|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
Chamber A, 795th & 796th Meetings (AM & PM)
FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION; HIGH INFANT, MATERNAL MORTALITY AMONG ISSUES ADDRESSED
AS WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE TAKES UP GUINEA’S REPORT
Minister for Social Affairs Highlights Policies Aimed
At Improving Women’s Health, Including Action Plan against Genital Mutilation
Guinea, a Muslim country where women comprise 53 per cent of the 9 million-plus population, had been chipping away at entrenched health and social issues such as HIV/AIDS, female genital mutilation and maternal mortality in the six years since it had submitted a report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the 23-member body was told today.
Introducing Guinea’s combined fourth, fifth and sixth reports, the Minister for Social Affairs and head of delegation, Hadja Fatoumata Tété Nabe, highlighted various policies and programmes to keep the health of Guinean women on the Government’s front burner: an extended vaccination programme, with provision of primary health care and essential medicines; the drafting of a 10-year action plan to combat female genital mutilation; a programme to combat HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases, which included psycho-social support for those infected; and the establishment of health cooperatives to counter the risks associated with pregnancy and delivery.
On the legal front, gender equality was built into the Guinean Constitution, which stipulated that no one be given privileges on the basis of gender, race or ethnic origin, she continued. Other progress had been made with the adoption of a non-discriminatory land tenure code; drafting of a non-discriminatory civil code; development of programmes to support refugee women and children; and signature of a multilateral agreement to combat trafficking of women with other African countries.
Having economically buckled under the extreme pressures brought about by conflict in 2000, Guinea today had a newly elected Government and Prime Minister who had the political will to make human and women’s rights a national priority, she explained. The Ministry for Social Affairs had established seven regional committees, and gender focal points had been created in the technical departments of the National Assembly. Moreover, a national directorate for the situation of women had been created, and the Government cooperated closely with non-governmental organizations.
However, she said, Guinea continued to face real problems. The risk of maternal mortality in the last five years was estimated at 980 deaths for every 100,000 live births. The risk of child mortality stood at 91 deaths for every 1,000 live births, while one out of every six children died before age 5. Moreover, the country lacked statistics on trafficking in women and children. Problems of gender-based violence, ignorance of the Convention within the judiciary and widespread illegal practice of female genital mutilation also persisted.
Taking up the issue of female genital mutilation, many experts expressed surprise and deep concern that the practice was allowed to continue, affecting around 90 per cent of Guinean women and flying in the face of a July 2000 law prohibiting it. Questions focused on the impacts and punishments of that law. One expert urged members to inform women that the practice constituted oppression. Another expert from a Muslim country questioned justification of the practice on religious grounds, as it was not performed in her country.
The delegation responded that some change had occurred following enactment of the new law. For example, the rate of the practice had decreased from 90 per cent to 87 per cent, one delegate explained. Halting the practice was a dynamic process that involved changing customs and habits over a long period of time.
The delegation’s specialist on female genital mutilation underscored that Guinea understood the “nefarious consequences” of the practice on women. Guinea had developed a national 10-year strategy for “zero tolerance”, which had involved every stratum of the population, including non-governmental organizations, the Ministries of Security and Justice, and religious representatives. However, for perpetrators to be convicted, plaintiffs must come forward. People did not tell the Ministry that their daughters had undergone the procedure.
Expert questions also surfaced over Guinea’s tardiness in submitting its report, long delays in adopting an anti-discriminatory civil code and lack of plans to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention.
Responding, delegation members stressed that the next report would be done properly, and the drafters would call on the Committee for assistance. As to the delays in adopting the civil code, one panellist explained it was not easy to review the civil code, as it was the most important document in the country.
Chamber A of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 26 July, to begin consideration of the sixth periodic report of Honduras.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to continue consideration of country reports. In Chamber A, it took up the combined fourth, fifth and sixth periodic reports of Guinea (document CEDAW/C/GIN/4-6). For Background, see Press Release WOM/1635.
Presentation of Report
The members of the delegation included Hadja Fatoumata Tété Nabe, Minister for Social Affairs, Promotion of Women and Children, Head of Delegation; Issa Traore, Legal Counsel, Ministry for Social Affairs; Diaby Mariama Sylla, National Director for Promotion of Women, Ministry for Social Affairs; Hadja Mariama Aribot, Professor, former Minister for Social Affairs; Ibrahima Kalil Sako, Attachée de Cabinet, Ministry for Social Affairs, Kaba Conde, Journalist, Radiotelevision Guinea; Hawa Keita, Camerawoman; Marie Toure, Director for the Promotion of Women, Ministry for Social Affairs; Diaby Fatoumata Diaraye, Chief of the Division for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women, Ministry for Social Affairs; Binta Nabe, Chief of the Section, Social Protection of Women, Ministry for Social Affairs; Moussey Bangoura, Gender Coordinator, Ministry for Social Affairs; and Aicha Traore, Focal Point, Ministry for Social Affairs.
Also, Hadja Oumou Berete, Focal Point, Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism; Saran Toure, Professional Association of Communication; Bintou Bamba, Focal Point, Ministry of Public Health; Mariama Sidibe, Focal Point, Ministry of Economic and Financial Planning; Djene Conde, Focal Point, Ministry of Livestock, Environment and Forests; Nanfadima Magassouba, President, National Coalition of Guinea for the Rights and Citizenship of Women; Passy Kourouma, Focal Point, Committee of Equity; Sere Kaba, Focal Point, Maternal Mortality, Ministry of Public Health; Souleymane Camara, Judicial Officer, National Office for the Promotion of Women; Madina Bah, Focal Point, Ministry of Communication and New Information Technologies. The Permanent Mission of Guinea to the United Nations was also represented.
Introducing the report, Ms. TÉTÉ NABE said it had been six years since Guinea had submitted its initial and combined second and third reports. Progress since that time in the areas of gender equity and the advancement of women had stemmed from the strong efforts of all departments, civil society, non-governmental and development partners. Her country was also working with the media and United Nations specialized agencies to better use the Convention.
Guinea had seven administrative regions that comprised 33 prefectures, she explained. The country’s population had swelled from 7 million in 2000 to more than 9 million in 2006, and was expected to reach about 10.5 million by 2010. Today, women comprised 53 per cent of the population. Infant mortality stood at 91 deaths for every 1,000 live births. Mortality before age 5 stood at 163 out of 1,000 births – in other words -- one out of every six children died before the age of 5.
Guinea’s economy was primarily based on agriculture, which occupied about 80 per cent of the active population, most of which were women, she continued. The annual per capita income in 1997 stood at $570, with more than 40 per cent living below the absolute poverty threshold. The deterioration of the economic and financial environment had been brought about by several factors, including armed conflict in 2000, the consequences of which had also given rise to pressures from refugees and internally displaced persons. Such a situation compounded poverty, especially among women.
That extreme drop in purchasing power had resulted in the appointment of a Prime Minister and the establishment of a consensus Government in March 2007, she explained, noting that the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Justice, among other departments, had all displayed the will to make human rights a national priority. The National Assembly had adopted a law that put in place an independent commission for investigating the events of past violence, and abuse against women and girls remained a focus of the Government’s attention.
Guinea had adhered to the Convention in 1981 and ratified it in 1982, without submitting reservations, she continued. The laws established to protect human rights, particularly of women, were of prime importance.
On the political front, although Guinea had been a pioneer in the promotion of women, women’s access to decision-making positions had been declining. Women were represented in central administration, although, the new Government had appointed just one female Governor out of eight. To bolster achievements thus far, her Ministry hoped to create “gender cells” and focal points in ministerial departments to influence policy. The goal was to see more women involved in the electoral process. The Government had tasked itself with creating a gender chair at Conakry University; ensuring training of Government members in matters of gender; establishing a five-year strategic plan focusing on the condition of women and children; and carrying out inquiries regarding the trafficking of women and girls.
In the legal domain, she noted article 8 in Guinea’s framework law that provided equality for all human beings before the law and stipulated that no one be given privileges on the basis of race, gender, ethnic origin or political opinion. She also highlighted Guinea’s adoption of a land tenure code that was non-discriminatory; revision of the criminal code; drafting of a non-discriminatory civil code; drafting of a code for children that addressed legal shortcomings; the 2004 ratification of the Protocol to the African Human Rights Charter; development of programmes to support refugee women and children; strengthening of partnerships between her Ministry and others; and the signature of a multilateral agreement to combat trafficking of women with other African countries. Also, a legal adviser had been appointed, supported by 15 paralegal staff to protect the rights of women and children.
On the economic front, progress had been made with the establishment of a three-year literacy programme for 300,000 women, a national fund to support women’s economic activities and construction of support centres. Also, micro-finance community-based institutions had been created and an agricultural development instrument had been adopted, making it possible to develop a gender-based agriculture plan.
On the social front, she explained that actions included extension of the vaccination programme, primary health care and essential medicines; the drafting of a 10-year action plan to combat female genital mutilation; a programme to combat HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases; and the establishment of health cooperatives to counter the risks associated with pregnancy and delivery.
On education, she said the Government was committed to reducing gender disparities, particularly for young girls. Equity committees were being established and the National Commission for Education offered services for girls who had not attended school.
On the institutional front, progress in the follow-up to the Convention had been made, she explained. In that context, the Ministry for Social Affairs had established seven regional committees and gender focal points had been created in the technical departments of the National Assembly. There was a national directorate for the situation of women. She added that Guinea cooperated closely with non-governmental organizations.
In the context of international cooperation, Guinea received support from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the African Development Bank and departments of Canadian Government
The country was constrained by the lack of statistics for the areas of concern to the Committee, such as trafficking in women and children. Other problems existed in the areas of gender-based violence; the low position of women in electoral politics; ignorance of the Convention within the judiciary; illiteracy; scant dissemination of legal instruments; difficulties of local products in accessing markets; the low level of community participation; the continuation of early marriage and female genital mutilation; and the feminization of poverty.
Nonetheless, Guinea remained committed to adhering to international instruments, she stressed, requesting the international community to provide support that would allow her country to take up those challenges in protecting the rights of women.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
HEISOO SHIN, expert from Republic of Korea, expressed considerable frustration over the reports because they had not been written according to the Committee’s guidelines, namely, article by article of the Convention. She also urged the delegation to study the Committee’s general recommendations -- there were 25 so far -- as those provided interpretations of the Conventions provisions and represented supplementary requirements for the State party. For example, the Convention did not contain a specific provision on violence against women, but general recommendations 12 and 19 asked States parties to submit information on all forms of violence against women.
She noted that the report was also very late, and the seventh report was already due this year. The reports should be submitted automatically every four years. Additionally, the reports did not provide enough data disaggregated by sex and she wished to know how data was collected and how often a census was done. It seemed that there was no clear understanding of the treaty’s articles, especially article 4 on temporary special measures and article 5 on stereotypes.
On discrimination, both direct and indirect, she said it was not enough that the Constitution guaranteed equality between men and women. There should be legislation that embodied the principle. After reading the draft laws, which were long overdue, she wanted to know who was in charge of pushing them through, especially the draft civil code. She also asked about the Guinean observatory on respect for human rights, specifically whether it still existed and whether it was responsible for spearheading legal reforms. In addition, what was the time frame for passing the draft laws?
Given the statement that the Government had no plan to ratify the Convention’s Optional Protocol, she stressed the importance for the State party to do so, as that would give Guinean women an opportunity to register complaints.
VIOLETA NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, noting the creation of several institutions, asked about their mandates and hierarchy, and especially the coordination among them. She also asked what mechanisms existed to secure proper coordination between the Ministry for Social Affairs and other institutions vested with implementing the national policy for the advancement of women, and how cooperation was ensured with the observatory and the National Assembly with respect to the promotion of women’s rights. She also asked whether the Social Affairs Minister reported regularly to the National Assembly and Government on implementation of the national policy and related programmes, and how work was coordinated in order to support the implementation of necessary actions at the local, decentralized levels.
PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, asked whether the Social Affairs Ministry would receive the necessary financial and human resources to implement all the programmes and policies highlighted this morning in the oral presentation. On the question of the Optional Protocol, to which political and administrative authorities had the request for its ratification been made, and had that request been renewed following the inauguration of the new Government in March? She also wanted to know the reasons it had been turned down. She was also concerned about the draft civil code, as its enactment would eradicate a series of discriminatory laws.
She said she understood the prevailing traditional, political and economic climate in the country, but the Convention required States parties to pursue by all means and without delay policies of eliminating discrimination against women, and she was concerned about the delay in enacting the draft civil code. What were the obstacles and was there a time frame? She also asked a number of questions about the preparation of the report.
SILVIA PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, said she was “very, very concerned” about the difficulties and obstacles to achieving equality between women and men in Guinea. The report mentioned a number of prevailing practices, such as early forced marriage, physical and psychological violence and sexual abuse, female genital mutilation, obstacles to inheritance, taboos and so forth. What were the taboos? Also, what was meant by the statement that women heads of households were becoming increasingly aware of the role they could play within the family unit?
Turning to the question of female genital mutilation, she asked if the July 2000 law that prohibited and severely punished the practice had had any impact. Various sources had indicated that the practice was affecting anywhere from 65 to 90 per cent of Guinean women. The delegation’s report cited a figure of 96 per cent. The report never mentioned reliance on the Committee as a resource to assist in eradicating that crime. Why was that important tool not being utilized? she asked.
A member of the delegation said that the next report would be done properly, and the drafters would call on the Committee for assistance. To draft the present report, a “validation workshop” had been held, to which non-governmental organizations had been invited.
Further elaborating on the report’s preparation, another delegate explained that an inter-ministerial committee had been set up that embraced civil society organizations and United Nations specialized agencies, especially the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The Social Affairs Ministry had worked closely with the National Coalition on the Rights and Citizenship of Women, and the political parties had also been represented in the process. The National Commission had drafted the report, and National Assembly members had been represented. The National Economic and Social Council and the Supreme Court had also validated the text. There were several factors that had contributed to the delay, including in the Foreign Ministry and technical constraints. There had also been power generation problems. The delegation might start working, and when power failed, the work would “just disappear from the [computer] screen”.
Responding to additional questions, another delegation member acknowledged that not all magistrates and lawyers had taken the Convention on board. The observatory had been set up by decree of the Speaker of the National Assembly, and it worked very closely with the women’s rights-human rights monitoring centre to develop training and educational programmes pertaining to the protection of women’s rights. For instance, there had been a whole series of courses for parliamentarians.
As for data collection, she said that that was carried out on the basis of national and local surveys. However, communities had not yet been surveyed. Recent proposals had been put forward to alleviate the problems, and a census was scheduled for 2008. Basically, surveys or censuses were taken every 10 years.
On the subject of the revised draft civil code, another delegation member said the Ministry of Social Affairs had actively engaged with the Justice Ministry. At present, the review, which had also involved experts from other countries, was nearing completion. The draft family code had been integrated into the revised civil code to reflect the innovations pertaining to women. Also, all provisions of the Women’s Convention and other relevant instruments related to the situation of women had been incorporated. The endeavour was approaching completion and should reach the National Assembly by the end of 2008, he said.
On female genital mutilation, another delegate said that some change had occurred following enactment of the new law. For example, the rate of the practice had been 90 per cent and was now at 87 per cent. However, the process was dynamic and it took a long time to change customs and habits. Female genital mutilation was practical for social reasons and religious requirements. In Guinea, 80 per cent of the population was Muslim, and the practice was prevalent among Muslims. There was also concern for the preservation of virginity, which was why there was “such social resistance to ceasing the practice”.
Another delegate added that enforcement of the law was lacking. Some who had practiced female genital mutilation no longer practiced excision, but it was difficult to bring the practitioners to trial. Within the community, the Committee’s assistance was needed to counter the practice, because people continued to be subjected to it despite the law. Plus, there was still impunity. Female genital mutilation used to be carried out through the health system. Now, the number of cases was “declining somewhat”.
When law number 10 had been enacted, the Government had worked with non-governmental organizations to introduce a joint plan of action to combat the practice. Through the action plan, work was started to raise awareness and to publicize the law. Now, there was a 10-year plan to combat female genital mutilation. Some had renounced the practice and United Nations agencies were providing them with alternative training, because it had been a source of livelihood for them.
Prior to the advent of the 10-year plan, the practice had been done in hospitals and that no longer occurred. Female genital mutilation traumatized young girls, and by raising awareness of that, the Muslim leaders might seek to reduce the frequency of the practice. The law had made headway, but positive law and traditional practices did not always seek to achieve the same goals.
A delegation member took up the question of insufficient gender disaggregated information. A database had been established in the Social Affairs Ministry and social indicators had been developed. A survey next year would reveal the extent of women’s economic activities, as well as the social impacts of those activities.
On female genital mutilation, another delegation member said Guinea had been holding a national day for combating the practice, and there were national programmes to educate authorities on the issue. Programmes also existed in schools.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
FERDOUS ARA BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, was confused by hearing that female genital mutilation, one of the worst manifestations of violence against women, continued to exist, especially as Guinea’s Penal Code made the practice illegal and a 2000 law stipulated that genital cutting be outlawed.
She had heard today that female genital mutilation was a religious requirement. She also came from Muslim country, but had never heard of female genital mutilation practiced there. The delegation said the practice was being medicalized. Was it not the cutting of the genital area that caused the deaths of adolescent girls? Why would that practice be continued when there existed a law that forbade it? The delegation said female genital mutilation was a source of livelihood for people, but, could not alternative sources of livelihood be offered?
Also, she was particularly concerned at the persistence of violence against women in Guinea. Citing the report that domestic violence remained the primary cause of physical violence against women, that 80 per cent of the women beaten were illiterate and that 70 per cent of those beaten were Muslim, she stressed that the Committee had recommended creating a law against domestic violence. Did such a law exist? The Committee had recommended training for all public officials and she asked for information on that. She wondered about the number of cases that had dealt with rape and the number of convictions made under the Penal Code. What support services existed for victims of domestic violence and what was the relationship between being Muslim and wife beating?
SAISUREE CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, asked about the national machinery. In reviewing the report, she had found that the Ministry of Social Affairs had been created in 1996 and had as its mandate four functions: design; coordinate; implement; and monitor Government policy relating to the advancement of women. Noting various documents, including the National Policy for the Advancement of Women, the Gender Development Programme and the National Gender Policy, she asked for details on which document would guide the Ministry’s actions in the next three to five years. Who was involved in creating those documents?
The work on the advancement of women lay with many ministries and non-governmental organizations, she continued. In many countries, inter-ministerial bodies existed. Did the Ministry have a coordinating mechanism? The mandate for the implementation of the Convention involved various ministries and agencies. How many personnel did her Ministry have for activities related to women’s issues? The national directorate was supported by various instruments. Could the delegation explain how that was done? Implementation required coordination with other actors as well, she added.
On monitoring, Guinea’s machinery to monitor the Convention’s implementation -- various committees -- had not been functional, she said. Was there a remedy for that situation? On the gender focal points in various departments, she wondered how effective they were, as they ran the risk of becoming “focal points on paper” and isolated from the necessary support.
GLENDA P. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, said that article 6 of the Convention addressed trafficking and prostitution. Guinea’s report did not elaborate much on the issue of trafficking. On the issue of violence against women, it was troublesome to note such high levels of mother and child mortality. Describing the devaluation of womanhood through the practice of female genital mutilation, she reminded the delegation that, in 1858, a famous British gynaecologist had decided that all women’s problems had to do with the pubic nerve. If the clitoris was removed, he argued, there would be less incidence of promiscuity and inappropriate behaviour.
The fact was that female genital mutilation had nothing to do with religion, she said. “Women and girls are dying like flies,” she said. The men of Guinea would not fight against that practice and women must take on the issue. Women must understand that female genital mutilation constituted oppression, and represented the “most horrendous” form of violence against women. Patriarchy benefited men, she continued. If lawyers were unwilling to be educated on the matter, the Government must educate them. The Government should insist that they respect the laws of the land and not hide behind their “legal trappings”. She asked that a plan be put together. Guinea’s ideas were quite good, but would the Ministry put the issues on the table once back in the country? Women could not tolerate continuation of the practice in the name of god or culture. Women and men of influence must recognize that the Convention was very important and insist that the Government intervene.
FRANÇOISE GASPARD, Vice-Chairperson and expert from France, wondered whether there were there plans for women to have easier access to justice. On the issue of female genital mutilation, she said the practice indeed constituted violence against women and asked the delegation to read the Secretary-General’s report on violence against women, which covered female genital mutilation as an “especially hideous” form of violence against women. Further, she did not understand what information the delegation was providing -- what was meant by instruments to enforce the law? The Government had not engaged in campaigns to denounce the practice. Why had the country not ratified the African Charter of Human Rights Protocol of 2003 -- what were reasons for non-ratification? What was being done to get “doctors” to lay down their knifes? What steps were being taken to stop the phenomenon from taking place?
On the issue of female genital mutilation, one member said it was a crime and that the practice should have been abolished once the law was enacted. However, Muslim brothers interpreted the law in a way that was favourable to men, and religious people had clout. It was difficult to confront their decisions. Women and girls in schools had been educated; however, people continued to take girls to hospitals in the name of “upholding customs”. “Many things get mixed up”, she said, and it was extremely difficult to stop the practice overnight. The Ministry was working on it and, about one month ago, some knives had been laid down. Public awareness campaigns existed. Unfortunately, many procedures were carried out in the holiday season.
The delegation’s specialist on female genital mutilation said efforts had borne some fruit. In 1984, Guinea had begun to appreciate the “nefarious consequences” of the practice on women. After the zero tolerance conference in Addis Ababa, Guinea had developed a national 10-year strategy for “zero tolerance”, which involved every stratum of the population, including non-governmental organizations, the Ministries of Security and Justice, and religious representatives. However, for perpetrators to be convicted, plaintiffs must come forward and, in Guinea, people did not complain, she said. People did not tell the Ministry that their daughters had undergone the procedure. In the decrees introduced on reproductive health, the penalties stipulated were very high. It had been suggested that they be revised.
Taking on the questions relating to the national policies for the advancement of women, she said that, after Beijing+10 and the Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development, it had been recommended that policies be harmonized with the Millennium Development Goals; hence the revision of the National Policy for Women. The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) goals also played a role. She added that the tool for implementing the national strategy was incorporated into the poverty reduction strategy. The ministry of women had also decided to draft a gender policy.
On the issue of focal points, she said they had existed since 1995. The problem was that they had been given certain status in the ministries, and it was difficult for them to attend technical and other meetings where decisions were taken. Also, the focal points might change from one department to another; some had three focal points, while others had none at all. After the new Government had taken office, the idea had been to establish “gender cells”. The coordination mechanism was not terribly functional, she said, but the Ministry had developed a five-year strategic plan to make it fully operational.
A delegate said he had no statistics on the number of women being trafficked, but he drew attention to the national plan of action for combating trafficking in young women and girls. Today, there were at least 12 cases dealing with the perpetrators and accomplices of that crime, and there was an article in the criminal code stipulating that such activity was a crime. The cases were before the relevant courts, and a special law had been prepared to ensure enforcement.
As for violence against women in rural areas, he said that beating one’s wife was a crime no matter where it occurred. If a woman was the victim of violence and if she was hurt and contacted the law enforcement authorities, regardless of where she lived, then the culprit would immediately be charged and tried in court.
The law on reproductive health had been passed in 2002, but there needed to be a decree to enforce that law