Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women
607th Meeting* (PM)
Since ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1983, the Republic of the Congo had eliminated discriminatory laws and drafted other legislation to ensure gender equality, that country's representative told the Convention's monitoring body this afternoon.
Men and women in the country now enjoyed the freedom to consent in cases of marriage or divorce, independent employment, equivalent wages, equal access to education and other rights, said Delphine Emmanuel-Adouki, Director of the Cabinet of the country's Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and the Advancement of Women.
Ms. Emmanel-Adoukie was responding to questions posed by the Committee on Monday, 27 January. At today's meeting, the Committee had considered the combined initial, second, third, fourth and fifth periodic reports of the Republic of the Congo on compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Concerning the level of awareness of the Convention, she said the Government had made the treaty available to several relevant groups, and had conducted seminars to explain it in the country's vernacular languages. During 11 regional conferences on women during 2001, translations of the Convention had been liberally distributed in the country.
Turning to questions about the Government's decision to include women's rights in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, she said that had been an attempt to address the plight of women in the agricultural labour force, where women made up 70 per cent of total agricultural workers. Women in the sector suffered from difficult conditions, struggled with traditional methods, and had few opportunities to sell their products.
* Press Release WOM/1382 of 27 January should indicate the 606th Meeting.
Improving the agricultural sector, she continued, would allow the country to reduce its food imports and eventually achieve food self-sufficiency. Since women made up the majority of agricultural workers, they would be decisive in any effort to transform the sector.
The Government's programme to combat poverty expressed its unequivocal will to improve the status of rural women, she continued. Difficulties in obtaining unsecured loans had led to the establishment of 11 savings banks, which granted loans to women after they opened savings accounts. More than 93 per cent of borrowers repaid their loans.
Concerning penalties for adultery, she said adulterous women were subject to imprisonment for a period of three months to two years or more, while adulterous men merely paid a fine. Those punishments were clearly discriminatory, and the Government was currently reforming the penal code on adultery.
On family planning, she said there was no shortage of contraceptives, but legal and customary barriers prohibited the use of contraceptives. Regarding high maternal mortality rates, several measures had been taken, including the establishment of primary health-care centres and increased prenatal visits.
The Committee will meet again at a date and time to be announced in the Journal.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this afternoon to hear replies by representatives of the Government of the Congo in response to questions posed by the Committee on Monday, 27 January.
At the Monday meeting, the Committee considered the combined initial, second, third, fourth and fifth periodic reports of the Congo on compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (for background information, see Press Release WOM/1382).
DELPHINE EMMANUEL-ADOUKI, Director of the Cabinet of the country's Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and the Advancement of Women, said the Congo had eliminated discriminatory legislation since ratifying the Convention in 1983, and had instituted laws to ensure gender equality. Those included the Family Code, the Law on Handicapped Persons, the Commerce Code, the Education Law and the Employment Code.
Men and women in the country now enjoyed judicial rights, freedom to consent in the event of marriage or divorce, freedom to access public administration or independent employment, the right to promotion, equal wages, equal access to education, and equal rights to pursue commerce.
Responding to questions posed by the Committee, she said the country had identified discriminatory legislation and drawn up draft laws on adultery, protection of minors, sexual harassment, equal rights in the family and others. The exercise had been part of a review by the Government and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries that was aimed at the elimination of discriminatory texts and the institution of more harmonious legislation.
Regarding the participation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the advancement of women's rights, she said those groups and other sectors had been closely involved in drafting the country's report.
On why women's rights had been included in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, she said the Government had made that choice in an effort to address the poverty of women who made up the majority of the agricultural labour force. Women in that sector suffered from difficult working conditions, struggled with traditional methods of farming, and had little opportunity to sell their products. Improving the sector would allow the country to reduce its food imports, and in the long term achieve food self-sufficiency. Since women made up 70 per cent of the agricultural labour force, they must be decisive in any effort to transform the agricultural sector.
The Government was determined to eradicate discrimination of all types, she said, but that must be achieved through a campaign of awareness, information and the drawing up of draft texts. The law must anticipate change and be one step ahead of society, while keeping in step with society, so that it would lay down effective norms.
Concerning questions about the Convention, she said the Government had made the treaty available to various groups and had carried out seminars to explain it in the country's vernacular languages. Also, the Passport for Equal Rights, published by the United Nations Educational and Scientific Organization had been broadly distributed. During 11 regional conferences on women in 2001, translations of the Convention had been liberally distributed in the country.
Responding to another question, she said that national judges did not necessarily refer directly to the Convention, but often included its provisions in applying the law. The Government had done much to raise the awareness of judges about the Convention, she added.
Regarding questions about the organization responsible for promoting women, she said the competent body for the advancement of women was now under the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries. Within that ministry was the State secretariat charged with promoting women's rights and integrating women into development. Such a structure reflected the will of the head of Government to consider gender questions.
Regarding adultery, she said adulterous women were subject to imprisonment of three months to two years or more, while adulterous men were subject to a financial penalty. Those provisions were clearly discriminatory, and the Government was currently reforming the penal code on adultery.
Responding to a question about political will concerning gender equality in the country, she stressed that the political will to abolish discrimination was undeniable and unequivocal.
On labour, she said the country had ratified important Conventions drawn up by the International Labour Organization, which protected women. Also, a committee had been established to draw up proposals that would make sexual harassment an offence.
She said the Congo had recently created focal points for follow-up to the Beijing Platform of Action. The focal points had to provide data, disaggregated by sex, and engage in follow-up activity.
On customary law, she said there had been intense work to raise awareness on the need to support reforms. Following a ministerial restructuring, the Department for the Advancement of Women was now under the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, which also contained the State secretariat. The State secretariat had some 126 staff members within the central and departmental offices, as well as focal points in various ministries.
On positive discrimination, she said the Department for the Advancement of Women had used the concept of positive discrimination for women's enrolment in higher education.
Regarding prostitution, she said the national programme to combat HIV/AIDS, which was supported by various NGOs, had implemented a policy to support prostitutes among whom the incidence of AIDS was as high as 25 per cent. That policy included the provision of medical assistance. Under the present law, procurers, not prostitutes, were punished.
Responding to another question, she said that women had been actively involved in the reconstruction process. Following the war, they had contributed to the country's economic recovery, and they had organized demonstrations to end the armed conflict.
Congo's National Committee for Refugees, which was part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, dealt with the issue of refugee women, she added. The High Commissioner for Refugees as well as local churches had provided material support, access to land, housing, school fees and free medical assistance.
Regarding questions of nationality, she said a Congolese man who married a foreigner was not obligated to assume her nationality. A foreigner who married a Congolese woman became a Congolese citizen after five years. A child born to a foreign parent married to a Congolese would have Congolese nationality.
Regarding education reforms, she said the education law provided for equality. The latest education plan took into account the problems of minorities, including children, the poor and Pygmies. Literacy courses were offered by the Department of Continuing Education.
The programme to combat poverty expressed the unequivocal will of the Government to improve the status of rural women, she said. The present difficulties in obtaining unsecured loans had justified the establishment of
11 savings banks for women, which provided loans after the establishment of a savings account. More than 93 per cent of borrowers repaid their loans. While the informal sector was not regulated, the Government was trying to integrate women into the formal sector.
Regarding family planning, she said there was no shortage of contraceptives. The problem lay in legal and customary barriers which prohibited the use of contraceptives. Several measures had been taken regarding high maternal mortality rates, including the establishment within the Ministry of Health of primary health care centres and increased prenatal visits. The State secretariat had established an HIV/AIDS focal point.
The Government had taken several measures to provide for the economic development of women, she said. They included training for income generating activities, support for women's savings, training for businesswomen's organizations and the distribution of improved seeds for women working in agriculture.
On the issue of pre-marriage, she said the family code did not set a minimum age for pre-marriage. Inheritance rights depended on the nature of the matrimonial regime. Regarding polygamy, women were free to choose.
In conclusion, she said the Congo was a sovereign State that had chosen to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women. The Government intended to gradually consolidate achievements in the advancement of women.
KRISZTINA MORVAI, expert from Hungary, asked for clarification on the practice of polygamy. Could women choose to have more than one husband under the law? What was meant by "freedom of choice" in terms of polygamy?
HUGUETTE BOKPE GNANCADJA, expert from Benin, said she wished to reassure the delegation that the Committee had not meant to communicate a feeling of incongeniality.
DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked for further clarification on the Government's follow-up to the Beijing Platform of Action.
VICTORIA POPESCU, expert from Romania, asked for additional information on inheritance rights for married women according to the different matrimonial regimes.
Responding to questions on polygamy, Ms. ADOUKI said the option of polygamy was not open to women. A woman was free to choose before the marriage union whether she agreed to polygamy. Couples often opted for monogamy. However, the husband might later start planning to contract a second wife. He could not do so, however, if his first wife did not give her consent. It all depended on the women's ability to say "no". Legally speaking, the women could oppose the conclusion of a second marriage if she was in a monogamous union.
On the implementation of regional platforms, she said the Congo was chairing the sixth regional conference. Within the African framework, an evaluation and follow-up process was being implemented.
Regarding women's property rights, she said that if there was shared property, if the husband died, joint property was divided in half, with 50 per cent going to the wife, and the other 50 per cent divided between the family and the children. Women had the right to remain in the family home for 300 days following the death of her husband. If the family asked the woman to leave the family home, they were required to find suitable housing for her. In cases of separately owned property, the women could claim her share of the property. The family and the children were taken into account.
The matrimonial law protected women, she continued. The choice of a matrimonial regime was important. Many women were not aware of the need to select a matrimonial regime. In general, when the husband died, she could be deprived of her inheritance as a result of custom and practice. Recently, women were claiming their rights. When the women died, families could not claim an inheritance because the husband needed to provide for the children.
The Acting Chairperson of the Committee, YOLANDA FERRER GOMEZ, expert from Cuba, said the experts' comments and questions to the Congo had demonstrated a will to better understand the present situation of women in the country, and the country had responded in a spirit that had led to constructive dialogue. The Congo had provided extremely interesting additional information regarding prospects for reforming the country's legislation, and had emphasized the Government's desire to advance the rights of women and respect the Convention.
The country's responses had described what had been done to make the Convention better known. Awareness of the Convention was vital both for women and for those responsible for implementing it, which included educators and all those involved in moulding mentality and attitudes. It was encouraging to learn that a reform programme was planned and that the country was continuing its attempt to eliminate stereotypes. She noted a need to progress beyond traditional concepts, to change attitudes and institute a non-sexist approach.