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Committee on elimination of discrimination against women holds informal meeting with non-governmental organizations

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Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
18 January 2010

Hears from NGOs on Uzbekistan, Ukraine and Malawi

The Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women this afternoon held an informal meeting with representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from Uzbekistan, Ukraine, and Malawi. According to its Rules of Procedure, the Committee may invite representatives of NGOs to make oral or written statements, and to provide information or documentation relevant to the Committee's activities under the Convention. The Committee has also decided that representatives of national and international NGOs should provide country-specific information on the States parties whose reports were before the Committee.

Among issues raised on Malawi, NGOs said there were many laws which were contrary to the nature and spirit of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in Malawi, and it could be safely said that it did not form part and parcel of the laws. There was also a lack of commitment by the State to implement the Committee's concluding comment urging it to set a clear time frame for the adoption of the revised Citizenship Act, Immigration Act, and the Wills and Inheritance Act, as well as the new Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Bill, designed to eliminate discrimination against women, and the proposed HIV/AIDS Bill contained provisions that perpetuated the victimisation and stigmatisation of women, and the infringement of their rights.

On Ukraine, NGOs said despite the existence of the national gender machinery, the overall strategy of gender policies was not clear and precise. The State Programme on Gender did not define any indicators for monitoring and measuring its effectiveness. With regards to the situation of homosexual, bisexual and transgender women, national legislation contained several mentions of prohibition of discrimination against women, but there was no mention of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and/or gender identity in any of these documents. Further, Romani women faced serious problems due to multiple discrimination on the basis of gender and ethnicity within wider society as well as within domestic and family environments.

With regards to Uzbekistan, NGOs said women in Uzbekistan were denied a voice and safe space to raise their concerns. There was State control and fear, and women could not participate equally in the economic, social and public life in Uzbekistan for a range of reasons. The perspective of the Government on women continued to be focused on values that assumed that women did not have capacities for leadership or even equal participation. The Committee should ensure that the Government put in place anti-discrimination legislation which would provide for women's access to equal opportunities and equal benefit in employment and economic rights, and to ensure that women were not discriminated against on the grounds of their sexual identity. The Uzbek State must commit to ensure the freedom of women human rights defenders to undertake their work in organising and supporting women.

The next meeting of the Committee will be at 3 p.m. on Tuesday 19 January, when it will hold another informal meeting with non-governmental organizations to discuss their interactions with the Committee.

Statements

Malawi

SEODI VENEKAI-RUDO WHITE, Women and Law in Southern Africa Research Trust, said she was presenting the Malawi Shadow Report on behalf of Women and Law in Southern Africa and the Malawi NGO Gender Coordinating Network. There were many laws which were contrary to the nature and spirit of the Convention in Malawi, and it could be safely said that it did not form part and parcel of the laws. It was therefore recommended that the Government clearly create an action plan on the domestication of the Convention, or Malawian women and girls could not legitimately enjoy the rights under the Convention. There was also a lack of commitment by the State to implement the Committee's concluding comment urging it to set a clear time frame for the adoption of the revised Citizenship Act, Immigration Act, and the Wills and Inheritance Act, as well as the new Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Bill, designed to eliminate discrimination against women. Further, in Malawi, women's status as owners of property remained comparatively poorer than that of men because of inequitable construction of gender roles. Marriage became a conduit of poverty for women.

MARY FRANCES MALUNGA, National Assembly of Business Women, said Malawi's maternal mortality rates continued to be one of the highest in the world. So far, Malawi had failed to meet the Committee's concluding observations calling for the State party to integrate a gender perspective in all health sector reforms while also ensuring that women's sexual and reproductive health needs were adequately addressed. Further, the proposed HIV/AIDS Bill contained provisions that perpetuated the victimisation and stigmatisation of women, and the infringement of their rights.

Ukraine

MARIIA ALIEKSIEIENKO, Women's Consortium of Ukraine, said despite the existence of the national gender machinery, the overall strategy of gender policies was not clear and precise. The State Programme on Gender did not define any indicators for monitoring and measuring its effectiveness. The Government funds for gender equality programmes were very limited and were not effectively allocated. The representation of women in Parliament, in the top positions of executive branches and in diplomatic departments and international delegations remained very low. Whereas State-based crisis centres and shelters for victims of domestic violence had been established, several gaps and challenges remained, including that they were not available in all regions, the services were not available on short notice, and the good practices of the previous State social centres were not sufficiently supported by the State. As for the victims of trafficking, the social and psychological support to them was mostly provided by the NGOs with assistance from international donors.

KRYSTYNA POSUNKINA, Za Ravnie Prava (For Equal Rights), said with regards to the situation of homosexual, bisexual and transgender women, national legislation contained several mentions of prohibition of discrimination against women, but there was no mention of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and/or gender identity in any of these documents, and there was an issue of frequent violation of freedoms and rights of these women. When a crime against these women occurred and was aggravated by sexual orientation or gender identity, there was no possibility to interpret it as a hate crime due to the lack of legislation. Fertile lesbian women had no right to artificial insemination, and transgender health issues were recognised only as an identity disorder.

ZEMFIRA KONDUR, European Roma Rights Center, said Romani women faced serious problems due to multiple discrimination on the basis of gender and ethnicity within wider society as well as within domestic and family environments, with many Romani women and girls facing hunger, discrimination in access to education, health care, employment, issues of domestic and racial violence, inadequate housing, and the disadvantaged position of Romani women. The human rights situation of these women was aggravated by the fact that there was no comprehensive anti-discrimination law in Ukraine via which Romani women could seek to defend their rights and challenge abuses when these occurred. The Government should promptly adopt a comprehensive strategy on the Roma, with specific focus on gender as a cross-cutting priority.

Uzbekistan

YASMIN MASIDI, Coalition of Uzbek Women's Rights NGOs, said women in Uzbekistan were denied a voice and safe space to raise their concerns. There was State control and fear, and women could not participate equally in the economic, social and public life in Uzbekistan for a range of reasons. Recent developments in legislation had seriously hampered women's participation in the NGO movement. Human rights defenders who had come together for their work faced grave danger, as unregistered collectives or groups were considered illegal. The perspective of the Government on women continued to be focused on values that assumed that women did not have capacities for leadership or even equal participation. Programmes in place for women's development were based on stereotypes and patriarchal norms that they further reinforced. Protection from domestic violence, non-discrimination, gender equality and other critical issues which could only be addressed by challenging established patriarchal norms were taboo in official vocabulary. The attention of the Committee was also urgently drawn to the new programme of population control measures launched by the State that targeted women's reproductive rights.

ANNA KIREY, LGBT Organisation "Labrys", said due to their sexual identity, women in Uzbekistan were unable to secure employment, were disowned and harassed by their families, and forced into marriage. Lesbian and bisexual women were forced to marry men because of tremendous family pressure. The fear of persecution by the State had kept the lesbian women's movement underground, disabling them from challenging the discrimination that they suffered. Criminal laws provided punitive measures for homosexuality, and could also be used against transgender women. The Committee should ensure that the Government put in place anti-discrimination legislation which would provide for women's access to equal opportunities and equal benefit in employment and economic rights, and to ensure that women were not discriminated against on the grounds of their sexual identity. The Uzbek State must commit to ensure the freedom of women human rights defenders to undertake their work in organizing and supporting women.

Questions

Following these statements, Committee Members raised a number of questions and issues, including, on Malawi: what plans did NGOs have to try and ensure that the gender laws were actually given priority in Parliament; what were the implications of the Madonna case of 2009 which had implications for the Convention and its status within the domestic legal order and how strict had the Supreme Court been; a request for more information on the Constitution and what it contained with respect to international treaties ratified; and whether there was a real marital shared property regime, and if so, what rights of inheritance did women have.

On Ukraine, Members raised, among other issues: whether there had been any real progress, other than political will, in eradicating trafficking in persons; whether gender equality was a matter for public debate and something that had been addressed by political candidates; what could be done to improve the situation of sexual minorities; a request for more information on the work of NGOs on possible use of the Optional Protocol in their work; and how many crisis centres and shelters had been opened by the Government for victims of domestic violence.

On Uzbekistan, Members raised, among other matters: a request for more information on the work on the sterilisation programme, which NGOs were alleging were in some cases forced; whether there was a prohibition of marital rape, since there was no terminology for this phenomenon; a request for documentation on sexual harassment cases where the victims were State employees; which laws could be used to discriminate against those with trans-gender identity; and whether forced marriage was a generalised phenomenon against women and not just against those with a different gender identity and sexual orientation.

Responses

Responding to these questions and issues, representatives from Malawian NGOs said the Executive Branch of Government advanced Bills to Parliament after having discussed them in Cabinet - it was only after this that they became debatable. Thus the Parliament told NGOs that they had to engage with the Executive. In matters of gender laws, it should be the gender machinery that engaged with the Executive and the Justice machinery. On the implications of the Madonna case, the Supreme Court said in this regard that the first point of departure in interpreting an Act of Parliament was the Constitution. The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child were thus not used as part of the laws of Malawi, although they could be used as per the discretion of the courts. There should be a clear road map by the gender machinery in terms of what laws stayed in and what laws were removed. On property rights, there was no regime of marital property, and laws assumed either registration of a joint title to a particular property, or it was assumed to be owned separately.

Representatives of NGOs from Ukraine, responding, said on the political position of women in Ukraine, the law of Ukraine on ensuring equal rights and opportunities declared that both sexes had equal rights and opportunities in the political world, but this was de jure- de facto, the reality was different and women were still discriminated against in the political field for a wide range of reasons, including stereotypes and bad distribution of family roles. There were only about 8 per cent of women in Parliament. Without the NGOs in Ukraine, issues of gender equality, domestic violence and trafficking would never have been addressed. These activities started mostly in 1994, and the women's movement had been developing and strengthening ever since. The Government relied on NGOs for advisory assistance, training, and public awareness campaigns. NGOs had worked with judges and the courts as well as lawyers in order to make them more aware of gender-equality issues. On the Shadow Report procedure, it was an initiative only from NGOs. There were some organizations involved in the elaboration of the State report, but very few, and they were mostly invited once the report had been prepared. NGOs for ethnic minorities, women with disabilities, and sexual minority women were not invited nor involved. There was no State shelter that provided support to victims of trafficking - there were some rare cases where support was given to NGO shelters, but it wasn't actually in the system. Prospects for Governmental ownership of these services, now supported by international organizations, was pretty limited. It was very difficult to make a distinction between ethnic and gender discrimination in the case of Romani women. The protection against racial discrimination under Ukrainian law was very weak, making Romani women very vulnerable to discrimination.

Uzbekistan NGO representatives, responding, said detailed responses would be provided in writing in twenty-four hours, as the representatives themselves could not be present at the meeting for fear of persecution. The situation of LGBT women was rare and not very documented in the Central Asian countries, and it was impressive that a report had been able to be produced and presented at the session. Uzbekistan had frequently been called upon to decriminalise homosexuality, but it had rejected this recently at the Universal Periodic Review. It was impossible to change gender on official documents for transsexual persons. There was great limitation of access for women and for lesbian, gay and bisexual women in Uzbekistan due to Government surveillance of the Internet and telephone.

For use of the information media; not an official record