Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination
against Women, 489th Meeting (PM), WOM/1247
Continues Consideration of Burundi's Initial Report
On Compliance with 1981 Women's Anti-Discrimination Convention
Literacy, health access and income-generating activities for rural women were the issues raised by experts this afternoon, as the monitoring body for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women continued its consideration of Burundi's initial report.
Burundi's report was introduced at today's morning meeting of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which is comprised of 23 experts, serving in their personal capacity, who monitor implementation of the Convention by the 166 countries that have ratified or acceded to it. Burundi's Minister of Social Affairs and Advancement of Women, Romaine Ndorimana, presented the report. Burundi ratified the Convention in 1991.
At this afternoon's session, several experts said that, with 90 per cent of all Burundian women living in rural areas, the conditions of rural women reflected the overall condition of women in Burundi. Many experts also asked what measures were being taken by the Government to provide women with social security and improve their access to small loans.
On the issue of education, one expert stated that access to education for girls was imperative for the full participation of women in society. It was important for the Government of Burundi to improve enrollment and the literacy rate. Another aspect of the problem was the training of teachers, who sometimes unwillingly contributed to the creation of gender stereotypes.
Experts also raised the issue of Burundi's prohibition of abortion, with several pointing out that the policy led to illegal abortions and the statistics showed that many women had died from secret abortions. The report indicated that the Government was looking at the issue, but further information was required. As men and boys were also responsible for those pregnancies, education programmes should be directed at them, as well.
Regarding the high rate of HIV/AIDS in the country, an expert said that the current life expectancy of 52 years could fall to 39 years by 2010, if measures were not taken to stop the spread of the disease. The national anti-AIDS programme seemed insufficient, in view of the threat. Many experts suggested that the Government call upon the United Nations specialized agencies, including United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO), to help.
After comments by the Committee's experts, Ms. Ndorimana, said that she looked forward to providing the Committee with answers to the questions raised. Her delegation is expected to respond to questions raised by experts on Tuesday, 23 January.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Thursday, 18 January, to consider the initial country report of Kazakhstan.
As discussion continued on Burundi's initial report on its implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (document CEDAW/C/BD1/1), an expert said education was key to full participation of women in society. It was not only important to improve the enrollment and the literacy rate, but also to ensure education in terms of women's rights. Attitudes towards the traditional roles of women and men should also be changed, and school was an important venue to that end.
An expert pointed out that an area of education not mentioned in the report was continuing adult education. Another aspect of the problem was the education and training of teachers, who sometimes unwillingly contributed to the creation of gender stereotypes. It was also important to change the attitudes of parents and customs within families.
The Constitution of Burundi guaranteed the right to education, an expert said. However, the report referred to the high dropout rate, and she wanted to know if the national plan of action included any measures to give access to education to girls from all communities and to reduce their dropout rate. Although the marriage age for girls was 18, no information was provided regarding early marriages, an expert pointed out. Parents did not seem to have any special incentives to educate girls.
There were also some questions regarding the right to employment. The information provided by the report in respect of the impact of globalization and structural adjustment on the position of women was insufficient, an expert said. She wanted to know how those phenomena influenced women's unemployment and in what sectors women were primarily occupied. Information about pension rights and social security was also very important.
It was also noted that, according to the report, women did not enjoy equal remuneration, and subjective criteria sometimes came into play. That meant that equal rights were not actually applied in the country. Experts wanted to know if trade unions existed in Burundi and how the salaries were established. Other aspects of the question involved discrepancies between men's and women's salaries, the existence of mechanisms for filing complaints in such cases of discrimination as sexual harassment, and job opportunities. Social services should be provided to women, and child care should be among the Government's priorities. An expert raised the question of women's control over their income, saying that they should have freedom to be economically independent.
Men remained in control of the situation in the family, and that affected the issue of women's health, another expert said. It was extremely important to implement those aspects of the Convention that helped remove women from subordination to male power. It was a situation that resulted in a high number of unwanted pregnancies and high birth rates.
When men chose not to wear condoms, she continued, they exposed women to the danger of AIDS and contraceptives were used at a very low rate in Burundi. Were measures being envisioned to raise awareness of the threat of AIDS and of issues relating to reproductive health? Was the use of condoms being promoted in the country?
Experts also raised the issue of the decriminalization of abortion. Several speakers said that prohibition of abortions led to illegal abortions, and the statistics showed that many women died from secret abortions. An expert said that a striking 45 per cent of those admitted to hospitals as a result of abortions were young girls. The report showed that the Government was looking at the issue, but further information was required. As men and boys were also responsible for those pregnancies, education programmes should be directed at them, as well.
Regarding the high rate of HIV/AIDS, an expert said that the current life expectancy of 52 years could fall to 39 years by 2010, as a result of the disease. The national anti-AIDS programme seemed insufficient, in view of the extent of the threat. An important issue concerned care for AIDS orphans.
An expert spoke about the situation of rural women, asking what measures were being taken to give them social security coverage and improve their access to credit. Another expert wondered if any arrangements were in place to bring social services and facilities to rural women. Up to 90 per cent of women in Burundi lived in rural areas, and their problems should be taken into consideration.
Other questions concerned rural women's participation in social life, the training provided to them, the overall Government policy in that respect and legislation directed towards rural women. Such legislation could include measures on property ownership and the elimination of prejudice against rural women. Experts requested more information regarding concrete measures directed at rural women, including numerical goals and time frames.
Another expert asked what was being done to allow women control of their own lives; to resolve the discrepancy between the legal principles and the reality that "a peasant woman is totally dependent on her husband. She is deemed to own nothing, even if she is the pillar of the family economy".
Regarding the family situation, questions were asked about forced marriage, prejudices against out-of-marriage pregnancies, family life education and exceptions regarding the age of marriage. The responsibilities of parents, their nationality and the customary domestic justice system were also discussed. An expert also asked if the Convention had precedence over national law in Burundi courts.
An expert said that it was clear from the questions that, despite the Government's efforts, much remained to be done for the advancement of women in Burundi. She wanted to know what measures were being taken to promote the Convention and what role the two ministries responsible for the implementation of the Convention played in that regard. The Government had already determined its priorities and the importance of involving men in the implementation of the Convention should be emphasized. Law enforcement was extremely important, and the campaign to change attitudes should be a long-term activity. The problem of internally displaced people presented a huge challenge, and the problem of HIV/AIDS should be immediately addressed.