13 August 2002


Press Release

Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

579th Meeting (AM)


Mechanisms Must Survive Time and Transition, Say Experts

The expert members of the Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women this morning noted the absence of a national plan of action to promote equality between men and women, a weak legislative system and a shortage of the financial and human resources required to address situations of inequality in Barbados.

Continuing its three-week exceptional session -- being held to reduce the backlog of country reports -- the Committee was considering the fourth periodic report of Barbados on its compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. 

The Committee’s experts felt there seemed to be a gap between the Government's aspirations and its achievements in implementing the Convention, and called for more sustainable national mechanisms to address women's issues that could survive time and transitions.  In order to understand and address issues of discrimination in Barbados, sex-disaggregated data on such unemployment, wages, poverty and violence were urgently needed.

Progress in the area of women's participation in political and decision-making activities had been particularly slow, experts felt.  Since Barbados had ratified the Convention in 1980, only four women were represented in Parliament, and only one woman sat on the Supreme Court.  As the Convention provided for temporary measures to accelerate de facto equality, experts urged the Government to consider quota systems.  They also asked the Government to consider programmes addressing gender stereotyping as a priority, and to take measures to combat violence against women.

Ruth Blackman, Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Social Transformation of Barbados, introduced her country's report, saying that over the years, the Government had attempted to advance the equality of women through various means, including legal reform.  The Ministry of Social Transformation had been established in 1999 to mainstream gender into all Government programmes, plans and policies, monitor implementation and carry out sensitivity training in public and private sectors.

Responding to the experts’ comments and questions regarding the national machinery, she reiterated that a number of agencies, including the Bureau of Women’s Affairs, had been created to identify projects and carry out research on

women’s issues as well as create links with other Government agencies.  She admitted that changes in Government during the 1990s had caused a slight setback, but momentum had been regained following the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing.

She said that although there were no barriers to the participation of women in politics, many wished to work in the background.  Women were continually urged to participate in all areas of the country's social and political life.  She added that, while positive change would depend to a great extent on political will, it would also depend on the will of women themselves.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 14 August, when it will take up the fourth and fifth periodic reports of Yemen.


The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to consider the fourth periodic report of Barbados (document CEDAW/C/BAR/4).

Based on a review of relevant publications and contributions from the various Government ministries, the report is divided into two parts, the first providing general background information on the country, its population, ethnic composition, economic status, and the political and legal systems.  The second part examines each article of the Convention.

Geographically, Barbados is the most easterly of the Caribbean islands.  It measures 34 kilometres in length and is 23 kilometres wide, with a total land area of approximately 432 square kilometres, or 166 miles.  A coral formation except for the Eastern Scotland District, the island is comparatively flat with its highest point at 340 metres, or 1,115 feet, above sea level.  The population is virtually unchanged, rising from 264,000 in 1994 to 267,000 in 1999.

In other statistics, the report notes that by 1999 the labour force was 136,600, with nearly 71 per cent male and 65.5 per cent female.  Unemployment has fallen since 1994 to 5.5 per cent for males in 1999.  The unemployment rate for females, 16.2 per cent in 1994, had decreased to 8.7 per cent by 1999.  The economy grew for the sixth consecutive year with real gross domestic product (GDP) expanding by an estimated 4.4 per cent during 1998.  That was the fastest growth rate since 1996, the year when economic recovery from the recession of the early 1990s finally took place. 

Political development included the commitment of all parties to the principle of equal rights and opportunities for all, including women, the report states.  Women continue to enjoy equal opportunities in most areas and are extended all freedoms and social justice under the Constitution.  Legally, women continue to make strides in gaining reforms that enhance their status and remove gender imbalances.  The Bureau of Women's Affairs and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) continue to fight against gender imbalances in the community. 

Indeed, the report continues, women's organizations have taken a more direct interest in gender issues during the last several years.  Moving from just demanding equality, they have been working towards interfacing with various agencies to see that women's views are sought and heard on a wide variety of topics.  Though not giving up their traditional role as caregivers and service providers, women have generated momentum from the widespread preparations for the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing.  Direct involvement in that meeting has given them a new focus and renewed impetus.

Under article 5 of the Convention, on stereotyping, the report says that much has been done in terms of public policy.  Some measure of success can be seen in the fact that some men are undertaking a greater role in parenting, although it is still seen as the primary responsibility of the mother.  That is due to: the socialization of men and women in the home; existing prejudices in schools and other institutions, which portray women as the primary caregivers and continue to place them in that stereotyped role; and the view of fathers as outsiders who play peripheral roles in the family.  An organization called Parent Education for Development, recognizing the need for ongoing parent education activities, seeks to raise the level of public awareness of the issues, teach communication skills to parents and teachers, and improve the quality of family life through education and training. 

Under article 7, on the elimination of discrimination against women in political and public life, the report says there is no barrier under the Constitution to women's participation in public and political life.  Since 1943, women have had the right to vote and are entitled to hold public office and exercise all public functions established by national law on equal terms with men.  Predominantly, however, women do not stand for electoral office as frequently as men and their political participation is confined to voting for predominantly male candidates.

The Barbadian woman is considered responsible for the welfare of her spouse, children and the elderly, the report states.  As a result, women have little time to take an active part in political life.  Furthermore, women do not appear to venture into politics in their own right because they find it difficult to gain family and public moral and financial support for their political ambitions.  It appears that women rarely support other women in political life, preferring instead to support males at election time. 

Similarly, the report finds that while there is no legal impediment preventing women from representing the country at the international level, the appointment of women to embassies and international agencies continues to be proportionately lower than that of men.  However, there is currently a female Deputy Prime Minister, who is also the Minister of Foreign Affairs.  There are also four heads of mission (one acting) and one deputy head of mission in the Barbados foreign service.

Introduction of Report

RUTH BLACKMAN, Deputy Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Social Transformation, presenting the fourth periodic report on behalf of Minister Hamilton Lashley, said the groundwork for the 1980 ratification of the Convention had been laid by the Constitution.  The country’s machinery for women dated back to the 1976 National Commission, which had been set up to review, monitor and report on the status of women.

Over the years, she continued, Barbados had consistently participated in and supported the outcomes of major global summits and conferences on women.  The Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing had clearly highlighted the importance of recognizing women’s human rights, and affirmed the important role women played in worldwide efforts to achieve sustainable development.  Beijing’s landmark Platform for Action identified nine critical areas of concern for the full promotion and protection of women’s rights, five of which formed the nexus of Barbados’ national strategy for gender equality.

She said she would address Barbados’ compliance with the Convention against that backdrop, focusing mainly on institutional mechanisms, poverty, violence against women, women in decision-making and women and health. 

Since the establishment of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs, the Government had attempted to advance the equality of women through various ways, including through legal reform and policy implementation, she went on.  Several programmes had been developed which focused on vocational skills training and small-scale income-generating projects.  It had become clear by the late 1980s and into the early 1990s, however, that new, more comprehensive machinery was needed.

She said the Government had been urged to embrace a policy of gender mainstreaming and by 1999, the Ministry of Social Transformation was established, incorporating the Bureau for Gender Affairs.  The Bureau’s task was to mainstream gender into all Government programmes, plans and policies, monitor implementation and carry out sensitivity training in both the public and private sectors. 

A national advisory council on gender had been established to assist the Bureau and advise the Government on trends and emerging issues, she said.  Focal points had been identified in the social service sector and would work to ensure that programmes within their agencies and departments were gender-focused.

Non-governmental organizations and women’s groups had also taken a more direct interest in gender issues and were now involved in training programmes and advocacy.  Turing to poverty, she said it had become well known that poverty in developing countries was more prevalent among women.  In Barbados and the wider Caribbean region, women were generally the principal, if not the sole, breadwinners for their families.  Indeed, some 44 per cent of households in Barbados were headed by women.  It was clear that efforts to alleviate poverty must attempt to alleviate the social end economic conditions of women.

As part of its social policy initiatives, she said, the Government had introduced several programmes through various agencies to meet the needs of the most vulnerable people in society.  Apart from social services such as welfare grants, elder care programmes and child care services, a Poverty Eradication Fund had been established to focus on boosting entrepreneurial activities that could increase employment among youth and women. 

She said those initiatives included “Relief 2000”, an in-house effort focused on meeting the needs of recipients of social assistance, a “welfare-to-work programme” and an Urban Enterprise Fund aimed at reducing high levels of unemployment in urban areas through the development of a sustainable business sector. 

Turning next to violence against women, she said that unfortunately, it pervaded all levels of society, basically as a result of general inequality between men and women.  Prior to Beijing, Barbados had enacted a Domestic Violence Act in 1992, which aimed, among other things, to end domestic violence, protect victims, and change public and private attitudes.

The Government was seeking to combat the incidence of violence against women through the eradication of inequality between men and women and the provision of victim’s services, she continued.  Activities to raise awareness and to combat violence against all women were mainly handled by the NGO community through the provision of various support services for victims and offenders.  Those services included providing temporary shelter, counselling and education training.  The Bureau of Women’s Affairs had been working with civil society and had used International Women’s Day to focus on issues relating to violence against women.

Turning next to women and decision-making, she said women’s right to equal participation and freedom of assembly were guaranteed under the Constitution.  Women were active participants in the political process as supporters, campaigners and voters, but continued to be relatively absent from positions of real power.  Their reluctance to participate at that level might be due to the aggressive nature of campaigning or self-imposed restrictions based on gender role perceptions. Currently, out of a total of 28 sitting members of Parliament, four were female, and of the Senate’s 12 representatives, six were female.

Regarding health care, she said it was viewed as a fundamental right in Barbados.  Health care services were gender-neutral, so women’s access to such care was not compromised or limited by cultural, social or economic barriers.  Furthermore, Barbados had moved away from focusing narrowly on women as mothers and placed greater emphasis on providing services that recognized, among other things, the different health profiles of men and women.  The Government had also recognized the need to investigate the effects of the work environment on women’s health, particularly in relation to stress and impact on family life.

With respect to HIV/AIDS, she said the Government had adopted a more aggressive approach in addressing the devastating affects of the epidemic on the social and economic development of Barbados.  The Ministry of Health envisioned a nation where every citizen was aware of the consequences of HIV infection and was equipped to behave responsibly.  Chronic non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and hypertension continued to be the leading causes of death among Barbadians, she added.

Surveys showed that the prevalence of obesity was also a major risk factor, she said.  Thirty per cent of Barbadian women were obese and 58 per cent were overweight.  The country was actively working on adopting strategies to change the health profiles.  She added that legal reform had been extensive and particular attention had been paid to sexual harassment.  The Family Law Act was also being revised.

Experts’ Questions

ROSALYN HAZELLE (Saint Kitts and Nevis), Rapporteur of the Committee, noting that the report did not mention a national plan of action and that the national machinery seemed to lack the necessary human resources, asked if there was a plan of action on the five priority areas mentioned, how many staff and how big a budget the machinery had.  She also sought clarification about the National Advisory Committee, the Inter-Ministerial Committee and the gender focal points. 

She said there was a lack of data on violence, disaggregated data by sex and age, and asked whether an age of consent and laws on statutory rape had been established.  She also wanted more information on funding and NGO involvement in the shelter.  Had cases been taken to court under the law recognizing common law union, and if so, what had been the result?

MARIA YOLANDA FERRER GOMEZ, expert from Cuba, seeking more information on the Government’s strategy to reduce poverty in its gender perspective, asked how many of the 44 per cent of households headed by women were in the vulnerable segment of the population?  Regarding Ministry of Education programmes, she asked if they were incidental or ongoing and how many fathers had attended the courses offered.  She also wanted to know if there were plans to revise textbooks.  Noting that the report made no mention of specific programmes to change cultural patterns, she asked if there were plans or actions to address that issue.

MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, asked for more information about the 1997 revisions to the Constitution and about the structure, power, funding and human resources of the Bureau for Women’s Affairs, which had been designated as focal point for women’s issues.  Why had the Bureau not undertaken any sustained programme on changing social and cultural patterns and why had the issue of prostitution not been addressed? she asked.

FRANCES LIVINGSTONE RADAY, expert from Israel, asked whether any cases of equality and human rights had been brought to court, and for sex-disaggregated data on wages, unemployment and number of women decision makers in the judiciary and academia.  She also wanted to know if there was an equal employment law allowing women to sue if necessary, if sexual harassment in the workplace was prohibited, and if there was statutory parental child care leave for both men and women.  If any of those pieces of legislation had been put in place, what remedies did they provide?  Had cases been brought to court? she asked.

Country Response

Ms. BLACKMAN, responding to the expert’s comments and questions on the national machinery, reiterated that a number of agencies, including the Bureau of Women’s Affairs, had been created to identify projects and carry out research on women’s issues as well as create links with other Government agencies.  She admitted that changes in Government during the 1990s had caused a slight setback, but momentum had been regained following the Beijing Conference and broad efforts had been undertaken to strengthen the national machinery so that equality and equity for women and men could be achieved.  She also highlighted the importance of the social service focal points that would be the Bureau’s “eyes and ears” and ensure that its policies would be broadly implemented.

She went on to note the difficulties encountered in ensuring that information was disaggregated by sex and hoped the focal points would help correct that problem.  As far as staffing for the national machinery was concerned, she highlighted, among other things, that from 1 September, a new director would take over as head of the Bureau of Gender Affairs.  That position would be strengthened by the addition of two programme officers. 

The Bureau was budgeted through the Ministry for Social Transformation, she said, adding that the National Advisory Committee -- now the National Advisory Committee on Gender Affairs -- was made up of a broad range of actors and charged with monitoring trends relating to women’s issues and drawing attention to problem areas.

She said that women in common-law unions of five years or more received the same benefits as married women and could not recall any court case that had successfully challenged that law.  On violence against women, she stressed that problems in disaggregating figures by sex were exacerbated by the fact that all acts of violence were tried under an Offences against the Person Act, so it was difficult to give specific numbers since violence against both men and women was lumped under the same category.  She added that sex with any female under 16, whether consensual or not, was deemed to be statutory rape.

A women’s shelter had been established in 1999 to provide a temporary home and safety for women and children who were victims of domestic violence, or for reasons other than abuse, she said.  Some 34 women and 37 children had passed through the shelter in 2000-2001, and in 2002 the shelter had helped 36 women and 34 children.  The maximum stay was three months. 

She said that 53 per cent of the women were employed -- often earning less than $1,000 a month -- and had been referred to the shelter by police, hospitals and friends.  That facility was funded by the Government but administered by NGOs.  On the use of international days to address the issue of violence against women, she said seminars and training courses with victims and perpetrators were being held and that an extensive public relations campaign was set for October.

Regarding the eradication of poverty, she said the Government had established the $30 million Poverty Alleviation Fund, to which agencies and commissions could bring ideas and programmes aimed solely at poverty alleviation.  Again the statistics were not gender-disaggregated, but there was no barrier to accessing the Fund’s programmes and initiatives.

On politics, she said there were also no barriers to women’s participation, but many wished to work in the background.  While there were no specific campaigns promoting more active participation, women were continually urged to take part in all areas of the country’s social and political life.  In fact, several women were set to participate in pending elections.  Just because there were only four women in the Barbados Assembly did not mean that only four had run for office, she added.

Addressing the Committee’s concerns that some articles of the Constitution did not specifically mention discrimination based on sex, she said the necessary changes were under way.  She added that other sections of the Constitution addressed that issue, so even though the word “sex” was not used, the laws themselves prevented discrimination against women.

On cultural attitudes, she said the National Organization of Women had taken an active role in nationwide efforts to change the perception of women and their place in society.  Relevant programmes were ongoing and a definite plan of action was now in place.

Regarding prostitution, she said that while police records continued to state that “officially there was no substantial activity”, the Government was not naïve.  Making matters unclear was the lack of gender-disaggregated figures and the fact that there were notable instances of male prostitution.  As for prostitution's links to tourism, she said investigations had shown that female tourists readily paid Barbadian men for sexual favours at beaches or in other vacation spots.  Policies and programmes had been instituted to steer youth away from prostitution and towards more positive endeavours, she said.

Experts’ Questions

NAELA GABR, expert from Egypt, said that in the future, much more attention should be given to national mechanisms for women.  They must be sustainable and act as the contact point for cooperation with NGOs.

She noted that education was not among the five priorities mentioned in the report and warned that the “renaissance” of tourism could bring radical social changes.  Regarding prostitution, she said the education and training of women and girls should be organized in the best way possible so as to avoid their exploitation as prostitutes.  What programmes would protect women in the future? she asked.

CHRISTINE KAPALATA, expert from the United Republic of Tanzania, noted that there was still legislation, mentioned in former reports, awaiting enactment.  There seemed to be a gap between the Government’s aspirations and its achievements.  More sustainable mechanisms were needed that could survive time and transitions, as well as a plan of action to implement the Convention’s provisions, she added.

FATIMA KWAKU, expert from Nigeria, asked if the Office of the Ombudsman still existed.  If so, how effective was it and how many grievances pertaining to women’s rights had been submitted to it?

Country Response

Ms. BLACKMAN said her country's efforts to address the situation of women were not necessarily all gender-specific.  She highlighted several youth-oriented initiatives such as the Urban Enterprise Programme, the Rural Enterprise Programme and the Youth Entrepreneurship Programme.  The Vocational Training Board worked actively to provide opportunities for the youth.

Turning to education, she said it was second only to health in budgetary allocation.  There was no discrimination against women at any level.  Generally, more women were teachers, and presently some 77 women headed schools in Barbados.  Women also received a significant number of national development scholarships in education.  Giving specific figures on women’s enrolment, she recalled that in 1999, some 2,579 of 3,995 students registered to attend university were female.  She added that the literacy rate in Barbados was around 97 per cent.

The Government was now addressing the phenomenon of male marginalization because women and girls were excelling at such a rapid pace, she noted.  For example, female applications for jobs with local police forces had increased dramatically, as had applications to work in other occupations that were generally considered jobs for men. 

Overall, she said, unemployment was down for women during the reporting period.  Although men still dominated the workforce, the significant number of women professionals must be recognized.  She added that the Ombudsman's Office was still active, but to her knowledge, no cases of discrimination against women had been filed. 

Experts’ Questions

IVANKA CORTI, expert from Italy, noted that despite the report’s inclusion of women’s participation in decision-making bodies as one of the five priorities, not much had been achieved and progress was very slow.  How could that be the case in a country with such high education levels for women? she asked.  Were NGOs addressing that issue?  A quota system might be helpful, she said, suggesting the promotion of temporary special measures under the Convention’s article 4.1.

HANNA BEATE SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked why there were discrepancies between the report and the oral presentation.  Noting that the report did not address the Government’s responsibility to respect and fulfil the rights of women, she recommended that the Government provide resources for efforts to disaggregate data by sex, without which understanding discrimination and addressing the situation was not possible.

She asked what efforts were under way to ratify the Optional Protocol and whether the amendment to the Convention’s paragraph 21 had been accepted.  Did the Convention have the force of law and had it been invoked in courts?  She asked for a timeframe for implementation of the 1996 recommendations of the Constitutional Review Commission.

FRANCOISE GASPARD, expert from France, saying the question about the citizenship rights of women had been answered in a cursory manner, sought more information on the status of a draft law to amend the Constitution in that regard and on the status of article 9 of the Convention relating to the right to acquire, change or retain nationality.

FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, wanted to know what happened with respect to the transfer of nationality of a child born to a Barbadian mother and a foreign father.  Could that be done?

SJAMSIAH ACHMAD, expert from Indonesia, expressed concern about the delegation’s arguments against the use of quotas.  She said the Government should refer to the Committee’s general recommendation 23 on the Convention, regarding women in political life, which provided recommendations for the use of temporary measures.

Country Response

Ms. BLACKMAN, responding to a range of comments, said the Constitutional Act of 2002 allowed for different categories of citizenship and specifically concerned the nationality of children born outside the country.  She said the Sexual Harassment Act had already passed through Parliament and was now in the final drafting stage.  On quotas, she said the whole question of women being involved in political life involved complicated cultural issues.  While there were no barriers to their participation, women seemed reluctant to subject themselves to the rigours of political life, so that while much would depend on political will, the will of women themselves was also a factor.

Acknowledging discrepancies between the report and the oral presentation, she said the delegation had made a sincere effort to address those inconsistencies.  More extensive research had been reflected in that effort but it had not been prepared in time for submission.  She said the Committee would soon be receiving her country’s official announcement of its intention to ratify the Convention's Optional Protocol as well as the amendment to article 20, paragraph 1.  The tenets of the Convention had been integrated into the country’s laws.

Experts’ Questions

ROSARIO MANALO (Philippines), Committee Vice-Chairperson, noting that no sustained programme had been undertaken to change cultural and social attitudes, and that the delegation’s position was that attitudes took a long time to change, urged consideration of a programme to change stereotyping as a priority.  She asked whether the provision that marital rape was only possible in cases of separation was still in existence, as it was very discriminatory against women.

CHARLOTTE ABAKA (Ghana), Committee Chairperson, asked whether the fact that women were highly represented in education and professional employment and that men felt marginalized had any influence on violence against women.  As vascular-

circulatory problems and cancers were still major causes of death among women in Barbados, had any research been conducted into the smoking patterns of women and did the country have a national tobacco control body?  She also asked for disaggregated data regarding the use of tobacco.

Country Response

Ms. BLACKMAN said the Government was in the process of re-evaluating legislation on marital rape to ensure that the laws addressed that issue more comprehensively.  She added that the Government and State agencies were seeing a correlation between the marginalization of men and increased violence against women.  It was a question of power, she said, adding that several NGOs had stepped up to address that phenomenon. On health matters, she said the Barbados Cancer Society was very active, as was the National Council for Smoking abuse. 

Experts’ Questions

AIDA GONZALES MARTINEZ, expert from Mexico, noting that awareness programmes on violence were carried out by NGOs, supported by the Government, and that even a men's organization was involved in studying violence against women and domestic violence, said the State party must assume its leadership role and assume the corresponding international responsibility.  As violence against women was a violation of human rights, the State had the obligation of organizing programmes and implementing measures to fight it.

SAVITRI GOONESEKERE, expert from Sri Lanka, pointing out an apparent contradiction between the current law on nationality, which was extremely gender-discriminatory, and the changes being introduced in family law, questioned the seeming inability to change the nationality laws.  Noting that the definition of marital rape did not cover de facto separation, she asked what happened in the case of rape during such a situation.

She asked whether there was a plurality of procedures if the Maintenance Law was raised in separation proceedings, as there appeared to be many laws involved in separation and divorce.  Did women have access to legal assistance?

Country Response

Ms. BLACKMAN, returning to the question of nationality, said the issue had been addressed by the Amendment Act that she had mentioned previously.  She added that legislation on marital rape was up for review and that other marriage laws dealt with issues pertaining to the maintenance and support of children.

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For information media. Not an official record.