COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN EXAMINES REPORT OF ANGOLA
20 February 2013
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the sixth periodic report of Angola on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Introducing the report of Angola, Ana Paula da Silva Sacramento Neto, Secretary of State for the Family and the Promotion of Women, said that the fight against violence and violence against women was one of the main concerns of the Government. A number of laws had been enacted to this end, including on the protection and development of children and on domestic violence. Harmful practices and stereotypes which led to discrimination against women and girls still existed, particularly in rural areas, while maternal and child health presented one of the biggest challenges and one of the priorities for the period 2012-2017. Despite the Government’s efforts, there were some persisting challenges such as the lack of technical expertise and of financial resources, while the weaknesses in the health information system impacted the decision-making process.
Experts noted that the efforts of Angola to address discrimination against women were commendable, but said that discriminatory and obsolete laws which remained in the country’s legal framework were an issue of concern. Despite Angola’s wealth and fast economic growth, there was lack of capacity for institutional reforms and long-term development planning. Committee Experts raised other issues in the discussion, such as the use of temporary special measures to improve the status of women, access to justice particularly for victims of violence against women, measures to prevent, investigate and punish gender-based violence by State and non-State actors committed against immigrants during expulsion process, laws and customs governing women’s inheritance of land, early marriages, and the practice of the purchase of brides.
In concluding remarks, Ms. da Silva Sacramento Neto thanked the members of the Committee for the questions and advice and said that their analysis would assist Angola in carrying forward the work on improving the status of women. Ms. Violeta Neubauer, Committee Vice-Chairperson, said in her closing observations that the constructive dialogue today had provided insight into the status of women in the country and encouraged Angola to take measures to address the concerns raised.
The delegation of Angola consisted of representatives of the Ministry for the Family and the Promotion of Women, Ministry of Economy, Ministry of Public Administration, Work and Social Security, Ministry of External Relations, Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Social Affairs and Reinsertion, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Office of the Prosecutor of Angola, State Secretary for Pretrial Service, National Institute of Children, National Institute of Investigation and Education, National Inter Ministerial Commission for Human Rights, National Police Women Association and the Permanent Mission of Angola to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public on Thursday, 21 February at 10 a.m. when it will start its consideration of the combined fourth and fifth periodic report of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (CEDAW/C/MKD/4-5).
The sixth periodic report of Angola can be read here: (CEDAW/C/AGO/6).
Presentation of the Report
ANA PAULA DA SILVA SACRAMENTO NETO, Secretary of State for the Family and the Promotion of Women of Angola, said that the actions of the Government for the period 2004-2010 which the report covered had focused on the commitments arising from the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and other human rights instruments that Angola was a party to. The fight against violence, particularly violence against women, constituted one of the main concerns of the Government and that was why during this period of political stability and peace promoting gender equality belonged to the development policies. The 2010 Constitution stated the principle of equality for all citizens and based on it a number of laws had been enacted, including on domestic violence and on the protection and development of children. Angola had created an Inter-sectorial Conference on the Preparation of Reports on Human Rights to strengthen the partnership with civil society organizations and the United Nations system, including human rights treaty bodies. The Ministry of the Family and the Promotion of Women was in charge of implementing the strategy for the promotion of women, and its functions had been strengthened through the inclusion of two new directorates, for the national gender policy and for women’s rights. This had been complemented by policies aimed at implementing the recommendations of the Committee through the execution of projects, programmes and services to ensure the independence of women, especially rural women and women heads of households; those programmes enabled their access to health, education, credit, land, clean water and income-generating projects.
It had been recognized that there were still harmful practices and stereotypes in Angola, especially in rural areas, which led to discrimination against women and girls. Violence against women was a reality in all societies and the Government had adopted appropriate measures to prevent and combat such practices in accordance with Article 6 of the Convention. There had been acts of systematic sexual violence against immigrants but this was not a policy or practice of the Government, and the Government had focused on combating this phenomenon in cooperation with international organizations. Angola had not yet achieved the goal of equal women participation in political life and the representation of women in Parliament was at 38.6 per cent; it was 20.9 per cent in the Government and 23 per cent in the judiciary. Despite the efforts to ensure equal access to education for boys and girls, there were still disparities and there were 67 girls attending school for each 100 boys. Maternal and child health was one of the biggest challenges in Angola and one of the priorities for the Government for the period 2012-2017. Factors affecting infant mortality were complex and affected the state of health in general. In addition to revitalizing the health care system in municipalities, health care packages were offered to mothers and children to increase access to health care and equality. The Government had launched in 2010 the national programme to reduce maternal and infant mortality and construction of health infrastructure allowed municipalities to have specialized buildings and services for this purpose. Despite the efforts of the Government, there were some persisting challenges such as the lack of technical expertise and of financial resources, while the weaknesses in the health information system impacted the decision-making process.
Questions by Experts
A Committee Expert commended Angola for all the efforts in addressing discrimination against women and expressed concern about a number of discriminatory and obsolete laws which were no longer used but remained in the country’s legal framework. What was the timeframe for the repeal of those laws and what measures were being taken to sensitize women to new laws that had been enacted, particularly on domestic violence, and to ensure their access to justice? Could the delegation provide information on the Office of the Ombudsman and whether there were plans to ensure its accreditation under the Paris Principles and to broaden its mandate to include the promotion and protection of human rights? Despite the wealth in natural resources, Angola was plagued by an incapacity for institutional reforms and long-term development planning, and poverty affected women and children particularly hard. What were the poverty reduction strategies in place and how did they take into account gender and gender-based discrimination?
Another Expert asked a number of questions about the Ministry for the Family and the Promotion of Women, including about the coordination mechanism between this and other ministries, about the availability of and the capacity to collect sex disaggregated data, the budget and resource capacity of the Ministry, the resource and budget capacity of representations of the Ministry in the 18 provinces of the country, and about policies and concrete results achieved by gender policies.
The commitment of the Government to human development indicators was commendable and the Committee inquired about concrete measures, policies and resources allocated for this purpose. All those policies must be cross-cutting; did Angola have the means to mobilize all the necessary ministries to this end? Angola had ended its partnership with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2008 and the Committee wished to know why. Was international aid used to specifically address equality, or were those funds only obtained indirectly?
Response by Delegation
In response to these questions and comments, the delegation said that the Ministry for the Family and the Promotion of Women was anchored in the Council of Ministers where decisions were taken. It had representatives in the 18 provinces who implemented the decisions of the Ministry and depended on the provincial governments in terms of resources.
The delegation underlined that the Constitution prohibited discrimination on any grounds and any discriminatory law was not constitutional. The Land Law was one of the most discussed in the country and had been in force for a while now; it was true that it did have gaps, like any other law, which would be filled though the system of legislative reform. There was the question of whether women were discriminated against in matters of inheritance; this was not the case according to the law, but customary laws and practices in this regard were still rather strong in rural areas which always favoured male lineage in matters of land inheritance.
The law on domestic violence stipulated the specific bodies dealing with cases and ensured access to justice and the courts; the problem was the lack of awareness of the provisions of the law among the victims. This law also introduced sanctions by imprisonment for offenders, but this often meant double victimization of the victims of domestic violence as offenders were also the principal providers for the family, which would be left with no resources in case they were imprisoned. Victims of domestic violence would present themselves to the authorities, and the process would be taken to the office of the prosecutor and then to a tribunal.
The Angolan economy was the fastest growing in Sub-Saharan Africa, and grew by 7 per cent annually. The priority was given to small and medium enterprises as a basis for the development of the country; those micro companies were given a space to exist and were also supported by credit programmes. Another programme to lift women out from the precarious situation targeted women working in the informal economy, and a successful campaign had been developed in the area of agriculture which involved over 3 million rural workers, 70 per cent of whom were women. Development aid received by Angola did not exceed one per cent of gross domestic product. There were 11 development priorities and the national development strategy to 2017 which defined economic development priorities. The country had grown economically but also socially and there were advances made in the area of health and education.
The Ministry for the Family and the Promotion of Women had a budget for its activities, which had been increased for this year, and had focal points for cooperation with other ministries. There were Women Parliament Groups which worked with the Ministry on relevant issues which would then be taken to the National Assembly. The National Statistic Institute was in charge of collecting data and statistics, and the Government had created an integrated online system of data collection on domestic violence.
In a series of follow-up questions and comments, Committee Experts took up the issue of the application of the Convention in domestic law and access to justice and de facto discrimination in the process and underlined that economic growth was a great opportunity to be seized together with the women of the country. Four decades of violent conflict had inflicted serious harm on the population, especially on women, and this was reflected in the lower human development indicators for women in Angola; how was the poverty reduction strategy addressing this and what data was being used for decision-making? How had Angola dealt with healing issues, particularly for women, and how had it capitalized on the role of women in peace making?
Responding, the delegation said that most of the legislation after independence had been written in line with international instruments even though Angola had not ratified them; now they were all ratified. The Constitutional Court applied international instruments and legal experts and magistrates were trained by the National Institute of Judiciary which included a module on human rights and human rights instruments.
Judicial technicians supported citizens without means to access courts who advised and guided them in accessing the judicial system. Because of stigmatization many women did not take their cases to court, especially in rural areas; however, since 2011, every single case of violence against women was taken forward with the support of the Ministry and the Centre for Women.
Questions by Experts
Committee Experts asked about temporary special measures applied by Angola to promote the status of women, particularly concerning the representation of women in political and public life and in improving women’s livelihoods. Was there any research concerning the introduction of temporary special measures and what were its findings? Did women effectively benefit from new laws and were those laws really responding to women’s needs? Could the delegation expand on the incidence of martial rape, polygamy, early marriages and how those phenomena were dealt with?
The Special Rapporteur on violence against women had expressed concern in her report about the human rights violations committed by Angolan military and police forces during the expulsion process, particularly sexual violence against immigrants. What measures were being taken to prevent, investigate and punish gender-based violence by State and non-State actors?
What was the status of ratification of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, and what was the status of national legislation to combat trafficking in human beings?
Response by Delegation
Responding to these questions and comments and others, the delegation said Angola was not against immigration as long as it respected the law and the legal framework for immigrants. Due to its economic growth, the country had become the El Dorado for illegal immigration from Africa, including from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A Repatriation Commission had been created to deal with this problem. Allegations of sexual violence by Angolan forces had been made, but perpetrators had not been identified. Human trafficking was the third most profitable crime in the world and was a new phenomenon in Angola, which explained the lack of legal tools to deal with it.
The Police Force of Angola promoted unity of family and a department had been created to deal with domestic violence and violence in the family, headed by a woman, which provided psychological counselling to victims and guidance on the procedure to follow. The Criminal Code was being reformed and would include all crimes against human rights, including trafficking in persons.
Sixty-six per cent of people targeted by literacy campaigns were women and the success rate of those campaigns was 68 per cent. There was a campaign for children falling behind in school or not in school. The Government had been working with religious centres, churches and traditional authorities to address the issue of witchcraft and had adopted a number of measures to this end. The National Children’s Council worked with the local councils on issues linked to children and had been dealing with boy children affected by witchcraft.
The repatriation of immigrants from the Democratic Republic of the Congo was being dealt with multilaterally; there was a Commission with the representation of both countries and the United Nations. The information provided by non-governmental organizations was often speculation or misrepresentation of the truth. Coordinated procedures underway were in place to deal with reported violations, if any.
Political parties were the ones to put forward women for decision-making posts and there were measures in place to ensure that women featured in decision-making posts within the parties themselves. The percentage of poor women was still a considerable challenge and decisions were being made on the basis of estimates, as the national census was in its preparatory phase. It was assumed that most of women in Angola lived in poverty and hardship. The Government developed cooperation with traditional authorities on the issue of early marriages and thanks to the expansion of television and radio coverage the messages on the subject were reaching many more recipients.
Follow-up Questions and Answers
In further follow-up questions, Committee Experts said that the information about sexual violence against immigrants during expulsion had emerged from official reports and suggested that civil society organizations should be fully involved in the fight against impunity and the culture of violence. The 2011 law on violence against women specifically mentioned sexual violence but not marital rape, which should be dealt with like any other type of violence. Was there a mention of marital rape in the Penal Code and how was it dealt with? Did Angola intend to create a coordination mechanism for trafficking in persons and to ratify the Convention signed in 2000?
The delegation said that the concept of violence as contained in the Penal Code did not distinguish between violence against women committed by husbands or any other man. The law dated back to 1950s and then the idea of violence in the family was inconceivable. Husbands perpetrating violence against their wives could be punished by new laws, but the practical problem that remained was proving the violence and rape by the husband.
Angola was a signatory to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the ratification had been delayed by the conflict in the country. The Convention had been ratified in 2012, while a survey was being carried out at the moment by the Government to establish which conventions had been signed by Angola and not yet ratified. The United Nations International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families was in the process of ratification. The law on the full protection of children had been enacted in 2012 and it safeguarded children’s rights in full. In addition, the National Council of Children dealt with children’s issues.
Questions by Experts and Responses
The representation of women in Parliament fell from 38 per cent to 34 percent in 2012 and an Expert wondered why. There seemed to be a failure to comply with the zebra system, or the system allowing for alternation between men and women on electoral lists. How many ambassadors and heads of mission abroad were women and what was the total diplomatic representation abroad? There were still women who did not have identity cards which prevented them from accessing services equally with other women and with men. How many were they and what was being done to address the problem?
Political parties were in charge of political training for women and the Government did not intervene much, said the delegation. The women of Angola would have to come together to solve their problems and to force issues on the agenda of political parties. Citizens must be registered with the Civil Registry to obtain identity cards; it was being brought closer to the citizens at municipal levels. Some traditional practices left a number of citizens without identity cards and campaigns were in place to educate mothers on their obligation to name a child upon birth and get a birth certificate. Seventeen per cent of ambassadors were women.
Questions by Experts
An Expert noted that the Committee had previously urged Angola to increase its investment in education and noted the significant increase in that budget, which was mainly being used for secondary level education. Despite these efforts, girls still lagged behind boys, from earliest educational levels and particularly in rural areas. What were the factors creating obstacles for girls to enter and continue education and were measures being undertaken to remove them? What was being done about the rehabilitation of schools and the construction of new ones, particularly in rural areas, with the aim of reducing the distance from homes to schools? Was adequate attention being paid to the construction of toilets, particularly in secondary schools? What was the extent of violence, including sexual violence against girls, in schools and particularly at the secondary level?
There were general protection measures in the Labour Act, which listed jobs from which women were precluded; how regularly was this list reviewed and were protection measures limited to maternity protection? How was pay equity monitored, particularly in the private sector and what mechanisms were in place to resolve disputes in this area? Women made up about two thirds of the agricultural labour sector and a great proportion of informal workers; what measures were envisaged to extend the protection to informal sector employees?
Women in rural areas faced problems in accessing basic health services and reproductive health services. What was being done to ensure that health care facilities were adequately equipped and to increase women’s access to trained health personnel, particularly in rural areas? Only therapeutic abortion was legal in Angola and the law did not permit other kinds of abortions; the strict abortion law might lead to unsafe abortions. There should be special resources allocated for women’s health. Could the delegation explain how sexual education in schools was taught? What were the reasons for the prevalence of vaginal fistula among young women?
What projects were in place to permit women to set up companies to exploit agriculture holdings and for the reduction of poverty among women, including through measures of social protection? The role of women in food security was very particular; were there programmes to ensure their access to land, water and other resources?
Response by Delegation
Concerning the criminalization of abortion, the delegation said that abortion was prohibited to protect human life during gestation, with exceptions of the mother’s life being in danger or incompatibility of the child’s status with life. In other cases, abortion was considered a crime. The Penal Code was being assessed now as the conditions today were different from 1986, when the law had been promulgated. There were no legal obstacles to women’s ownership of land; obstacles were culture and traditions which gave ownership to women’s fathers or husbands.
The Ministry of Education was providing trainings to teachers, pupils and head teachers; more than 550 teachers and 8,000 students were being trained throughout the country on a number of issues, such as domestic violence, sexual violence, HIV/AIDS and others. The initiative aimed at protecting the rights of the child and putting in place schools in which communities and civil society organizations would participate. The Ministry was also developing a project to ensure that school leavers were able to catch up at an accelerated pace; the programme targeted orphans, street children and children victims of sexual violence. Around 50,000 schools had been built up to now and all had separate toilets for girls and boys. Perpetrators of harassment in schools were prosecuted and punished.
A poverty reduction strategy had been in place since 2004 and aimed at reducing poverty by 50 per cent; priority areas were civilian protection, health, education, food security, governance, macro-economic management and others. There were national programmes promoting entrepreneurship and the private sector, with the aim of reducing poverty, particularly in rural areas.
Low-level education led to low-level jobs, particularly for the youth. There were training programmes in place to support their insertion into the labour market, and other programmes to ensure that women and girls were not left out. There were some professions that could not be carried out by some women, for example when pregnant; in other cases, certain illnesses limited access to certain professions. The Centre for Health and Safety at Work carried out inspections at work. The Labour Law was clear that the principle of equal pay for equal work must be respected; however, there were isolated cases, especially in small private companies, where this principle could be violated. The National Institute for Social Security had carried out reforms in the area of pensions, maternity leave subsidies and all other subsidies that supported workers and their families.
There was a clear need for community hospitals in Angola to ensure that women had proper access to health care. The training of doctors and health care professionals took time and Angola had developed cooperation with other countries to learn from them and had opened doors to foreign doctors to appease the situation. Women wanted their traditional midwives and nurses and were hesitant to see male doctors. The feminization of HIV/AIDS was a problem in the country, further aggravating access to health care for women. There were some communities that practiced female genital mutilation and there were organizations working on this practice that was a part of Angolan society. There was a problem of vaginal fistula because women did not have access to treatment.
Follow-up Questions and Responses
Following-up on the responses provided by the delegation, Experts revisited the issue of abortion and said that it was not clear what the position of Angola on the subject was. The figures for maternal mortality were unclear and varied depending on the source of information, which underscored the need for reliable gender-disaggregated data. What was the percentage of Government spending on the health sector, and on reproductive health in particular? The maximum age for eligibility for work in the public service was 35 years, which could be potentially discriminatory towards women; were there plans to ensure that women were not discriminated against due to maximum age and was there an amendment of this law in the pipeline? Only 43 per cent of girls completed primary school; the Government had a number of programmes to keep girls in school, but did not have a comprehensive strategy to ensure girls finished their schooling.
In response, the delegation said that the issue of abortion was one of the most controversial issues in Angola and the heart of the issue was whether women had the right to go to a health centre and ask for an abortion. Anything that was not strictly prohibited was allowed. Ensuring that girls stayed in schools was a very serious concern and all programmes in education aimed to contribute to this goal. There were different figures on infant and maternal mortality and there were two different sources of those figures: hospitals for infants who died there and morgues for people who died at home.
Questions by Experts and Responses
A Committee Expert asked about resistance to the law on conjugal violence adopted two years ago and the number of cases sanctioned. Concerning early marriages, the Expert asked whether they were carried out legally, i.e. with the approval of a judge, or under customary practices, and whether statistics on early marriages and divorce rate for those marriages were available. Could the delegation comment on the practice of the purchase of brides and measures undertaken to put an end to it? There were two legal systems in the country, a civil system and customary regimes, some of which prevented women from inheriting, particularly in rural regions. What was the difference between those two regimes?
Responding, the delegation said that significant differences were obvious in the treatment of domestic violence in a sense that there were more and more third parties denouncing it, and more assistance and support available for them to do it. According to the Family Code, the legal age of marriage was 18 years of age; the exceptions were made when the marriage was in the exceptional interest of a minor and in such cases, girls of 15 could marry with parental consent. There were regions in which girls were promised or engaged to their future husbands from birth or even before they were born; when girls reached the age of 14 or 15, their families had to hand them over to their promised husbands. Polygamy was forbidden by the law. Customary law was not used if it was directly against human dignity; customary law ended where national law began.
ANA PAULA DA SILVA SACRAMENTO NETO, Secretary of State for the Family and the Promotion of Women of Angola, thanked the members of the Committee for the questions and advice and said that their analysis would assist Angola in carrying forward the work on improving the status of women.
VIOLETA NEUBAUER, Committee Vice-Chairperson, said that the constructive dialogue today provided insight into the status of women in the country and encouraged Angola to take measures to address the concerns raised.
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