COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN MEETS WITH NGOS AND NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS INSTITUTIONS
Hears Statements on the Situation of the Rights of Women in Cape Verde, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and the United Kingdom
15 July 2013
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon met with non-governmental organizations and three national human rights institutions who briefed Experts on the situation of the rights of women in Cape Verde, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and the United Kingdom. The reports of these four countries will be reviewed by the Committee this week.
Representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Cape Verde said that women with disabilities faced inequality in education and a lack of opportunities based on multiple and historic discrimination.
Speakers from NGOs in Bosnia and Herzegovina said that laws dealing with violence against women were not well implemented and victims of domestic crime were not well supported. Political participation was lacking and women did not have good access to healthcare, education or legal aid. Rape cases remaining from the conflict were not always tried as crimes against humanity and access to reparations had not improved.
Representatives of NGOs in Serbia said that extremism impacted everyday life. The church still significantly shaped societal norms, affecting the demand for the provision of contraception and abortion. Women with disabilities were inhibited from expressing their sexual and reproductive rights, did not receive priority in social benefits provision, and could be vulnerable to abuse given the lack of support. Roma organizations were struggling in the face of the limited will and funding from the Government.
Organizations speaking about the United Kingdom indicated that women were bearing the brunt of austerity measures affecting the heavily female public sector and cuts on welfare benefits. Changes to the healthcare system were also affecting women’s rights and affordable and accessible childcare was lacking. Abortion was still not freely available in Northern Ireland, despite earlier recommendations. Cuts to legal aid for many private and family matters constituted a step backwards.
Speaking during the discussion were representatives from United Women Banja Luka, TRIAL, Committee of Women with Disabilities of Capeverdean Federation of Associations of Persons with Disabilities, Autonomous Women’ Centre, Out of Circle, Roma Women’s Network, Women’s Resource Centre, ENGENDER, the Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform, the United Kingdom Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, and the Scottish Human Rights Commission.
The Committee will resume its work on Tuesday, 16 July, at 10 a.m., when it will begin its consideration of the combined seventh and eighth periodic report of Cape Verde under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW/C/CPV/7-8).
Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations
Committee of Women with Disabilities of Capeverdean Federation of Associations of Persons with Disabilities said that in Cape Verde there was a lack of inclusive and quality education and there were no equal employment opportunities for women with disabilities. The NGO also raised the issue of forced sterilization. Special assistance mechanisms for disabled persons to have full access to justice and protection systems were lacking, particularly concerning the reporting of incidents of violence against women. Women also faced multiple discrimination associated with gender, disability and other forms of systemic and historic discrimination, which led to unequal access to opportunities and benefits.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
United Women Banja Luka stated that laws dealing with violence against women suffered from low rates of implementation. Penal policy was weak and the State’s services were insufficient and inadequate. Support was offered only to victims of domestic violence and trafficking, but not to women victims of other forms of violence, which discouraged and scared women from reporting the acts of violence. Women were not equal in political life; the gender quota in this sphere was not respected; and women were marginalized, discouraged and rarely nominated to hold ministerial positions. Women with disabilities had little access to healthcare and Roma women were less educated and employed. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender women lived in fear of attacks, and sex workers were denied basic health rights and remained prone to harassment as long as their work was criminalised.
TRIAL raised issues related to the codification of rape or other forms of sexual violence, indicating that the State’s criminal law did not meet international standards, and that cases of rape during conflict were not always treated as crimes against humanity. The level of prosecution of war crime cases related to sexual violence was very low and the National Strategy was flawed and slow. Access to reparations and compensation had not improved and psychological damage was not seen as grounds for benefits. Thousands of victims of rape were still unable to access justice given the lack of legal aid provision.
Autonomous Women’s Centre said that extremism was regularly seen in Serbia and that the State had done nothing to investigate instances of femicide. Nothing had been done to tackle the root causes of violence against women and the State had not undertaken due diligence in many cases. Church officials instigated violent acts and spoke out against abortion. Sexual education was not provided in schools, contraception was expensive, and family planning coverage was patchy. Women did not receive alimony, and were expected to give up work to care for disabled children without additional support.
Out of Circle said perpetrators of acts of sexual violence against women with disabilities received different and lesser sentences than those handed down to abusers of able-bodied persons. Women who lived with perpetrators of abuses could not access support services if their abusers left, which exposed them to a vulnerable position. Safe houses were not accessible for women with disabilities and they did not receive priority access to social benefits, sexual and reproductive rights were difficult to realize as it was thought these women did not need them.
Roma Women’s Network had encountered difficulties given the lack of resources and political will for its programmes of Roma empowerment. Roma women non-governmental organizations were struggling to survive while the Government tried to decrease their influence, and they had not been invited to take part in the drafting of the report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. The number of Roma women admitted to safe houses had improved, though this needed to be monitored.
Women’s Resource Centre said the Government’s austerity programme disproportionately impacted women and some had been made destitute as a result. The high cost of childcare discouraged many women from seeking work at all, and free legal aid for many domestic issues had been removed. Changes to the National Health Service meant women’s needs were not being met. Support services had been cut and measures to tackle violence had not been successful. The lack of disaggregated data prevented current and future measurements of inequality. There were discrepancies on women’s policies across the devolved authorities.
ENGENDER indicated that women had borne the brunt of austerity measures and reductions in the female-dominated public sector. The Scottish Government should identify groups that needed additional support and Scotland must ensure that the action plan from the recent Women’s Employment Summit created significant and measurable outcomes. The NGO welcomed the consideration of childcare provision as infrastructure and universal provision was needed. A system of independent legal representation should be introduced to enable complainants of sexual offences to assert their rights to privacy.
Northern Ireland European Platform Board said that women were under-represented in politics. Despite intense lobbying by non-governmental organizations, Security Council resolution 1325 had not been implemented. Ethnic minority women faced structural barriers and limited data was collected on instances of violence against women in this group. There was no national childcare strategy and women had problems in accessing affordable childcare. Women could not access abortion on grounds of rape, incest or severe abnormality.
Questions from the Experts
Regarding the situation in Cape Verde, had a gender perspective been integrated into laws regarding persons with disabilities and were persons with disabilities taking part in legislative reviews? Were there women’s organizations working to break down stereotypes of male dominance? What was the situation in relation to social provision in the country?
What changes had been made in the United Kingdom to cater to the terms of the Equality Act of 2010k, both generally and in terms of the devolved regions? Could persons represent themselves in courts, and what was the situation in regards to this in Scotland and Northern Ireland? What was being contemplated concerning the greater credibility of complainants if corroboration in cases of sexual violence was removed?
It seemed that Serbia had made progress in the creation of non-discrimination and gender equality laws, although a gap between policy and normative improvements was possible. What was the most significant obstacle, in addition to the lack of funding, for a better implement legislation, strategies and action plans? What was the level of civil society awareness regarding the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence? Experts asked about the state of preparations for ratification and asked if any awareness raising efforts or training were planned. Was the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women applicable at the national level?
In relation to Bosnia, Experts also inquired about the standing of and awareness about the Istanbul Convention? Were civil society organizations aware of its scope and application? Could the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women be directly invoked in national courts? Were lawyers aware of its provisions?
Responses by Non-Governmental Organizations
Cape Verde had a law on persons with disabilities but it needed revising as it lacked a human rights approach. While this was not foreseen in the near future, further information on this question would be provided.
In relation to the United Kingdom, there had always been issues with data collection and the methods currently in place would stop given austerity measures, and no self-reported data was available for persons over 59. The impact of changes to the Equality Duty were currently being assessed, an early indication suggested that this constituted a step backwards in terms of the focus on women’s rights. Women services were being lost and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which had served as the body to ensure compliance, had been cut. The Equality Act did not apply to Northern Ireland, although data collection issues were similar. In England, legal aid had been removed from many private and family areas, except when victims could prove domestic violence but the level of evidence was prohibitively high. In Scotland, there was now a price tag on civil protection orders, making them unviable but for the wealthiest women; with the removal of corroboration, it was also a concern that issues such as mental health history would be heard in court. The Istanbul Convention was not well-represented in United Kingdom law and, although signed, it was not certain when it would be ratified.
With regards to Serbia, the number of women killed this year was similar to previous years. The State did not count with statistics on femicides, but NGOs estimated these figures. State actors did not face responsibility for failing to act on information that suggested need to protect women if such a crime was later committed. Serbia was not raising awareness about the Istanbul Convention, which was thought to be ratified soon. It had not been possible for lesbian women to hold a pride march, and they had been victimised by fascist groups.
Bosnia and Herzegovina had signed the Istanbul Convention and it was hoped that it would be transformed into law by the end of the year. Civil society awareness was good although broader awareness raising was needed. The integration of the Convention’s standards into domestic legislation should be recommended to the Government. Education regarding the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was part of the legal curriculum, as part of a general teaching programme, but lawyers did not use the Convention directly.
Statements from Independent Human Rights Institutions
Equality and Human Rights Commission said that austerity cuts were a concern as they were more likely to affect women. The gender impact of cuts had not been well-considered and work was being done with the Government to improve the gender-perspective on how cuts would impact society. Changes in the payment of benefits could reduce the independent income of women in poorer households. Benefit caps could particularly affect vulnerable and single-parent households. A review of the Istanbul Convention indicated that existing policies needed to be much better implemented. The devolving of service provisions to local authorities needed close monitoring to ensure quality. A national strategy to tackle gender pay-gaps would be welcome; the Government was relying on companies to be more transparent on this issues and additional pressure to do so would be appreciated.
The Scottish Human Rights Commission said that Scotland was developing its first action plan on human rights, which would be launched later this year. There was no consolidated act tackling violence against women. Guidance was needed regarding the protection of a complainant’s right to privacy in rape cases; and the Criminal Justice Act allowed for a defence of corporal punishment of children. Spending cuts were negatively affecting women and their impact on human rights had not been considered. The gender pay-gap remained an issue and was particularly bad in Scotland. Education and employment initiatives to tackle this would be welcome, additional funding and infrastructure would be needed.
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission raised concerns with regard to legislation about the payment for sexual services from children between 13 and 17. In these situations it needed to be proved beyond reasonable doubt that the customer believed the children involved were over 18. The Committee was requested to recommend to the Government that girls should receive better protection. There had been no movement concerning the prohibition of abortion, despite previous recommendations from the Committee. Discriminatory criteria were in place regarding access to fertility treatment, which disqualified lesbian women from accessing them. There was no transitional justice system in place and Security Council resolution 1325 had not been provided for in Northern Ireland.
Questions from the Experts
Experts also inquired about the situation with regards to trafficking of persons.
Replies from an Independent Human Rights Commission
Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission said that it was currently illegal to pay trafficked persons for sexual services, regardless of whether the customer knew the prostitute was trafficked. The concern of the Commission was that for the successful prosecution of a person charged with buying sex from a child between 13 and 18, it was necessary to prove that the purchaser did not believe the child was over 18.
ISMAT JAHAN, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, in concluding remarks, thanked representatives of NGOs and national human rights institutions for their cooperation.
For use of the information media; not an official record