 4.1 of the Convention, on temporary special measures, aimed at accelerating de facto equality between men and women

Committee Membership

The 23 expert members of the Committee, serving in their personal capacities are:  Charlotte Abaka, Ghana; Ayse Feride Acar, Turkey; Sjamsiah Achmad, Indonesia; Emna Aouij, Tunisia; Ivanka Corti, Italy; Feng Cui, China; Naela Gabr, Egypt; Françoise Gaspard, France; María Yolanda Ferrer Gómez, Cuba; Aída González Martínez, Mexico; Savitri Goonesekere, Sri Lanka; Rosalyn Hazelle, Saint Kitts and Nevis; Fatima Kwaku, Nigeria; Rosario Manalo, Philippines; Göran Melander, Sweden; Mavivi Myakayaka-Manzini, South Africa; Frances Livingstone Raday, Israel; Zelmira Regazzoli, Argentina; Hanna Beate Schöpp-Schilling, Germany; Heisoo Shin, Republic of Korea; Maria Regina Tavares da Silva, Portugal; Fumiko Saiga, Japan; and Christine Kapalata, United Republic of Tanzania.

Committee Officers

The Committee's Bureau was elected in January 2001 for a term of two years.  Charlotte Abaka of Ghana is the Committee's Chairperson; Ayse Feride Acar of Turkey, Zelmira Regazzoli of Argentina and Rosario Manalo of the Philippines are its three Vice Chairpersons; Rosalyn Hazelle of St. Kitts and Nevis is the Committee's Rapporteur.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.