The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon met with representatives of non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions from New Zealand, Turkmenistan, and the State of Palestine whose reports, together with the report of the Cook Island on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, will be considered this week.
The State of Palestine had failed to introduce an integrated legal system to reduce gender-based discrimination and eliminate all violence against women and girls, or to adopt policies to change traditional attitudes and modify social and cultural patterns. Personal status law continued to discriminate against women, including in divorce, inheritance, and child custody. Child marriage remained a significant problem, especially in the West Bank where girls aged 14.5 and boys aged 15.5 were allowed to marry. Discrimination against women must not be tackled with only one piece of legislation, such as the family law, but this required the harmonization of all laws to ensure equality, and this must be enshrined in the Constitution.
Discussion with Non-Governmental Organizations
State of Palestine
CEDAW Women Coalition, composed of 43 Palestinian organizations, stressed that discrimination against women must not be dealt with in only one piece of legislation, such as the family law, but required the harmonization of all laws to ensure equality, and this must be enshrined in the Constitution. The Government must publish the Convention in the official gazette without any delay and so make it a part and parcel of national law. Furthermore, women were politically underrepresented at all levels, thus the Government must adopt a law of 30 per cent quotas for the political participation of women, and must also urgently adopt a national action plan on women, peace and security. A small increase of the representation of women in the judiciary was not sufficient – women represented only 23 per cent in the West Bank and 10 per cent in the Gaza Strip, and most were judges in family courts which were first instance courts.
Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling and Human Rights Watch noted that the State of Palestine had ratified the Convention without any reservations, however, it was maintaining personal status laws which discriminated against women in matters of divorce, inheritance, and child custody; they could not travel abroad without their husband’s permission, and men were allowed polygamy. Child marriage remained a significant problem. In the West Bank, the minimum age of marriage was set at 14.5 years for girls and 15.5 for boys; in Gaza, it was 17 for girls and 18 for boys. Sharia courts had the discretion to allow younger children to marry if they believed that it was in their best interest.
NGO’s Forum to Combat Violence against Women (Al-Muntada) said that violence against women in the Palestinian society reflected the outcome of imbalance in power relationships between women and men. The State of Palestine had failed to introduce an integrated legal system that could reduce gender-based discrimination to eliminate all violence against women and girls. No policies had been taken to change traditional attitudes and modify social and cultural patterns. Such gender-based discrimination was expressed through high rates of domestic violence by intimate partners, and increasing rates of femicide, many of which were so-called “honour” killings which had an important place in the society, also as a pretext to deprive women of their legal rights. Marital rape was not penalized, while in case of incest, the law viewed both parties to the sexual act as guilty without taking into account power relations and male domination within the family. Abortion was criminalized and women could be sentenced to three to six years’ imprisonment for having an abortion, even in the case of rape. The Committee should urge the Government to adopt the draft penal law of 2011 and the family protection law.
On the State of Palestine, the Experts took noted of the concerns and issues raised in relation to the legal discrimination against women, and asked what more could be done to ensure the harmonization of laws, and coordination between different human rights mechanisms. What could be done to enhance the capacity of women to ensure their greater participation in the mainstream economy, rather than the marginal one? Due to the absence of a parliament or the Palestinian Legislative Council in the country, what mechanisms were in place to ensure that new laws were passed or previous ones amended, and what were the possible civil options to family laws that could change the situation on the ground?
Representatives of Palestinian non-governmental organizations said that the Palestinian Legislative Council had been absent for 11 years, but the President could invoke it any day. Women must be represented in the Constitutional Committee, said a speaker, stressing that there had been an agreement between civil society and the Government on the drafting of a penal code since 2011, and which had not yet been adopted. Such a law could be adopted by a presidential decree, the first step in the economic empowerment of women would be legal protection in the labour law for the informal sector, as most of informal economy workers were women. Further, minimum wage law must be adopted, adequate budgets for women empowerment allocated, while challenges that women working in agriculture faced due to Israeli occupation and patriarchy must be monitored.
Considering that the State of Palestine had not entered any reservations to article 16 of the Convention, it was possible, even in the absence of the Palestinian Legislative Council, to amend the personal status law that was compatible with the Convention, and took into account the diversity of the Palestinian society. Many such changes could be implemented through presidential decrees, speakers stressed, underlining that discrimination against women was not only a result of laws but also of curricula in schools which promoted gender stereotypes and promoted gender inequality and discrimination against women.
Discussion with National Human Rights Institutions
KHADIJA ZAHRAN, Director of Policies and Legislation Department, Independent Commission for Human Rights of Palestine, said that the Commission, established in 1993 to safeguard the rights of the Palestinian citizens, was a full member of the Global Alliance for National Human Rights Institutions. The fact that the coalition Government established in 2013 did not control the Gaza Strip impeded the implementation of laws, decisions and international treaties that the State of Palestine was a party to. The same applied to the West Bank, which was under Israeli occupation. In addition, political developments in the first part of 2018 clearly showed that reconciliation could not be completed in the short run, thus it would not be possible for the Government to take control of the Gaza Strip in the near future. Ms. Zahran noted that since its accession to the Convention, the Government had not made any declarations that showed its intention to ratify the Optional Protocol, nor had it published any agreements in the official gazette, including on the Convention. Despite the existence of the adaptation committee, and the elaboration of the adaptation plan for 2018, which planned to harmonize the legislation with the Convention, including through amendments to codes of criminal procedures, personal status laws, and election laws, several laws had been recently passed that represented an impediment to women’s rights, in violation of the Convention, including the law on electronic crimes which constrained women’s freedom of expression through media outlets.
Discussion with Committee Experts
Committee Experts asked about the current situation concerning the independence, staff and financing of the national human rights institution from the State of Palestine, as well as whether the national human rights institution’s complaint mechanism was accessible to migrants in New Zealand.
Independent Commission for Human Rights of Palestine said that since its establishment in 1993, its activities had been funded by donors, rather than from the public budget; in 2011, a budget line in the public budget specifically for the Commission had been introduced, to the tune on $ 100,000.
For use of the information media; not an official record
Document Type: French text, Press Release
Document Sources: Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
subject: Governance, Legal issues, Living conditions, NGOs-Civil Society, Social issues, Women