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Volume 10, No. 4
March 1997



The January 1997 CEDAW session saw a dramatic increase in NGO presence and attention to the Committee's work. In addition to representatives of international NGOs, some of whom have been faithfully observing CEDAW sessions for years, several national level organizations were on hand to observe the review of their governments' reports and to learn more about the reporting and review process. IWRAW - Asia Pacific, in collaboration with UNIFEM, brought eight NGO representatives from reporting countries to New York for a CEDAW orientation. Several of these NGOs returned home to brief their colleagues or hold press conferences to publicize the testimony of their government delegations concerning implementation of the Convention.

The sixteenth session also marks the first time that the Committee itself has formally encouraged the advocacy role of NGOs in the work of the Committee. Although no formal mechanisms have been adopted yet, a decision was taken to hold informal lunchtime meetings with NGOs at the next session in order to continue exploring ways of formalizing relationships with NGOs. All the other human rights treaty bodies have established mechanisms that provide a forum for NGO input regarding matters of mutual concern.

The Committee acknowledged that NGO information is invaluable in shedding light on the de facto implementation of the Convention. It also emphasized that NGO information was not clandestine in any way, and that making it available before a session to the States Parties under review would contribute significantly to raising the level of the discussion. This does not mean, however, that the sources of all independent information must be identified. The Committee remains sensitive to the fact that, while some NGOs welcome the opportunity to make their opinions better known, others may be putting themselves at risk by providing alternative information.

Once again the Committee encouraged States Parties to consult national level NGOs in the preparation of reports, but it also suggested that UN resources be made available to train national NGOs to prepare 'shadow' reports. Committee members expressed frustration that too often well-intentioned NGO reports were unusable, either because they are not translated into the UN languages or because they arrive too late. The Committee recommended that specialized agencies and other UN bodies with local offices be encouraged to cooperate with NGOs in the work they are attempting to do with the Convention, including the preparation of alternative reports.

CEDAW to hold two sessions per year

Angela King, the Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, announced that the General Assembly, on an interim basis, had approved the Committee's request for two three-week sessions annually. The seventeenth session of CEDAW will be held in New York from 7 - 25 July 1997. The eighteenth session will be held in January 1998.

Countries to be reviewed at the seventeenth session 7 - 25 July, 1997

The following countries have been scheduled for review in July 1997. If any scheduled countries decline or do not reply by 15 March, 1997, one or more of the countries on the reserve list will be asked to present reports in July. States Parties often ask for postponements, and with two sessions per year it is advisable for interested NGOs to begin preparing alternative reports as soon as possible, even if their countries are currently on the reserve list.


Scheduled countries

Reserve list
Initial reports
Antigua and Barbuda
Second periodic reports
Dominican Republic
Equatorial Guinea
Republic of Korea
Third and fourth periodic reports


Countries scheduled for review at the eighteenth session in January 1998:

Initial reports


Second periodic reports

Equatorial Guinea

Third periodic reports

Republic of Korea

IWRAW strongly urges women's groups in the above countries either to produce a national NGO "shadow" report or to submit information through IWRAW, preferably both. If you decide to produce a report on your own, you should be aware that a report sent by a coalition of organizations tends to be more persuasive than one submitted to CEDAW by a single group.

IWRAW submits independent reports to all of the CEDAW members, as well as the country rapporteurs, at least one month before each session. These reports include information from individuals and groups as well as summaries, whenever possible, of national NGO reports. Please contact IWRAW if you have any questions concerning the reporting and review process, or if you wish to contribute information to the CEDAW Committee.

Country rapporteurs

The Committee decided in January to designate both a rapporteur and a back-up rapporteur for each country scheduled for a particular session. Working closely with their back-ups, the rapporteurs are responsible for briefing the Committee in closed session prior to the first meeting when a country is discussed and for preparing the concluding comments on that country. It is the rapporteur's responsibility to provide the Committee with additional information, not merely to summarize government reports. It was suggested that concluding comments from the other treaty bodies be included in the briefings.

Concluding Comments

Concluding comments are the most important communication from the Committee to the States Parties. Concluding comments and recommendations are adopted at the end of the session and sent in unedited form directly to States parties as soon as possible after the close of a session. Unedited concluding comments were sent to the following States parties whose periodic reports were reviewed by CEDAW at the sixteenth session in January: Morocco, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Slovenia, Turkey, Venezuela, Denmark, The Philippines and Canada. (IWRAW will be happy to furnish copies of any of these comments upon request.) Edited copies of the concluding comments are included in the official report of the session, which will probably be available sometime after June 1997.

In its last three sessions the Committee has refined its procedure for concluding comments. However, neither the Committee nor the UN Division can facilitate circulation of the concluding comments beyond the government. Unless a government takes the initiative to publicize CEDAW's comments, it is up to national level NGOs to obtain these comments and to make sure they are circulated. For this reason IWRAW sends the unedited concluding comments immediately after a session to all the NGOs on its database from the reviewed countries.

Election of officers

The new officers for 1997-98 were elected by acclamation: Salma Khan (Bangladesh), Chairperson; Charlotte Abaka (Ghana), Carlota Bustelo (Spain) and Miriam Estrada (Ecuador), Vice-Chairpersons; and Aurora Javate de Dios (Philippines), Rapporteur.

New members

The newly elected members are Ayse Feride Acar (Turkey), Yolanda Ferrer Gómez (Cuba), Aída González Martínez (Mexico), Yung-Chung Kim (Republic of Korea) and Anne Lise Ryel (Norway). Six members were re-elected: Carlota Bustelo (Spain), Silvia R. Cartwright (New Zealand), Aurora Javate de Dios (Philippines), Salma Khan (Bangladesh), Ahoua Ouedraogo (Burkina Faso) and Hanna Beate Schöpp-Schilling (Germany).

Continuing members whose terms will expire in two years are Charlotte Abaka (Ghana), Tendai Ruth Bare (Zimbabwe), Desiree P. Bernard (Guyana), Ivanka Corti (Italy), Miriam Estrada (Ecuador), Sunaryati Hartono (Indonesia), Ginko Sato (Japan), Carmel Shalev (Israel), Lin Shangzhen (China), Kongit Sinegiorgis (Ethiopia) and Mervat Tallawy (Egypt).

Women's Rights Unit

Ms. Jane Connors has been appointed Chief of the new Women's Rights Unit in the Division for the Advancement of Women. Ms. Connors, an internationally known expert on the CEDAW Convention and on violence against women, will provide valuable additional technical support to the Committee.

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN - Convention Articles 3, 5, 6, 12, 15 & 16

"Justice in Peru: The Victim Gets the Rapist for a Husband." This headline from the New York Times (March 12, 1997) actually is old news. Under Peruvian law, a rapist is exonerated if he offers to marry the victim and she accepts. Since 1991 the exoneration has extended to co-defendants in a gang rape. The Congress is now debating a change in the law, with feminists supporting complete revocation of the law and President Fujimori's party favoring elimination only of the provision that exonerates co-defendants. Similar laws exist in fourteen other Latin American countries. They are based on the premise that a woman who is raped is "damaged goods" and unmarriageable, so marriage to the rapist is an appropriate way to force the rapist to take responsibility for the consequence of his action. The practical result is forced marriage, with coercion by the family seeking compensation for the dishonor and the rapist seeking exoneration from punishment. Beatriz Merino Lucero, president of the congressional committee on women, says that "to believe in 1997 that it is intelligent and moral for a rapist to marry his victim as a mechanism for pardon shows me that some of my colleagues in Congress don't fundamentally understand what rape is."

Three US Army instructors in Germany are accused of sexual assault. The United States Army acknowledged on February 15 that three male training instructors had been suspended from duties and two of them detained after eleven women soldiers complained of sexual mistreatment at a base in Germany. The accusations against the instructors include rape, forced sodomy, indecent assault, cruelty and maltreatment of subordinates, according to an army statement. No details of the accusations have been made public by the Army.

Murder charges dropped against Mexican woman pleading self-defense in attempted rape. Claudia Rodriguez was charged with murder when, in the early hours of the morning, she shot and killed an acquaintance who had followed her out of a bar and sexually assaulted her. Rodriguez claimed she acted in self defense, but prosecutors charged her with murder. According to an Associated Press article last February, the judge refused to dismiss the murder charge, assuming that she had enticed her attacker in the bar. According to the judge, "in remaining in the company of her aggressor, despite his propositions to her, she provoked him to attack her so she could shoot him in some vital part of his body." After continuing protests from women's groups, the murder charge was dropped. Rodriguez was required to pay $1,538 in damages to her attacker's family, and a fine of $256, for "using excessive force in her legitimate defense."

POLITICAL AND PUBLIC LIFE - Convention Articles 7 & 8

Women are in the vanguard of a Turkish campaign to preserve secularism. Thousands of Turks, most of them women, marched through the streets of Ankara in February in the first major public protest against the policies of the Islamic-led government. According to the New York Times, marchers carried signs and chanted slogans condemning what they believe are efforts to move Turkey closer to sharia, the strict law of the Koran. More than two thirds of the marchers were women. Sponsors of the march included not only women's groups but also labor unions, legal and medical associations and cultural and retirees' organizations. "We are marching against sharia and the darkness that aims to leave women outside of humanity," said a leader of the Modern Lawyers' Association, quoted by the Times. "Every day, women's rights are being degraded by those who want to control us and our bodies."

Justice at last for assassinated Dominican women. According to journalist Larry Rohter, history and the Dominican people have found a particularly appropriate way to avenge the assassination by the dictator Rafael Trujillo of three of his enemies. The current Vice President and Deputy Foreign Minister of the Dominican Republic are descendants of "the Butterflies," as the Mirabal sisters were known in their days as members of the anti-Trujillo underground. A change in the country's political climate has completed the transformation of the Mirabal sisters into symbols of both popular and feminist resistance. Throughout Latin America, the Mirabals are regarded as feminist icons. The most visible manifestation of the Mirabals' vindication will soon be on display along the Malecon, the capital's seaside promenade. There, a 137-foot obelisk that Trujillo put up in his own honor is now enveloped in scaffolding in preparation for the installation of a mural with the image of each of the three dead women and their surviving sister. The Mirabals are also to be given recognition in Dominican textbooks as national martyrs.

HUMAN RIGHTS AND DISCRIMINATION - Convention Articles 2 and 3

Female ritual slavery in Ghana. According to the New York Times, there are several thousand female ritual slaves in southeastern Ghana. Once a girl is given to a priest to appease the gods for crimes committed by relatives, she is considered his property. She can be freed only by the priest, in which case her family must replace her with a new young girl. Although Ghana's Constitution bars slavery, a new bill is pending before Parliament that would specifically outlaw this traditional form of bondage, which dates at least as far back as the 17th century and also persists in neighboring Togo, Benin and southwestern Nigeria.

Women have a particular interest in current negotiations to establish a permanent International Criminal Court (ICC). The proposed ICC would have jurisdiction to bring to justice those responsible for the most serious crimes under international law. A February 1997 PrepCom considered issues of jurisdiction, definitions and elements of crimes, and general principles of criminal law and penalties. Additional issues of standing, guiding legal principles, and cooperation with national court systems will be considered in upcoming PrepComs, to be held August 4-15 and December 1-12, 1997. Women's human rights advocates are concerned that the ICC recognize crimes of violence against women as within the ambit of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Contact: NGO Coalition for an International Criminal Court, (212) 599-1320.

Women in Kenya are among the most vulnerable prisoners in police custody. According to Interact, the bulletin of Amnesty International USA, two women, Jane Wanbui and Virginia Nyambura Wambui, were reportedly severely tortured after they were arrested for robbery and taken to Kiambu Police station in Kikuyu Township. They were later released on the order of a judge who determined that they had been tortured. AI asks concerned individuals to write to President Daniel Arap Moi, calling on him to ensure that those responsible for the torture of these two women are brought to justice.

Land reform in Nepal has been reformed to eliminate discrimination. The Land Reform Act 2021 in Nepal was challenged in court by the Forum for Public Interest as discriminatory to women. The Act contains a provision which denies the transfer of tenancy rights to the daughters of a tenant, whether married, unmarried or widowed. The Forum for Public Interest used the CEDAW Convention to argue the case. In January 1997 the Act was amended and now confers tenancy rights on daughters and daughters-in-law who are at least thirty-five years of age.

EMPLOYMENT - Convention Article 11

In El Salvador, US clothing retailer The Gap agrees to a Code of Conduct for its sub-contractors. According to the ICFTU newsletter, Free Labour World, The Gap has agreed that its sub-contractors, who operate in one of El Salvador's Free Trade Zones (FTZs), should abide by a Code of Conduct concerning labor standards that would be independently monitored. There has been considerable negative publicity worldwide concerning poor working conditions and subsistence wages received by the mainly female workforce that assembles clothing for The Gap. The labor news in El Salvador isn't all so reassuring, however. Free Labour World also reports that in the same year at least six enterprises in the country closed down to avoid being unionized, and then reopened under another name, having sacked all the unionized workforce.

Vienna Philharmonic agrees to admit women musicians. In February, Anna Lelkes, a female harpist who has been working with the orchestra on an adjunct basis for 26 years, became the first woman to formally join the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra since its founding 155 years ago. Consideration of the policy change raised both unique and common objections -- that the sound of the orchestra is attributable to its "maleness," and that maternity leave would cost money. Facing public pressure, and particularly the protests of women's groups during an overseas tour, the orchestra gathered in an extraordinary meeting and agreed to admit women, beginning with Ms. Lelkes. The decision was made possible by the Government's guarantee to pay the salaries of players who were substituting for women on maternity leave.

HEALTH AND REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS - Convention Articles 10, 12, 14 & 16

The Population Research Institute (PRI) calls for ban on NORPLANT use. PRI has called for NORPLANT to be removed from sale. PRI claims that the contraceptive implant is a "flawed drug delivery system" that carries unacceptably high risks; has the potential for causing serious disability; an unacceptably wide range of post-usage side-effects; an unknown long-term health risk and a possible link with increased HIV risk.

Global campaign to help women suffering after-effects of obstructed labor. According to the Women's Health Journal of the Latin American and Caribbean Women's Health Network, the Worldwide Fund for Mothers Injured in Childbirth is undertaking a global campaign to gather funds for women who have suffered obstructed labor. Especially in developing countries, prolonged labor is the frequent cause of obstetrical fistulae, which can severely damage the bladder and the rectum and lead to loss of urinary and bowel control. Lacking prenatal care and adequate care during childbirth, millions of African women have been affected by this serious, but preventable, condition. Contact: The Worldwide Fund for Mothers Injured in Childbirth, 7200 Sears Tower, Chicago, IL 60606, USA.

Honduran Church stops government condom giveaway. The Roman Catholic church in Honduras recently used its influence to prevent the distribution of condoms during primary elections. The Honduran Ministry of Health had planned to distribute more than one million condoms at polling places where voters from the country's two major parties were choosing candidates for the presidency and other offices, but government officials said they canceled the plans largely because of church objections. "I think that continuing with the attitude of wanting to block out the sun with a finger doesn't help at all in the fight against the evil," Enrique Zelaya, Vice Minister for Health, said of Church opposition to he plan, which was meant to combat AIDS. Honduras has the most severe AIDS problem in Central America, with 8,300 reported cases and 1,032 deaths registered since 1985.


The Vatican has agreed to consider a gender-inclusive English edition of Biblical readings for use during Mass. Developed by the Catholic bishops of the United States four years ago, the new edition substitutes, for example, "men and women" or "the human race" for "man" and "men". The Associated Press reported in December 1996 that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had agreed to form a working group of Vatican officials and US bishops to consider the revised language.

Liberal Women's Brain Pool (LEOS), the first women's NGO established in Mongolia after the country abandoned communism, is dedicated to championing the legal right of NGOs to address public issues, raising the awareness of the positive role NGOs can play in national development and increasing the participation of women in public life. For networking activities and mutual support contact: Oidov Enhtuya, Liberal Women's Brain Pool, Central Post P.B.O.99, Ulaanbaatar 11, Mongolia. Tel: 976--1-310-775, 976-1-310-372-865.

From January 1997, the Human Rights Database of the Law-On-Line project at the University of Hong will support only electronic archiving. If an electronic copy of your publication is available and you wish to send a copy via the internet to the Law-On Line for public access, the email address is: amena@lawhk.hku.hk.

Women's Rights Project/Human Rights Watch has released "All Too Familiar: Sexual Abuse of Women in U.S. State Prisons," which documents abuse directed against women prisoners in the US. For more information, call 202-371-6592.

A World of Widows, by Margaret Owen, provides a global overview of the status of widowhood, an issue that has long been neglected by human rights activists. The book is published by Zed Books Ltd., 7 Cynthia Street, London N1 9JF, UK, and First AVenue, Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey 07716, USA in 1996.

Women and Human Rights; The Basic Documents, is available from: Center for the Study of Human Rights, Columbia University, 420 West 118th Street, 1108 International Affairs Building, Mail Code: 3365, New York, NY 10027, USA. Tel:212-854-2479, Fax: 212-316-4587, Email: cshr@columbia.edu, WWW: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/humanrights.

Time to Speak Out: Illegal Abortion and Women's Health in Pakistan, a special bulletin by the organization Women Living Under Muslim Laws, is available from Shirkat Gah, Women's Resource Center, 208-Scotch Corner, Upper Mall, Lahore-Pakistan. Tel: 042-576-0764, 042-575-9372; Fax: 092-42-571-3714.

Root Causes: A Gender Approach to Child Sexual Exploitation, a WEDO report on the First World Congress Against Commercial Exploitation of Children is available. Contact WEDO, 355 Lexington Avenue, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10017-6603, USA. Tel: 212-973-0325; Fax: 212-973-0335; Email: wedo@igc.apc.org; WWW: http://www.wedo.org.

The International Human Rights Internship Program has staff development and training grants available for 1997-98. Application forms are available from the program's office: International Human Rights Internship Program, Institute of International Education, 1400 K Street, N.W., Suite 650, Washington, D.C. 20005, USA. Tel: 202-326-7725; Fax; 202-326-7763; Email: ihrip@iie.org.


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WOMEN'S WATCH is published by the IWRAW project, Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, USA. Editors: Marsha Freeman and Sharon Ladin. This issue was written with the help of Liu Dongxiao, IWRAW Cram-Dalton Fellow. IWRAW is a global network of individuals and organizations that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, an international treaty ratified by over 150 countries.

The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer. The Humphrey Institute is hospitable to a diversity of opinions and aspirations. The Institute does not itself take positions on public policy issues. The contents of this report are the responsibility of the editors. IWRAW is grateful to the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, Mertz-Gilmore Foundation, Shaler Adams Foundation, the Netherlands Foreign Ministry, SIDA and numerous other individuals and foundations for financial support. Contributions to the project are welcomed and are tax deductible for U.S. taxpayers.

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