Live from CEDAW

Contributed by Gwendolyn Beetham, Gender Consultant, Department of Peacekeeping Operations

It’s that time of the year…the 37th Session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women is being held at UN Headquarters in New York. In this session, delegates from 15 of the 185 countries party to The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) get to talk about the “appropriate measures, including legislation and temporary special measures” that they have put in place in compliance with CEDAW, “so that women can enjoy all their human rights and fundamental freedoms.” Experts get to ask questions. The country delegates respond. It’s fun.

In this session, running from the 15th of January to the 2nd of February, countries reporting include: Austria, Azerbaijan, Columbia, Greece, India, Kazakhstan, Maldives, Namibia, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Peru, Poland, Suriname, Tajikistan, and Vietnam.

A run down of what’s happened so far after the jump.
Kazakhstan reported that the adoption of 2006-2016 Strategy for Gender Equality, involving women’s political and economic advancement, protection of women’s reproductive health, combating violence against women and the achievement of gender equality in family relations, was “one of the most important developments in the country’s democratic transformation.” Persistent inequalities to be addressed included: employment discrimination, lack of women in political leadership positions, as well as the need to combat human trafficking. Experts cited delays in implementing these plans, as well as other laws and policies important to gender equality, including in the adoption of the law on domestic violence.

Poland stressed progress made in mainstreaming gender equality into national policies and enacting legislation to strengthen protection of women against domestic violence and workplace discrimination. Their report also described efforts to combat human trafficking, a growing problem in the country, along with improvements to women’s health care. However, Poland, in response to experts’ concerns, acknowledged that abortion was only legal for women in cases of rape and when the pregnant woman’s health was in danger, and although “all women had the right to reproductive services…under the conscience clause, doctors could refuse to perform an abortion.”

Viet Nam reported on their recently passed Law on Gender Equality, which will take effect in July 2007, and defines key aspects of gender equality, including promotion measures and governmental responsibility. Other issues addressed included: women’s land rights, funding for girls education, human trafficking, and women’s economic rights. In response to the latter, the delegation cited the fact that it was recently named a leading country in terms of the ratio of women’s participation in economic activities, according to a joint study by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development and Canada’s International Development Agency.

Namibia reported on various measures taken to address violence against women, HIV/AIDS, women’s land rights, discrimination in the family, women’s participation in the formal work force and in the political arena. Regarding the latter, Namibia reported gains for women in the 2004 elections including: an increase in the number of women in Parliament from 20 to 27 per cent and, for the first time, the appointment of women to the positions of: Deputy Prime Minister, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Minister of Justice and Attorney General, and Minister of Finance. Delegates acknowledged that although “Namibia had made significant progress since its last periodic review…challenges to achieve full gender equality still existed.”

India reported on its commitment to encourage changes in legislation and in personal laws, such as those related to marriage, divorce, maintenance and guardianship, sex roles and stereotyping, and customary practices, including dowry, sati, devadasi, child marriage, and selective sex abortion. The report also acknowledged the multiple forms of discrimination against Indian women based on caste, religion and disability. Experts testified that India had not done enough to tackle these issues, arguing that it should remove its reservations to CEDAW (on grounds of on stereotypes, family life and marriage) and do more “to initiate measures rather than wait for male-led communities to overcome deeply entrenched attitudes.” Experts also criticized the report’s lack of attention to the extensive violence against women which took place during the Gujarat riots in 2002, including the Governments’ response after the riots, when, according to a separate report before the Committee and a report from the Special Rapporteur on violence against women “a culture of impunity was created where sexual violence was allowed to continue and that women victims of violence were denied access to justice.”

Nicaragua reported on plans to make the country’s main women’s rights body an autonomous institute. The Nicaraguan Institute for Women (INIM), formerly supervised directly by the President, was instrumental in mainstreaming gender equality principles and strategies into agriculture, socio-economic development, higher education, and sexual and domestic violence prevention. Delegate noted, however, that “discriminatory practices still existed which thwarted Nicaragua’s ability to carry out its gender equity objectives, and that it had been difficult to change societal attitudes about the importance of women’s rights and participation as full partners in and beneficiaries of Nicaragua’s socio-economic development.” Delegates also responded to experts’ concerns about Nicaragua’s ban on abortion by stating that “the issue had created controversy last year in the National Assembly and was subsequently dropped from the legislation.”

Ongoing coverage and full country reports are available at the Division for the Advancement of Women.