INTERGOVERNMENTAL WORKING GROUP ON THE EFFECTIVE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE DURBAN DECLARATION AND PROGRAMME OF ACTION
18th October, 2010
STATEMENT BY MS. FERDOUS ARA BEGUM, MEMBER UN CEDAW COMMITTEE
GENDERED NATURE OF STRUCTURAL DISCRIMINATION IN THE FIELD OF MIGRATION AND EMPLOYMENT
Distinguished Participants, Colleagues and Friends,
It is my great pleasure to be invited in this august forum and share my views as a member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Aginst Women on the topic « gendered nature of structural discrimination in the field of migration and employment « I will also touch upon the situation of women in armed conflict, refugee women , women of ethnic minorites and trafficking of women and girls
INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS TREATIES AND ISSUES OF DISCRIMINATION
At the very outset, I would like to mention that the CEDAW Committee systematically addresses discrimination against women in all its forms including some specific forms of multiple discrimination and human rights violations faced by women during different stages of migration including trafficking , employment within the country and cross border, in the situation of armed conflict, statelessness, women with refugee status , asylum seekers and women from ethnic minorities .
Women in the above different situation as I have mentioned may confront structural discrimination in the realisation of their human rights.
Here I would like to recall the universal Declaration of Human Rights , which reaffirms that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth therein , without distinction of any kind , including distinction based on sex.
Like wise the CEDAW Convention also confirms that discrimination against women violates the principles of equality of rights and respect for dignity which is an obstacle to the participation of women on equal terms with men in the field of political, social , economical and cultural spheres of their lives. Our convention prohibits both direct and indirect discrimination against women committed by both private or public actors.
In fact all of the international human rights treaties, including International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination, International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex and gender and include guarantees for the full enjoyment of human rights by men and women on the basis of equality.
But in reality, de jure and de facto equality has not been achieved in any country in the world due to inherent structural discrimination , which is reflected in discriminatory laws and practices that deny women’s right , in discriminatory customs and traditions that restricts women’s equal access ,and in marginalization and Social exclusion which generates feminization of poverty.
DURBAN REVIEW CONFERENCE
The Durban review conference held in 2009 , identified challenges and obstacles that hinder implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action adopted in 2001. Intolerance has now taken a new contemporary form and new challenges exist all over the world which may present significant obstacles for the effective prevention, combat and eradication of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Several examples may be cited from Asia and Africa also from Europe where women are particularly targeted as a weapon of war through sexual violence, rape and gang rape even murder . We can recall the sexual and gender based crimes during communal violence in Gujarat in India in 2002 against Muslim minority community, in recent time in Democratic Republic of Congo,the UN reported that more than 500 systematic rapes have been committed by armed combatants in Congo since last July. Other similar examples of hate crime and gender based violence may be cited in Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, also in the recent past the situation of Bosnia and Hargigovina. We can go on with many more examples. In absence of witness and victim protection mechanism also lack of political will survivors of violence never can press their legal rights and ensure justice and remedial measures.
Addressing structural discrimination to eliminate racial discrimination, racism and xenophobia and related intolerance needs careful understanding of the traditional practices and social structure as well as basic cultural values and fundamental principles of a particular social system.. . It also needs mobilization of political will of all actors in the relevant fields which include policy makers , parliamentarians, the judiciary, NGOs civil society members also full compliance towards human rights , in particular the principle of non discrimination in respect of gender , age and sex.
FEMINIZATION OF MIGRATION AND STRUCTURAL DISCRIMINATION
Women currently make up about one half of the world’s migrant population . The dynamics of globalization, poverty, gender based violence in countries of origin, natural disasters and situation of armed conflicts determine women’s migration status . Also exacerbation of sex specific divisions of labour in the formal and informal service sectors in countries of destination act as a pull factor for women migrants , both documented and undocumented. It is also true that women fall victim to trafficking harm in the process of migration. As per UN USG Radhica Kumarashami,I quote “ Traffickers fish in the stream of migration”. Unquote.
I will elaborate the trafficking issue a bit later.
All migrant women workers domestic or cross border, are entitled to the protection of their human rights ,which include the right to life, right to personal liberty and security, right to be free of degrading and inhumane treatment, right to be free from discrimination on the basis of of sex, race, ethnicity, nationality, language, culture, religion or other status, the right to be free from poverty and right to equality before the law. These rights also ensured in all International Human Rights treaties including International Convention for the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families .
But evidence shows that women migrant workers face multiple forms of structural discrimination and human rights violations in the countries of origin, destination and transit . In the home country , there may be complete bans or restrictions on women’s out migration based on sex , age and marital status. There might also be requirements of written permission from male relatives for a passport or to travel.
Even within the country, migrant women from one area to another seeking jobs as a domestic worker or in the informal labor market, may face violence or violation of their human rights in the form of sexual exploitation or wage pay gaps, although the feminization of migration considered as a development phenomenon in most countries of the world. .
Women returnee migrant workers may face compulsory HIV and AIDS testing in the country of origin . Women migrants are also vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse by agents and escorts when travelling in countries of transit. Young women returnees may find disintegration of the family upon their return where as men may return to a stable family situation which increases their personal , social , emotional and financial cost compare to men.
Once they reach their destination , women migrant workers may encounter multiple forms of de jure and de facto discrimination. They might be excluded from legal definitions of work and thereby excluded from legal protection. They may face xenophobia and racial discrimination as well in the destination country. Women migrant workers often suffer from inequalities in accessing health services including reproductive health as the insurance or national health schemes are not available to them. Women migrant workers face additional hazards compared to men because of gender insensitive environments that do not allow mobility for women, and that give them little access to relevant information about their rights and entitlements.
Women migrant workers may face mandatory pregnancy test followed by deportation if the test is positive or coercive abortion or lack of access to safe reproductive health.
Undocumented women migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to exploitation or abuse because of their irregular immigration status, which exacerbates their exclusion and the risk of exploitation.
This however is not the complete list of discrimination faced by migrant women in different settings. Here I have mentioned a few of them.
The CEDAW committee has expressed its concern that women migrant workers are subject to multiple forms of discrimination in the country of origin, transit and destination with respect to access to legal services, healthcare, protection for their contractual salary and wages and job security as well . Women belonging to those groups are also particularly vulnerable to poverty and gender based violence including sexual exploitation.
In its concluding observations CEDAW Committee has urged States Parties to step up efforts to protect the human rights of all women migrants , regardless of their immigration status. CEDAW urged States Parties to carefully monitor the impact of their laws and policies on migrant women with a view to taking remedial measures States Parties are also encouraged to formulate and implement training programmes for law enforcement authorities , immigration and border officials , prosecutors and service providers with a view to sensitizing them to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
The CEDAW Committee has also urged States Parties to continue international, regional and bilateral dialogue on migration by developing real partnerships between countries of origin, transit and destination with a view to have a balanced approach to migration and development, while fully taking into account the human rights of women migrants.
CEDAW has also adopted a General Recommendation on Women Migrant Workers which aims at enhancing the fulfillment by States Parties of their obligations to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of women migrant workers who often suffer multiple forms of structural discrimination.
States Parties also need to adopt and enforce legislation to protect migrant domestic workers of African and Asian descent, regardless of their immigration status.
TRAFFICKING IN WOMEN
While promoting domestic or outbound migration of women the CEDAW Committee has also urged States Parties to take all appropriate measures to combat trafficking in women and children in the sexual exploitation and forced labor. Trafficking is considered as a modern day slavery and worst form of human rights abuse. During the present CEDAW session it is reported that in many reporting countries trafficked women from the foreign origin particularly from Asia, eastern Europe and Africa are being exploited in the commercial sexual exploitation and forced labour in the construction sites, forestry and agriculture.
Women mostly fall victim of trafficking in the process of migration due to false hope of better life or better job or good marriages . Mail order brides from Asian origin, temporary marriages with tourists in Middle Eastern countries, marriages of foreign women for domestic work in some African countries are another form of trafficking and exploitation of women as a sex slave . Trafficked women also vulnerable to domestic violence and abuse and HIV and AIDS and other forms of sexually transmitted diseases as well.
CEDAW has called on States parties to elaborate comprehensive strategies to combat trafficking in women and girls, address the needs of victims, and ensure that trafficked women and girls have the support that they need in order to testify against their traffickers. States Parties are also requested to systematically collect and analyze data to identify the root causes of this phenomenon. States Parties also need to address the poverty issue and lively hood options of the venerable groups of women and to undertake efforts for the recovery and social integration of the victims also need to address the demand side of the sex trade.
The CEDAW Committee has urged the States Parties for the effective protection of victims and adequate redress in line with Palermo protocol and Article 6 of the Convention also to enhance bilateral and multilateral cooperation with neighboring countries
WOMEN IN THE SITUATION OF REFUGEE STATUS, ARMED CONFLICT AND MINORITY WOMEN
Women affected by forced displacement due to armed conflict or statelessness, asylum seekers, refugees and women belonging to minorities of African and Asian descent are subject to multiple forms of structural discrimination with respect to access to education, social services, healthcare, employment, economic safety net as well as social and political participation. Women belonging to those groups are also particularly vulnerable to poverty and gender based violence, including domestic violence. Older women are particularly vulnerable to above mentioned situation.
Refugee and internally displaced women are sometimes denied access to health care because they lack legal status in the country of asylum, lack legal documentation, and are resettled far from health-care facilities, or experience cultural and language barriers in accessing services.
The CEDAW Committee has urged States Parties to pay attention to the violence suffered by women in times of armed conflict, the impact of armed conflict in their lives and contribution they can make to the peaceful settlement of conflicts as well as to the reconstruction process also women’s participation in the implementation of the security Council Resolution of 1325 and 1820.
In its concluding observations, The CEDAW Committee has urged States Parties to carefully monitor the impact of their laws and policies on minority women, refugees and asylum-seekers with a view to taking remedial measures that effectively respond to their needs, and adopt measures aiming at the integration of women belonging to minority groups in all sectors of society.
WOMEN AND EMPLOYMENT
In most countries fewer women than men have the opportunity to work in the formal and full time employment sector .Most women are more involved in part time jobs as they cannot find more time due to family responsibilities. Women also tend to be paid less than men for equal work of equal value. Gender-based discrimination throughout their life cycle as well as lack of any reconciliation of employment and family responsibilities, lack of proper training and education, creates a cumulative impact on the disproportionately lower income and lower or no access to pensions compared with men. This increases women’s income poverty in old age .
Further, women are particularly affected by mandatory retirement ages, in many countries they are forced to retire early, which also constitute discrimination against women .
Beside the above mentioned structural discrimination affecting women in the employment sector , there are also vertical and horizontal occupational segregation with low representation of women in the top management impacting women in low skilled jobs with lower pay and poor working conditions. Working women also subjected to work place harassment and sexual exploitation. This is also a matter of concern that while general labour laws recognise maternity leave , but in practice this issue is not fully respected in line with ILO Convention No 89, and that the length of maternity leave differs between private and public sector. Our Committee expresses its concerns for the lack of information about the effective implementation of the labour legislation .
The CEDAW Committee in its concluding observations has urged States Parties to eliminate the structural barriers in the employment sector for women and broaden access to opportunities like education and training for greater participation of women in the labour market and more involvement of women in income and employment generation programmes and paid work also promoting policies that facilitate the reconciliation of employment , paid work and family responsibilities. States Parties also need to create awareness raising among men in respect of family responsibilities and raise maternity and paternity leave so that father also can take part in the child raising process and give women free time to build their career.
The Committee has urged States Parties to ensure that job evaluation system based on gender sensitive criteria be developed with an aim of closing the existing wage and pay gap in line with committee’s GR No 13 and ILO no100 on equal pay for equal value and work Our Committee also calls on States parties to make greater use of temporary special measures , in accordance with Article 4 , paragraph 1, of the Convention and committee’s GR No 25 by applying quotas in respect of women’s access in the labour market, including non traditional jobs , and protection of women in the upper levels of .the private and public positions
The Committee also recommends that the states parties should step up its efforts to improve the availability, affordability and quality of care places for school age children in order to facilitate the entry and re-entry of women into the labour market.
1.The CEDAW Committee urges States Parties to intensify efforts to combat the feminization of poverty, gender based violence and sexual exploitation of women , as the root causes of discrimination, segregation, and as an impediment to the advancement of women and invites the Durban mechanisms to address these issues as a matter of priority.
2.The CEDAW Committee calls upon the States Parties to identify structural discriminations which is embodied in the traditional practices and social structures as well as in basic cultural values also in the discriminatory laws and practices and recommends the States Parties to apply political will and commitment in to take all appropriate measures to address those issues and eliminate racial discrimination, racism and xenophobia and related intolerance
3.The CEDAW Committee calls upon States Parties to keep under review and carefully monitor the impact of its laws and policies on migrant women with a view to taking remedial measures that effectively respond to the needs of those women, including the clear adoption of a gender perspective in the action plan for immigrants.
4.States Parties also need to adopt and enforce legislation to protect migrant domestic workers of African and Asian descent, regardless of their immigration status.
5.The CEDAW Committee also urges States Parties to continue international, regional and bilateral dialogue on migration by developing real partnerships between countries of origin, transit and destination with a view to have a balanced approach to migration and development, while fully taking into account the human rights of women migrants
6.The CEDAW Committee called on States Parties to elaborate comprehensive strategies to combat trafficking in women and girls, address the needs of victims, and ensure that trafficked women and girls have the support that they need in order to testify against their traffickers.
7.The CEDAW committee further calls upon States Parties to consider the particular severe forms of violence and discrimination faced by women and the girls in all types of armed conflicts in the context of the follow-up to the Durban follow up process.
8.The CEDAW Committee also urges States Parties to eliminate the structural barriers in the employment sector for women and broaden access to opportunities like education and training for greater participation of women in the labour market and more involvement of women in income and employment generation programmes and paid work as well as promoting policies that facilitate the reconciliation of employment , paid work and family responsibilities.
9.The Committee has urged States Parties to ensure that job evaluation system based on gender sensitive criteria be developed with an aim of closing the existing wage and pay gap in line with committee’s GR No 13 and ILO no100 on equal pay for equal value and work Our Committee also calls on States parties to make greater use of temporary special measures , in accordance with Article 4 , paragraph 1, of the Convention and committee’s GR No 25 by introducing quotas in respect of women’s access in the labour market, including non traditional jobs , and protection of women in the upper levels of .the private and public positions
10 The Committee also recommends that the states parties should step up its efforts to improve the availability, affordability and quality of care places for school age children in order to facilitate the entry and re-entry of women into the labour market.
11..Finally, CEDAW urges Durban follow-up mechanisms to fully take into account CERD General Comment N. 25 of 2000 on the gender-related dimensions of racial discrimination in their work.
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ELDER ABUSE AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE:
IT’S NATURE AND EXTENT AND HOW TO PROTECT THE POTENTIAL VICTIMS
FERDOUS ARA BEGUM
Former Member of UN CEDAW Committee
WORLD ELDER ABUSE AWARENESS DAY, 15 JUNE, 2011
Hosted by the International Federation on Ageing and Ryerson University,
In Collaboration with the Ontario Seniors’ Secretariat and the Ontario Women's Directorate
Apart from age and gender based discrimination against older women, elder abuse and sexual assault has a serious consequence on women’s physical and mental health and wellbeing in later life. Researchers have identified domestic violence as the most common form of abuse against older women, and many of them who suffered at the hands of their partners or husbands when they were young continue to be abused in their old age. Another study carried out by a Canadian Network for the prevention of elder abuse reveals that older women are more likely to be the victims of abuse than older men. Older women often represent two thirds of victims in the abuse or neglect cases in the hospitals and clinics.
Researchers claim that elder abuse is much more common than previously expected and its trend is on the rise worldwide. It could occur in the domestic settings or in the institutional setting. But there is a serious lack of statistical evidences and age and sex desegregated data on the number, causes and consequences of elder abuse .Also information regarding perpetrators or any complaint filed against them, in most cases not available.
The cost of the human sufferings due to elder abuse and sexual violence is immense, as it greatly affects women’s body and mind. Elder abuse, like all other forms of family or interpersonal violence, has come to be recognized as a universal phenomenon that cuts across cultural and socioeconomic lines. A major public awareness and further research as well as professional understanding of the issues are important.
To improve the prevention and support mechanism for older women who are at risk, effective protection strategies including appropriate legislation and policy measures, increasing knowledge base and public awareness about the issue, capacity building, treatment and empowerment of the victims and vulnerable groups are essential. Professional training for care providers along with effective implementation of the CEDAW Convention and its General Recommendation No 27 are very important to protect the human rights of older women, so that they have a decent and dignified life.
What is elder abuse and sexual violence?
According to US Justice Department report, the term “elder abuse” means any action against a older person that constitutes the willful infliction of injury, unreasonable confinement, intimidation, or cruel punishment with result in physical harm, pain, or mental anguish; or deprivation by a person, including a caregiver, of goods or services with the intention to cause physical harm, mental anguish, or mental illness.
Sexual assault can be verbal, visual, or anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual contact or attention which includes physical abuse, psychological or emotional abuse, sexual assault or rape.
Elder abuse victims face unique obstacles in seeking assistance because they often are dependent on the abusers and may not have the option to move or otherwise to end the abusive relationships.
In general, elder abuse is a term referring to any knowing or intentional act of physical abuse or sexual violence, or act of neglect by a partner or caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to vulnerable women. Different forms of elder abuse as have been identified by research organizations are summarized as follows:
• Physical Abuse - inflicting physical pain or injury on an older person, e.g. slapping, bruising, or restraining by physical means.
• Sexual Abuse - non-consensual sexual contact of any kind.
• Neglect - the failure by those responsible to provide food, shelter, health care, or protection for a vulnerable elder.
• Exploitation - misuse or concealment of funds, property, or assets of a senior for someone else's benefit.
• Emotional Abuse - inflicting mental pain, anguish, or distress on an elder person through verbal or nonverbal acts, e.g. humiliating, intimidating, or threatening.
• Abandonment - desertion of a vulnerable elder by anyone who has assumed the responsibility for care or custody of that person.
Demographic profile of older women and vulnerability towards violence in their life course
As per UNDESA projection, proportion of global population aged 60 years and older is going to be double between 2000 and 2050 from 10 percent to 21 percent. The 21st century may be termed as the century of ageing. Same source revealed that at present there are 82 men for every 100 women at the age of 60; there are only 55 for every 100 women at the age of 80. Older women continue to outnumber older men. The gendered nature of ageing reveals that women tend to live longer than men and more older women live alone than men. As women make up the majority of older adults in almost all countries around the world and the proportion of women to men increases with age, it is important to understand the forms of violence against older women and risk factors of sexual assaults on their health and wellbeing.
It is also important to note that older women are not a homogeneous group. They have a great diversity of experience, knowledge, ability and skills which may determine their degree of vulnerability towards abuse and violence. For example older women with disabilities, older women and widows in rural areas, minority older women or women with refugee status or stateless women, older sex workers or older women in prison may suffer different degrees of violence and sexual assault in their life. The impact of climate change, natural disasters and armed conflict are also specific areas of vulnerability for older women.
Discrimination against older women often based on deep rooted cultural and social ties. The impact of gender inequalities throughout women’s life cycle obviously reflects in old age and often results in unfair resource allocation, maltreatment, abuse, gender based violence and prevention of access to basic services. Older women often face discrimination in the work place, around ownership of, and access to, land due to discriminatory inheritance laws and practices. In many cases they are deprived of full inclusion and participation in social, economic, cultural and political affairs which increases their vulnerabilities towards violence and sexual assault.
Nature and extent of sexual violence and abuse on older women in different continent
As women age and their independence decline they become more venerable to exploitation, violence and sexual abuse. Ageism, negative stereotyping and prejudice against older women often cause harmful impact on older women’s life and mental health condition.
Research regarding the extent of elder abuse is lacking, and research regarding elder sexual abuse is even sparser. Reports point out that the problem exists and is likely to become worse due to the aging of the world's population.
Previously older women have never been considered as potential or actual targets of sexual assault and as a result have been under-identified and under-served as victims. The common perception is that elderly women after menopause are not sexually or reproductively active and may not be targeted as a victim of sexual abuse. A recent US national study of sexual abuse in long term care facilities challenged this knowledge gap with a shocking result which reveals that women even at the age 70 to 89 are the most victims of sexual abuse in a nursing home and typical sexual abuse involved instances of sexualized kissing and fondling and unwelcomed sexual interest in the person's body. The majority of perpetrators are nursing home residents who were 60 years of age and older and most of the witnesses to the sexual abuse are facility residents.
Elderly women may not report an abusive sexual incident because of shame or fear of retaliation. Older women are the targets of many types of ageist and sexist beliefs that can lead to abuse and victimization.
In some Asian countries where restricted polygamy is legally allowed, many older wife face violence and death threat from their husbands if they refuse to give consent for a second wife to their husbands.
Also in some African countries there is a custom called ‘widow inheritance” where widows including older widows are forced to marry and have sex with deceased husband’s siblings or any other person against their will to keep the marital property within the family. In many countries, including Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Zimbabwe, a widow becomes the property of another man from her village, usually a brother or a close male relative of her late husband and forced to marry him against her will.
Older widows in some African countries face witchcraft allegations and death threat by their family members after the death of their husbands to grab their inheritance. From the CEDAW Committee examination of State reports through concluding observations and constructive dialogue, evidences reveal that in Malawi and Tanzania many older widows in rural areas are subjected to witchcraft allegations and face the risk of death from lynching. Older women are particularly vulnerable to property grabbing, where by family members or others seize a women’s property.
Another real life story from Afghanistan, (I have visited Afghanistan as an International CEDAW Report Reviewer during November 2010) reveals that war widows of the country are facing extreme poverty, violence and sexual exploitation. Official report acknowledged that there are more than half a million widows who lost their husbands in the armed conflict and left alone to take care of their children without any support from outside. Many of these women try to burn themselves in a bid to escape from extreme poverty and hunger, violence and sexual exploitation. Herat province in Afghanistan has a hospital only for burn patients who are women both young and old.
A study in South Africa found that women both young and old who have been forced to have unprotected sex are almost six times more likely to be infected by HIV AND AIDS than those who have not been coerced. This clearly demonstrates the link between violence and the increased risk of HIV infection. Violence is also a barrier for women in accessing to HIV prevention, care and treatment services.
There has been a clear link between violence and the increased risk of HIV infection especially in some African countries where older women are working as a caregiver to the HIV patients.
Risk factors for elder abuse
The crisis that occurs as a result of a sexual assault leaves a woman feeling powerless: it damages self-esteem and erodes personal confidence.
Abused older women are significantly more likely to report more health problems than those who are not abused. Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones and burns may be an indication of physical abuse, neglect, or mistreatment. Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, and unusual depression may be indicators of emotional abuse.
Bruises around the breasts or genital area can occur from sexual abuse.
Older women in need of long term health care face abuse and discrimination at home from their family members or from the care givers .This is a great challenge for Governments and social workers too. Many of the health care providers lack training on age related illness and access to palliative care.
Each year hundreds of thousands of older persons are abused, neglected, and exploited. Most victims are older, frail, and vulnerable and cannot help themselves and depend on others to meet their most basic needs. Abusers of older adults are both women and men, and may be family members, friends, or “trusted others.”
Because of these very sensitive equation of interpersonal relationship, most of the time elder abuse and sexual assault go unnoticed and unchallenged.
Sexual Abuse linked to domestic violence
According to US Government report on abuse in later life stated that “Women who are 55 years or older and who has experience of abuse face unique challenges. These women grew up and married during a time when domestic abuse was often ignored. Now, at an older age, they have endured many years of abuse and may have problems with poor self-esteem, lack of confidence and shame.”
Another study in two north western states of USA states that “intimate partner violence is not a problem for younger women only. About one in four women older than 65 has been the victim of physical, sexual or psychological violence at the hands of a spouse or other intimate partner.” The study appears in the February 2007 issue of “The Gerontologist”.
Low public awareness and lack of statistical evidences
There has been slow but increasing awareness of elder abuse over the past few years. As challenging as it is for the population at large to acknowledge, it is even harder for older people to admit that they have been victimized. Most women who are sexually assaulted never report it to anyone. As a result, statistical evidences and data on the extent of elderly abuse are scarce.
Older women who have been abused are less likely to tell anyone about it. They may have health problems that keep them dependent on their abusive partners or may feel committed to caring for their abusive ageing partners; and are fearful of being alone.
A 2002 World Health Organization (WHO) study on the abuse of older adults in Germany, France, Sweden, Thailand, Kenya and Columbia have reinforced the reality that older people are often reluctant to reveal incidents of sexual violence. Older women tend to deny its extent or impact as they think discussion of any sexual activity is often deemed inappropriate.
Innovative protection strategies to prevent elder abuse, violence and sexual assault
1. Older women’s rights and State obligation on the basis CEDAW Convention
Despite a growing interest in the problem, most countries have not introduced specific legislation on elder abuse. Only Canada, USA and few other countries have legislation for the mandatory reporting of abuse of the elderly. France has a separate ministry for older persons. Health care, especially long term health care is the primary focus of the Ministry. Although elder abuse has been proven to exist in several low income or middle-income countries, very few specific programmes have been established in this respect. The China National Committee on ageing has taken several positive measures to address these challenges. They are offering tax breaks to investors working in the ageing industries such as hospitals, homes and other industries for senior citizens. Chinese enterprises in growing numbers are investing money and manpower into developing products especially for senior citizens.
The General Recommendation No27 of the CEDAW Convention is aimed to protect the human rights of older women which outlines the content of the obligations assumed by States as parties to the Convention from the perspectives of ageing with dignity and older women’s rights; and, identifies the multiple forms of discrimination, abuse and violence that women face as they age; also includes legal measures and policy recommendations to mainstream the responses to the concerns of older women into national strategies, development initiatives and positive actions so that older women can participate fully without discrimination and on the basis of equality with men in the political , social, economic, cultural, civil and any other field in their society .
The General Recommendation also explains that States parties have an obligation to recognize and prohibit violence against older women, including those with disabilities, in legislation on domestic violence, sexual violence and violence in institutional settings. States parties should investigate, prosecute and punish all acts of violence against older women, including those committed as a result of traditional practices and beliefs. The states parties should take into account relevant UN resolutions on women and peace and security when addressing such matters, including in particular, Security Council resolutions 1325 (2000), 1820 (2008) and 1889 (2009).
The General Recommendation also recommends that States parties should provide older women with information on their rights and how to access legal services. They should train the police, the judiciary as well as legal aid and paralegal services on the rights of older women and sensitize and train public authorities and institutions on age- and gender-related issues.
The CEDAW Committee has increasingly addressed the violation of the rights of older women and sexual exploitation in various countries in its concluding observations, during constructive dialogue and in its list of issues and questions, as well as through follow up mechanism with time bound recommendations and policy measures. At present 187 States parties are party to the Convention, so the Convention has already received almost universal acceptability.
2. Training for health care providers and creating networking and awareness building to increase sexual safety for older women
In some Latin American and European countries, as well as in Australia and Canada, the medical profession and existing health and social service networks have played a leading role in raising public concern about the elder abuse. Creating a strong network on the issues of elder abuse across the nation and exchange of good practices regarding medical and legal services, training of health care providers and case workers as well as developing a strong knowledge base and awareness on the issue in the community in order to create an environment where victims of abuse can share experiences, develop the strength to cope with their fear and stress and raise their self esteem are essential steps to address.
Research on the effectiveness of the interventions also an important issue to work.
3. Capacity building and empowerment of older women and vulnerable groups
The problem of elder abuse cannot be properly addressed if the essential needs of older people – for food, shelter, security and access to health care – are not met. Illiteracy and innumeracy can severely restrict older women’s full participation in public and political life, the economy and access to a whole range of services and entitlements.
States parties should provide adequate non contributory pensions to all women who have no other pension or insufficient income security.
Many older women face discrimination in the workplace and are compelled to work in low paid or part time jobs without income security. Very few older women have access to pensions. Retirement ages also may differ between men and women. Employers in most cases do not consider older women for further investment in training and skill development programmes.
The CEDAW Committee expresses its concern about the age and gender based discrimination and pay gaps in the employment sector and lack of statistical data, disaggregated by age and sex on ageing issues. The Committee is particularly concerned about older women’s insecurity in respect of their financial, medical and housing needs and rights to inheritance and property including their exclusion from national ID networks, which cumulatively expose them to multiple forms of discrimination.
Capacity building and empowerment of older women is essential to strengthen their self respect and autonomy.
4. Access to free or affordable health care
Access to free or affordable health care services is very important for older women in order to enjoy a satisfactory standard of mental and physical health. Post menopausal difficulties and diseases, neglect in disability and absence of geriatric medicine requires special attention. Older women face a higher risk of chronic illness and disability as well as from degenerative diseases such as osteoporosis and cervical cancer. In many countries there is inadequate provision of health care for older women , which amounts to denial of affordable medical care for people especially in rural settings. In particular, inadequate provision of long term care services remains a persistent concern in many countries, which is a gray area to address the issues of elder abuse and sexual abuse of older women.
Proper treatment and psychosocial counseling should be available to victims who experienced elder and sexual abuse .Uniform policy guide line for care givers, proper training for case workers are impotent aspect in this respect.
Reproductive health care services need to be provided to older women in an age appropriate manner.
Adequate budget allocation for treatment and long term care for older women are high priority concerns of the present day reality, which needs to be addressed as a priority issue.
5. Role of NGOs
NGOs can play a great role in creating massive awareness campaign regarding elder abuse and sexual violence against older women. They can submit shadow reports or alternative reports to the CEDAW Committee on elder abuse and violations of human rights of older women, so that the committee can raise these issues to the States Parties for remedial measures.
NGOs and civil society members should work to create an environment where older women’s contributions are recognised as a care giver to HIV patients or Migrant families also should be respected for their past services so that older women can live with dignity and honour.
It is true that in some African countries older women live on practicing FGM. Considering it as a harmful traditional practice, the CEDAW Committee urged the States parties to provide an alternative livelihood option for these women so that they may leave this profession as well as may survive against poverty.
Not very long ago, the issue of ageing was considered a matter of importance for only a handful of countries. Nowadays, the number of persons aged 60 and over is increasing at an unprecedented pace, anticipated to rise from its current 740 million to reach 1 billion by the end of the decade. Unfortunately the increase in numbers has also shed light on the lack of adequate protection mechanisms, and on the existing gaps in policies and programmes to address the situation of older persons.
The nations of the world must create an environment and policy measures in which ageing is accepted as a natural part of the life cycle, where anti-ageing attitudes, stereotyping and discrimination are discouraged, where older people are given the right to live in dignity – free of abuse and exploitation – and are given opportunities to participate fully in educational, cultural and economic activities.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the International Federation on Ageing and Ryerson University for hosting this very important programme on the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day and the Ontario Seniors’ Secretariat and the Ontario Women's Directorate for sponsoring and facilitating this event. I think that similar programmes can be hosted in various cities around the world to create greater awareness on the issues of elderly abuse and the rights of the older women.
1. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
2. CEDAW GENERAL RECOMMENDATION NO 27 on the protection of the human rights of older women
3. World Population on Ageing 1950-2050 Population Division, DESA, United Nations
IV. DEMOGRAPHIC PROFILE OF THE OLDER POPULATION
4. Older persons and social protection - Independent Expert on human rights and extreme Poverty
6. WORLD REPORT ON VIOLENCE AND HEALTH :Chapter 5, Abuse of the elderly
7. Intimate Partner Violence in the United States
8. Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being (pdf) report.
9. SEXUAL ASSAULT AND THE OLDER WOMAN:
Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region
9. Abuse of older women:
“The public at large is generally unaware of the incidences of sexual assaults against the elderly.”
10 .Broken Trust: The New York Times Editorial.
11. VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN: Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence
12. The Extent and Frequency of Abuse in the Lives of Older Women and Their Relationship with Health Outcomes
13. New Editor of the Gerontologist: Rachel Pruchno, PhD
14. Canadian Network for the prevention of elder abuse
15. Published report of the US Government and Justice Department on Elder abuse
16. US national study of sexual abuse in long term care facilities
17. February 2007 issue of “The Gerontologist”
18. World Health Organization (WHO) study:2002
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INTERPRETATION OF THE ISLAMIC JURISPRUDENCE IN THE SPIRIT OF THE INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS NORMS AND THE CONVENTION ON THE ELIMINATION OF ALL FORMS OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN
FERDOUS ARA BEGUM
Former Member of the UN CEDAW COMMITTEE
Rabat Round Table Discussion on
Women Leading Change in the Muslim World
Ministry of the Interior, Kingdom of Morocco and
Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College
May, 16-17, 2011
At the very outset I would like to thank Dr. Rangita De Silva and Dr Zarrok Nazat for inviting me in this important roundtable discussion on the Role of women in leading changes in the Islamic World.
The concept of nondiscrimination and equal rights for both men and women in all spheres of their lives as enshrined in the CEDAW Convention (1979) and all other Human Rights Frameworks generated a new realization and discourse in the Islamic world. The Universal Declaration on human Rights (1948) states in Article one that ‘all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’. By ratification of these International human rights frameworks States parties are in obligation to domesticate these human rights standard in their own legal system.
At present about 187 states parties have ratified the CEDAW convention which is almost a universal ratification for the Convention. Except Iran, Sudan and Somalia all other Muslim countries have ratified or acceded to the CEDAW convention. Many of these Muslim countries imposed reservations under Article 28 of the convention on certain core Articles, such as Article 2, 16, 9 etc of the convention in the name of Islamic Sharia law.
More or less 20 Muslim States parties are maintaining reservations on the Convention (on Article 2 and 16) on the basis of Islamic Sharia laws. These are namely, Algeria , Bangladesh , Brunei , Egypt, Iraq, Jordon, Kuwait, Libya , Malaysia, Maldives Mauritania , Morocco , Niger ,Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia and UAE.
SCOPE OF THIS ARTICLE
In this article we will examine the Islamic jurisprudence in the spirit of International human rights norms and how reform process in different Islamic countries could minimize differences in the area of women’s equal access to public goods such as education, health , employment, rights to justice and political participation as well as equal rights in the family relations such as marriage, divorce, custody rights and inheritance to the property and most importantly withdrawal of the reservations on the CEDAW Convention. In the elaboration of this article we will also touch upon the issues like gender stereotyping , violence against women, patriarchy, harmful traditional practices, like FGM, honour killing, dowry related crime etc also minimum age of marriage, consequence of early marriage , polygamous union etc which affect women in realization of equality and non discrimination status. We would also examine how women’s human rights, International human rights frameworks, i.e., CEDAW and Islamic jurisprudence are not contradictory to each other.
DIVINE LAWS UNCHANGEABLE IN CHARACTER
Implications of these reservations indicate that provisions of those Articles are not binding upon those countries imposed reservations as it is not compatible with Quranic law. It is often argued that Muslim family law systems cannot be amended to allow equality between men and women because these are divine laws and therefore unchangeable, or that practices cannot be changed because they are part of the Islamic tradition.
Many Muslim countries view that the CEDAW as culturally biased towards the western nations and have consequently placed reservations on the elements that they see as in fundamental contradiction with Islamic Sharia laws based on Holy Quran and Sunna. Also most Muslims regard the advent of Sharia laws as a significant force in the improvement of women's rights.
Women human rights activists and Islamic feminists’ consider this notion as patriarchal interpretations of Islam based on unequal family relations that aim to subordinate women. They argue that justice is inherent to the philosophy of law in Islam, thus laws or legal amendments introduced in the name of Sharia and Islam should reflect the values of equality, justice, love, compassion and mutual respect among all human beings. These are values and principles on which Muslims agree and which Muslim jurists hold to be among the indisputable objectives of the Sharia, and are also consistent with universal human rights principles and values.
In the present paper we will try to examine the reconciliations of the Quranic injunctions on women’s rights with the existing human rights frame works i.e CEDAW.
ARTICLE 2, 9 AND 16 AND OBJECT AND PURPOSE OF THE CONVENTION
Article no. 2 of the Convention Says that States parties should eliminate discrimination against women in all its forms through appropriate legislation and repeal all national penal provisions which are discriminatory to women. Article 16 governs family relations, such as equal rights & responsibilities for marriage & dissolution of marriage, custody rights etc. and article 9 represents equal citizenship rights.
The General recommendation 28 of the CEDAW convention clearly mentions that those reservations on Article no 2 and 16 goes against the object & purpose of the convention. Practical realization of the principles of equality and nondiscrimination cannot be achieved keeping reservations on article no. 2 and 16.
ARTICLE 16 OF THE CONVENTION AND MUSLIM FAMILY LAWS
It is important to note that Islamic Nations imposed reservations mostly on the article 2 and 16 of the CEDAW Convention. Article 16 is the most debated legal position in the Muslim world which represents the following core themes of the family matters.
1. Equal Right to Marry and Choose a Spouse
2. Equal Rights and Obligations of Spouses during the Marriage
3. Equal right for the dissolution of Marriage
4. Equal rights for Custody and Guardianship of Children
5. Same rights for the ownership and acquisition of the property
Here lies the real tension and challenge for the Islamic States to realize women’s human rights as covered by the CEDAW Convention.
CEDAW CONVENTION AND STATE OBLIGATION
Ratification of the CEDAW Convention, which is one of the core international human rights treaties of the UN treaty system, requires Member States to undertake legal obligations to respect protect and fulfill human rights. In other words States parties are committed to adopt international human rights standard in their national legal system and incorporate those in the constitution.
There are several Islamic countries have ratified CEDAW without imposing any reservations on the Convention, such as Afghanistan. Many States Parties in the recent times have withdrawn reservations on the Convention, such as Morocco on Article 16, Maldives on Article (7) and Bangladesh on Article 9 etc.
Many Islamic Nations such as Morocco, Tunisia, and Turkey complied with the CEDAW principles and brought amendments accordingly in their national legal system. As a signatory to the CEDAW Convention States parties are liable to submit reports to the committee every 4 years and explain the situation of women’s advancement in respect of their rights and legal protection for them in the country in light with the convention.
WHAT IS THE CEDAW CONVENTION?
The United Nations adopted the Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW) in 1979 which is the only legally binding international instrument to prohibit all forms of discrimination against women committed by public authorities or by any person or organization in the full range of civil, political, economic, social & cultural areas, covering both public & private life. The convention also targets culture & tradition as the influential forces shaping gender roles. The purpose of this treaty is to eliminate de facto and de jure discrimination and inequality on the basis of sex.
The CEDAW convention aims at achieving uniform development for women all over the world using global normative standards that has been enshrined in the 16 substantive articles of CEDAW and its 28 general recommendations. The CEDAW convention’s profound impact on the legal and socio political development of States parties including Muslim States who are party to the Convention are visible in the strengthening of institutional provisions for the protection of women’s rights and efforts to bring existing legislation in to conformity with convention principles, improvement in the capacity of national institutions to guarantee equality between men & women. Furthermore, increasing use of the convention, and the committee’s general recommendations by the States parties provide an important roadmap in developing its short term and long term national plan for advancement of women.
CEDAW legally binds all States Parties to fulfill, protect and respect women’s human rights – this means that States are responsible not just for their own actions, but also for eliminating discrimination that is being perpetrated by private individuals and organizations. Gender inequalities must be addressed at all levels and in all spheres, including the family, community, market and state.
IJTIHAD SUPPORTS REFORM MEASURES IN THE ISLAMIC JURISPRUDENCE
Many Islamic countries, such as, Morocco, Malaysia, Tunisia and Turkey have initiated reform measures in the family code in the line with the CEDAW principles to eliminate discriminate against women using the wisdom of ijtihad.
This is a creative interpretation of the Quran based on independent and contextual reasoning in light of relevant societal, historic and cultural rationality. Ijtihad is a flexible tool which has been used by the Islamic scholars to mold and shape the traditional Islamic legal theory to fit the needs of changing times .The Quran (Devine law), Sunnah (tradition of the prophet), Ijma (consensus) and Qiyas (analogy) are important sources of Islamic knowledge and the main basis of ijtihad, which provides a greater degree of flexibility in contemporary interpretation of Islamic laws and practices. It is considered that Ijtihad is the science of interpretation and rule making in the area of Islamic jurisprudence.
In recent times, even the judiciary has invoked ijtihad in its jurisprudence. For example, Justice Nasim Hasan Shah of the Supreme Court of Pakistan has invoked ijtihad in one of his judgment.
The Iranian Novel Laureate, Dr. Shirin Ebadi too argues that, “In Islam, there exists a tradition of intellectual interpretation and innovation known as ijtihad, practiced by jurists and other clerics over the centuries to debate the meaning of Quranic teachings as well as their application to modern ideas and situations.”
WOMEN’S RIGHTS AND ISLAM
It is true that in a great majority of Muslim countries participation of
Women in public and political life, even their ability to hold high-ranking positions in a State apparatus can be justified and supported from the point of view of Islamic law.
In Bangladesh both the Prime Minister and Opposition leaders are women and holding this position for more than one and half a decade. It is important to note that Bibi Aisha, wife of the Prophet Mohammed actively participated in political and public life. She is one of the most renowned and credible narrators of the Hadith.
Women’s equal access to education, health needs, political and economic empowerment of women and protection of human rights of rural women and older women are high priority issues in most Muslim countries. These are important indicators to fulfill the MDG, Beijing and CEDAW implementation goals, also these standards are not confrontational to Islamic Jurisprudence as well.
For example, Bangladesh, Egypt, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Morocco and many other Muslim countries have taken reform measures in the election law and imposed Quota to improve political participation of women in local and national level. As per Beijing PFA all of the signatory Muslim countries have developed Action plan and policy measures for the advancement of women and gender mainstreaming is the integral part of the national planning process.
From the examination of the CEDAW concluding observations it is very clear that due to CEDAW monitoring process most of the Muslim countries have taken adequate measures to achieve parity in girls’ education at the primary and tertiary level. Combating trafficking of women and girls for the exploitation of sex and violence against women including domestic violence also are high priority issues in most of the Muslim countries.
Many countries including Bangladesh enacted legal measures to end violence against women. Women’s health, maternal health, reproductive rights of women and girls are considered as important issues in the budget allocation of the Muslim countries.
Respect to women and respect to mother are Quranic teaching, which are very much visible in Quranic verses especially in the Sura Bakara and Sura Nisa. This is also an important moral support for the protection of the human rights of older women.
Quranic injunctions do not require a Muslim wife to share her resources with her spouse or spend it on household expenses. Islam has accorded women civil, political and property rights, including rights of inheritance. She has been guaranteed complete control over what she earns and possesses. . It is also important to note that a wife may seek a decree for dissolution of her marriage on the grounds that her husband is incapable of, or will not maintain her.
A Muslim husband is required to pay his wife a sum of money or other property as dower as part of the marriage contract, therefore, in addition to her share in inheritance, she also receives a further share as dower. She gets her part of property from three different sources i.e., father, husband and son, and thus increases her share to inheritance. Inheritance rights are crucial for Muslim women because distribution and control of property and assets significantly affect their ability to enjoy stable and fulfilling lives and to exercise their rights. Practice of providing “Meher” to wife in the Islamic marriage could be considered as a positive discrimination to women but practice of “dowry’is considered as a crime.
But obviously these rationale and rules were not conceived from an equitable point of view to maintain equality and non discrimination standard in the family life.
The above discussed economic, civil and political rights of women in Islamic countries are very much compatible to the international human rights norms. But levels of the advancement of women and enjoyment of their rights in terms of gender equality and nondiscrimination are not the same in all of the Muslim countries, as these are mostly depended on the socio economic situation, levels of poverty, political commitments, religious bias and stereotyped attitude towards women.
INEQUALITIES AND GENDER BASED DISCRIMINATIONS
However, most inequalities and contradictions in the Islamic jurisprudence regarding women’s rights exist in family matters and related traditions and practices such as marriage, dissolution of marriage, Custody and Guardianship rights, inheritance to property etc. In most Muslim countries women face gender based discrimination in the family code which is deeply embodied on the ideas of the inferiority or the superiority of either sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women.
Discrimination against women can be manifested in the practice of polygamy, superior rights of the male to terminate marriage, unequal rights in marriage relations, husband considered as the natural guardian of children thus unequal rights in the child custody and guardianship, female genital mutilation, honour killing, lower age of marriage for women, early marriage, husband’s consent for using contraceptives, travel or outside work, disciplining wife through beating, lack of access to justice, traditional gender role and stereotyped attitude towards women etc.
Patriarchal interpretation of the Islamic Sharia laws along with traditional practices and customs created an unequal situation where men get priority and superiority in the family relations which consequently put women in the situation of low self esteem and powerless. Women continue to suffer profound and pervasive human rights violations, such as gender-based violence in the public and private spheres. A glaring example of gender based violence is the case of gang rape of Mukhter Mai in Pakistan and her inability to get remedial justice in the court. Fatwa against women and consequential violence could be another example in this direction.
Women continue to suffer profound and pervasive human rights violations, such as gender-based violence in the public and private spheres.
In 1979, CEDAW Convention embodied with the concept and commitment of nondiscrimination and gender equality created a new horizon for women which is nullified with the imposition of reservations on the core articles of the Convention.
FINANCIAL RESPONSIBILITIES AND WAR WIDOWS IN THE CONFLICT ZONE
In the traditional Muslim society in line with traditional gender role, men perform the responsibilities of family maintenance and women require being obedient to their husbands in return for maintenance. But the present day reality is different. Now in the modern day society, mostly both spouse work to supplement family expenses and participate equally to create security and comfort as well. In case of war widows and single family households, in absence of any male member, women work to support their households and supplement the cost of education and other expenses for their children and family. Thus traditional values for male oriented households and family responsibilities do not work anymore. The CEDAW Committee has emphasized the importance of women being able to earn an income as well as recognition of both financial and non-financial contributions to the family.
REFORM INITIATIVES IN THE FAMILY LAWS
Muslim scholars ,women human rights activists and NGOs; are continuously working to achieve gender equality through a more dynamic interpretation of the Holly Quran which permits consideration of the opinions of individual jurists from different schools of thoughts . This could open a door for a new egalitarian vision of women’s rights in conformity with the requirements of the CEDAW at the same time respecting the Islamic heritage.
Besides, The CEDAW Committee has been increasingly addressing in its concluding observations, during constructive dialogue and in its list of issues and questions, as well as through follow up mechanism the discrimination faced by women in various countries in a wide range of areas and call for withdrawal of reservations from the convention and full implementation of the convention principles in the domestic legal system.
Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Malaysia, Egypt and many other Muslim countries initiated reform measures in the family code on some key issues such as rising age of marriage to 18, restricting polygamy, providing greater security at divorce, prohibiting child marriage etc. Government of Bangladesh brought an amendment recently in the Citizenship act of 1951 and enacted law on domestic violence. Also in 1961 brought an amendment in the Muslim family law restricting polygamy and child custody and guardianship law.
Among the countries with the most liberal family codes is Tunisia, which has had a relatively liberal family code for many years. Morocco enacted a family code called the Mudawana in 2004 that has substantially expanded women's rights.
The Mudawana raised the age of marriage to 18, restricted polygamy and provided women strong protection at divorce including property management in the event of a separation or divorce. Amendment also brought in the child custody and inheritance.
The Moroccan reform has strengthened the argument that equal status within marriage is compatible with Shari'a law. One of the strategies advocates are using is a progressive interpretation of Islamic principles is being used in the revision of Malaysian Islamic Family Law of 1984 and in the Million Signature campaign in Iran for a more egalitarian revision of the civil laws.
The 2002 reforms to the Turkish Civil Law raised the age of marriage to 17 and equalized it to both women and men. Moreover, it created a joint system of property at marriage and equalized women’s and men’s rights in the marriage in relation to custody, property ownership, registration of marriage and births etc.
Muslim scholars ,women human rights activists and NGOs; are continuously working to achieve gender equality through a more dynamic interpretation of the Holly Quran which permits consideration of the opinions of individual jurists from different schools of thoughts . This could open a door for a new egalitarian vision of women’s rights in conformity with the requirements of the CEDAW at the same time respecting the Islamic heritage.
1. The CEDAW and family laws: In search of common ground, Musawah Research project on CEDAW, October, 2010.
2. Conceptualizing Islamic Law, CEDAWand Women’s Human Rights in Plural Legal Settings: A Comparative Analysis of Application of CEDAW in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan: Shaheen Sardar Ali.
3. Women , Islam and International Law, within the context of CEDAW: Ekaterina Yahyaoui Krivenko.
4. Cairo Roundtable Readings on Family Law and Islamic Feminism.
5. Women Leading Change: collection of essays on “Women’s Leadership Network: Women’s Political, Public, and Economic Participation in the Muslim World.”
6. Encyclopaedia of Quran.
7. WOMEN′S REBELLION: TOWARDS A NEW UNDERSTANDING OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN ISLAMIC LAW: Andra Nahal Behrouz.
8. Towards deeper understanding of Al- Quran: Md. Ferdous Khan.
9. Usulul Fikh : Shah Abdul Hanan.
10. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and its Optional protocol.
11. International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights.
12. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
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The Implementation of CEDAW in African Countries and Role of Local Government Elected Women towards Gender Equality.
Ferdous Ara Begum
Former Member of the UN CEDAW Committee
First African Forum of local Government Elected Women
In Tangier, Morocco
From 8 - 11 March, 2011
Organized by the United Cities and Local Governments of Africa, in partnership with the Ministry of Interior of the Kingdom of Morocco
Distinguished participants, colleagues and friends,
Assalaamu Alaikum and good afternoon.
At the very outset I would like to thank Dr.Najat Zarrouk, Governor, Director of Training in the Ministry of Interior in Morocco and Member of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration in UN for inviting me to the First African Forum of Local Government Elected Women on the theme of “Millennium Development Goals and Good Local Governance: Roles and Responsibilities of Women’s Leadership “
I feel immensely honored to be present in this august forum. This is my greatest joy that today we all will celebrate the International Women’s Day honoring the Local Government elected women in the African region who are present here at the “First Women African Forum of Local Government elected Women.’
I will say a few words on the International Women’s Day and role of local government elected women towards gender equality.
Also I would like to focus on the issues of the implementation of CEDAW Convention in the countries of African Region and impact of CEDAW on the advancement of women in the last three decades.
International Women’s Day and Local Government Elected Women
In 1975, during the International Women's Year, the United Nations began celebrating 8 March as International Women’s Day. It is a day when women are recognized for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political.
Today I congratulate the local government elected women across African Region for their great contribution in upholding women’s human rights at the grassroots level and promoting gender equality and advancement of women in the remote corners of their countries. They are definitely the agents of change in their own environment.
In the just concluded 55th session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York, Ms. Michelle Bachelet undersecretary general and executive director of the UN WOMEN emphasized on five thematic priorities in the country-specific context, these are:
1. expanding women’s voice, leadership and participation;
2. ending violence against women;
3. ensuring women’s full participation in conflict resolution;
4. enhancing women’s economic empowerment;
5. gender equality priorities central to national, local and sectoral planning and budgeting
I am sure that Governments of African region would take appropriate measures so that Local Government Elected Women who are the agents of change and local leaders can implement those directives in order to achieve advancement of women, good governance and realization of CEDAW and MDG in their own locality. Sectoral planning and Budget allocation is very important in this respect.
30th Anniversary of CEDAW Convention
We have observed 30th anniversary of the CEDAW Convention and 10th anniversary of the adoption of its optional protocol in the year 2010. During these 3 decades, the CEDAW Convention brought a great change in the life of women and has provided opportunities for countries to improve the status of women all over the world.
In many countries, CEDAW has been a force for change and has created opportunities for dialogue among citizens, civil society, governmental representatives, and the global community about the gaps and challenges towards the advancement of women.
CEDAW has been cited to protect women and girls against violence and trafficking; to prevent discrimination against women in all spheres of life, to protect inheritance and property ownership; to promote women’s full participation in the economic and political life in their own countries; and to advance women’s human rights by promoting equality. The CEDAW Convention has also been used to educate lawmakers, law enforcement officials, members of the judiciary and the citizens about the rights of women.
CEDAW Convention and Gender Equality
The United Nations adopted the Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW) in 1979. This is the only human rights treaty for women at the UN.
CEDAW is the only legally binding international instrument to prohibit all forms of discrimination against women committed by public authorities or by any person or organization in the full range of civil, political, economic, social & cultural areas, covering both public & private life. The convention also targets culture & tradition as the influential forces shaping gender roles. It is one of the core international human rights treaties of the United Nations treaty system, which requires Member States to undertake legal obligations to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights.
Provisions protecting women’s human rights exist in all of the core international human rights treaties. What is significant about CEDAW is that it is exclusively devoted to gender equality, one of the key elements of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It is in CEDAW that the specifics of women’s human rights to equality and non-discrimination are spelled out in detail, and in broad range.
CEDAW legally binds all States Parties to fulfill, protect and respect women’s human rights – this means that States are responsible not just for their own actions, but also for eliminating discrimination that is being perpetrated by private individuals and organizations. Gender inequalities must be addressed at all levels and in all spheres, including the family, community and state. CEDAW recognizes that discrimination is often most deeply rooted in spheres of life such as culture, family and interpersonal relations – it addresses the negative impact of gender stereotyping as well.
The CEDAW convention aims at achieving uniform development for women all over the world using global normative standards that has been enshrined in the 16 substantive articles of CEDAW and its 28 general recommendations. But rate of progress in the advancement of women varies from country to country depending on the socio economic situation and political commitment of the state party.
Impact of CEDAW Convention
CEDAW promotes women’s full participation in economic, political and social life, which has enormous benefits for societies as a whole. Women’s health, education and economic status have numerous benefits for household members, particularly children. Women’s participation in the workforce leads to the growth of individual businesses and the economy as a whole. Women’s leadership in social movements and participation in government can foster peace, justice and security around the world.
As with other United Nations human rights treaties, each ratifying country submits a periodic report to the committee of 23 independent experts called the “CEDAW Committee” — which then offers its own recommendations to the reporting states parties. The monitoring mechanism of CEDAW through implementation and review process provides a forum for constructive dialogue with the State party and concluding comments from the committee about the status of women and girls in each country, and helps to provide a “blueprint” for further progress in each country
The CEDAW committee has consistently voiced its concern over the reservations of states parties in respect of some vital articles of the convention, while raising awareness of the impact on women of major global trends, including women and HIV/AIDS, FGM, Human Trafficking, Gender Based Violence, equal participation in the decision making and political activities etc. It has also played a crucial role in making the United Nations more gender sensitive and promoting women’s universal human rights.
CEDAW Convention almost has achieved universal ratification, at present 187 countries have ratified the CEDAW Convention.
In the African continent except Somalia and Sudan all other States Parties have ratified CEDAW and have taken several initiatives to implement CEDAW Principles in their own Countries.
The South African and Ugandan constitutions, for instance, contained significant provisions guaranteeing women’s equality, based on the convention’s principles. Morocco has brought a historic amendment to its family laws under article 16. A new quota system opened the doors for 30 women to enter the Moroccan parliament in 2002. This was followed by a progressive reform of the Mudwana law which allowed women to become judges. Egypt enacted a law banning FGM and imposed quota for more participation of women in the parliament. In 2003 the Constitution of Rwanda was amended to enshrine non-discrimination and gender equality, triggering extensive legal reforms to remove discriminatory provisions, particularly in the Family Code, Criminal Code. Women now have access to rights that they were previously denied, including the right to inherit family property
Security Council Resolution 1325
On October 31st 2000, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. It emphasized the vital role of women in conflict resolution and mandated a review of the impact of armed conflict on women and girls, the role of women in peace building and the gender dimensions of peace processes and conflict resolution, as well as reconstruction and rehabilitation processes which is important for many of the African countries particularly those who suffer from Armed conflicts, such as the Rwanda, the Congo, the Sub Saharan Africa etc.
Women affected by forced displacement due to armed conflict or statelessness, asylum seekers, refugees and women belonging to minorities of African descent are subject to multiple forms of structural discrimination with respect to access to education, social services, healthcare, employment, economic safety net as well as social and political participation. Women belonging to those groups are also particularly vulnerable to poverty and gender based violence, including domestic violence. Older women are particularly vulnerable to above mentioned situation. . The UNSC 1325 and CEDAW are powerful tools when used together. Nepal is the first country in South Asia to have a Plan of Action on the implementation of the SCR 1325.
Implementation of CEDAW Convention in the countries of the African region
Africa is a vast and diverse region and a large continent. This is a place of incredible diversity of people, landforms, language, cultures, livelihoods, religions, customs and practices. Countries of African region are experiencing many common themes and challenges in regard to women’s rights and discrimination against women which travel across many, if not all of these borders.
I will touch upon some of the leading countries following CEDAW jurisprudence like Morocco, Egypt, South Africa, Tunisia and some of the slow progressed countries in respect of women’s rights like Botswana, Kenya, and Malawi.
For rest of the countries I will go by following themes, like Particularities of Women and violence, rural life, employment, education, health, legal rights.
Morocco has introduced comprehensive reforms to its family law in recent years. The original Moudawanah, or Family Code, was introduced following independence in 1957, and made wives legally subordinate to their husbands. Morocco ratified CEDAW in 1993 with few reservations on Article 16.
After civil society organizations advocated human rights for women for many years, Morocco introduced, with the support and cooperation of His Majesty the King Mohamed VI and the Prime Minister, a new Moudawanah in 2004.
Using Article 16 of CEDAW as a guide, the new code gives women greater equality and protection for their human rights within marriage and divorce. Husbands and wives now have joint responsibility for their families.
The Code had increased the legal age of marriage from 15 to 18, changed marriage and divorce laws, and greatly restricted polygamy. It also introduced Family Courts to ensure that the new rights are enforced.
Morocco’s introduction of the new Family Code was part of a broader wave of reforms, including changes to the Labor Code to introduce the concept of sexual harassment in the workplace (2004), changes to the Penal Code to criminalize spousal violence, changes to the Nationality Code (2007) to give women and men equal rights to transmit nationality to their children, and changes to the Electoral Code, to increase women’s political participation by creating a “national list” that reserves 30 parliamentary seats for women (2002).” In December 2008, His Majesty the King Mohammed VI publically banned discrimination against women, stating “Our country has become an international actor of which the progress and daring initiatives in this matter are readily recognized.”
In the Concluding comments on the 3rd and 4th periodic reports of Morocco the CEDAW Committee noted with appreciation the work of the Royal Commission on the Personal Status Code and commends the State party for the important legal reforms undertaken in the field of human rights and especially to eliminate existing discrimination against women, such as the adoption of the Family Code, the Nationality Law, the Law on Civil Registration, the Labor Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure as well as the amendments to the Penal Code and its programs to eliminate violence against women and to maximize universal basic education .
The Committee recommended that the State party take temporary special measures, in accordance with article 4, paragraph 1, of the Convention, to ensure that rural women enjoy their political, social, economic and cultural rights without any discrimination, especially with regard to access to education and health care facilities. It also recommended that they are fully integrated in the formulation and implementation of all sectoral policies and programs
While considering the fifth and sixth periodic reports of Tunisia, the CEDAW Committee noted with appreciation that the State party has a firm determination in achieving gender equality and aligning its legislative framework with international standards, including the Convention. In this respect, the committee commended that Tunisia is regarded by many other Arab and Muslim countries as a model.
The Committee welcomed steps undertaken by the State party in view of reviewing and revising discriminatory laws, namely:
(a) Amendment to the Code of Personal Status (Law No. 2007-32) in May 2007 to equalize the minimum age of marriage for women and men to 18 years.
(b) Amendment of the Nationality Code (Law No. 2002-4) in February 2002 to allow a Tunisian woman married to a foreigner to transmit her nationality to a child born abroad upon the death, disappearance or incapacity of the father.
In the concluding comments on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th periodic reports of South Africa the CEDAW Committee welcomed the adoption of the Strategic Framework on Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality within the Public Service in 2006 and the fact that the State party exceeded the 50% representation of women at all levels of the Senior management target; women currently represent 54.38% of all people employed in the Public Service.
The Committee noted with satisfaction that South Africa has adopted the 50/50 gender parity in line with the Southern African Development Community’s Protocol on Gender and Development (SADC Protocol) and that currently women represent 44% of the parliamentarians and 43% of the members of the Cabinet.
The Committee also urged the State party to give priority attention to combating violence against women and girls and to adopting comprehensive measures to address such violence, in accordance with its general recommendation No. 19.
The Committee also expressed serious concern about the persistence of entrenched harmful cultural norms and practices, including Ukuthwala (forced marriages of women and girls to older men through abduction), polygamy and the killing of “witches”. The Committee also expresses its concern at the continuing stereotypical portrayal of women in the media, which encourages discrimination and undermines the equality of women and men.
In the concluding comments on the Combined 6th and 7th periodic reports of Egypt the CEDAW Committee welcomed the adoption of the new child law (Law No. 126 of 2008), which raises the age of marriage from 16 to 18 years for both males and females and criminalizes female genital mutilation. The Committee further welcomed the State party’s acceptance of the Nationality code.
Egypt also introduced reforms in 2001 to permit no-fault divorce (divorce that does not require allegation of a spouse being at fault) and imposed quota to ensure higher political participation of women in the parliament.
The Committee recommended the State party to develop comprehensive data on the situation of rural women in all areas covered by the Convention. The Committee also requested the State party to accelerate the process of issuance of identity cards to all women, including women in rural and remote areas.
The Committee urged the State party to give priority attention to combating violence against women and girls and to adopting comprehensive measures to address such violence, in accordance with its general recommendation No. 19.
At the 6th periodic report of Malawi the Committee expressed its concern about the precarious situation of women in rural areas, as these women constitute the majority of women in the state party and are disproportionately affected by the lack of adequate health services, education, ownership of land and inheritance, economic opportunities and social benefits. The Committee reiterated its previous concern about rural women’s access to justice and the enforcement of their rights under the Convention. It is also particularly concerned about the prevalence of harmful traditional practices and the persistence of customs and traditions in rural areas that violate the human rights of women and girls and adversely affect their equality and advancement.
While noting some efforts made by the State party, in the 7th periodic report of Kenya the CEDAW Committee reiterated its concern at the persistence of adverse cultural norms, practices and traditions as well as patriarchal attitudes and deep-rooted stereotypes regarding the roles, responsibilities and identities of women and men in all spheres of life including family relations. The Committee noted that such stereotypes also contribute to the persistence of violence against women as well as harmful practices, including female genital mutilation (FGM), polygamy, bride price and wife inheritance.
The Committee considered the combined initial, second and third periodic report of Botswana and expressed its concern about the persistence of patriarchal attitudes and deep-rooted stereotypes concerning women’s roles and responsibilities that discriminate against women and also expressed serious concern about the persistence of entrenched harmful traditional and cultural norms and practices, including widowhood rites and practices, the payment of bogadi (dowry).The Committee recommended continued and sustained efforts to address the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls.
The Committee is especially concerned about the situation of rural women and women heads of households, particularly of their precarious living conditions, extreme poverty and lack of access to justice, health care, ownership of land, inheritance, education, credit facilities and community services.
THEME BASED ANALYSIS OF CEDAW IMPLEMENTATION IN VARIOUS AFRICAN COUNTRIES
Violence against women in African region
According to the concluding comments of the CEDAW committee on different countries of African region, such as Congo, Malawi, Mauritania, Rwanda, Liberia, Uganda, Tanzania, Botswana, Guinea, Nigeria etc. gender based violence at home, in the work place and elsewhere is a serious problem and poses a threat to women’s human rights and gender equality. Very recently the committee issued a statement to the Government of Guinea Conakry against mass rape by armed forces. In the situation of armed conflict and civil war women are most vulnerable to rape and violence as had happened in Rwanda and other places.
Domestic violence, rape, incest, wife inheritance, Female Genital Mutilation, forced marriage, denial of rights to inherited property, traditional harmful practices such as Ukuthwala, witchcraft allegation against widows or older women, forced feeding are the different aspects of culture-based discrimination against women found (CEDAW) throughout the African region . People in traditional communities seldom recognize particular discrimination as “violence against women”
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is one form of cultural violence against women which exists in many African countries such as Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan and Tanzania, Egypt etc., (UNICEF Child and CEDAW). These traditions contribute to stereotypes of women’s status in the community.
According to UN reports, 3 million girls worldwide still face the risk of FGM and around 120-140 million women have been subjected to the practice (UNICEF). Witch craft allegation and murder of widows and older women is another form of violence mostly by the family members in rural areas to grab their inheritance and property.
In 2007 civil society organizations in Cameroon put together a training manual for traditional leaders called “CEDAW Made Easy.” The manual gives traditional leaders the information and motivation to improve the lives of women in their communities by changing traditional practices that are harmful to women. As a result, certain harmful practices have been abolished in some regions.
The CEDAW Convention plays an important role in Africa. In many countries CEDAW has enlisted the support of governments to establish stable and effective conditions to eliminate discrimination against women. It also enlightens citizens about the negative results of violence towards women as well as women’s rights through the implementation of article 2, 5, 6 and 16 and General Recommendation 19.
Article 14 is extremely important in Africa because the majority of women including older women and disabled women live in rural areas. In Tanzania nearly 80 Percent of women live in rural areas, where basic services, safe water, healthcare facilities and access to information are generally less available In Ethiopia nearly 90 % of the population is rural, and similarly in Malawi 9 out of 10 people live in a rural setting. The population remains predominantly rural nearly in every state in the region, these includes Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, Togo, Sub Saharan Africa .etc.
Poor infrastructure, lack of access to education and basic healthcare, economic hardship and poverty along with the adverse effects of HIV and AIDS are among a few of the reasons why achieving the CEDAW goals has proved so challenging in rural areas of Africa.
Nearly every country report attempts to explain States party’s comprehensive plans to improve the situation of rural women through micro credit, access to capital and rural empowerment, however these plans have not always produced the desired results, often living condition in rural areas and poverty play the biggest role in women’s inability to access healthcare, education, clean water and a decent life (CEDAW).
Greater understanding of gender and empowerment would certainly help elevate the status of women in rural communities as their contribution is linked to production for consumption.
The CEDAW Committee calls upon the States Parties to intensify efforts to combat the feminization of poverty, gender based violence and sexual exploitation of women , as the root causes of discrimination, segregation, and as an impediment to the advancement of women.
The CEDAW Committee calls upon the States Parties to identify structural discriminations which is embodied in the traditional practices and social structures as well as in basic cultural values also in the discriminatory laws and practices and recommends the States Parties to apply political will and commitment to take all appropriate measures to address those issues.
Women in Africa face unique challenges in both the formal and the informal sectors because of lack of adequate training and educational opportunities, low skill and less job opportunities. The disparities between women and men in the workplace are significant with women being consistently underrepresented and under compensated for their efforts.
In Eritrea, more than seventy percent of the population depends on subsistence agriculture (CEDAW 2004). The same is true of many of the African countries but women’s ownership or inheritance to land is less recognized and women mostly work in the field with less or unpaid jobs. In Ethiopia, the women’s unemployment rate is much higher than the male unemployment rate.
In Eritrea, Zambia, Ethiopia the proportion of women who are employed in government sector mostly engaged in lower grade jobs instead of directors or department heads. This occurs due to inadequate training or education stemming from inequalities in the educational system.
But this is also true that because of CEDAW monitoring and Government initiatives women are receiving more and more maternity benefits, greater access to jobs, and higher quality professional training. Many countries at least address the concerns of CEDAW Article 11 on women’s employment.
Although many states in Africa have committed to work towards equality in employment for all of their citizens, there is still much to be done. Progress has been made, but it is slow and inconsistent. In order to attain the goal of equitable employment these countries need to increase their efforts in other societal realms such as education and political representation.
The CEDAW Committee in its concluding observations has urged States Parties to eliminate the structural barriers in the employment sector for women and broaden access to opportunities like education and training for greater participation of women in the labor market and more involvement of women in income and employment generation programms and paid work. States Parties also need to create awareness raising among men in respect of family responsibilities and raise maternity and paternity leave so that father also can take part in the child raising process and give women free time to build their career.
Education is often used as an indicator for determining the real progress of a country.
As per Article 10 of the CEDAW the States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of education. The article also has further details including equal conditions for career, access to the same curriculum, elimination of stereotypes in education, equal benefits from scholarships and study grants, reduction of female student drop-out rates, equal opportunities to participate in sports.
The CEDAW concluding comments on African countries observe that education system of this region suffers from greatest inequality due to high dropout rates of females, violence in schools, and negative cultural norms.
High dropout rates are common and frequent among female students due to the high rates of sexual abuse in schools. This harassment comes from teachers as well as students. These negative consequences are rooted in a culture of patriarchy.
Another aspect that affects dropout rates is early marriage and/or pregnancy. Many girls in this region find themselves married, pregnant, or both at a very young age. Village women and girls are mostly facing early marriage and forced marriage at the early age which forced them to end their education and leave school.
Another threat to the female education in Africa is the continuation of stereotypes in curriculum. These curriculum inequalities only further hinder the development of equality of women within the society as they are deeply rooted into the male and female student’s minds throughout their education.
Besides these three negative aspects of education within African region, there are some positive changes which are directly related to the implementation of CEDAW. Many countries such as Burundi, Eritrea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, and Kenya have made education compulsory and/or free for both sexes (CEDAW Country Reports). This has helped enrollment rates increase for both sexes in virtually every country in the region. Also, many governments are recognizing the need for Curriculum to portray women in equal positions to men thus helping eliminate female Stereotypes. Education enrollment and literacy rates have been on the rise and female students are great contributors to these improving statistics.
Women’s health and reproductive rights are important issues for the implementation of CEDAW convention. Health is a vital component to consider with regards to women’s rights and improving women’s lives.
In Africa, women face many health problems; such as low maternal health conditions, high maternal mortality, malnutrition, high fertility rates, diseases such as HIV/AIDS, unsafe abortion, Malaria, and Tuberculosis etc. Access to basic health needs is a problem for rural women, older women and disabled women .Shortage of health practitioners, supplies, contraceptives and health centers also pose a serious problem in the rural Africa.
Also female life expectancy declined in Kenya, Tanzania and some other countries due to the prevalence of HIV/AIDS (CEDAW 2006) older women in the family are providing services as a care giver but without any support from the Government or any recognition from the family.
In Democratic Republic of the Congo maternal mortality rate was 870 per 100,000 live births in 1997 (CEDAW 2004). One of the causes of high maternal mortality rates is unsafe abortion. Women are also primary victims of malnutrition.
In general, the African governments have launched a variety of health campaigns and programs and have established organizations to deal with these issues. Governments have emphasized the primary health care including family planning, child immunization, prevention and control of endemic diseases.
In Mozambique, the government has established free health care services including prenatal and post-natal health care (CEDAW 2005). In Kenya, in its 2005-2006 estimation, the government has increased the allocation to the Ministry of Health almost four times (CEDAW 2006). Because of these governmental efforts, there is progress being made with regards to maternal health such as decreasing fertility rates, maternal mortality rates, prevalence of HIV/AIDS rates and infection from mother to child, the increase of the prevalence of contraceptives rates, and coverage of health care services.
However, there are still many challenges in the region which needs to be addressed with more budget allocation and appropriate policy measures to improve the health needs of women in Africa especially women in rural Africa.
Enforcement of law in most of the African countries is very poor. Access to legal services by women and girls are inadequate. Rural women in most of the African countries face difficulties to seek justice against gender based violence, rape, trafficking and exploitation of sex. In absence of any appropriate law, women are suffering from domestic violence as this is considered as a private matter in the society. In most African countries legal system is not gender friendly. Police, Magistrate and Judges are not always trained with CEDAW jurisprudence.
One of the major points in ratifying CEDAW is implementing new laws to create a legitimate legal system that is free of gender biases and incorporates women’s rights. Article two; fifteen and sixteen pertain to the legal rights of women. In Africa there is a challenge in handling the co-existence of the statutory laws that are put in to place and the customary laws that are practiced.
In Zimbabwe—as in many other countries in Africa—while the law states that no woman can be turned down from a job due to her gender, once hired, many employers are legally allowed to provide special conditions for the female workers (CEDAW 1998). These conditions often create a harder working environment for women.
Women’s status in East Africa is heavily reliant on their roles as a mother and a wife. Before the ratification of CEDAW, women were required to have permission from their husbands to do many works outside the domestic sphere. Family planning is one of such area. For example, in Zambia, until 1990 women needed permission from their husband to attain birth control (CEDAW 2002).
While there have been many advances in the legal structures of Africa, there is still a long way to go. And initiative should come from within the society. Through ratifying CEDAW, states assign themselves to assume ways to end violence against women in all forms, including the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system. States must install institutions to protect women from discrimination and provide equal accesses to human rights as men and secure access to justice..
The CEDAW convention’s profound impact on the legal and socio political and economic development of states parties is visible in the strengthening of institutional provisions for the protection of women’s rights and efforts to bring existing legislation into conformity with convention principles, improvement in the capacity of national institutions to guarantee equality between men & women. Furthermore, increasing use of the convention, and the committee’s general recommendations by the States parties provide an important roadmap in developing its short term and long term national plan for advancement of women
However, discrimination against women still persists all over the world and in very few countries has the convention directly been applied to the courts. Also very few Judges and policy makers have knowledge about the treaty and the de facto discrimination against women remains universal.
Despite an increase in the number of women in decision making positions, there is still a persistent and glaring disparity between the numbers of women who hold decision-making positions in various levels worldwide. A pervasive patriarchal system, including customs and traditions which stereotypically confine women’s roles in the private sphere and male-dominated traditional political systems, has been largely responsible for women’s under-representation in political processes. Without women’s presence at the negotiating table, urgent concerns that impact half of the world often remains unattended.
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Mainstreaming Food and Nutrition Interventions into Poverty Reduction Strategies
Bangladesh emerged as a sovereign South Asian country in 1971 after a bloody independence war. It is a densely populated developing country with an area of 144,000 sq. kilometre deltaic land inhabited by about 135 million people. In conformity with the changes in health situation globally, the health scenario in the country has also been changing overtime. Rapid population growth, widespread poverty and malnutrition, shifts in disease pattern prevailing in the country and increasing urbanisation are the major contributing factors to these changes.
The constitution of Bangladesh mandates that, ‘it shall be a fundamental responsibility of the state to attain through planned economic growth ----- the provision of the basic necessities of life, including food, clothing, shelter, education and medical care.' 1 The various governments of the People's Republic that came to power since the independence, have been practising a planned development system, giving special attention to more than three-fourths of its population that resides in the rural areas. From the late seventies, the main thrust of the health and nutrition sector of the country has been the provision of Primary Health Care (PHC) services. A right-based approach has all along been followed to render the services, keeping the women and the children in the focus, as they have been the worst victims of ill-health and malnutrition. Together with all these, Bangladesh has all along been committed and one of the first few signatories to the various world summits that adopted the Child Right Convention (CRC), the Convention on Elimination Discrimination of all Types Against Women (CEDAW), World Food Summit Declaration and all other related documents.
Maternal & Child Health Situation
At the dawn of independence, the health and nutrition status of the population of the country was in a deplorable condition. The population growth rate as high as 2.7 percent and the life expectance at birth was as low as 45 years only.
The crude death rate and the infant mortality rate were 20.9 and 150 per 100 respectively. Health facilities and health professionals were also quite inadequate in comparison to the needs of the population. 2
For improving the overall situation, Bangladesh from its very beginning adopted a planned approach. The first five year plan of the country was therefore prepared and commenced from 1973. Continuation of similar medium term development plans was instrumental to ensure a consistent improvement of the situation. The bench-mark health and nutrition scenario before the commencement of the Fifth Five Year plan (1997-2002) is reflected in the following table: 3,4
Table 1: Health and Nutrition Status of the Population Reflected by Major Indicators
Population growth rate (%)
Life expectancy at birth (yrs.)
Infant mortality rate/1000 (up to 01 yr. Age)
Child (under 5) mortality rate/1000
Maternal mortality rate/1000
Low birth weight of children (%)
Under 5 malnutrition (%)
Night blindness (%)
Iodine deficiency (visible & clinical)
Children (6-14 yrs.)
Objectives of the Fifth Five Year Plan:
The general objectives of the health, population and nutrition sector during the fifth five year plan were
to ensure universal access for the people
to essential health care and nutrition services of acceptable quality
to reduce further the fertility and population growth rates, infant and maternal mortality and morbidity rates and
to improve overall nutritional level of the population, particularly of the mother and the children.
4. Policies and Strategies:
Health & Population Policies
As has been the case with the previous five year plans, the PHC approach has also been adopted as the core policy to achieve the goals of health for all as well as demographic & MCH coverage targets during the fifth plan also. For effective implementation, PHC services were reorganized into a four-tier system as follows:
Community level – through community health workers and centres;
Union Parishad (local government unit) ward level-through satellite clinics/health posts;
Union level – through Union health and family welfare centres (HFWCs); and
Upazila (sub-district) level – through the upazila health centre.
In addition to the above core policy, the following major policy outlines were also adopted for achieving the objectives of the plan:
Introduction of an essential service package (ESP) including need-based reproduction health care to meet the major needs of the people with minimum required service providing facilities;
Introduction of an urban PFC, particularly to meet the needs of the large influx of migrants from rural to urban areas;
According to top priority to population and family welfare programmes, building up a national commitment and generating a social movement to promote two-child family norm;
Further strengthening the Expanded Programme for Immunization (EPI) with all related logistic service facilities;
Recruitment of more manpower for health and population services and strengthening the need-based medical and population education and research facilities for appropriate human resource development;
Further development and expansion of health and population infrastructure with necessary service facilities at all level of health care and population services;
Ensure supply and storage of essential drugs and equipment with a decentralized system for their needed utilization;
Special attention and preparedness to cope with the newly emerging and re-emerging diseases like STD/HIV/AIDS, malaria and mental/psychiatric problems;
Encourage development of indigenous and homeopathic systems of medicine to play a complementary role;
Involvement of the private sector and NGOs in order to promote their participation and ownership in health and population services;
Strengthening inter-sectoral coordination and interaction between health and population and other sector such as food assistance, income generation, nutrition and safe water supply.
Health & Population Strategies:
The core strategies adopted for redefining the role of the government for effective implementation of the above policies particularly with a focus on close coordination and complementarily with the nutrition interventions introduced in the country are as follows:
Strategic planning, programming and budgeting towards improvement of sector-wise and inter-sector management capacity;
Delivery of a package of essential one-stop services with particular emphasis on nutritional needs of the children and the mothers, both in rural and urban areas;
Delivery of increased quality hospital services at various level of PHC.
Achieving the demographic and MCH/FP goals by fulfilling the programme objectives;
Promoting the use of clinical methods of long effective type and persuing a result-oriented action plan especially in areas of lower acceptance rates;
Development of linkages complementarily and coordination with the inter-sectoral programmes having the objectives of health and nutrition improvement along with their sectoral objectives;
Popularising activities by utilising multi-sectoral workers and social/cultural institutions;
Enhancing collaboration and participation of the NGOs and involving local leaders and opinion makers/religious leaders for acceptance of population activities at the community level.
Nutrition Policies and Strategies:
Malnutrition has emerged as a serious public health problem in Bangladesh , particularly affecting the well-being of the mothers and the children in the ultra poor households. In order to arrest and reverse the situation by the year 2010, the government has adopted a National Food and Nutrition Policy 5 and a National Plan of Action on Nutrition (NPAN) 6 . The salient features of these policies and strategies for formulating and implementing a national multi-sectoral nutrition programme are as follows:
Incorporating nutrition considerations, objectives and components in various relevant sectoral programmes;
Incorporating food and nutrition improvement interventions in to poverty reduction and income earning programmes;
Development of human resources in nutrition by strengthening institutional capacities in the area of policy making, training, research and provision of services;
Empowering the communities and households to understand the nutritional problems and thereby to take appropriate measures to address the problems;
Ensuring food security to all household members;
Ensuring food safety and food quality;
Controlling infectious diseases and providing required environmental support;
Protecting, promoting and supporting breast feeding;
Ensuring support to socio-economically deprived and nutritionally vulnerable population;
Reducing micronutrient deficiencies;
Promoting appropriate diets and healthy life styles;
Promoting nutrition advocacy, education and community participation; and
Assessing, analysing and monitoring the nutrition situation in the country.
In addition to the existing health & population infrastructure services at various levels, the Essential Service Package (ESP) has been undertaken as a key programme of the Sector. In a situation of scarcity of resources to meet the health and population control needs of all, ESP consists of a prioritised most urgently needed services particularly for the most vulnerable groups of population namely mothers and children. ESP component services are:
Child health care;
Reproductive health care;
Communicable diseases (including STD/HIV/AIDS) control
Limited curative care and
Behaviour change communication
The programme is supported by necessary human resource, physical facilities, logistics, necessary research back up and monitoring & evaluation.
In order to maintain priority on population control, the following population focus activities also supplement ESP:
MCH-based family planning service delivery;
Training and manpower development;
Information, education and communication;
Research, monitoring and evaluation;
Population planning, coordination and linkages with the direct nutrition intervention introduced in the country;
5.2 Nutrition Programme:
Understanding the serious implications of widespread malnutrition on poverty reduction and socio-economic development, the Government of Bangladesh has adopted a comprehensive approach to address the problem. As a part of this approach, as has been mentioned earlier, the government adopted the National Food and Nutrition Policy (NFNP) and the National Plan of Action on Nutrition (NPAN). In conformity with these the government introduced the Bangladesh Integrated Nutrition Programme (BINP) 7 in 1997 as a six-year pilot project (after testing the idea in six upazilas for a couple of years) with assistance from the World Bank and the UNICEF. The project covered 59 upazila in phases during its operation. Based on the learning and the successes achieved, the government transformed it into the National Nutrition Programme (NNP) 8 to commence from January 2004 in 105 upazilas with the assistance of the World Bank, CIDA, Netherlands and WFP. The programme has a vision to cover the whole country by the year 2010.
The specific objectives of NNP are:
Reduce severe PEM<2 y children to 5%.
Reduce moderate PEM in <2 y to 30%.
Increase Wt. Gain during pregnancy to 9 kg or more in 50% of pregnant women.
Reduce the incidence of LBW to 30%.
Reduce anaemia among adolescent girls and PLW by 1/3.
Sustain the prevalence of night blindness among children 1 to <5y at 0.5%.
5.3.1 The components activities of NNP are: National Level Activities, e.g.
Behaviour Change Communication (BCC);
Vitamin ‘A' supplementation;
Collaborative efforts for salt iodization;
Support and strengthen breastfeeding activities;
Management Information system (MIS);
Independent Quality Assurance Group (IQUAG); and
5.3.2 Area Based Community Nutrition (ABCN) Activities, e.g.
Behaviour Change Communication (BCC);
Growth Monitoring & Promotion (GMP);
Supplementary Feeding & Promotion (SFP);
Pregnancy Weight Monitoring & Promotion (PWMP);
Birth Weight registration;
House Hold Food Security;
Income Generating Activities.
The programme is implemented by a Project Management Unit (PMU) located in the M/O Health and Family Welfare, with the collaboration of the M/O Agriculture, M/O Fisheries and Livestock, M/O Women and Children Affairs and the Bangladesh Bureau of statistics (BBS).
5.4 Food Assisted Development Programme
The World Food Programme is the food aid organisation of the United Nations. Bangladesh has long been considered as a country of food scarcity, though the country is at present very close to food self-sufficiency. In spite of this improvement, because of non-egalitarian nature of the society, food insecurity particularly of the ultra-poor households (who constitute about lower 25 % of the population) still persists in the country. The Government of Bangladesh implements a WFP-assisted food-aid based country programme of 05 years (2001 – 2005) duration, consisting of the following individual programmes:
Vulnerable Group Development (VGD) Programme,
Integrated Food Security (IFS) Programme, and
School Feeding Programme (SFP)
These programmes have been designed in conformity with the Food Aid and Development (FAAD) priorities (which includes nutritional well being of mothers and children) adopted by the World Food Summit 1996. Hence, nutrition consideration, objectives and components have been incorporated in all these programmes.
Therefore, the general objectives of these food-assisted programes are:
To enable the poorest and most disadvantaged sections of the population, specially women and children in rural Bangladesh to overcome food insecurity and low social status in a sustainable way;
To improve the nutritional status and learning capacity of these women and children.
A brief introduction together with the nutrition components of these programmes are given below:
5.4.1 VGD Programme
The VGD Programme strategy is based on the combination of three components:
Food aid (30 kg wheat/25 kg fortified atta per month as family ration over a period of 24 months),
Capacity building through provision of a “development package” consisting of group formation, awareness raising on legal, social, health and nutrition issues, functional education, training on marketable income generation skills, savings and provision of credit,
Graduation of women into regular NGO development programmes after the 18-month food support cycle to ensure sustainability of achievements and to enable women to further improve their socio-economic condition after termination of the food assistance.
The criteria-based selection of VGD women and major management functions are undertaken at Union Parishad (UP) level.
Together with the above interventions, the VGD also has some nutrition oriented complementary interventions called:
- Atta Fortification in Milling and Fortification Units (MFUs)
- VGD-National Nutrition Project NNP) Collaboration
Geographical & Beneficiary Coverage
The VGD is a nation-wide programme implemented in 467
rural Upazilas (sub-districts), covering about 500,000 ultra-poor women.
Programme Implementing Agencies
The programme executing agencies are the Department of Women Affairs (DWA) under the M/o Women and Children Affairs and the Department of Relief and Rehabilitation (DRR) of the Government of Bangladesh in partnership with NGOs.
5.4.2 IFS Programme
Major nutrition interventions under the programme are
(a) Community Nutrition Initiative (CNI)
Under this component, the community identifies a site to serve as the Village Nutrition Center (VNC) and a woman of the community to be trained as the Village Nutrition Promoter (VNP). The VNP with community support undertakes various nutrition activities focussing the poor women and the children.
(b) Training and Nutrition Centre (TNC)
Activities under this component are :
- Training of the extreme poor women in marketable skills and awareness training in nutrition, health, social and legal issues;
- Early childhood development (ECD) activities, including provision of on-site supplementary feeding with fortified blended food to children (6 months-6years) of the women-in-training;
- Training of the adolescent girls in nutrition, reproductive health, social and legal issues and marketable skill;
- Provision of on-site supplementary feeding with fortified blended food to adolescent girls.
Geographical and Beneficiary Coverage
Most food-insecure and disaster-prone areas, initially identified in 20 districts of Bangladesh , covering about 600,000 women and children.
Programme Implementing Agencies
The programme executing agencies are the Department of Women Affairs (DWA) under the M/o Women and Children Affairs and the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) of the Government of Bangladesh in partnership with NGOs.
5.4.3. School Feeding Programme (SFP)
The programme has two key objectives:
To contribute to the GOB effort for universalizing primary education through increase enrolment, improved attendance and reduced drop-out rates in GOB and NGO primary schools, particularly in regards to children from food insecure areas;
To improve the attention span and learning capacity of students by alleviating short term hunger and by contributing to the alleviation of their widespread micronutrient deficiencies.
Some salient features of the programme are as follows:
- Each primary school student receives every morning a packet of 75 gram locally made fortified biscuits, which meet about 20 % enrgy and 75 percent of the daily recommended vitamin and mineral requirements of the student (6 to 11 yrs.).
- Safe water supply, nutrition, hygienic & environmental education are some other associated activities of the programme.
1.2 million primary school students of 7000 schools of food insecure areas in 08 districts and some slum areas in Dhaka .
Programme Implementing Agencies
The programme executing agencies are the Department of Primary Education of the Government of Bangladesh, WFP in partnership with NGOs.
6. Investment in Health and Nutrition Focus Activities:
The annual gross public sector allocation for health, population, food assistance and nutrition services in the country is about US$ 157 million which constitutes ……….% of the GDP of the country.
From the above discussion, it is apparent that Bangladesh follows a multi-sectoral approach to render the health and nutrition focus services to its population, particularly the women and the children. The impact of these is seen in the improved scenario reflected in the following table:
Table 1: Health and Nutrition Status of the Population Reflected by Major Indicators
Current Achievement (with specific yrs.)
Population growth rate (%)
Life expectancy at birth (yrs.)
Infant mortality rate/1000 (up to 01 yr. Age)
Child (under 5) mortality rate/1000
Maternal mortality rate/1000
Low birth weight of children (%)
Under 5 malnutrition (%)
Night blindness (%)
Iodine deficiency (visible & clinical)
Children (6-14 yrs.)
8. Issue of PRSP and Mainstreaming Food And Nutrition Interventions
The Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) for Bangladesh is still in a position of revision and finalization. The latest version of it emphasises on improvement of health and nutrition situation as a poverty reduction strategy. In conformity with the provision, the government has already taken the initiative to reorganise the major nutrition intervention, particularly the National Nutrition Programme (NNP). As a manifestation of this effort, the health and population sector of the country is to be renamed as Health, Nutrition and Population Service Programme (HNPSP) and NNP will be integrated in to the HNPSP from the next financial year. The process will substantially contribute to mainstream food and nutrition interventions into poverty reduction strategies.
Health and nutrition interventions in Bangladesh may be termed as a multi-sectoral one with considerable coordination among them. The Bangladesh National Nutrition Council (BNNC) has had a pioneering role to play in this coordination process. In spite of a number of loose ends, the interventions yielded some encouraging results, particularly in the area of reduction of the rate of population growth, IMR, CMR and MMR. Lessons learned from the implementation of NNP and the food-assisted nutrition interventions are that the community-based food and nutrition services can be successfully implemented through a Government-NGO partnership in which the community will have trained nutrition workers/volunteers who can play an effective role. Other developing countries can also benefit from these lesson learned by Bangladesh .
Government of Bangladesh , The Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh , Dhaka 1972
Planning Commission, The First Five Year Plan 1973-78, Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh , Dhaka 1973
Planning Commission, The Fifth five year Plan 1997-2002. Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh , Dhaka 1998
BBS Child Nutrition Survey of Bangladesh 1995-96, Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, Ministry of Planning, Government of Bangladesh , Dhaka 1997
BNNC, Bangladesh National Food and Nutrition Policy, Government of Bangladesh , Dhaka 1997
BNNC, Bangladesh National Plan of Action on Nutrition (NPAN), Government of Bangladesh , Dhaka 1997
MOHFW, Project proposal (revised) on Bangladesh Integrated Nutrition Project (BINP) M/O Health and Family Welfare, Government of Bangladesh, Dhaka 1997
MOHFW, Project proposal (revised) on national Nutrition Programme (NNP), M/O Health and Family Welfare, Government of Bangladesh, Dhaka 2003
CEDAW IMPLICATIONS IN MIGRATION
Key Note Paper
FERDOUS ARA BEGUM
Gender Issues on Migration
Distinguished ladies and gentleman,
Very good morning and Assalamu Alaikum
In the beginning I would like to express my thanks to the UNIFEM Bangladesh for inviting me to this very important discussion on migrant women workers and its implications to CEDAW convention.
As a member of the UN CEDAW committee, I would like to inform you that very soon CEDAW committee will adapt a general recommendation on migrant women workers. This will strengthen women migrant workers human rights at all stages of migration process through the implementation of concluding comments by the states parties.
CEDAW, the convention on the elimination of discrimination against women, protects all women against sex and gender based discrimination, including migrant women. CEDAW is an international human rights treaty that can be effectively invoked to address the concerns of the women migrants at the place of destination, transit and origin. It is the sole international legal instrument designed to promote and protect women's rights.
The general recommendation No 27 is intended to contribute to the promotion and protection of migrant women's human rights also aims to elaborate the specific circumstances, vulnerabilities and discriminations that migrant women often face on the basis of sex and gender as well as the obligation of states parties to protect these rights at the place of origin and destination.
CEDAW's principles of substantive equality, non discrimination and state obligation, its range of articles and measures, its Jurisprudence and the optional protocol give it the widest possible applicability that can be used to address any situation of discrimination against women during the migration cycle.
Women have been migrating overseas since long, for various reasons due to the socio economic consequences and interaction of push and pull factors. But in the context of globalization the feminization of labor migration in the international arena is the emerging issue now.
At present women contribute about 50% of the overseas migrant workforce in Asia, Latin America and in other parts of the world. In countries like Philippines , Indonesia and Sri Lanka the number of women migrant workers out number men.
In some countries of Asian region migrant remittance contribute more than 10% of the GDP. According to the Bangladesh Bank statistics, in 2005, migrant remittance in Bangladesh was more than 5 billion US Dollars. This remittance flow has had significant macro economic effects in the countries of origin in coping with the trade deficits. Women migrant workers are active participants in the development process of the countries of employment too.
But despite their contribution to the economic and social development of countries of destination and origin as well as to their families and communities, poor migrant workers suffer disproportionate discrimination and human rights violation throughout the migration process.
Migration, especially poor women's overseas migration for work is a complex multi faced phenomenon. Socio economic and political discrimination against women in the public and private spheres is both the causes and consequences of rights violations at all stages of migration process.
While migration presents a new opportunities for women, their human rights and securities are also at risk. States parties are entitled to control their borders and regulate migration in accordance with their human rights obligations as parties to the treaties they have ratified.
The CEDAW committee recognized that migrant women may be classified in various categories with difference in the factors compelling migration, purpose of migration and accompanying tenure of stay, vulnerability to risk and abuse as well as the status they enjoy in the country they migrated to and eligibility for citizenship.
Majority of the migrant women are not highly skilled and have only a temporary status in the receiving countries and may never acquire eligibility for permanent stay or citizenship. As such, in most cases, they are denied the protection of the law of the countries concerned, nor are they eligible for official legal aid and assistance. Hence they are vulnerable to exploitation and violence and their access to Justice is limited. As less skilled workers they have fewer job options, have low pay and don't enjoy benefits such as housing, health insurance and protection during pregnancy.
In South Asian region the heaviest concentration of women is at the lower end of the job hierarchy in domestic work and entertainment industry including prostitution. There they suffer gross human rights violations. Many poorly documented and undocumented migrant workers or trafficked persons also face gross human rights violations at all stages of the migration process.
Migration also very closely linked with human trafficking. Trafficking of women and children occurs within the migration process. UN Researcher Ms. Radhika Kumaraswami said “Traffickers fish in the stream of migration.” The French Researcher Ms. Teres Blonche in her book “Beyond Boundaries and trafficking within” also mentioned that in many cases legally migrated women can also face a traffic like situation, if she in not trained and not familiar with the languages of the country of employment. In the Asian region majority of women mostly travel as irregular and undocumented migrant workers.
Migration for work considered as a gender, human rights, good governance and development issue. On the other hand, trafficking considered as a serious violation of human rights and modern day slavery which involves de privation of liberty through coercion and exploitation. Although the vulnerabilities of groups of people who migrate to meet survival needs and those are trafficked are largely similar.
So policy makers in the country of origin and destination need to distinguished the differences between this to separate situation and also to promote safe service labor migration and combat trafficking in person. State obligation is an important issue for the compliance of CEDAW convention. By ratifying CEDAW state parties are obliged to be held accountable to the international scrutiny for the implementation of the CEDAW convention.
However, the general recommendation of migrant women workers of the CEDAW committee is limited to address the situation of five categories, these are:
Women guest workers or primary migrants
Women guest workers who join their husbands who are also guest workers
Women who join male guest workers as spouses
Undocumented migrant workers
Children of migrant workers.
CEDAW convention through the application of 16 operating articles can address disproportionate discrimination and human rights violations against women migrant workers throughout the migration process, during recruitment and pre departure, in transit, onsite in countries of employment during return and resettlement.
Article 2 of CEDAW calls on government to refrain from discrimination and to take appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organization or enterprise.
While the CEDAW convention does not explicitly refer to race or national origin, the committee has made it clear that states have obligations under the convention to proactively prevent and redress acts of racism towards women migrant workers and asylum seekers.
Article 10 of CEDAW can address the issues of inadequate access to information, education and training than men. Economic exploitation by recruiting agents and other service providers thus violating article 5 of CEDAW on discriminatory gender role and stereotypes, article 11 on equal rights to employment and eliminating discrimination in the labor market, article 6 on Trafficking, article 16 on equal rights within the family and property rights, article 12 on equal rights to health safety and privacy are few examples where CEDAW can be effectively applicable to address human rights violations.
Some recommendations from the draft general recommendations of migrant women workers:
Gender sensitive rights based policy and active involvement of women's migrants
Lifting of discriminatory bans or restrictions on out migrants
Education, awareness raising and training with standardized content to be developed by the govt. and NGOs.
Free or affordable gender and rights based pre departure training programs for prospective migrant women that includes skill training, language training, information about food habit at the destination country, Health security including HIV/AIDS prevention.
Welfare policy for the families of the migrant women and secure remittance flow.
Facilitate the right to return and legal protection for migrant's women's rights.
Non-discriminatory family reunification and visa schemes.
Bi lateral and regional cooperation
Research and analysis.
The Policy Dialogue
Implementation status of CEDAW in Bangladesh
Ferdous Ara Begum
UN CEDAW Committee
18 th September 2007
The Directorate of Women Affairs and UNFPA.
Distinguished ladies & gentlemen
As-salaamu Alaikum and good Afternoon.
This is my great pleasure to present the keynote paper on the 25 years of CEDAW and its implementation status in Bangladesh .
CEDAW, the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women defines what constitute discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination.
CEDAW is the only legally binding international instrument to prohibit all forms of discrimination against women committed by public authorities or by any person or organization in the full range of civil, political, economic, social & cultural areas, covering both public & private life.
The convention also targets culture & tradition as the influential forces shaping gender roles.
Quarter century achievements of CEDAW
The CEDAW committee celebrated its 25 th anniversary on the 23 rd of July, 2007 at the beginning of 39 th session at the United Nations head quarters highlighting its achievements over the past quarter century and its impact all over the world on the women's advancement and main challenges lying ahead.
The committee on the elimination of discrimination against women, a 23 person expert body, was established in 1982, following the convention's entry into force in September 1981. The instrument treaty has since become part of the international human rights treaty system, aiming to secure equality for women in the enjoyment of all human rights & fundamental freedoms, without discrimination on the basis of sex.
The CEDAW convention as a land mark tool for setting out global normative standards of gender equality ensured its implementation nationally by the 185 states parties who ratified CEDAW, through the monitoring and guidance of the CEDAW committee. This has significantly enhanced states accountabilities for women's enjoyment of their human rights & shaped women's progress world wide.
The CEDAW convention aims at achieving uniform development for women all over the world using global normative standards that has been enshrined in the 16 substantive articles of CEDAW and its 25 general recommendations. But rate of progress in the advancement of women varies from country to country depending on the socio economic situation and political commitment of the state party.
The CEDAW committee has consistently voiced its concern over the reservations of states parties in respect of some vital articles of the convention, while raising awareness of the impact on women of major global trends, including women and HIV/AIDS. It has also played a crucial role in making the United Nations more gender sensitive and promoting women's universal human rights.
The CEDAW convention's profound impact on the legal and socio political development of states parties is visible in the strengthening of institutional provisions for the protection of women's rights and efforts to bring existing legislation in to conformity with convention principles, improvement in the capacity of national institutions to guarantee equality between men & women. Further more, increasing use of the convention, and the committee's general recommendations by the States parties provide an important roadmap in developing its short term and long term national plan for advancement of women.
The South African and Ugandan constitutions, for instance, contained significant provisions guaranteeing women's equality, based on the conventions principles, Nepal 's Supreme Court had relied on the convention in directing the government to address discriminatory laws, and Canada 's Supreme Court had drawn on the convention and the committee's general recommendation on violence against women.
The general recommendations of the convention provided its members collective view of appropriate measures to fulfill states' obligations under the convention. Its general recommendation on female genital mutilation was the first attempt from United Nations treaty body on that practice. Similarly the CEDAW committee also was the first to adopt a general recommendation on HIV/AIDS. Its general recommendation on violence against women provided the impetus for the adoption of the declaration on the elimination of violence against women. The establishment of a Special Rapporteur on violence against women, and various regional human rights instrument, its general recommendations on equality in marriage and family relations, women in political & public life and health, contributed significantly towards shaping the women's status.
Its expanding commitment to dialogue with civil society allowed the CEDAW committee to examine issues from a rights perspective. It's concluding comments provided a framework for monitoring states actions and showed the committee's rigorous engagement with states parties, as well as its commitment to supporting protection in the context of national realities. The committee's 25 general recommendations bore testimony to its on going commitment, increasingly being used around the world as sources of evolving standards of human rights, reflective of emerging issues and offering possibilities for overcoming obstacles to the realization of human rights.
However, discrimination against women still persists all over the world and in very few countries has the convention directly been applied to the courts. Also very few Judges and policy makers have knowledge about the treaty and the de facto discrimination against women remains universal.
The implementation status of CEDAW in Bangladesh
Bangladesh has been a steadfast supporter of the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. Bangladesh ratified CEDW in the year 1984 with reservations on article no. 2, article 13(a), article no. 16(1)C, 16(1)F. Subsequently in 1997 Bangladesh has withdrawn its reservations on Article no 16(I) F & article 13(a) retaining the reservations on Article No(2) & 16(I)C.
Bangladesh is one of the 1 st ten countries in the world to sign the optional protocol of CEDAW in 2000, enabling the protocol to enter into force, while keeping reservations on article no 8 & 9 of the optional protocol on inquiry procedure. Bangladesh submitted the 5 th periodic report on the implementation status of the convention to the CEDAW committee & it was reviewed most positively in July 2004.
Bangladesh received global appreciation for attaining considerable success in poverty alleviation, micro credit and women's development & promotion of girl's education.
The govt. of Bangladesh formulated national plan of action & national policy for the advancement and rights of women on the basis of Beijing PFA & CEDAW convention.
Subsequently in 2004, some changes brought in the National Women's Policy which was discriminatory to women and contrary to the spirit of CEDAW & our constitution. The present Caretaker Government has taken initiatives to correct those anomalies.
Bangladesh is fortunate to have two members in the CEDAW committee in two consecutive periods. Ms. Salma Khan served the committee for 12 years. As a new member I have started my tenure from 2007. Once elected CEDAW members are considered as independent experts and not the representative of the nominating country.
The Govt. of Bangladesh is obligated under article no. 18 of the CEDAW convention to submit its combined 6 th and 7 th periodic report by January, 2009.
Bangladesh is one of the very few states parties who are going to submit its 7 th periodic report to the CEDAW committee. However its cumulative progress towards women's advancement and rights are not that bright. Women are still subjected to various forms of discrimination. Violence against women is a major issue.
The reporting obligation to the CEDAW committee includes-
Implementation of the convention article by article.
Report to the committee under harmonized guide lines & within the time frame.
The report must highlight the impact of initiatives, follow up actions & statistical data.
Involvement of NGO & civil society members in the reporting process is very important.
Periodic report should not be more then 70 pages long.
The periodic report should focus on the period between the consideration of the previous report & presentation of the current report. In case of Bangladesh the period under consideration will be from August 2004 to December 2008.
The periodic report should reflect implementation of concluding comments particularly concerns and recommendations in the concluding comments of the 5 th periodic report.
Through this reporting process, the committee expects an honest appraisal of the obstacles that remain in the country, understanding of why the current situation prevails and how the obstacles will be removed within the time frame.
The Report Should:
Highlight the country's constitutional, legislative and administrative framework for implementation of the Convention.
Explain the legal and practical measures adopted to give effect to the provisions of the Convention.
Elaborate the progress made by the state party in implementing the provisions of the Convention.
The Report should explain:
Whether the convention is directly applicable in domestic law on ratification.
Whether the provisions of the Convention are guaranteed in the Constitution.
How the article no 2 of the Convention is applied, setting out the principal legal measures which the State party has taken to give effect to Convention rights.
The report should include the information about the national or official institution or machinery, which exercises responsibility in implementing the provisions of the Convention.
The report should outline any restrictions or limitations, even of a temporary nature, imposed by law, practice, or tradition on the enjoyment of each provision of the Convention
The report should describe the situation of non-governmental organizations and women's associations and their participation in the implementation of the Convention and the preparation of the report.
Issues to be considered in the combined 6 & 7 th periodic report on the basis of concluding comments of 5 th periodic report.
(1) Withdrawal of the reservation under article no-2 & article no 16(I) C is very important for Bangladesh . The CEDAW committee opined that reservation on article no 2 goes against the object & purpose of the convention. Practical realization of the principle of equality can not be achieved keeping reservation on article no. 2.
Article No. (2) Says that states parties should eliminate discrimination against women in all its forms through appropriate legislation and repeal all national penal provisions which are discriminately to women.
16(I)C provides equal rights & responsibilities for marriage & dissolution of marriage.
During the constructive dialogue on 5 th periodic report, the leader of the delegation expressed state party's willingness to withdraw reservation on both the articles as saying that ``the matters of withdrawal of reservations of two articles in question, are under the active consideration of the government. The Ministry of Law, Justice & Parliamentary affairs has opined in favor of withdrawal of reservations. ``
More than 13 Muslim Countries ratified CEDAW without any reservation who consider that there is no contradiction with Article No. 2 of the CEDAW convention and the Muslim Sharia law. More over legal system in Bangladesh is governed by civil and criminal jurisprudence. Sharia law is only applicable to personal and family matters, such as marriage, divorce, dower, maintenance and inheritance to property.
It is also pertinent to say that action proposed in article 2(a)to (e) and (g) of CEDAW is already in place in the Constitution of Bangladesh which proclaims equality of all men and women before law. However, clause 2(f) in relation to which
Personal laws of Islamic jurisprudence are in force. Our constitution in this respect says in article no 28(2) that “ women shall have equal rights with men in all spheres of the state and public life”.
The Islamic Law in the country has been substantially modified by the enactment of the Muslim Family Laws ordinance in 1961 , thus it proves that these religious laws are not a static one. Amendments were brought in relation to the practice of Polygamy, use of family planning methods, inheritance to grandparents property. .The law enacted in 1961 gave such children share as if the son survived the parents , thus overriding the Hanafi tradition.
In practice government of Bangladesh has enacted many women friendly laws to protect women's human rights, such as the suppression of women & children repression act 2000 as amended in 2003 , the Acid control act 2002, the Acid crime control act 2002, the Dowry prohibition act of 1980 etc. These steps are in conformity with article no. 2 of the CEDAW convention.
Article 16(I)C relates to equal rights & opportunities for marriage & dissolution of marriage. In reality Bangladeshi Muslim women are enjoying these rights in relation to marriage & divorce. The right for divorce is secured in the clause 18 of the Kabin Nama. There are legal restrictions in the practice of polygamy. The Government of Bangladesh brought legislative changes in personal and family matters such as marriage ,divorce ,inheritance etc which are considered to be the domain of religious law and tradition. Muslim family laws ordinance, Muslim Marriage Registration Act, Family court Ordinance are some instances in this area.
This is now high time for the govt. of Bangladesh to withdraw reservations on both the articles & fulfill the treaty obligations.
Citizenship act of 1951 is discriminatory to women in Bangladesh . According to this Law a Bangladeshi women can not transmit her nationality to her foreign husband or children. Her husband and children need to have visa to stay in Bangladesh . Her children also can not inherit her property. Her husband needs to have work permit to work in Bangladesh . On the contrary, a Bangladeshi Man can transmit his nationality to his foreign wife and children. In 1992, the Government of India brought an amendment to their nationality law, to allow equal rights to both men and women so that they can transmit their nationality to their children and spouse without any discrimination.
CEDAW committee expressed its concern on the citizenship issue and recommended that the Government of Bangladesh should also bring an amendment to the citizenship law , which is in line with article no 9 of the convention to end discrimination against women in the area of Nationality.
(3) The Government of Bangladesh has taken positive steps to address the conflicting issues introduced in 2004 in the National Policy for the Advancement of Women in consultation with the national NGOs and civil society members, so that the Policy goes in conformity with the CEDAW Convention , Beijing PFA, and MDG goals.
There should be a concrete time frame for adoption of the amended policy .
(4) Violence against women specially domestic violence is the most crucial barrier to women's advancement and rights in the country. Dowry related oppressions have escalated in recent years. The CEDAW committee calls on the State Party to ensure the effective implementation of the existing legislation to combat all forms of violence against women and to adopt specific legislation on domestic violence within a clear time frame. Women and girls who are victims of violence and sexual harassment should have access to protection and effective redress, and perpetrators of such acts should effectively be prosecuted and punished.
The suppression of women and children repression act 2000 as amended in 2003 partially addresses domestic violence in relation to dowry .But domestic violence mostly occurs in the shelter of privacy and in the culture of silence. In most cases women are oppressed by their husband or in-laws or near and dear ones. Considering the nature of the crime , most countries have separate legislation to address domestic violence.
This is very important for Bangladesh to have a separate law to address domestic violence. The Government of Bangladesh should take immediate action in this respect.
(5) The CEDAW Committee recommended to adopt a uniform family code to end unequal status of Bangladeshi women within the family ,particularly in matters related to marriage, divorce, custody, alimony and property inheritance.
In Bangladesh , Sharia laws are applicable to Muslim family matters. Similarly family and personal matters of other religious groups are governed separately by their own religious personal laws. These laws are discriminatory to women and provide unequal relationship between men and women.
Besides, the Muslim Family ordinance 1961,the Muslim Marriages and Divorce Act 1974, the Hindu Marriages Act 1946 , the Hindu widow's Remarriages Act 1856, The Christian Marriages Act 1872 are also applicable in these areas.
Unified Family code on the basis of CEDAW Convention and General recommendation 21 on equality in marriage and family relations could be applicable to all religious groups to protect the rights of all Bangladeshi women in matters related to marriage, divorce, custody, alimony and property inheritance.
The CEDAW committee recommended that the govt. of Bangladesh establishes a nation wide awareness campaign regarding the importance and usefulness of uniform family code as well as to address the stereotypical attitudes towards women in the society and take measures to eliminate polygamy.
The CEDAW committee voiced concern about the domestic and cross border trafficking of women and children in Bangladesh . This is the worst form of human rights abuse and it is a modern day slavery. The committee recommended for a comprehensive strategy to combat trafficking and strong enforcement of laws as well as the prosecution and punishment of offenders.
The committee also recommended to secure increased international, regional and bilateral cooperation with other countries including SAARC countries to achieve this goal. Alternative livelihood options with education and rehabilitation facilities including shelter homes also need to be provided to the vulnerable groups and survivors of trafficking harms.
CEDAW committee also recommended for training of border police and law enforcement officials in order to provide them with the requisite skills to recognize and support the victims of trafficking.
Govt. of Bangladesh should take holistic measures to combat trafficking . She should provide statistical information regarding the number of traffic victims and persons prosecuted and punished for the crime to the CEDAW Committee.
The CEDAW Committee expressed its Concern about the poor working conditions that women endure in both the formal and informal sectors of the economy. Bangladesh is committed to promote gender equality and empowerment of women to fulfill the MDG no #3 by 2015.Although
employment opportunities for women have increased in the last decade or so, especially in industries such as the urban based export oriented ready made garment factories, construction sites , ceramics , medicine and shoe factories; but in
absence of a uniform labor code applicable to both formal and informal sectors and lack of strict enforcement of labor laws, gender disparity persists in these areas. There are substantial wage gap between men and women in the informal sector. Women working in the private industries often do not get child care facilities and maternity leave benefits as is available in the public sector. Work place harassment is another issue both in the public and private sectors, which needs to be dealt with seriously.
The CEDAW Committee recommended that the government of Bangladesh should establish a monitoring mechanism to ensure the enforcement of legislation so that women workers get equal pay for equal work, maternity leave and childcare facilities are available to them as per ILO convention in both public and private sectors . Government should also ensure that women workers receive skills development and vocational training for employment in other existing and emerging sectors of the economy. Disparities in other areas namely access to health care services and employment opportunities as well as participation in political activities must be reduced.
The committee expressed its concern at arsenic poisoning of water in Bangladesh and its impact on the reproductive health of rural women. The committee recommended that State Party should launch an awareness campaign and proactive health, nutrition and social program for women and their families in the vulnerable rural areas.
Raising gender awareness , specially among adolescent girls ,is needed for breaking silence about issues like early marriage, sexual exploitation , HIV-AIDS, reproductive health needs , dowry related crime, domestic violence etc . Early marriage results in early pregnancies, increase the risk of maternal deaths . It is also responsible for poor enrolment and high female drop -outs at the higher education level.
The health nutrition and population sector program ( HNPSP) could be extended to rural areas through establishment of community clinics as well as mobile clinics. The Essential Service Care (ESC)under HNPSP which includes basic emergency obstetric care, safe delivery and clinical contraceptive services in the rural areas through Upazila Health Complex and Union Family Welfare Centers may reduce the rate of maternal mortality, infant mortality and unsafe abortions.
The CEDAW Committee recommended that the Government of Bangladesh should adopt a comprehensive gender- sensitive migration policy and should pursue bilateral and multilateral agreements with destination countries. The Committee also recommended that Government should strengthen its information network so that the potential women migrants become fully aware of their rights as well as of the potential risks of employment abroad.
Bangladesh has a separate ministry called the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment to oversee the issues of migrant people. This ministry should take appropriate initiatives to implement the recommendations of the CEDAW Committee.
The CEDAW Committee recommended that the Government of Bangladesh should adopt temporary special measures to ensure substantive equality in women's share in political affairs and also in the civil , judiciary and foreign service employment. The committee also recommended that the Government should introduce legislations for direct election of women to the parliament. Full utilization of existing quotas in different areas of employment need to be ensured by the Govt.
Reporting to the CEDAW committee is an important state obligation .Through these process states parties' political commitment and willingness to implement the issues raised in the concluding comments as well as actions to eliminate discrimination against women go under serious scrutiny by the International Treaty Body. The reporting process also include NGO Shadow report and UN Confidential Country report based on the same concluding comments. It is expected that Government report should reflect an honest appraisal of the situation of the country and government action.
The Reporting Process: Its
Expectations of the
Ferdous Ara Begum
Member, UN CEDAW Committee
Regional Peer Learning Meeting
CEDAW: Reporting &
Based on references, presentations
of CEDAW Committee Members
Concluding Comments: Expectations of the
Ferdous Ara Begum
Member UN CEDAW Committee
South Asia Regional Peer Learning
The Optional Protocol
It’s Benefits & Potentials
Member UN CEDAW Committee
South Asia Regional Peer Learning Meeting
CEDAW: Reporting & Implementation
4-7 April, 2007
Based on references, presentations of CEDAW
Show Presentation Details
by Ferdous Ara Begum
Member, United Nations Committee for the
Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women
Member, Board of Directors, Grameen Bank
Global Consultation on HIV and Sex Work
12-14 July 2006
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Organized by UNFPA, UNAIDS and the Government of Brazil