6 August 2002


Press Release

Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

569th and 570th Meetings (AM & PM)


Exceptional Session Concludes Consideration of First Country Report

Despite significant steps by the Government of Mexico to fulfil its commitments under the Convention on All Forms of Discrimination against Women, discrimination against women remained a constant that violated the principles of equality and respect for human dignity and profoundly influenced the development of Mexican society, a representative of that country told the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today.

Introducing Mexico’s fifth periodic report, Patricia Espinosa, President of the National Institute for Mexican Women, said the Institute was the outcome of several decades of intense work by Mexican women and had acquired the status of a decentralized organ of the Federal Government.  The priority fight against domestic violence had led to the implementation of various measures by the Institute.  In addition, the Health Ministry was designing an integrated prevention, detection and attention model for domestic violence, sexual aggression and violence against women, she told the Committee. 

Comprising 23 experts who serve in their personal capacities, the Committee monitors implementation of the 1980 Convention by its 170 States parties.  The treaty's preamble and 30 articles define discrimination against women and set an agenda for national action.  The current session of the Committee, due to conclude on 23 August, was convened on an exceptional basis to reduce the backlog of reports submitted by States parties.

Besides the report of Mexico, the current exceptional session of the Committee's experts will also consider those of Argentina (fourth and fifth periodic reports); Armenia (second); Barbados (fourth); Czech Republic (second); Greece (fourth and fifth); Guatemala (combined third and fourth, and fifth periodic reports); Hungary (combined fourth and fifth periodic reports); Peru (fifth); Uganda (third); and Yemen (fourth and fifth).

Ms. Espinosa said the Mexican Government clearly understood that democratization could not prosper without the participation of women, under equal conditions, in all aspects of the nation’s life.  Among the principal challenges facing the current administration in that regard were:  fostering a culture of non-violence, with particular attention to indigenous women; bringing judicial practice in line with international instruments concerning the protection and

promotion of women’s rights; motivating changes in sexist and discriminatory

practices; and incorporating a gender approach into public spending and budgeting.

Responding to her presentation, experts congratulated the Mexican Government on its detailed report and its ratification of the Convention's Optional Protocol.  One expert worried, however, that progress had been “very slow” and had not reached most women in Mexico.  Ways should be found to accelerate implementation of the gender perspective legislation of 1997 throughout the country’s 32 states.  Experts also asked if the Institute’s budget was sufficient and whether its decentralized structure was effective.

Other comments focused on advancing the Committee’s prior recommendation to reduce poverty.  Specifically, one expert asked how many women, including heads of households, had benefited from the poverty reduction programme of 1997, and whether that programme had been implemented with regard to indigenous women.  Several comments concerned implementation of article 6 of the Convention, on the suppression of trafficking and prostitution.  In light of the action plan to eradicate the commercial exploitation of minors, another expert asked how many persons had been charged with exploiting girl children, through sales, trafficking or pornography.

In a general response to the experts, Ms. Espinosa acknowledged the persistence of a discriminatory culture and the failings of a “gender culture” in Mexico.  The level of women’s involvement was not always enough, and their work was not fully valued.  But, trends favouring change were evolving, and the Institute was engaged in accelerating the pace of that change.  She and several other members of the Mexican delegation also replied to specific questions.

Charlotte Abaka (Ghana), Committee Chairperson, announced at the outset of today’s meeting that, in accordance with a prior decision of the Committee, Aida Gonzales Martinez, expert from Mexico, would not participate in the consideration of her country's report.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 7 August, to begin its consideration of the report of Armenia.


Meeting this morning to begin its consideration of country reports, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) took up the fifth periodic report submitted by Mexico (document CEDAW/C/MEX/5), which covers the period from February 1998 to October 2000.

The report was prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Coordinating Office of the National Commission for Women on the basis of information provided for use in various reports, including progress reports of the National Programme for Women.  The document contains information on the programmes and policies adopted by the Government and on those developed jointly by government agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) under the National Programme for Women 1995-2000, as well as on the activities and programmes implemented directly by Mexican NGOs. 

There are three sections in the report.  The first contains Government responses to the recommendations made by the Committee regarding Mexico's combined third and fourth reports.  The second part describes the progress made and actions implemented during the period, with regard to the country's implementation of the 18 articles of the Convention.  Part III gives information regarding the critical areas of concern of the Beijing Platform for Action with respect to women and the girl child and the environment, the participation of the non-governmental sector, as well as the recommendations made by government agencies and civil society regarding implementation.

Under general demographic information, the report states that the country's population rose by around 16.1 million between 1990 and 2000, at an average annual rate of 1.9 per cent, increasing at an average annual rate of 2.1 per cent between 1990 and 1995, and falling at an average annual rate of 1.6 per cent during the last five years.  As a result of that population increase, Mexico is now the eleventh most highly populated nation in the world.  Presently, 74.7 per cent of Mexicans live in towns of more than 2,500 inhabitants and are regarded, therefore, as belonging to the urban population. 

The report notes that there are 95 males to every 100 females, down from

97 males to every 100 females in 1990.  This suggests that the lower number of males currently observed is partly the consequence of migration abroad, which is a predominantly male phenomenon.  With the exception of three federal states, women outnumber men in all parts of the country.  Where the proportion widens, it is believed that migratory flow patterns, which differ by gender, are the main reason.

A number of relevant legislative changes are documented in the report.  Under the regime of property separation in divorce, for instance, a spouse has the right to request that the other spouse pay compensation of up to 50 per cent of the value of property that has been acquired during the marriage, if the plaintiff has dedicated himself or herself predominantly to the performance of domestic chores and, if applicable, to the care of the children.  In the case of judicial divorce arising as a result of domestic violence, new provisions of the Civil Code stipulate that the guilty spouse shall pay alimony to the innocent spouse who lacks property or who was dedicated to the domestic chores or care of the children, or who was unable to work. 

Another amended article stipulates that physical and psychological violence are grounds for annulling the marriage if:  the violence threatens an individual's life, honour, liberty, health or property; it is perpetrated against the spouse or persons under their custody at the time the marriage was celebrated; or that violence existed at the time the marriage was celebrated.  In addition, a number of procedures have been introduced under which provisional measures may be decreed with a view to protecting women and family patrimony in cases of divorce, including forbidding the use of the family home.

Introduction of Report

PATRICIA ESPINOSA TORRES, President of the National Institute for Mexican Women, introduced her country's representatives and presented a video produced by the National Women’s Institute.  According to the video, the Institute was the outcome of several decades of intense work by Mexican women and had acquired the status of a decentralized organism of the Federal Government under the present administration.

The Institute had organized 54 consultation forums and created the National Programme for Equality of Opportunities and Non-discrimination Against Women (Proequidad).  It had also organized 72 events as well as meetings with officials in charge of implementing gender policies in the different state ministries, among other things.  It had sponsored training and development courses and provided counseling to incorporate gender perspective in the plans and programmes of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of the Interior's Political Development Directorate.

Further, according to the video, the Institute had promoted the approval of the Facultative Protocol of the Convention, which represented a significant step forward in the area of human rights and in the eradication of discrimination against women.  All those activities were tangible evidence of the work carried out by the Institute during its first year of struggle to promote equal opportunities and non-discrimination against women in Mexico.

Following the video, Ms. Espinosa said that in the 20 years since Mexico had signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women on 17 July 1980, Mexico had taken significant steps to fulfil the commitments undertaken.  Nevertheless, discrimination against women continued to be a constant that violated the principles of equality and respect for human dignity, thus hindering women’s participation in society, constituting an obstacle to social welfare and profoundly influencing the development of society as a whole.

She said since July 2000, Mexico had been in a process of democratic transition, which might be defined as a transformation in the exercise of government and a change in the relationships of government with civil society and the international community.  It now enjoyed economic stability and investor confidence.

The country already had legislation prohibiting all forms of discrimination, in particular gender discrimination, which had been enshrined in the Constitution on 14 August 2001, she said.  The Government clearly understood that democratization could not prosper without the participation of women, under equal conditions, in all aspects of the nation’s life, unless women could exercise their human rights as fully as men did.

She said that the National Women’s Institute, created during the first months of the new administration, had the mandate to foster, in society and in its institutions, a culture of gender equity.  One of the most important advances had been the strengthening of institutions in matters of gender.  As a mechanism of evaluation and follow-up of the Executive’s compliance with commitments on gender issues, the Inter–institutional Panel of Gender Liaisons had been created, comprising members responsible for institutionalizing a gender perspective in their respective government departments.  The Institute was also working with women’s organizations at the State level on the task of institutionalization. Municipal governments were also working on the incorporation of gender perspectives into their administrations.

The Institute was well aware of the pressing need for accurate measuring, diagnostic and follow-up tools in matters of gender equity, she said.  It was in the process of creating a Gender Indicators Model to evaluate the living conditions of women, the institutionalization of a gender perspective in the State and the positioning of women in decision-making bodies.  During the present legislature, 30 pieces of legislation had been tabled dealing with matters affecting women, such as political participation, sexual harassment, job discrimination and violence.

On 15 March, she said, the ratification of the Convention’s Optional Protocol had been placed before the General Assembly.  The Government had designed and implemented various national programmes to combat gender roles and stereotypes in the country.  It had created a scholarship programme to close the gap between the number of girls and boys who remained in the educational system, as well as the Women and Health Programme within the Ministry of Health.

Noting that the fight against violence was one of the priorities of Proequidad, she said the Institute had implemented measures aimed at reducing violence and waged campaigns against gender violence.  In the framework of the Women and Health Programme, the Ministry of Health was designing an integrated prevention, detection and attention model for domestic violence, sexual aggression and violence against women.

In order to eradicate the traffic in and prostitution of women across the country, she said, several measures had been implemented.  Two ratification instruments of the Optional Protocols of the Convention on the Rights of the Child had been placed before the United Nations Secretary-General:  Involvement of Children in Armed Conflicts and the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography.

The Federal Government had made an enormous effort to build a new relationship between the State, Mexico’s indigenous peoples and society as a whole, she said.  Among actions in that regard, she cited a constitutional amendment to the Indigenous Plan, which recognized the backward social and economic conditions of the indigenous peoples, and a Ministry of Social Development training programme for the strengthening of civil society and social participation.

She said that among the principal challenges facing the current administration in ensuring progress and empowerment for women were:  fostering a culture of non-violence in the resolution and prevention of conflicts with respect to women’s rights and with particular attention to those of indigenous women; bringing Mexican judicial practice in line with international treaties and agreements signed and ratified concerning the defence, protection and promotion of women’s rights; fostering changes in sexist and discriminatory attitudes, values and practices; and incorporating a gender approach into public spending and budgeting.

Regarding other challenges, she cited modernizing labour legislation; promoting compensation programmes to allow women equal access to job opportunities; ensuring that rural and indigenous women and those living in poorer municipalities had access to health and education services; creating reliable indicators to measure the conditions of women in the various social sectors; and fostering fuller participation of women in decision-making and political life.

Comments and Questions by Experts

Experts congratulated the Mexican Government on its detailed and informative report and for ratifying the Convention’s Optional Protocol.

ZELMIRA REGAZZOLI, expert from Argentina, said progress had seemed to be “very slow” and had not appeared to have reached most women in Mexico.  Ways should be found to speed up implementation in the various federal states to ensure integration of a gender perspective at all levels.  Reforms to the so-called gender perspective legislation, which began in 1997, had only achieved some changes in 16 states, very little in 12, and none at all in four states.  Was the budget for the National Women’s Institute really enough and was the decentralized structure truly sufficient?  Why was there no concrete data on whether or not the Convention had been used in legal court cases?  It seemed that Mexican women were unfamiliar with the Convention and, therefore, unaware of their rights, she said.

MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, turning to women’s political participation, noted that representation had increased slightly in the Senate, but decreased in the Chamber of Deputies.  She asked whether that related to women’s place in the candidates’ list.  Also, the participation of women in local government was really very low.  Had the measures that had been intended for national elections been applied also to local elections?

Regarding article 6, on the suppression of trafficking and prostitution, she said no information had been provided about prostitution and the data on trafficking addressed the issue solely from the point of view of children. 

YOLANDA FERRER GOMEZ, expert from Cuba, asked about the current status of the National Institute for Women.  Specifically, what sort of budget had been allocated and what percentage of the federal budget was earmarked for the Institute?  She was unclear as to whether the Institute was truly functioning at the ministerial level.  The interactive follow-up system for the Convention was a very interesting initiative, and she was pleased that the Institute had embraced that very important project.  On the issue of poverty, she noted that one of the Committee’s recommendations for Mexico had referred to the tremendous need to reduce poverty levels.  As a result of the implementation of neo-liberal policies, the figures for poverty were increasing daily. 

Noting that the report mentioned the promotion of a variety of activities leading to the creation of jobs, scholarships and health-related activities, she asked whether there was any assessment of the outcome of the 1997 poverty reduction programme.  How many women had benefited from that, including women heads of households?  Had that been implemented across the board, including for indigenous persons, in areas of education, health, employment, food and so forth?  The export of children aged 12 to 14, for sexual and other purposes was a grave concern.  What had been the result of the many campaigns to increase public awareness of that problem? she asked.

FRANCES LIVINGSTONE RADAY, expert from Israel, sought more information on implementation and enforcement of the amended federal criminal code and other improvements for girl children, specifically girl street children, and the action plan to eradicate the commercial exploitation of minors.  She was concerned about the mention in the report that the girl child was not a priority in many Government programmes.  How many prosecutions had been brought under the new legislative provisions and how many had been brought against persons charged with exploiting girl children, through sales, trafficking or pornography? she asked.  How many convictions had resulted and what sentences had been imposed?

IVANKA CORTI, expert from Italy, turning to article 4 on temporary special measures, noted that the report had stated that one of the temporary special measures introduced for women was a programme to alleviate poverty.  That programme, however, seemed to be aimed at families, and not specifically at women.  While it was a positive measure, she asked for some assessment of how that programme had reached indigenous women.  Was the government satisfied with what it had achieved, particularly in light of the feminization of poverty?

She also asked about the status of the many women immigrating from bordering countries, particularly those in Central America.  Specifically, what were the conditions in the detention centres where many women and children were held pending issuance of legal residence permits?

Country Response

Responding to experts’ questions and remarks, Ms. ESPINOSA acknowledged that all obstacles to a truly democratic country were still present in terms of failings in the “gender culture”.  A discriminatory culture still existed.  There was not always enough involvement of women, and their work was not fully valued.  However, trends were evolving that favoured change.  The Institute was engaged in that kind of work, she added.

The Institute was a decentralized body and part of the President's Cabinet, she said in response to one question.  It was made up of a Government Board with 16 State secretaries and 16 women elected by the Gender Issues Committee, representing political parties, academia and other sectors of society, thus ensuring a plurality.  The judiciary as well as civil society were represented and the House of Representatives had allocated $22 million to the Institute.

She said the Institute was trying to speed up the updating of federal laws and codes and helping Mexico's 32 states to do the same.  Those efforts were not yet sufficient, but they reflected progress in coordination.  The Institute wanted to work in a cross-cutting fashion in coordinating efforts between businesses, government structures and other sectors.  It tried to ensure that federalism was respected, that there was coordination with municipalities and that links existed with the legislative and judiciary branches of government.

Mexico compelled judges to use the Convention even if it contradicted national law, she said, but judges had been reluctant to use the Convention’s provisions.  There had been cases, however, where the hierarchy of international treaties had come in second place after the Constitution.  In addition to changes in electoral law, measures were being promoted to increase women's representation.  A law had been adopted to ensure a greater presence of women in the

2003 elections.  The Institute was also trying to promote women's access to local government through affirmative action.

She said the Progressa agency was now called Opportunidades and women participating in the programme had reported that they had become more autonomous in household decisions and in managing the household budget.  The programme had brought about new social relationships and provided empowerment to women.  Since its creation in 1997, it had expanded from rural to urban areas.  By 2001, more than 2 million poor women in over 2,000 municipalities were participating.

Regarding murders of the 284 women in Chihuahua, she said the reasons were not clear.  But what was clear was the need to create public safety in the area and the issue had been raised with the state president.  The affair had been a painful indication of the kind of violence that existed throughout the country.

MARTA LAURA CARRANZA AGUAYO, a Government expert, addressing questions on laws regarding women, agreed with the Committee’s experts on those need for more progress, despite what had been achieved over the last five to six years, including the constitutional prohibition against gender discrimination and ratification of the Optional Protocol.  Since 1996, some progress had also been made regarding violence against women.  The matter, however, was complicated, she added.

Regarding the application of the Convention and other treaties in the Mexican legal system, she said Mexico had federal, state and local courts.  Laws dealing with gender perspectives required coordination with 32 legislatures and heads of states.  That challenge was met through workshops with court personnel, which had resulted in the training of judges in 20 states.  There was a new project, operational for a year, which dealt with ensuring that legislation became more unified.

She said that from a legal standpoint, Mexico was not fully prepared to deal with trafficking in women, but in recent years, some of the sources had been found.  More severe punishment would be helpful as the matter was part and parcel of organized crime, and required the reorganization of the legal system.

PALOMA BONFIL SANCHEZ, Coordinator of the Intersectoral Programme for Indigenous Women, said poverty today was the most important challenge for Mexico’s development.  The Government was increasingly aware of the need to deal with poverty in a comprehensive fashion.  The Progressa programme had been very active in that field, having provided fellowships to some 240,000 children in middle school.  In order to get a fellowship, a child had to be in school and the mother must have health care for herself as well as her child.  The programme had problems with health care in indigenous areas as well as with lack of accessibility for the most marginalized women and families living in remote areas.

She said that while the programme was not a comprehensive one and lacked resources in the rural and indigenous areas, women had reported that it provided substantive support to very poor economies, sometimes doubling or tripling family incomes.  As women were the recipients of the fellowship moneys, there was a heightened visibility of their role within the family context, which had changed their position in the household.  Women started to become active within their own communities as a result and had a greater impact in decision-making areas.  It was, however, too early to see what the nutritional benefits had been in poor and indigenous areas.

An effort had been made to ensure that women in indigenous areas would receive health care attention beyond the reproductive area, she said.  A more comprehensive form of care was being developed, mobile units were visiting remote areas and information campaigns had been established in indigenous languages, she said, adding that family planning was also addressed in different languages.

She said the challenges included ensuring that there were two or three medical consultations during pregnancy and that particular attention was paid to regions with a high maternal death rate.  Regarding the crucial issue of empowering of indigenous women, it was necessary to create diversified mechanisms, taking cultural differences into account.  Midwives were trained to identify high-risk pregnancy and young people were trained in promoting awareness.

PATRICIA WOLHERS, Adjunct Director-General for International Affairs of the National Women's Institute, said the Government was aware of the magnitude of the migrant problem.  Many women passing through Mexico on their way to the United States had no documents and were therefore in a vulnerable situation.  The human rights of migrant women workers had been violated and Government workers had to be made aware of the need to respect those rights.  While Mexico recognized the flagrant violations, there were no specific policies in that regard.  Groups sent to border areas to address such challenges needed training.  However, NGOs were preparing a handbook on sexual violence against migrant women.  It was necessary to establish migrant centres, where women would be lodged apart and interrogated by other women.

In a unique problem for Mexico, she said refugees from Guatemala had sought Mexican citizenship.  There had been an initiative regarding access to land property and in June, Mexico had become a member of the International Migrant Organization (IMO).  The complexity of problems regarding transitory undocumented migrant workers on their way to the United States was a major challenge, she stressed.

Additional Expert Response

SAVITRI GOONESEKERE, expert from Sri Lanka, expressing some concern about the progress of legislative reform, said that given the Government representative's statement that much of that progress depended upon the judiciary, steps would hopefully be taken to reverse its hesitancy in that regard.  Hopefuly, also, in the next reporting cycle, the Government would address the need for gender-sensitivity training for lawyers.  The legislative reforms had spurred expectations, but how many women actually had access to the judicial system? she asked.  Was that issue being addressed through legal literacy and legal aid programmes?

She also asked whether the women’s Institute was considering the creation of a complaints mechanism, by which grassroots women could bring forward issues of rape, compensation discrimination and so forth.  Key to the complaints procedure was the exhaustion of local remedies.  If the legal system was ineffective and women could not access it, they could come to the international system.  Finally, could a women’s group take up a case on behalf of an individual woman? she asked.

HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, asked whether the women’s Institute was more powerful, in terms of human and financial resources, than the previous national machinery for women, the National Commission for Women.  The written report had stated that 21.3 per cent of the national budget had been earmarked for women’s programmes.  Compared to the first national programme for women, which had extended until 2000, had there been any change in emphasis of the further programme to 2006? she asked.  What kind of national coordination or consolidation of efforts was being integrated in the second phase of that programme? 

On article 6, she asked about the disappearances and killings in a border area, specifically whether protection was now provided to those young women who went back and forth across the border to school or work.  Noting that 18 of the country's 32 states had laws in place to punish domestic violence, she asked how many offenders had been convicted and what had been their sentences?  No information had been provided about the number of shelters in a country with an alarming level of violence within the family, she pointed out.

HANNA BEATE SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, said that many large sections of the report, while descriptive, lacked specific data about the extent to which women were being discriminated against.  In future reporting, she sought more women-specific reporting in comparison to the life situations of men.  What was the current situation of data gathering in the country and would there be a national plan to disaggregate data by sex? she asked.

On the issue of federalism, she said it was deplorable that there seemed to be such a range of variations in both the legal situation for women across the

32 states, as well as in their de facto living situations.  What legal means did the Government have under its constitution to unify states’ laws with national and international legislation?  Referring specifically to the differences in abortion law and educational standards, among others, she said federalism was no excuse for such far-reaching and negative implications for women. 

She asked whether there was a role for temporary special measures under the current political regime and whether there were specific targets for girls’ school attendance that were higher than those for boys.  That would fall under the category of temporary special measures, rather than under welfare programmes.  With respect to political representation, she sought a more detailed approach to where temporary special measures were used to set numerical goals and targets. 

SJAMSIAH ACHMAD, expert from Indonesia, re-emphasized the importance of institutional mechanisms saying she also wanted an indication of their results, particularly in terms of poverty alleviation.  Were women and girls poor because of discrimination or were they discriminated against because they were poor?  She also wanted to know the extent to which institutional mechanisms had improved the status of women in decision-making, particularly in public or political life.  Had efforts been made to encourage political parties to promote women’s participation in political life?  Unless women gained status within the family, it would not be possible for them to advance in society, she said, adding that lack of a decision-making role in the family also led to domestic violence.

FRANCOISE GASPARD, expert from France, noted that the report had indicated that a number of steps had been taken with regard to prostitution, but those steps reported today referred only to minors.  Did the representatives have statistics about sanctions or arrests against traffickers?  The report lacked information about the prostitution of adult women, she said, pointing out that in the face of poverty, and Mexico's position as a transit country for foreigners, women faced considerable dangers with respect to prostitution and trafficking.  Were prostitutes regarded as criminals or victims?  What was being done in the area of health, especially with respect to the spread of HIV/AIDS through prostitution? she asked.

FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, sought a further description of compliance with article 4, on temporary special measures.

Government Response

Ms. ESPINOSA said Mexico's strategies for social development contained a special emphasis on enabling children and young adults to maximize their opportunities and providing social protection for everyone.

Comparing the Institute to the earlier national body, she said the Institute was now decentralized.  It had considerably increased human and budgetary resources.  The Institute worked side by side with the entire public administration and coordinated with all ministries, insuring that all budgets were gender-focused.  It also coordinated with the states' women’s organizations to ensure a gender perspective at the state level.

The development of a relationship between the Institute and various organizations in society was an ongoing activity, she said.  Regarding the gap in pay between men and women of about 25 per cent, the Institute had fought hard to devise a labour law, now before Congress, to address that problem.  That law also provided punishment for sexual harassment.  Moreover, the President’s Office had instructed all government departments to stop asking for certification of non-pregnancy.

Regarding gender-indicators and statistics, she said a follow-up system for gender indicators in various areas had been put in place, and a database was being updated.  The Institute had worked together with all sectors of the public administration to ensure that all their figures were desegregated.  Three indices were employed:  an equity indicator; an indicator measuring progress made in incorporating the gender perspective; and an indicator for treatment of women by the justice system.  The Institute worked with universities to ensure that their curricula would include the gender perspective.

MARIA DEL ROCIO GARCIA GAYTAN, a Government expert, said the only entities providing women with counseling on the Convention were NGOs and other women’s organizations.  She wholeheartedly accepted suggestions by Committee experts that there should be more training in law schools on the Convention's provisions and that a special office should be established to provide legal assistance to poor people.

Regarding violence, she said various states had different legal provisions. Unfortunately, the Government did not have any information on the number of victims and relied on data provided by universities and NGOs.  The greatest problem was silence and the reluctance to report violence.  Since 1997, however, some progress had been made at the federal and state levels.

When the Committee met again this afternoon, Ms. Espinosa highlighted the various consciousness-raising and training courses held with the aim of increasing women’s participation in public and political life.  The recent adoption of electoral amendments had been the result of input from women.  To concerns expressed about indigenous women, including charges of rape by members of the army, she said dialogues would be held to review their situation.  A commitment had been undertaken together with the Government office dealing with indigenous persons. 

Ms. GOONESEKERE noted that the retention rate for women as compared to men in all sectors of education for foreign service contradicted the statistics reflecting the number of women actually in foreign service.  She asked how the Government planned to correct that imbalance.

Ms. GASPARD, turning to article 4, asked that future reports show statistics on the trend of women’s participation at the various electoral levels.  She had not fully understood whether that was a draft law or a law to oblige a quota of women to appear on the lists of candidates.  Asking whether that law also applied to local elections, she said it was surprising to see a greater representation of women at the national level than at the local level.  Were there specific programmes to increase their participation at the local level?

Ms. REGAZZOLI, while agreeing that women were most interested in participating at local levels because that was where problems could be solved, asked what action had been taken since the fourth report to growing demand for contraception.  She sought additional information about the reproductive health programme and steps being taken to combat HIV/AIDS.  The increased proportion of infected women, including younger women, was of great concern, she said, asking whether information was being provided about how the virus was contracted.  Were those involved in prostitution street children, women or housewives?  Had the population, at all ages, been encouraged to use condoms?

CHARLOTTE ABAKA, (Ghana), Committee Chairperson, said that the concept of decentralization was meant to bring power to the doorsteps of the people.  It was known that women were more visible within their environment and that was why the decentralization concept was very favourable to women's participation.  It was unfortunate, therefore, that within a decentralized regime, women’s participation and involvement at the local level was very, very low.  It might be necessary to use implementation of article 4.1 to increase women’s participation at the local level.  It was very important for women to start at the grassroots level, she added.

Country Response

Regarding political participation of women at the local level, Ms. ESPINOSA said a network had been created among the 84 women who headed municipalities.  The problem of low participation was a cultural one, and the gap had to be closed.  At the federal level, an amendment to the electoral law provided for women's participation in elections, while six states had laws providing for the mandatory participation of women.

She said some states had telephone lines to report violence and there were efforts to establish a national telephone line.  Concern about violence against women had also grown because it was now more widely reported.  Campaigns such as "Open Your Eyes" and "Open Your Mouth" were raising awareness of the problem.  There was a need for a single institution where women could go to report violence.

ROBERTA LAJOUS, Permanent Representative of Mexico, said her country's long tradition of women's participation in the foreign service was linked with the United Nations.  In 1975, the first International Conference on Women was held in Mexico, creating aspirations.

Only 13.5 per cent of Mexican ambassadors were women, and improvement was necessary in that area.  Approximately half of the requests for admission to the foreign service came from women and those already holding posts in hierarchy would see to it that women entering the foreign service had an opportunity to advance their careers.

Ms. GATAN cited a law that guaranteed 30 per cent of political participation of women and equal access to public posts.  In no case would more than 70 per cent of candidates be of the same sex.  There would be one woman in each block of three candidates.  In the states, the importance of women voters had caused political parties to reform.  All parties now presented women candidates.

LOURDES PATRICIA QUINTANILLA RODRIGUEZ, a Government advisor, said Mexico had been exemplary regarding contraception methods and the United Nations provided $6 million for its reproductive health programme.  Attention was being paid to the prevention of AIDS during pregnancy and the virus causing cervical cancer was being thoroughly researched.  There was also a reproductive health programme targeting young people, because a great number of unwanted pregnancies occurred among young women.

In the context of HIV prevention, 700,000 women's condoms had been distributed.  Detection of the virus in rural communities constituted a problem.  Programmes had been established to promote HIV prevention among prostitutes and local health workers.

EMMA RUBIO RAMIREZ, a Government advisor, addressing educational concerns, said equality between the sexes was a cultural process that evolved slowly despite all efforts by legislators and civil society.  While consensus existed about equality of education, the perception persisted that certain jobs were for men.  The educational structure must respond better to that problem.  Textbooks, curricula and access to education had to be revised.

Experts’ Further Questions

Ms. FERRER GOMEZ, expert from Cuba, stressing the importance of scholarships and efforts to reduce illiteracy, asked what level of education most women had attained.  What percentage of women taught at university level, and why was there a great difference in salaries between so-called “high” and “low” posts?  Regarding employment, much remained to be done.  The level of participation of women in the economy was 36 per cent, which was a very low indicator considering women’s potential.

Ms. RADAY, expert from Israel, sought clarification about laws prohibiting discrimination against women in employment, asking whether such laws were in place in all Mexican states.  If there were civil remedies, how many legal actions had been brought on the basis of employment discrimination and who could initiate proceedings?  Overall, what was being done on the legal level to prevent discrimination against women in the job market?

She asked what methods were used to enforce labour standards, especially with respect to women in the low-paid, weak labour sectors, noting that according to the report, 25 per cent of women earned less than the minimum wage.  She was particularly concerned about the employment conditions in the maquila sector, which typically involved the labour-intensive production of exports along the border.  Had facts be found regarding reported conditions of slavery in that sector?  She had understood that women in that sector suffered spontaneous miscarriages as a result of working long hours and were then prosecuted for having brought about abortions.

Ms. DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, emphasized the importance of sex education programmes and asked whether those addressed boys and girls equally.  Equality would not be achieved if such programmes did not address men as well, she insisted.

Ms. ABAKA, (Ghana), Committee Chairperson, said that in response to questions raised about indigenous women this morning, she had understood that in order for them to benefit from programmes they had to undergo compulsory medical testing, which was now being disallowed.  What kind of medical testing had they had to endure?  Could representative clarify whether indigenous women also had to undergo sterilization without their consent? 

Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, suggested that the Government might think about the question of poverty among older women and draw up statistics on retired women.  She also asked about women’s involvement at the university level, and the situation regarding academic research and gender issues.

Ms. SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, said she was concerned about the complete absence of labour protection for domestic workers.  Had the Government realized that that amounted to unintentional discrimination, as defined under article 1 of the Convention?  While great progress had been made to extend social security reforms to day agricultural labourers, how many of those were women? Certainly, women comprised the majority of domestic workers, she pointed out. 

Ms. FENG CUI, expert from China, noted a reference in the report to the Government’s work in rural areas, especially through the use of microcredit to improve women’s status and eradicate poverty.  Were all applications for credit approved and should there be guarantees, especially with regard to indigenous persons? 

She noted that according to the report, credit was often issued through intermediate organizations, and in some cases, only to organized women.  Did all women in need receive microcredit, and what was the interest rate?  What had been the result of that activity and how many women had “shaken off” poverty as a result?  What protection was given to the many migrant workers in agriculture? she asked.

Government Response

Ms. ESPINOSA disagreed respectfully with the experts’ references to labour conditions of women, particularly those in the maquilas sector.  The Government, including the President, had made several efforts on behalf of the maquila workers.  The workers were not examined for pregnancy and had access to training. Day care was also available.  Women were working with the Secretariat of Labour to follow up on the Convention.

There was no law on discrimination, she said, but there was an office of gender equality which had initiated many programmes to improve women’s working conditions.  There were also efforts to amend the labour law.  Regarding lack of access to social benefits for women working in the domestic sector, she said the President had given instructions to explore the possibility of granting women in domestic service social security and some retirement rights, a complex problem which involved the review of laws.

Ms. GAYTAN said figures on the percentage of women not enjoying social security in the domestic sector and on discrimination in wages had been provided in the report.  Discussions were going on to amend the federal labour laws, in which the Institute was involved as an observer.  No distinction should be established in the workplace based on race, sex, age or stage of pregnancy. Several measures were being proposed, such as creating a body to develop action programmes, improvements in labour conditions, ensuring equitable access to work, equality of pay for men and women, equal opportunity in social services and eliminating proof of contraception and pregnancy.  Even though Mexico was a developing country where wages were low, she recognized that there was discrimination in salaries.

Ms. RODRIGUEZ said the programme regarding reproductive health was targeting men and women.  Teenagers were informed that sexual behaviour could be risky, but a universal programme targeting teenagers was not possible as there were many different sectors of the population.  Efforts were being made to reach a convergence of sexual and reproductive health programmes.  A campaign had been launched to improve the participation of boys in reproductive health.

She said there had been five reports of involuntary sterilization.  Such procedures were no longer performed on an involuntary basis.  Although indigenous women wanted contraceptive measures, there were not enough health centres and not enough workers speaking indigenous languages.

Ms. SANCHEZ said microcredit programmes were the best Government action to remedy the lack of opportunities in rural and indigenous communities.  Microcredit programmes for indigenous and rural women charged little or no interest, providing some seed money.  No statistics were available on the number of people coming out of poverty.

Together with employers and migrant workers, a programme was being developed to provide protective mechanisms for the rights of migrant and day workers. Education for the children of migrant workers was being established, as were health programmes.  A campaign had been launched to protect the health of migrant workers going to the United States.

Ms. RAMIREZ said that despite progress in the retention of women in schools, there was still a gap.  There was a multiplicity of pilot programmes, designed to improve the training of teachers and increase awareness among parents, among other things.  Most such programmes were paid for by international contributions.  A majority of workers in education were women and participation in decision-making and in research by women was gradually improving.

FATIMA KWAKU, expert from Nigeria, said the reporting had seemed to indicate that certain groups of women, including refugee women, were not in fact enjoying equal legal status with even refugee men.  Was the Government doing anything about that?

CHRISTINE KAPALATA, expert from the United Republic of Tanzania, asked about the division of matrimonial property and whether the amended article applied only to civil marriages.  If the application was only to civil marriages, how did other forms of marriages deal with property division?  Also, magistrates and judges had recommended that universities initiate research on the value of home-based contributions.  Had that research been conducted and, if so, could the representatives share its results?  On the question of refugee women acquiring land, what was the criteria for qualifying?  She was also unclear about the distinction between migrant and refugee women.

Ms. GOONESEKERE, expert from Sri Lanka, asked about the workings of property regimes, including family patrimony.  That could sometimes mean that family heirs inherited property, and women wanting some portion from their spouses or relatives found that their rights were prejudiced by the concept of fixed shares within the family.  Concerning domestic violence, there was an interesting provision for a human rights unit in the Attorney-General's department.  From independent sources, however, she had received information about the non-prosecution of cases of violence, including the disappearance and murders of women.  Could the representatives comment?

Regarding the marriage of children age 16 with parental consent, that seemed inconsistent with the Children’s Rights Convention and article 16 of the Convention, which took a definite stand on the non-acceptability of child marriage.  What was the rationale for continuing that provision in the law? she asked.

Ms. DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, taking up the question on the research effort of universities to identify women’s role in the home, asked whether that research would be used only for divorce cases or whether it could and opened a wider perspective leading to recognition of the value of domestic work.  Domestic workers lacked protection and their work was not duly valued, either in economic or social terms, she noted.

ROSALYN HAZELLE, expert from Saint Kitts and Nevis, sought clarification about the role of the National Women’s Institute.  She had understood it had been created to play a significant coordinating role and address issues of equal opportunity and non-discrimination.  Then, how, in the light of so much inequality in the labour sector, could it hold only observer status and not play a more significant role? she asked.

Ms. RADAY, expert from Israel, said she had urged fact-finding about the labour sector.  She had been seeking facts earlier today, and not stating them.

Ms. REGAZZOLI, expert from Argentina, said the Government had before it a major challenge, the first milestone of which would be in 2003 when elections were held in the states and municipalities to establish congresses.  The law on quotas was unclear.  The challenge for all members of the delegation was to ensure that in 2003, there was no less than 30 per cent of women seated in all of the federal districts and in the federal district itself.  There must also be greater participation of women in the communities, because only through women’s real participation would Mexico be able to deal with all of the problems raised today in the areas of education, health, maquilas, fair wages, indigenous and migrant problems, among others.

Country Response

Ms. ESPINOSA said a tripartite bureau had been established to reform the labour laws, which included the Secretariat of Labour, the labour sector and the business sector.  The Institute had been asked to participate as an observer and had presented an initiative to improve the situation of working women.  Efforts were being made to make domestic work more dignified and to quantify it.  The question of patrimony in marriage was being addressed, she added.

A national programme had been established a year ago to deal with indigenous women, as it had been found that there was discrimination, specifically against indigenous women, she said.  There was also a review of the financing mechanisms of craft and artisan shops among indigenous workers.  There were also programmes in place dealing with violence and gender awareness.

Regarding doubts expressed about land for refugees, she explained that the Government had decided to give land to former Guatemalan refugees who had lived in Mexico for more than 17 years and wanted to stay.

She reiterated that, under the new federal electoral provisions, among every block of three candidates on candidates lists, there would be one candidate of the other sex.     

In closing remarks, Ms. LAJOUS expressed appreciation for the questions and comments of all experts.  It had been an enriching experience, she said.

Addressing the question of emigration, she said she would like all Mexicans to have well-paid jobs within the country, but, the United States was a huge magnet.  The most talented people crossed the border in search of a better future. The Government had been seeking the best possible conditions for those Mexicans who emigrated through consular protection as well as through negotiations to recognize the rights of the migratory workers.  Mexico had also recognized dual nationality.

She said over the past 10 years, Mexico had made a great deal of progress and was on track to achieve a policy of equity.

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For information media. Not an official record.