12 August 2002


Press Release

Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

577th and 578th Meetings (AM & PM)


Poverty, Ignorance of Law Cited as Obstacles to Equality

The expert members of the Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women today cautioned Guatemala's Government representatives that the plethora of institutional mechanisms created to ensure gender equality and equal representation in the country, while noteworthy, might ultimately prove too unwieldy to coordinate and too costly to sustain.

Continuing its exceptional session -- being held to reduce the backlog of country reports -- the Committee took up the combined third and fourth as well as fifth periodic reports of Guatemala on compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women.  Several experts praised the impressive number of new agencies but stressed that there appeared to be no overall mechanism for coordinating, administrating, or monitoring their activities.  Perhaps it would be better to concentrate on strengthening a small number of highly focused institutions, the expert from Italy suggested. 

The expert from Argentina was among those who felt it was necessary to consider the political and historical context of Guatemala's reform efforts.  The country was, after all, emerging from nearly 40 years of armed internal conflict.  Still, she was concerned about efforts to provide sufficient budgeting and human resource allocations to ensure continuity in the application of programmes and policies.  Continuity of implementation efforts was essential, particularly in the areas of health, poverty reduction and addressing cultural stereotypes.

Asking why the draft law on quotas for women's representation on political tickets had not been ratified by Parliament, she said that as the Government had mobilized for peace, it must now mobilize for gender equality.  That meant, among other things, actually putting women in political posts, not just on candidate's lists.  If the Government had not been afraid of bullets, it should not be afraid of ballots, she emphasized.

Introducing her country’s reports, Lily Caravantes Tobias, Guatemala’s Presidential Secretary of Women and head of the delegation, said that while obstacles remained, there had been advances relating to health, rural women, political participation and combating prostitution.  In the legal sphere, the Constitution guaranteed equality before the law.

She said that though there had been major advances in the condition of women in the legal area and in gathering evidence of oppressive conditions for women,

there was also widespread ignorance of the law and the whole legal system was weak.  Some corrective measures included an amendment to the Labour Code, including protection for pregnant women and sanctions for sexual harassment.  A law to promote participation in politics had also been adopted.

Addressing the Committee’s concerns, she said coordination among national mechanisms was a building process.  While the National Office for Women within the Ministry of Labour had existed for 20 years, the Presidential Secretariat, which was still being established, was working on a consensus to ensure the existence of a steering organ.  The two Offices of the Public Defender were also in the process of being defined.  The coordinating agency was the Government’s Planning Agency. The current situation was complicated, but more effective than the previous situation, which had many isolated women's programmes.

She said that one of the principles of Guatemala’s poverty reduction strategy was a guarantee of gender equity, resulting in affirmative action directed at women.  The strategy recognized the specific needs of women, especially in the area of reproductive health, and ensured that women could participate at all levels of local and national planning.  It sought to guarantee that women's policies would be integrated into all Government policies, she added.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 13 August, when it will take up the fourth periodic report of Barbados.


Continuing its exceptional session, due to conclude on 23 August, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to consider the third, fourth and fifth periodic reports of Guatemala (document CEDAW/C/GUA/3-4 and CEDAW C/GUA/5).  The third and fourth period reports cover the period from 1992 to 1998, highlighting Guatemala’s principal actions to fulfil its undertakings to implement the Convention.

According to that combined report, the national and international campaign to ensure the genuine recognition of women's human rights was a very exciting task on which the Government has been working with the active involvement of the various Guatamalan women's organizations.  Through a series of joint actions, those were building on and making tangible the progress achieved by women in securing the promotion, defence and protection of their rights. 

The report notes that throughout the country's history, women have been actively involved in the country's socio-economic development, despite the entrenched patriarchal attitudes persisting in countries like Guatemala.  Although human rights activists working in both governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been making concerted efforts to uphold women's human rights, there are constraints that prevent the implementation of practical measures to ensure women's comprehensive, full development.

Women's organizations have presented legislative proposals to members of the Congress, with a view to the adoption of legislative amendments that incorporate concepts and mechanisms sensitive to women's interests, so that norms deriving from the various international instruments can be harmoniously incorporated into Guatemala's domestic law and administrative practice.  The report, which contains a comprehensive article-by-article summary of compliance with the Convention, was prepared especially on the basis of an analysis of studies and research carried out by governmental institutions and non-governmental organizations working on women's issues. 

The fifth periodic report provides updated information on the level of compliance and actions taken by the Government with respect to the status of Guatemalan women in terms of access to education, health, jobs and land, as well as measures to combat sexual harassment, violence and other forms of discrimination.  It is the result of joint work undertaken by the Presidential Secretariat for Women and the Presidential Commission for Coordinating Executive Policy in the Field of Human Rights.  It reflects the actions carried out by governmental bodies and civil society organizations.

Covering the period from January 1999 to November 2001, the report provides information on actions that are subject to limitations on obtaining quantitative and qualitative indicators that better reflect women's status.  While efforts are being made in that regard, there is still quantitative information that is not disaggregated by sex.  Hopefully, however, the report reflects the progress made by Guatemala in enhancing women's status and overcoming remaining discriminatory practices.

The report recalls that in December 1998, Guatemala submitted its combined third and fourth reports covering the negotiations aimed at ending the internal armed conflict.  They also covered subsequent action to comply with the commitments made in the Peace Agreements, especially those containing specific commitments relating to women:  the Agreement on Resettlement on Social and Economic Aspects and the Agrarian Situation; the Agreement on Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and the Agreement on the Strengthening of Civilian Power and on the Role of the Armed Forces in a Democratic Society.

According to the present report, the Government recognizes that there are structural and cultural obstacles to achieving full equality in practice.  But as society becomes more informed about women's human rights and the existing inequalities, it will become aware of the living situation of more than half the Guatemalan population, and progress will be made towards achieving the common good.  In terms of compliance with Committee recommendations, following presentation of the initial and second period reports, the present reports details actions taken to comply with articles 5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 14 and 16 of the Convention.

With respect to legal and regulatory measures to eliminate discrimination against women, a process was set in motion in the 1990s to consolidate and institutionalize an entity that would be responsible for national policy relating to women -- the National Office for Women's Affairs.  In 1999, a document entitled "Advancement and Development of Guatemalan Women: Equal Opportunity Plan" was drafted.  It contains proposals from the National Women's Forum and describes the problems faced by Guatemalan women in their situation of marginalization and exclusion and proposes actions to solve them.

The Equal Opportunity Plan 1998-2001 is significant for the extent to which various women's organizations and groups, as well as governmental bodies, were involved in the drafting process, the report says.  In 2000, the Government presented the Social Policy Matrix 2000-2004, which also supports the subsequent development of the national policy for women.  It contains a section on the advancement of women, the goal of which is to guarantee equality for women in the economic, political, social and cultural spheres. 

Among the actions and targets proposed for achieving that goal is the implementation of the policy for women, which defines mechanisms for follow-up and evaluation, the report says, adding that in 2000 Congress issued a legislative agreement urging the executive branch to establish a secretariat for women.

Introduction of Country Reports

TARACENA SECAIRA (Guatemala), introducing her country’s delegation, said today was the twentieth anniversary of Guatemala’s ratification of the Convention.  Great changes had taken place since then.

LILY CARAVANTES TOBIAS, Presidential Secretary of Women and head of the delegation, said there had been obstacles and advances relating to health, rural women, political participation and combating prostitution.  In the legal sphere, there was equality before the law under the Constitution.  The country had ratified the Convention’s Optional Protocol and other conventions and had also adopted legislation to eradicate domestic violence in addressing the situation of rural women.

She said there had been major advances in the condition of women in the legal area and in gathering evidence of oppressive conditions in which women were living.  However, there was widespread ignorance of the law and the whole legal system was weak.  Some corrective measures included an amendment to the Labour Code, including protection for pregnant women and sanctions for sexual harassment.  A law to promote participation in the political area had also been adopted.

Institutional mechanisms included the Office of the Public Defender for Women’s Rights, the Prosecutor’s Office for Women, and the Department of Women within the State Attorney’s Office, she said.  There was also the Presidential Secretariat for Women and the Prosecutor’s Office for Indigenous Women and one for the prevention of violence.  The “Conaprevi” was a mechanism to coordinate work for prevention of violence against women.

All those programmes and institutions were recognized in the national budget, she said.  The reproductive health budget had grown, as had that of the Presidential Secretariat for Women.  Some obstacles included limited human resources, some adverse aspects of the social structure, and weak communication and coordination among national mechanisms.  Among the corrective measures were the strengthening of coordination, training, and involvement with NGOs.

Regarding women and education, she said the State guaranteed equal opportunities for national education, which was implemented by the granting of scholarships.  There was also a law on sex education in the specific context of education for girls.  A gender sub-commission had been created within the Advisory Commission for Education Reform.  There were programmes for bilingual education, and for girls in rural areas.  The budget for girls’ schooling had increased and affirmative action for girls’ education had been implemented.  A post-literacy programme had been elaborated.

In the health sector, the Constitution included provisions for State protection of health and social welfare as well as programmes for women and youth, and for indigenous women.  A network provided assistance in cases of domestic violence.  Other programmes addressed post-abortion issues and HIV/AIDS.  There was a trend towards a lower fertility rate, but only fragmented attention was being given to women’s health and violence against women did not get sufficient attention.  There was a need for reproductive health care as well as training to cover the role of men and the question of domestic violence.

In the area of work, she said revisions of the Labour Law were being implemented, such as the Law on the Dignity and Promotion of Women.  Issues such as the promotion of women, equality guarantees and treatment of pregnant women had been addressed.  There were labour procedures to provide for accusation mechanisms.  One obstacle was the lack of gender-disaggregated statistics, particularly in the informal economy. 

To address problems, the tri-partite commission was being strengthened, and a gender training programme for those working in labour ministry was being established, she said.  Regarding rural women, there were laws on social development and on property, giving access to land and legal assistance.  Credit assistance to women and girls in the rural areas had also been established.  A programme for the prevention of domestic violence was being developed, as was a programme for sex workers.  There was increased awareness of the problem of domestic violence, she added.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

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

AIDA GONZALEZ MARTINEZ, expert from Mexico, said it was important to recognize that the reports being reviewed today provided important information on the situation in Guatemala during its national peace and reconciliation process, following so many years of bloody and painful conflict.  She was pleased to note that peace negotiations had included the participation of women and had focused to some degree on the needs of rural and indigenous women.  That, among other things, had at least signalled the Government’s intention to disseminate information about the Convention throughout the country.

Still, she said, there was a need to determine whether a broad assessment of the peace agreement had been undertaken, particularly as it would relate to the Constitution and the adoption of the social development laws.  Some of the main problems noted in the report were in the area of health and women’s right to own property and land.  She noted the persistence of cultural stereotyping and expressed some concerns about the Government’s apparently interchangeable use of the terms “equality” and “equity”.  Fairness, she warned, was not equality.  She also noted that while there had been an overwhelming number of national mechanisms created, there were still some “grey areas”, particularly with respect to how all those bodies would coordinate with one another. 

She went on to express concern about the issue of prostitution, noting that that sociocultural problem was deeply rooted.  Particularly troubling was the persistent exploitation of underage girls.  The Government must manifest clear political will to combat that problem, particularly in addressing the legislative inadequacies that often allowed the release of the exploiters to go free because the crimes they committed were considered “minor”.  Those exploiting women and children must be brought to justice.  The Government’s response must be prompt and direct.

YOLANDA FERRER GOMEZ, expert from Cuba, noting the important steps taken to strengthen and enhance national mechanisms for the advancement of women, wondered at the same time, with the sheer number of offices, agencies and groups that had been created, about coordination among such groups as the Women’s Forum, the First Lady’s Forum and the Forum on Indigenous Women.  She was also concerned about the availability of sustained resources for the support of such a large number of agencies.

Echoing the concern expressed by Ms. Gonzalez about the social and cultural stereotyping of women, she said poverty and extreme poverty were extremely high in Guatemala, particularly in rural areas.  Citing the poverty-reduction strategy mentioned in the fifth report, she asked whether it included a gender perspective element.

MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, noted that while the report mentioned the 1997/98 Equal Opportunity Plan for the Development of Women, there was no elaboration on how that plan –- or subsequent similar plans –- were monitored or implemented.  She also expressed some concern about the Government’s interpretation of temporary special measures.  Endorsing previous comments on stereotyping and prostitution, she expressed particular concern that efforts to identify procurers and others who sexually exploited women and girls were often undermined because such activity was considered a “minor offence”.

SJAMSIAH ACHMAD, expert from Indonesia, said that while an impressive number of institutions and advisory boards had been created, there appeared to be no overall mechanism for their monitoring, coordination or administration, which was essential to ensure their proper functioning.  She expressed concern about Guatemala’s efforts at overall legal reform, particularly assigning legal responsibility, and about inadequacies in the area of information-gathering.  There was a serious lack of statistics disaggregated by gender, which was particularly important in focusing efforts aimed at eradicating stereotypical cultural behaviour.

FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, said the presentation had made reference to some “continuous obstacles” to the implementation of policies supporting women’s advancement, particularly ignorance of laws at many levels, as well as the general public’s lack of knowledge about the rights of women.  She urged the Guatemalan delegation to do its utmost to ensure the Government disseminated relevant information throughout society.

Country Response

Ms. CARAVANTES said that coordination among national mechanisms was a building process.  The National Office for Women within the Ministry of Labour had existed for 20 years, but the Presidential Secretariat was still in the process of being established.  It was working on a consensus to ensure the existence of a steering organ.  The two Offices of the Public Defender were also in the process of being defined.  The coordinating agency was the Government’s Planning Agency.  The Advisory Council of Women was composed of members of the various programme directorates.  The current situation was complicated, but more effective than the previous situation, which had many isolated women's programmes.

One of the principles of the poverty-reduction strategy was a guarantee of gender equity, resulting in affirmative action directed at women, she said.  The strategy recognized the specific needs of women, especially in the area of reproductive health, and ensured that women could participate at all levels of local and national planning.  It sought to guarantee that women's policies would be integrated into all Government policies.

She said the Secretariat was now building a consensus for policy-building and trying to determine how much advancement had been achieved in that regard.  Indicators were being established, but there was a lack of gender-disaggregated information, especially in the area of the national budget, as resources were not earmarked for specific programmes. The Government recognized that women’s policy was a responsibility for every Government sector with funding as a priority.

ARTURO BAYARDO MEJIA MONZON, Deputy Minister for Education, said education was one of the main factors that could lead to change in stereotyping.  Therefore, all educational materials were being reviewed to avoid stereotypes or highlight them.  Technical institutions were being opened for women’s attendance and the ministry was also working on the professionalization of teachers, as 90 per cent of them at the primary and pre-school levels had not had professional training.

As the girl child might drop out because she represented an economic support for her home, the Government provided specific scholarships for girls, he said.  Those scholarships went directly to the family to prevent girls from dropping out of primary school.  “Scholarships for Peace” had been established to address the problems of war orphans, both boys and girls.  All that was done at the community and municipal levels.

CATALINA SOBERANIS, Presidential Secretary for Peace, addressing temporary measures, said the Dignity and Promotion of Women Act would promote effective mechanisms to achieve full participation of women in politics.  The Rural Councils Development Act would cover full participation of women’s organizations in all activities of rural and urban councils.  There was a 10-year period in which priority would be given in granting land to single mothers and widows.

She said the Criminal Code had been amended to address obscene publications, providing for three to nine years’ imprisonment for the publication and sale of obscene publications involving minors.  It would be supplemented by provisions tackling the prostitution of boys and girls.  Reform of the Criminal Code was also being proposed to address trafficking in persons.

Ms. CARAVANTES said her country was part of a regional study on trafficking and prostitution and was cooperating with the women’s movement in Mexico regarding trafficking.  In order to ensure that women became aware of existing legislation, the Women’s Dignity and Promotion Act and a popularized version of the Convention had been published.  The Government was engaged in popularizing the Development Councils Act to promote women’s participation locally.

JULIO MOLINA AVILES, Deputy Minister of Public Health and Social Assistance, said his ministry had created a National Programme for Reproductive Health one year ago.  It had had significant success and external cooperation had been established.  With funding from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), a Social Development Act had been set up in which reproductive health played an important role.  Maternal mortality was slowly decreasing from a level of 190 per 100,000 in 1999.

Ms. CARAVANTES said the Advisory Council for Women had established a programme for reproductive health to involve various sectors of the Government.  The Secretariat had set up a health mechanism, but the effectiveness of various programmes was not known yet.  There were two regional pilot projects applying population programmes to reduce poverty among women.  She hoped to establish a poverty-reduction strategy with a gender perspective.  The resources for the Secretariat had increased tenfold in two years, she added.

SANDRA BARRERA, Technical Advisor, Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, said the Prosecutor’s Office, with the involvement of NGOs, had taken up the issue of child prostitution in 1999.  It had started by analysing the situation at the national and regional levels.  A National Plan of Action had been drafted and there were proposals for reform of the Criminal Code.  The Secretariat for Social Welfare had also developed plans and programmes to protect girls and boys involved in prostitution.

Experts’ Questions

HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, expressing concern about violence against women in Guatemala, said that while several legislative initiatives had been launched in that regard, and a National Coordination Office had been created, some laws prevented police access to homes during specific times of the day and night, thus hindering law enforcement efforts to combat domestic violence. 

Noting that the report did not indicate terms and conditions on the punishment for perpetrators of violence, she asked whether any specialized unit existed within the police force to address domestic violence or violence against women.  What sort of assistance was given to victims of domestic violence and victims of conflict?  Could the delegation give statistics on the number of shelters for victims of violence? 

FRANCOISE GASPARD, expert from France, was concerned about the availability of human and financial resources to coordinate the country’s various policies and institutions.  On the issue of special temporary measures aimed at ensuring equality, she said the draft law proposing 30 per cent representation of women on political ballots could actually be seen as perhaps limiting participation rather than expanding it.  Moreover, the draft law had been before Parliament for some four years and had yet to be adopted.

CHRISTINE KAPALATA, expert from the United Republic of Tanzania, echoed concerns about the number of mechanisms that had been created and the weak communication between them.  She encouraged the delegation not only to explain the plethora of units but to highlight the impact of the various agencies on efforts to ensure gender equality.

IVANKA CORTI, expert from Italy, recalling that she been a member of the Committee when Guatemala had presented its first periodic report, said that today she saw the difference that the large number of new mechanisms had made.  International cooperation and broad peace efforts had yielded positive results and policies of gender mainstreaming had been put in place.  However, she wondered about the specific results achieved by so many institutions, asking whether the country could ensure the financial support for so many agencies.  Would it not be better to concentrate on sustaining and strengthening a small number of mechanisms? 

She went on to express concern about the continuing high levels of poverty in Guatemala and about prostitution and other exploitation of women and girls.  Could the country effectively monitor or sustain efforts to produce a cultural change throughout Guatemalan society to promote equality between men and women?  Most of the country's efforts should be focused on that issue and the large number of NGOs operating in Guatemala could help in that regard. 

Echoing the concerns of other experts at the Government’s seemingly interchangeable use of the words "equity" and "equality", she stressed that achieving equality was at the core of the Convention.  If equality was ensured, equity would follow, ensuring that women would no longer be treated as second-class citizens.

ZELMIRA REGAZZOLI, expert from Argentina, said the Committee must be completely objective about the situation in Guatemala.  Issues such as equality, poverty reduction and application of laws could not be examined without recognizing that the country was emerging from nearly 40 years of war.  Emphasizing her familiarity with the situation, she said she understood that it might be difficult for some experts to understand the need for so many institutions.

Still, she was concerned about efforts to provide sufficient budgeting and human resource allocations for those mechanisms to ensure continuity in the application of programmes and policies.  Asking why the draft law on quotas for women's representation on political tickets had not been ratified by Parliament, she said that if the Government had mobilized for peace, it must now mobilize for gender equality.  That meant, among other things, actually putting women in the seats, not just on candidate's lists.  If the Government and concerned NGOs had not been afraid of bullets, they should not be afraid of ballots, she emphasized.

Country Response

Ms. CARAVANTES, Presidential Secretariat for Women, said women in Guatemala did not perceive themselves as being in a situation of inequality.  They saw conditions affecting them as a consequence of being indigenous people or being poor.  That situation inhibited measures such as quotas.  Affirmative action had been emphasized as the primary instrument to identify women as a group as suffering from inequality in all societal strata, not just that of the poor.

Efforts were being made to establish a dialogue between the Government and women's organizations, which, for historic reasons, had nurtured a distrust for Government.  A strategic plan was being developed for the establishment of women’s advancement agencies throughout the country, as was legislation to deal with domestic violence.  One problem was the lack of gender-disaggregated data regarding violence.

No information was available on the number of perpetrators of domestic violence and there were also no State shelters for victims, although the private sector had established two such institutions, she added.

Mr. SOBERANIS said that according to law, the home was inviolable.  The police could not enter a house without a proper judge’s order, and entry must be done during daytime.  However, the law on domestic violence provided for police protection of assaulted persons, even in the home, if there was visible or audible evidence of violence.  According to existing social patterns, police refused to enter a home and training programmes for the police were necessary.

Mr. MOLINA AVILES said that because of the past conflict, many people suffered from mental health problems and the Ministry was carrying out mental health programmes in two regions. 

Regarding financing, he said Guatemala was suffering from the international perception that it had a stable economy in the macro field.  However, 50 per cent of the population was living in poverty.  The country was making efforts to establish a long-term financing policy.

Ms. CARAVANTES presented a video on the situation of women in Guatemala when the Committee met this afternoon.

Ms. SOBERANIS said that the decades of internal conflict had left a psychological and cultural aftermath that was difficult to overcome.  One out of every four victims of the conflict was a woman and many were orphans and widows.  The peace process had not been limited to the end of armed conflict and demobilization, but also included comprehensive peace-building, in which peace and development were inseparable.  As the presence of the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA) was coming to an end and might not be rescheduled, the country would be responsible for the commitments made under the peace agreements.

She said the Government had established four priorities:  making peace institutional and permanent; decentralization and strengthening of local power, giving priority to indigenous people and the promotion of women; reduction of poverty; and rural development.  In 67 communities, pilot programmes had been developed in which widows of the conflict had played an active role and which were supported by microcredit projects.  The Authority for Peace and Harmony had brought together groups of victims to address compensation with the goal of finalizing guidelines by 20 August.

Mr. MOLINA AVILES said that in order to apply the law, the realities of budget, the fiscal situation and the problem of taxation had to be taken into account.

Guatemala was a country of sharp contrasts, with a stable economy and per capita income, but an impoverished agricultural sector, he said.  The vast majority of Guatemalans lived in poverty, women being even worse off.  Because of that situation, tax revenues were not enough to provide the required services.

Experts’ Comments

Ms. GONZALEZ, expert form Mexico, said she hoped the necessary reforms of the country’s political parties moved ahead more quickly.

FENG CUI, expert from China, asked several questions on the participation of indigenous women in politics, which was important, particularly in light of Guatemala’s large indigenous population.  What effect had the Government’s many programmes aimed at improving the situation of rural or indigenous populations had? she asked.  What proportion of indigenous women held decision-making positions in the Government?  Were there specific policies aimed at encouraging their participation in politics or public life?

Country Response

Ms. CARAVANTES said that currently, the involvement of indigenous women was quite limited, particularly considering their percentage of the population.  However, the Coordinating Commission of the Forum on Women was made up of indigenous women and representation at the departmental level was also largely indigenous.  There were two or three indigenous women in Congress, she added.

Ms. SOBERANIS said there had essentially been three initiatives put forward to enhance the political participation of women.  Efforts in 1994 and 1998 – featuring the broad mobilization of women’s organizations -– had both fallen victim to party differences.  In 2001, various collective groups on women and civic participation had pushed for relevant reforms, but the only element of that effort that had emerged was a general call to ensure that election lists were “mixed”.  That initiative had not been adopted, but it would be before Congress again in September.  Women’s groups continued to support efforts aimed at promoting affirmative action.  Among the candidates from the parties running for election, 21 had been indigenous women, she added.

Experts’ Questions

Ms. FERRER GOMEZ, expert from Cuba, seeking clarification of the proposed changes in the Labour Code, asked what role the Secretariat for Women had played in promoting the proposals.  When would those and other proposals regarding labour be ready for approval?  Noting that women working in the maquilas (tax-free zones) were subject to great exploitation, she asked whether there were only Korean maquiladores in Guatemala, and whether there were outreach activities for women working in the maquilas.

Ms. GONZALES, expert from Mexico, said the programmes to reduce illiteracy and the gap between the educational level of boys and girls were very important.  The illiteracy rate among indigenous women was disturbing and outside support to continue such programmes was essential.  She was also worried about the reduction in budget levels in the educational area.

She asked what was meant by obstacles of a “cultural nature” in access to health care for rural women.  She also sought more information about the “many socio-economic and cultural factors” that had not made it possible to reduce the overall fertility rate.

CHARLOTTE ABAKA (Ghana), Committee Chairperson, said women’s reproductive issues went beyond the issue of childbearing, on which the report placed the most emphasis.  Various forms of cancer and menopausal problems should also be addressed.  Other health problems included domestic violence, which had a tremendous impact on the mental health of women.  The report had not provided any information on programmes for the mental health of women.  The report also did not address the link between the fertility rate and the maternal mortality rate and lacked information on drug and substance abuse by women.  Commending the peace initiative, she said that in itself was an important aspect of dealing with mental health problems.

NAELA GABR, expert from Egypt, asked whether there were plans to adopt laws providing for equality between men and women, taking into account, for instance, the condition of pregnant women in the workplace.  What were the work conditions for indigenous women?  How were women in the informal sector, particularly in families, protected against exploitation? she asked.  What steps had been taken to protect the social and economic rights of women?  She also sought information on the health of indigenous women.

Ms. LIVINGSTONE RADAY, expert from Israel, was concerned about high rates of unemployment and low wages, which affected women more than men, particularly in the agricultural sector.  The report stated that girls between 10 and 14 years old entered the labour market, but it was not clear whether that kind of child labour was prohibited.  What protection did the Government provide to those child labourers so that they could attend school?

She also asked what the Government was doing to enforce the labour rights of women working in the domestic sector, beyond just informing domestic workers of their rights.  Did the Government prosecute employers or just enable workers to take action? she asked.  She also wanted clarification of the disaggregated data in the report’s charts on housing as well as on the co-ownership of land.

Country Response

SANDRA BARRERA, Technical Advisor to the Ministry of Labour, said all workers shared benefits equally and domestic workers had the same benefits as workers in other sectors.  The Constitution provided a minimum guarantee of benefits, and domestic workers had the right to claim those or any other benefits of which they felt they had been deprived.  Reforms to the Labour Code also contemplated, among other things, the role of female agricultural workers.

She went on to highlight the specific initiatives under way to ensure protection of the rights of women, particularly those working in the clothing and textile industry.  Extensive efforts had been undertaken to ensure that medical facilities, doctors and nurses were available at work sites and a national authority had been created to monitor labour violations, with the main objectives of promoting information-sharing on labour rights, coordinating national action and training employers and workers on labour rights and regulations. 

The authority also ensured compliance with national regulations and international human rights treaties, she said.  Among the main projects of the Labour Ministry was to promote gender training among supervisors, to enhance institutional coordination on women’s labour rights and to promote direct dialogue with trade unions and women’s civil organizations.

Furthermore, she continued, with reforms to the Labour Code, the Ministry had now given agencies the authority to assess fines for non-compliance with labour laws.  A Department of Administrative Sanctions had been established last year in that regard.

Turning to child labour, she said Guatemala had ratified Convention 182 of the International Labour Organization (ILO) on the worst forms of child labour.  The Labour Ministry had begun training programmes for youth groups and trade unions on child labour issues.  Guatemala would like to eradicate child labour and ensure that all children returned to school, so the problem of child labour was constantly being monitored.  In that regard, a National Plan for the Prevention of Child Labour and the Protection of Adolescent Work had been initiated.  The Government was also setting up a mechanism to begin implementing that plan, she added. 

Ms. CARAVANTES said there were many initiatives under way to enhance the participation of women in agriculture, particularly poor rural women, individually or collectively.  Regarding cultural obstacles that might hinder the advancement of women, she cited the phenomenon of doctors who felt that examining a woman was an “attack on her modesty”.  Guatemalan society was very religious and family planning was considered a sin.  It was often said that it was easier to ask for forgiveness for committing three sins than to ask for birth control pills.  Husbands, she added, often opposed access to birth control.

Mr. MOLINA AVILES, said that in the past there had been no reproductive health programmes.  The very notion of family planning was considered taboo and any minister attempting to impose such a programme would have lost his position.  Now a four-pronged national family health care scheme -- providing care for children overall, male and female adolescents, comprehensive care for women and men -- had been created.  Guatemala had also begun implementing a national mental health programme as well as a solid slate of HIV/AIDS initiatives, he added. 

Still, cultural obstacles persisted on the part of those in need of aid and the caregivers themselves, he said.  If husbands objected to any form of birth control, doctors would not provide that type of care.  However, that situation was changing somewhat.  It was now considered a right to determine the number and timing of child births.

The number of heath care centres with more than one method of birth control was increasing, he said.  Information was now being disseminated in the Spanish and Mayan languages.

Noting that the Government had begun to realize that years of war and civil strife had taken a toll on the mental health of the women of the country, he said schools now provided some mental health care and other programmes were under way, thanks to funds provided by the United States.

Mr. MEJIA MONZON said his department was strengthening the programme for education, specifically family education, and trying to promote participation by women in the community.  There was a need to promote the rights of women and indigenous people to enjoy equal opportunities in rural areas.  The strategy in that regard was being implemented with the help of NGOs.  He acknowledged that women and indigenous women were the most affected by illiteracy.  Literacy programmes had therefore been targeted at women.  Bilingual education was being encouraged, he added.

Violence against women and in the family was mainly due to silence, he said.  Children thought that type of violence was normal.  That problem was being discussed in the context of education.  In addition, male and female adolescents were being targeted with information about AIDS.  The best way to combat child labour was through the provision of educational grants.

Experts’ Questions

Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, hoped that the next report would show improvements in the Labour Code, guaranteeing the rights of the workers in the domestic sector and the maquila sector.  She asked whether, besides the health agency, other agencies and media were dealing with the issue of reproductive health.  She also wanted to know if access to contraceptives was free of charge.

AYSE FERIDE ACAR, expert from Turkey, said she had the impression that literacy programmes were concentrated more on raising school attendance by girls.  She asked if there were programmes addressing adult illiteracy, particularly among indigenous women, and if so, what result they had achieved.  What had been the result of a programme in which secondary school students had engaged in teaching women to read and write?  Did the country have a nationwide literacy campaign that targeted women?

She also asked for data on the number and position of women, particularly indigenous women, in academia and their distribution among the various disciplines.  She said that academic women in senior positions were important in determining the research agenda.  They were motivators of changes in the curricula in favour of gender-sensitive and women-friendly programmes.

Ms. REGAZZOLI, expert from Argentina, expressed the hope that the next report would give a more specific assessment of the participation of women and highlight more progress in literacy programmes for indigenous women.  Greater participation by women in political life would also be welcome.

ROSARIO MANALO, expert from the Philippines, asked whether, given that prostitution was legal, protection against HIV/AIDS was provided for prostitutes.  How were clandestine prostitutes protected? she asked.  She suggested that the national programme on mental health should have a programme specifically focusing on women’s mental health problems.  Pointing out that the reports did not give specific information on the emigration of women working in the domestic sector, she asked for that information to be included in the next report.  There was also no information on programmes addressing harassment in the public and private sector.  She also sought clarification on women in the informal and microenterprise sector.

SAVITRI GOONESEKERE, expert from Sri Lanka, hoped that the next report would provide detailed information on the prosecution of employers and monitoring methods in the free-trade zones.  She urged the strengthening in that regard of the tripartite arrangement between unions, employers and government.  She also asked if multinational investors proactively introduced programmes to contribute to health and education.  Were self-regulatory codes regarding child labour implemented through employer-groups? she asked.  She also wanted clarification about the regulation of domestic work.

Ms. LIVINGSTSONE RADAY, expert from Israel, noted that 11 per cent of the recipients of housing subsidies were women, and asked if the remaining 89 per cent of subsidies were given to male heads of households or to the household as a whole.

Country Response

Ms. CARAVANTES said that for the first time, representatives of the Bishops Conference had participated in the elaboration of the Social Development Law.  It had been important that a segment of the Catholic Church take part in developing the country’s social policy initiative.

Mr. MOLINA AVILES said the National Reproductive Health Law existed within the framework of social development initiatives.  Still, the Government was aware that much remained to be done in ensuring that society as a whole could participate in creating the law and could have a sense of ownership in it.  He added that all health care centres were equipped with birth control devices.

On prostitution and HIV/AIDS, he said the Government had worked with the relevant civil society agencies to help provide information to some sex workers.  Regarding the issue of migration, he said it was a problem in Guatemala and great attention was focused on populations that had been displaced or forced to move as a result of the armed conflict.

Ms. CARAVANTES said the Government had signed an agreement with the Literacy Commission in order to promote literacy, particularly in the area of reproductive health. 

Mr. BAYARDO, referring to last year’s national literacy campaign on local and community radio, said it had targeted high school students.  He had no complete statistics on hand, but some 230,000 adults had also been served in the initial phase of the plan.  Efforts were ongoing, particularly to ensure that rural and indigenous women were reached.

Ms. CARAVANTES said the Government would extend every effort to ensure that more information and statistics on women in education, as well as on professional women, were included in Guatemala’s next report.

Ms. BARRERA said male and female workers had a right to social benefits.  New proposals to reform the Labour Code included elements to enhance the rights of domestic workers and to ban sexual harassment in the workplace.

On female migrant workers, she said national and international legislation aimed to protect their rights.  Describing the many efforts under way to ensure the protection of all migrant workers, she noted that a plan of action had been established to monitor overall as well as internal migration.  Efforts were also under way to enhance labour inspection initiatives and there were now hundreds of inspectors operating throughout the country, she added.

Experts’ Questions

Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, asked how reforms to the Civic Code applied to the equality of women.  She also asked if the age for marriage, with parental consent, was now the same for boys and girls, and if the age of 16 years was not too young.  She also asked whether women had equal rights in terms of inheritance.  As there was customary law for indigenous people, what happened in case of a conflict between civic and customary law? 

Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, asked about the status of the proposed amendment to the Civil Code mentioned in one of the reports.  She also wanted to know the current situation of women previously living in free union who had been abandoned and the civil status of their offspring. 

Ms. GONZALES, expert from Mexico, expressing her opinion that the 1998 amendments to the Civil Code were applicable to free unions and that they acknowledged the responsibilities of the couple regarding children, asked if the reform was properly applied and if the public had been informed about it.  She hoped the next report would give information on the application of the provisions on repeated violence in the family as a cause for divorce.

Ms. FERRER GOMEZ, expert from Cuba, asked if the Penal Code provided for compliance with the payment of alimony.

Country Response

Ms. SOBERANIS, referring to the marriage age, said attempts to harmonize it at 16 years for both males and females had not been adopted; it was currently 14 for females.  That was due mainly to cultural attitudes, she said, adding that the women’s movement had been particularly active in promoting reforms of the country’s marriage and alimony laws.  While there was currently no discrimination between men and women when it came to inheritance rights, among indigenous populations, only men customarily inherited property.

Ms. ABAKA (Ghana), Committee Chairperson, commended the delegation on Guatemala’s integration of its peace process with development issues.

Ms. CARAVANTES thanked the experts for their helpful suggestions and said that during the current Government’s final year and a half in office, it would continue to push for improvements in literacy for women, reproductive and mental health care as well as broader compliance with the Convention.

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For information media. Not an official record.