Djibouti, Reporting for First Time to Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee, Boasts Progress in Health, Education, Women’s Participation in Politics

21 July 2011

Djibouti, Reporting for First Time to Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee, Boasts Progress in Health, Education, Women’s Participation in Politics

21 July 2011
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Committee on Elimination of

 Discrimination against Women

991st & 992nd Meetings (AM & PM)

Djibouti, Reporting for First Time to Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee,

Boasts Progress in Health, Education, Women’s Participation in Politics


Experts Warn of Staggering Prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation,

Sluggish Pace of Women’s Economic Development, Lenient Penalties for Trafficking

Ratification by Djibouti of the international women’s Convention in 1999 had sparked a transformation in Djibouti that had “changed the landscape of the country”, the head of the delegation and Minister of the Promotion of Women and Family Planning of Djibouti said today, as the State party appeared before the monitoring Committee for its first-ever periodic review of implementation.

Opening the dialogue with a presentation of Djibouti’s combined first, second and third reports, Hasna Barkat Daoud said that during the review period, 1999-2009, Djibouti had elaborated a national policy for the promotion of women, children and vulnerable people.  The country — which had seen virtually no political participation by women over the course of its history — had elected seven female Parliamentarians in 2003.  A temporary quota had been implemented requiring 20 per cent presence of women in high-ranking posts, she said, and three ministerial posts were now held by women.  Last month, the country also welcomed its first-ever female ambassador.

Women and children’s health was the “cornerstone” of Djibouti’s national health policy, she said.  Significant progress had been made in that arena, with the adoption of a highly successful decentralized health system and the provision of free health care throughout the country.  The country had also built a reference centre for reproductive health, which included mammography, a surgical ward and a cutting-edge pathology centre.

National laws now prohibited the traditional practice of female genital mutilation, she said.  However, due to the custom’s “deep anchoring” in Djiboutian society, the prevalence of girls undergoing female genital mutilation had only dropped slightly — from 98 per cent to 93 per cent.  “Evolution on [female genital mutilation] comes slowly, but surely,” she stressed, pointing to awareness-raising campaigns that had been instituted in recent years.  Several communities had officially abandoned the practice with the support of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and non-governmental partners, but without more commitment among local chiefs and traditional leaders there was no hope of a more widespread improvement.

Meanwhile, a major legal system reform was under way, aimed largely at improving the access of vulnerable people to the judicial system, the delegation head explained.  Recent innovations in that area included a new judicial assistance law and the creation of “roaming courts” in rural areas, she said.

Throughout the day, members of the delegation took the floor to describe substantial progress made during the decade covered by the reports.  Referring to human trafficking, one delegate noted that the 2007 national action plan had opened the door to a host of new anti-trafficking initiatives.  Workshops and training had been held for law enforcement professionals, including one in conjunction with the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).  Several “migration response centres” had been established, and the Government now provided counselling for immigration candidates on the risks of human trafficking.

Experts of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women lauded the 13-member delegation for the introduction in Djibouti of a national action plan on human trafficking, as well as on its ratification, without reservations, of the women’s Convention.  However, several experts said the absence of reservations, while commendable, set the bar high for women’s advancement.

Despite progress made to bolster women’s status in the northeast African country, experts expressed concern about the persistence of major obstacles there — including the staggering prevalence of female genital mutilation and the sluggish pace of women’s economic development.  They cautioned throughout the day that those and other challenges had yet to be adequately tackled — in particular, those relating to the active enforcement of laws and to overcoming deeply entrenched negative attitudes towards women.

For example, said one, trafficking in women and girls remained a major problem despite the creation of the national action plan.  Djibouti remained both a source and destination country for human trafficking, she said, with tens of thousands of people trafficked through the region every year.  Like other Committee members, she requested more specific information from the delegation on how the action plan was being implemented on the ground.

In that vein, other experts were alarmed that Djibouti’s courts were not taking sufficient actions to prosecute and penalize those who trafficked in human beings.  At just 2-5 years in prison — an average sentence that one delegation member said was considered to be “severe” among countries in the region — experts said that the penalty for trafficking was not sufficient.

Much of the day’s discussion focused on the near-universality of the practice of female genital mutilation, which Ms. Barkat Daoud acknowledged constituted the most widespread form of violence against women in Djibouti.  Despite the delegation’s assertion that laws against the practice had been strengthened and that a special Government unit was now dedicated to ending it, some experts said that the custom’s recalcitrance was evidence of a troubling gap between legislation and implementation.  The delegation was also repeatedly urged to begin the active prosecution of those engaging in the practice.

The Committee acknowledged progress made in areas such as women’s education, political participation and health, but noted that Djibouti had been less successful on the economic front.  Very few women were employed in the country, and even fewer held jobs in the formal employment sector.  The delegation countered that new programmes were engaged in “formalizing” the informal employment sector, in an effort to help women emerge from poverty.

Experts conceded that Djibouti was a small, impoverished country that was struggling under the additional burden of an “unprecedented famine”, and that its progress was hindered by limited resources.  Nevertheless, they stressed that more needed to be done to build on recent gains.  And, they recommended even more forward-thinking initiatives.  Those could include the expansion of occupational opportunities for women, in particular into “male” jobs that offered better pay.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women will meet again at 10 a.m. Friday, 22 July, to consider Singapore’s fourth periodic report.


The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to consider the combined first, second and third periodic reports of Djibouti (document CEDAW/C/DJI/1-3).

Leading the delegation was Hasna Barkat Daoud, the Minister of the Promotion of Women and Family Planning, who was joined by Roble Olhaye, Permanent Representative to the United Nations; Mohamed Abdi Guedi, Technical Advisor to the Ministry for the Promotion of Women; and Abdi Ismael Hersi, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Justice.

The delegation also included Choukri Houssein Djibah, Director of Gender Promotion of the Ministry for the Promotion of Women; Deka Aboubaker Hadi, Chief of the Training Service of the Ministry of Health; Mahdi Mahamoud Issé, Executive Secretary and Inspector-General of the Ministry of Education; Ahmed Osman Hachi, Director of Legislation of the Ministry of Justice; and Ali Mohamed Abdou, President of the National Commission for Human Rights.

Kadra Ahmed Hassan, Saada Daher Hassan, Adou Mohamed Ali and Moussa Djama Ali, from Djibouti’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, were also part of the delegation.

Introduction of Reports

Opening today’s review of Djibouti’s first three periodic reports was Ms. Barkat Daoud, Head of the delegation.  Discrimination based on gender persisted, she said, despite significant recent improvements in the situation of Djiboutian women.  With that in mind, the Government had implemented a range of policies and programmes and signed on to several international and regional agreements.  She acknowledged a backlog in the submission of reports to those bodies, but said that was being addressed and basic documents had recently been provided to several major treaty bodies.

She said that the reports under review today covered the years 1999-2009.  In that period, Djibouti had put forth a national policy for the promotion of women, children and vulnerable people.  Civil society, non-governmental organizations and other international actors remained integrally involved in all levels of its drafting and implementation.  To begin with, one year after the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1999, a delegate had been appointed to review and analyze all of Djibouti’s gender-related policies.  Since then, the Ministry for the Promotion of Women and Family Planning, which had changed names several times, had evolved into an autonomous department charged with promoting and protecting women’s rights.  

The ratification of the Convention had sparked a transformation in Djibouti that had “changed the landscape of the country”, she said.  On the political front, Djibouti currently sought to build on progress made since that ratification.  Before 1999, women’s political participation was almost non-existent, with no women having been elected to political posts throughout the country’s history.  Major legislative reforms, therefore, were necessary.  In 2002, a law had been adopted implementing a series of quotas — including a minimum requirement of 20 per cent of high-ranking official posts to be held by women.

In 2003, for the first time, seven women had become members of Parliament; today, three ministerial posts were held by women, and a woman had recently been elected as head of one of the country’s four major political parties.  Further, in June, the country welcomed its first female ambassador.

Unfortunately, she said, women’s education remained marginal.  However, in 1999 basic primary education for all young people became compulsory; since 2000, Djibouti had seen a resulting increase both in girl’s basic and secondary education.  The Government continued to support the increased attendance of girls through scholarships, material support and other targeted measures.  Meanwhile, programmes existed across the country to augment general literacy in English and French, and many women had benefited.  Additionally, it had implemented a literacy strategy through non-formal education.  It sought to reach rural populations — which made up the bulk of Djibouti’s illiterate people.

A legal guide on violence against women had been drafted and would be distributed soon, she continued.  Despite laws prohibiting female genital mutilation, the practice was still overwhelmingly prevalent and constituted the most widespread form of violence against women.  The percentage of girls undergoing the practice had dropped from 98 per cent to 93 per cent in recent years, but more work was urgently required.  Moreover, given the “deep anchoring” of the tradition, there was no hope to change it without the commitment and participation of community chiefs and other traditional leaders.

“Evolution on [female genital mutilation] comes slowly, but surely”, she stressed, noting that awareness-raising campaigns were now confronting the practice by bringing information on the associated health risks to families.  In an encouraging development, several entire communities had officially abandoned the practice with the support of international players, such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the non-governmental organization Tostan.

A major legal system reform was under way in Djibouti, aimed largely at improving the access of vulnerable people to the judicial system, she said, adding that those reforms included a new judicial assistance law and the creation of “roaming courts” in rural areas, among others.

Meanwhile, in the area of health, the country was working to improve the quality of life for vulnerable people.  Women and children’s health was the “cornerstone” of the national health policy, and many new programmes had been put in place.  Djibouti had adopted a Health Charter, which decentralized the health system and provided free health care throughout the country.  Efforts also were in place to strengthen the capacity of emergency evacuation units.  The country had also built a reference centre for reproductive health, which included mammography, a surgical ward and a cutting-edge pathology centre.

There was a trend towards the feminization of HIV/AIDS in the country, with 56 per cent of infections now occurring in women, she said.  In response, programmes for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission were being instituted and a national strategic plan had been created to fight HIV and other transmitted diseases.  There was also a new law protecting the rights of people living with HIV.

Djibouti was focused on keeping women at the centre of development in order to end poverty and foster sustainable development, she said.  To those ends, a social development initiative, launched in 2007, was aimed at increasing the buying power of the most disenfranchised, and other new programmes were taking shape.  Djibouti remained aware of the need to further eliminate discrepancies between men and women, and was working to implement the principle of parity that existed in a wide range of its policies.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

AYSE FERIDE ACAR, expert member from Turkey, commended the Government for its efforts to promote women’s human rights, particularly by ratifying the Convention without reservations, although she called on it to ratify the optional protocols and amendments as well.  She also noted that Convention was not referred to in the Djibouti courts and that there was a gap between the Convention and domestic law, which was partly due to the mixture of various kinds of laws with religious law.  As other countries had shown, however, it was possible to reconcile the Convention with legal systems that included religious aspects.

The existing family code had a minimum marriage age of 18, she also noted, but she pointed out that there were exceptions that allowed marriage without minimum age limits, with the permission of a guardian.  Another instance of the gap between legislation and implementation concerned female genital mutilation, in that existing legislation banning it had not led to prosecutions.  She urged the Government to take a holistic approach to the Convention’s implementation that included a more comprehensive use of its legal system.

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert member from Croatia, called for the next reports to be delivered on time and asked about the role of Parliament and non-governmental organizations in implementation of the Convention in the country and in the preparation of the reports.  She also asked about awareness-raising of the Convention’s provisions.  Regarding genital mutilation, she said it was very important to see that as discrimination and violence against women.  She asked if the Committee’s recommendations would be translated into the country’s languages.

Delegation’s Response

Ms. Daoud thanked the experts for their positive words and said that the ratification process for the Optional Protocol was ongoing.  The Convention, she explained, was directly applicable to domestic legislation, so it was an integral part of the legal system and, thus, reference was made to it.  Laws against genital mutilation had been strengthened, following the Convention’s ratification, among other things, and the violence inherent in the practice was fully recognized as such.  Legal assistance and counselling consistent with the Convention were also provided for in the judicial system.

In terms of the family code, she acknowledged that Djibouti lagged behind some countries, but the code had been instituted in 2002 following 10 years of very hard work in a difficult cultural context.  Women now had access to the courts, and that was a major step forward.  On the guardian’s consent that allowed girls to marry under the age of 18, she said that there was a focus on education to prevent early marriage.  Further on female genital mutilation, there was legislation and a special unit to end the practice.  Complaints were coming in and being processed, although there had not as yet been any convictions.

Guides to the legal system were issued, she said.  The National Human Rights Commission included non-governmental organizations and six women, and parliamentarians also had been involved in drafting the report.  Most relevant documents were translated into the languages necessary.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

NICOLE AMELINE, Vice-Chairperson and expert member from France, noting that Djibouti was in the midst of an “unprecedented famine”, commended the country for recent progress.  The main challenge now lay in implementation and in recognizing the status of women.  It was clear that Djibouti’s poverty was linked to the central inequality of women, she said, asking whether there was clear legislative plans to tackle violence against women, or other main challenges they faced.  Also, had it been possible to identify some of those key obstacles?

Additionally, she wished to know how the country’s equality strategy was implemented.  Noting that financial mobilization was critical to those efforts, she asked if resources were clearly targeting the country’s essential challenges, and whether those funds were sufficient.

Delegation’s Response

A delegation member, while acknowledging the gap in implementation, stressed nonetheless that progress had been achieved in areas such as women’s education, political participation and health.  The Government had been less successful on the economic front, he said.  The national gender policy, therefore, focused on the “holistic” involvement of women in development, and especially in socio-economic development.

A recent study aimed to identify the challenges facing the socio-economic cooperation of women, who were very active in the informal economic sector, he added.  The women’s department would target its work to that sector — which included small trade and the production of arts and crafts — in an effort to help women emerge from poverty.  Two separate ministries now existed for basic and secondary education, a move which aimed to increase women’s education and their resulting economic independence.

Decentralization had been a major part of the country’s gender strategy since 2004, he continued.  Since 2008, regional gender offices had been in place and had been very successful in several areas, including promotion of early education.  Gender focal points also worked in local communities.  The decentralized system had been particularly successful in supporting rural women.  Resources, however, were seriously lacking, and that had been exacerbated by the recent drought and food shortage.

He noted that Djibouti had a national social development initiative to provide targeted assistance to poor families, a plan which would be reviewed this year to ensure that it properly reflected a gender-based perspective.

Taking the floor, the Head of Djibouti’s national Human Rights Commission, created in 2008, said that the commission had actively participated in the drafting of the periodic reports, as well as in the universal periodic review process.  It worked on implementing international treaties, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and in all areas tied to the protection of human rights.  Among the commission’s activities, it publicized information on human rights violations and drew the public’s attention to related efforts.

The commission’s membership was 40 per cent female, she said.  It had participated in the drafting of the legal guide on gender-based violence, as well as a guide for judicial and legal authorities to combat gender-based violence.  It had participated in the integration of women into Djibouti’s development and in incorporating international instruments into the national legislation.  Work was also under way to fight female genital mutilation, first by raising awareness and then by creating procedures to prohibit and punish the practice.  A new law allowed associations to become plaintiffs in court cases related to that practice, drawing the judicial system into the fight against that harmful tradition.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, said that there was some confusion in the report regarding special temporary measures, particularly concerning the quota law.  The Convention’s article 4.1, which dealt with those measures, was important to accelerate women’s advancement in various areas. 

Delegation’s Response

Ms. DAOUD said that the quota law had resulted in an increase in the number of women ministers and other officials, but the law that required 20 per cent presence of women in high-ranking posts had not yet reached its objective. 

Experts’ Questions and Comments

SOLEDAD MURILLO DE LA VEGA, expert member from Spain, noting that 52 per cent of the population were women, asked why women’s participation in the areas under discussion was limited to just 14 per cent.  Turning to polygamy, she asked about the country’s vision on the issue after the completion of the related study.  Regarding marital rape, she noted that there was no prosecution for that, and asked if there were plans to criminalize it.  Noting the frequent use of the word “vulnerable” in the report, in regard to women, she said that women should not normally be vulnerable and that the causes for vulnerability must be addressed.

NAELA MOHAMED GABR, expert member from Egypt, said that Muslims were aware that sharia law respected the rights of women.  It was important to also have access to religious experts to help promote women’s rights.  The issue of female genital mutilation was not tied to religion, but was a traditional practice.  She asked for more details on when abortion was allowed, and commented that perhaps efforts to combat the violence against women could use broader tools to reach rural women.  It was important to focus also on related international instruments, such as those on migrant workers and human trafficking. 

Delegation’s Response

Ms. DAOUD said that, in relation to the quota law, the fight for women’s rights had at times been slow and such measures had been used to move things along more quickly.  Other measures must be introduced to empower women to be catalysts to develop their own lives.  There were many women in directors’ posts, in universities, as one example of that effort.  The idea was to consider how women could participate more fully in such high spheres.  There were also women well-placed in the judiciary and the media.  Progress in education would allow for more such participation.

Eliminating polygamy had not seen great progress, she acknowledged.  Judges, however, were being empowered to evaluate the socio-economic situation of a husband who wished to marry again, and that was one way to make inroads.  Progress was being made, but it would not be quick.

In terms of domestic violence, centres to aid women and children victims were being developed.  Pre-school and nursery education was being established to allow women to enter the workforce, particularly in rural areas.  Consultation with religious experts was being conducted and that had led to progress in combating genital mutilation.  In addition, women who carried it out were being trained in other occupations.  The Government was looking into the matter of abortion.  The guide on rape was addressed to victims, but also to legal professionals, in part to address the matter of abortion after rape.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

YOKO HAYASHI, expert member from Japan, commended Djibouti’s 2007 adoption of a national human trafficking act.  However, the country had also been asked by international bodies to monitor the strict implementation of that law, including through such actions as training law enforcement professionals.  What measures had been taken to that end?  Had the State taken any steps to decriminalize the victims of trafficking?

She also pointed to the absence of a national refugee and asylum-seeker law. Would such laws be established?  How would the gender-related aspects of prosecution be addressed?

VIOLET TSISIGA AWORI, Rapporteur and expert member from Kenya, recalled that Djibouti had ratified the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and Its Protocols, known as the Palermo Protocol, in 2005.  Trafficking for both labour and sex were both legally prohibited in the country, and measures were in place for the protection of victims.

Nonetheless, she said, Djibouti remained both a source and destination country for human trafficking.  In 2010 alone, some 30,000 people had been trafficked through the region.  In the report, training and workshops on trafficking were outlined and the creation of a migration response centre was described as part of the national action plan on trafficking.  Could the delegation provide more information on the action plan, as well as on further measures envisioned or undertaken to fight trafficking and to protect victims?

Additionally, she said that the report mentioned 30-year sentences for perpetrators of human trafficking.  Was that correct?  Was 30 years a maximum or a minimum sentence?  The report said that no cases had been brought against perpetrators of trafficking for the purposes of sex or labour.  What efforts were in place to prosecute and punish those offenders?

Delegation’s Response

A delegate from the Ministry of Justice said that trafficking was the result of immigration through the region.  A first series of measures had been introduced to train professionals to combat human trafficking, which were detailed in the reports.  Training had also been provided in the area of victim assistance.

In January 2010, training had been conducted, with the involvement of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), on the investigation and prosecution of offences related to human trafficking, he said.  Several regional programmes also sought to assist victims, and Djibouti was working with the Human Rights Commission and other United Nations bodies, as well as outside partners.  A first migration response centre had been established, followed by additional centres on the borders between Djibouti and Ethiopia and Djibouti and Somalia.

He said the Government provided counselling for immigration candidates on the risks of human trafficking.  Non-governmental organizations, along with the United Nations system, had helped to establish units in refugee camps for women vulnerable to the risk of trafficking.  He was not aware, however, of any 30-year sentences for human trafficking.  Normally, sentences mandated up to three years in prison.

The Secretary-General of the Ministry of Justice added that Djibouti was a transit country for both trafficking and smuggling, he said, adding that the national law had called for the drafting of a national plan of action on trafficking and for subregional cooperation.  Nationwide, work was being done to protect trafficking victims, in particular by the police, international partners and the Human Rights Commission.

While the plan of action was not yet fully completed, it would be finalized soon, the delegate said.  Training was planned for judges, and the groundwork for further regional cooperation was being laid.  Meanwhile, Djibouti’s sentences for perpetrators of trafficking — which he agreed were usually between two and five years in prison — were quite severe in comparison to other countries in the region.  It was also important to note that the law applied, not only to perpetrators, but also to all those who were complicit in enabling the practice.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. GABR, expert from Egypt, asked about the status of ratification of international treaties on migrants, persons with disabilities and domestic workers.

ISMAT JAHAN, expert member from Bangladesh, asked whether, in addition, the country had ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

VIOLETA NEUBAUER, expert member from Slovenia, asked how the coordination of gender policies was being carried out now, particularly in regard to mainstreaming the gender dimension into all policies, and if human and financial resources for the Ministry had been increased.

Ms. AMELINE, Vice-Chairperson and expert member from France, said it was important to see how to fully implement laws — including by bringing cases to court in areas such as genital mutilation.  She asked what efforts would be pursued to guide the priorities of judges in that regard.

Delegation’s Response

Ms. DAOUD said that the United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families was being studied, but the ones regarding disabilities and racial discrimination had already been ratified.  There was a centre that received refugees in the south of the country, administered by the Red Cross. 

Another delegate said that, as far as follow-up measures, there were focal points throughout public institutions to ensure integration of gender considerations throughout all policy considerations.  That had allowed for the decentralization of activities.  There was a partnership with financial and technical experts with the focal point system, as well as with the United Nations system. 

Judicial guides for cases of violence and rape would be disseminated and help the process move forward, another delegate added.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. GABR, expert from Egypt, asked for more details on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

OLINDA BAREIRO-BOBADILLA, expert member from Paraguay, said it was important to focus on both de facto and de jure equality in political participation.  The quotas in Djibouti were below what reality reflected and must be re-evaluated and modified.  Benchmarks had to be set higher to be effective.  At the same time, quotas were not enough.  Leadership, communities, political parties and unions were all critical in the effort.  She said that the Committee had not been able to speak with women’s associations in Djibouti and asked about their role and status.

MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert member from Algeria, commended the country on its progress and its ratification of international treaties in its short existence.  She pledged the Committee’s future assistance in implementing the women’s Convention.  She stressed that the drafting of laws was critical for further progress.

Delegation’s Response

Ms. DAOUD said she agreed that the quota law was not enough, but it was a natural transitional step.  Equal pay for equal work was also a focus.  There were women at all of levels of decision-making in the public sector; there were also women leaders in the private sector.  One out of four political parties was led by a woman.  Regarding unions, there was no data on women’s participation, but nothing impeded them in that area.

There were women’s organizations with which the Ministry had been working, particularly the National Association of Women, which implemented many programmes and had played a great role in fighting genital mutilation, with the participation of Djibouti’s First Lady.  Forty per cent of magistrates were women; unfortunately, not as many women worked in diplomatic fields, though there was female representation in international organizations.  It was a new country and more resources were needed on the ground.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

BARBARA EVELYN BAILEY, expert member from Jamaica, raised concerns about the persistent school enrolment gap between girls and boys, in particular, in secondary education.  Many programmes had been mentioned in the report for the promotion of girls’ education, in particular, in the country’s rural areas.  However, as of 2008, a net increase of only 4.4 per cent had been noted in the enrolment rate of girls.  Was that number — which was not sufficient — an overall increase?  What were the results of the multiple-indicator survey on the participation of girls in education, which had been mentioned?

Clearly, there were deeply entrenched cultural norms and attitudes towards girls, she continued.  Did programmes aiming to raise awareness among parents go far enough?  Were more initiatives addressing early marriage needed?  Did the law requiring universal education up to age 16 mandate better enforcement?

Given the low retention rates of girls, she noted that the report described programmes that trained girls in vocational areas, such as hospitality, domestic work and low-level technology.  However, those occupations limited girls to low-income work, she said.  Had Djibouti, therefore, considered expanding those areas to include jobs that were predominantly thought of as “male”?  Finally, as the Ministry of Higher Education was a major employer, she asked the delegation to provide more information about programmes that trained women to become teachers.

Delegation’s Response

A delegate replied that education was the sector where the most remained to be done.  It was tied in with the growth of the population, he said.  There were more girl children in Djibouti, but the low level of schooling for young girls remained a problem.  In its work to address that, the Government had expanded pre-school education in the poorest urban areas and in rural areas, hoping to involve children in education from the earliest ages and raise awareness among their mothers of the importance of education.  He reiterated that primary and secondary education were now run by two separate ministries, a move that had resulted in greater overall budgets.  The number of schools would be also increased nationwide.

Additionally, a National Day for Girls Schooling had been established and the Government was finding means for the poorest families to send their girl children to school — including by providing scholarships and finding similar grants and support from development partners.  Food was being distributed to families in an effort to relieve the pressure on young girls used in domestic chores, which frequently prevented them from attending school.

Turning to the occupational training of women, he said that a new department was now responsible for “formalizing” the informal work sector.  Occupational training was available in the various new areas, in particular, fishing, agriculture and tourism.  Related training programmes were being implemented in connection with UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

Expert’s Questions and Comments

On employment, Ms. AMELINE, Vice-Chairperson and expert from France, welcomed the UNESCO partnership and asked, in the area of sustainable development, if solar energy might be an employment option for the future.  Might women play a role?  She also asked for more information about the trying conditions of women engaged in night work.  Finally, she noted the absence of policies prohibiting sexual harassment at work, and asked if such provisions were planned for the future.

NIKLAS BRUUN, expert member from Finland, said the rate of female employment was very low in Djibouti and that the rate of women in formal employment was even lower.  That reflected the country’s deeper social structure, which needed to be addressed.  Was there a plan of action to raise women’s employment rate?  Further, the International Labour Organization had criticized Djibouti for not respecting the principle of equal pay for equal value.  Would the country pass legislation in that respect?

He also asked if maternity leave with pay, which was obligatory based on the Convention, was made available.  Regarding child labour, which was clearly a problem in Djibouti, he said that was related to the gender gap in school enrolment.  That, in turn, led girls to work and made them more vulnerable to prostitution and trafficking.  The report’s description of the national plan of action on trafficking did not mention how the country dealt with child labour.

Delegation’s Response

To the question about the occupations in which young women could be trained, the head of the delegation said that agriculture and fishing were two new major occupational groups targeting women.  In that vein, several initiatives by the Government and development partners helped train and support female farmers.  That new direction sought to provide women with a wider array of means to earn a livelihood, she said.

The lack of a policy against sexual harassment at work was a weak point, she admitted, but Djibouti was hoping to amend exiting laws to include such a provision.  It was also true that the level of female employment was low, but the Ministry of Employment and Occupational Training was now focusing more on that concern.  It hoped to further review the potential for occupations for which women could be trained, and to better prepare women for those jobs.

No specific data existed on night work, she said.  However, some particular groups of occupations made women very vulnerable.  With regard to child labour, there was a legal ban on domestic and night work for children up to age 18.  Djibouti would soon be completing a report on the rights of the child, which would include significant information on awareness-raising campaigns.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, said it was important to recognize that female genital mutilation also affects health.  It was particularly necessary to forge an awareness of the damage it could cause to reproductive health.  She wanted to know the impact of the practice on haemorrhaging during delivery, which was a major factor in maternal mortality.  Families must be made aware of those issues.  It was particularly important to reach out to nomads as well.  Turning to studies that had been completed on reproductive health, she asked if they had been used to improve the situation in that area, and if family planning initiatives would be strengthened.

Delegation’s Response

Ms. DAOUD said that the medical aspects of genital mutilation were an integral part of the awareness-raising being conducted with non-governmental organizations.  In terms of family planning, the Government was aware of the high birth rate, but resources were not available to deal with it.  The women’s Ministry was responsible for family planning, in conjunction with the legislature.  Measures would be implemented together with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The delegation’s representative from the Ministry of Health said that the Ministry had a programme to fight genital mutilation.  She did not have figures on the medical consequences of the practice, but the question of maternal mortality was a great concern for her Ministry.  There was a decentralization of health services to extend gynaecological care to the localities and other measures.  There were more than 100 health agents in inland areas, tracking women who were about to give birth and administering assistance for reproductive health.  There were also funds at the community level for that purpose.  The rate for contraceptive use had risen to 36 per cent, she added. 

Experts’ Questions and Comments

PATRICIA SCHULZ, expert member from Switzerland, noting high poverty and illiteracy rates in the country and the development efforts, asked if the Ministry supported micro-financing schemes for women.  She also asked if there was competition between the various institutions offering loans for poor people and what the interest rates were.  What were the consequences for women from rural development projects that changed pastoral peoples into agricultural ones, and how would people in the throes of extreme food insecurity be provided for?

Delegation’s Response

Ms. DAOUD said that the system of community loans was being formalized and it worked quite well, with some 4,000 women participating.  Training was offered to women on the use of that credit.  The agro-pastoral projects were creating more stable units based around water sources.  On the credit unions, she said that there was a merger between the major lenders and competition was not really a factor because the needs were so great.  The National Social Development Institution had a comprehensive development programme, particularly in health and education.  Responding to a question from the Committee Chair, she said that her Ministry reviewed development plans and ensured that gender aspects were included.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, wanted to know the percentage of rural women in the total population and how many were engaged in agriculture and fisheries.  She also asked if there were statistics on rural poverty by gender.  She wanted to know if there were specific projects designed for vulnerable rural women, and about activities and challenges in providing health services in rural areas.  She also asked how many credit unions existed.

Delegation’s Response

Ms. DAOUD said that statistics presented a challenge in many areas in Djibouti.  Disaggregated data on agriculture would be available shortly.  However, specific data on rural women was not yet available.  Approximately 20 wells had been constructed last year in coordination with the Ministries of Health and National Education.  In addition, wherever there was no fixed health centre, there was a community health facility to provide basic services.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert member from Israel, said that few satisfactory answers had been given regarding customary law and traditions in Djibouti.  It was important to bear in mind that the country had ratified the Convention with no reservations, and that meant that it was obliged to defend the rights of women even from practices rooted in cultural, social or other traditions.

The answer given by the delegation that some customs could not be changed was therefore “not acceptable”, she said, calling on the country to harmonize its religious sharia laws with the requirements of the Convention.  She recommended a non-governmental organization that could assist with that process.

With respect to polygamy, the delegation said that some changes had been made to the country’s family code.  But was there a plan in place for the complete abolition of the practice?  Additionally, the grounds for divorce were different for men and women.  Could the delegation clarify that position?  Did it plan to change that and other discriminatory policies?

Delegation’s Response

One delegate agreed that women in Djibouti still suffered from legal shortcomings despite some changes and affirmative action.  However, the problem was not a lack of political will.  As a report received from several non-governmental organizations that had visited the Djibouti’s inland regions had found, it was impossible to separate human rights from their cultural context.  Despite the Government’s best efforts, the majority of women could not afford to spend time on some messages on their rights, as they were focused on more “pressing” needs.

As examples of significant changes that had already been instituted, she cited robust conditions imposed on men who wished to marry a second wife.  Today, she pointed out, a second marriage was frequently not authorized.  Among other progress, the practice of repudiation had also been removed in 2002, she said.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

In a follow-up question, Mr. BRUUN, expert from Finland, reiterated a previous question about details concerning maternity leave.

Ms. HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, reiterated that she understood the difficult cultural situation of Djibouti, but asked if it was possible to engage in further consultations with women regarding the country’s personal code.  Could women be part of the consultations with religious experts in that process?  Referring to the conditional council that had the jurisdiction to monitor the constitutionality of law, she asked how it operated with regard to personal status law and whether women were present on that body.

Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, returned to the issue of stereotypes.  She noted a statement in the report that had said that women themselves were often responsible for stereotypes, including by dividing labour unequally between girl and boy children.  In truth, she stressed, the responsibility for countering stereotypes lay with the Government.  What had been done to that effect?

Noting that the percentage of girls undergoing female genital mutilation was still very high, she asked what else was needed to accelerate the reduction of that practice.  Did Djibouti require more funding or other types of assistance from the international community?  Was there special education in place for parents?  What was the country’s position with regard to practitioners performing the procedure, and would they be prosecuted in the future?

ZOHRA RASEKH, Vice-Chairperson and expert from Afghanistan, asked what access women had to the justice system when seeking a divorce.  More generally, what was allowed to them by law in that process, and what happened after a report was filed?

Ms. SCHULZ, expert from Switzerland, recalled the delegation’s mention of the establishment of new water sources.  Could it clarify the policy about their use?  She also wished to have more information on interest rates to be paid by women in the microcredit system, as high rates might carry possible risks.

Delegation’s Response

A member of the delegation replied that three and a half months of maternity leave were guaranteed to all employed women.  Some 600 non-governmental organizations and associations were active in Djibouti in combating female genital mutilation there; though them, the Government was taking an educational approach to raising awareness among women.

There were some female judges under sharia law, she said.  Having both female lawyers and female judges meant that women were directly involved in the legal system.  Regarding stereotypes, a series of educational programmes had been reformed and incorporated into school textbooks, seeking to eliminate any negative images of women.  The school television channel was also engaged in regular campaigns to that end.  In terms of combating HIV/AIDS, the Government had taken steps to ensure that women receiving treatment could keep their children at home with them.

If practitioners of female genital mutilation were reported, they would be prosecuted, she said.  While the Government’s outreach concentrated on prevention and awareness raising in that regard, it also hoped to impose heavier sentences on those who were convicted.

Women’s legal cases received the same attention as those of men, she said in response to another question.  People living with HIV and minors subjected violence were provided with free legal counsel.  Addressing programmes intended to “root” the country’s nomadic population, she said that those initiatives had made life easier in some respects.  The interest rate was 1 per cent for microfinance projects, she said.  There was no interest at all for microcredit loans.

On a question about the constitutional council, another delegate added that the council was permitted take cases all the way to the Supreme Court.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.