THE WOMEN'S WATCH
Volume 9, Number 4
CEDAW AND THE PLATFORM FOR ACTION
The fifteenth session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) opened on 15 January this year with the question of what role the Committee would have in implementing the Platform for Action. Although the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is the primary body that will monitor implementation of the Platform, the Platform itself states that CEDAW, in fulfilling its responsibility to monitor compliance with the Convention, should take into account the Platform for Action when considering the reports submitted by States parties. In his address on the opening day of the session, the Under-Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development, Mr. Nitin Desai, speaking on behalf of the Secretary-General, noted the importance of CEDAW in the follow-up to the Fourth World Conference. The Committee's discussion of this issue resulted in the adoption of revised guidelines concerning the form and content of government reports. From now on, States parties to CEDAW will be asked to include information on measures taken to implement the Platform. In particular, they are requested to take into account the twelve critical areas of concern in chapter III of the Platform for Action.
Following up on the recommendations of the Platform for Action also led CEDAW to adopt a formal decision concerning its areas of priority, which were congruent with the critical areas outlined in the Platform, and to outline a plan to coordinate with specific UN agencies in order to ensure that the implementation of the Convention remains in the mainstream of activities for the advancement of women. The priority areas and the specialized agencies associated with them are:
Cultural traditions and stereotypes, with UNESCO;
Poverty and structural adjustment programmes, with UNDP, UNIFEM, the World Bank and the IMF;
Violence, with WHO and UNESCO;
Health, with WHO and UNFPA;
Employment and migration, with the ILO and IOM;
Power and decision-making, with UNESCO and CSW;
Elderly women, with the programme for the elderly as well as disabled within the United Nations system;
Education, training and mass media, with UNESCO, ILO and the Department of Public information;
Rural women, with FAO and IFAD;
Refugee women with UNHCR.
The Committee will continue to designate a member to serve as a focal point with each United Nations entity, and efforts will be made to explore cooperation in relation to field-level activities and to develop further ways of integrating the Convention into the work of the United Nations system.
Decisions to help expedite the work of the Committee
At the time of the fifteenth session in January 151 countries had ratified or acceded to CEDAW. For some time the Committee has asked for adequate meeting time to reduce the backlog of government reports awaiting review. A draft resolution has finally been adopted by the General Assembly which would amend the Convention to allow the Committee to hold two meetings per year, each of three weeks duration and preceded by a one week pre-session working group. Pending ratification, an interim measure was adopted by the States parties immediately following the fifteenth CEDAW session which supports two three-week sessions annually from 1997 as a stop-gap until the Convention is formally amended. Unfortunately, the measure cannot be acted upon, because there is no budget allocation to cover the costs of an extra CEDAW session in 1997.
Financial constraints at the UN also played a part in the Committee's formal decision to shorten the official report on its annual proceedings by deleting the dialogue between States parties and the Committee. Only a summary of the initial oral presentation given by government representatives and the Committee's concluding comments on each reviewed country will become part of the official record. In its formal decision, however, the Committee noted that summary records of the whole "constructive dialogue" with the government representatives would be retained. These can be made available, as can the official record of the fifteenth session, to interested groups or individuals through the Division for the Advancement of Women at UN Headquarters in New York. It had been estimated in a pre-session document this year that, due to the cost of multiple translations, this reduction in the size of the official record would result in savings of approximately $58,400 per year. In the same decision the Committee reiterated the request it had made in 1995 that its concluding comments be transmitted to the States parties concerned immediately after the close of the session.
Emphasis on Concluding Comments
In order to make its conclusions on a particular country more effective, the Committee decided to adopt a practice used by other treaty bodies in their concluding comments. Concluding comments will be composed of relatively brief, concrete statements that summarize both the positive and negative aspects of the country review and also specific recommendations for action aimed at improving the State party's level of compliance with the Convention. Special responsibility for briefing the Committee on priority issues in each country is given in advance to one or two Committee members who are also responsible for drafting two or three pages of concluding comments immediately after the review is completed. These comments are discussed and revised by the whole Committee in closed meetings and adopted at the conclusion of the session. This year concluding comments were prepared for Belgium, Cuba, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Hungary, Iceland and Ukraine. Concluding comments were also derived from an oral presentation and discussion with the government representative of Rwanda on an exceptional basis.
Colloquium on monitoring the Convention
The weekend before the opening of the fifteenth session, IWRAW convened a colloquium with members of CEDAW and IWRAW network participants who have worked closely with the Convention for a number of years. Representatives of the Division for the Advancement of Women and UN specialized agencies also participated. This colloquium reviewed the achievements of the Committee and made specific recommendations intended to further strengthen its operation as the primary international forum for advancing the human rights of women.
During the fifteenth session CEDAW acted on several of the recommendations that were made during the IWRAW/CEDAW colloquium. Among these were suggestions for reviewing the reporting guidelines and further developing its system of country rapporteurs and concluding comments. The Committee also considered several other issues that had been raised in the colloquium, including relationships with NGOs and other treaty bodies, the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and reservations to the Convention.
Relationships with NGOs
The Committee has requested the Division to help it prepare for a formal discussion of the role of NGOs by providing a background paper analyzing the practices of the other human rights treaty bodies with regard to receiving information from NGOs and their participation in meetings.
Reservations to the Convention
The Committee also decided to hold a formal discussion on reservations at its next session. It has requested the Division to facilitate this discussion by providing the Committee with a review of what United Nations conferences have said about reservations; a review of comments about reservations made by women's human rights NGOs; a qualitative comparison of reservations to CEDAW with reservations to other treaties; and an analysis of States parties' reservations that are contrary to the object and purpose of the Convention or which are otherwise incompatible with international treaty law.
General recommendations on articles 7 and 8 of the Convention
The Committee agreed to continue at the next session its preparation of general recommendations on articles 7 and 8 on the basis of a working paper prepared at the fifteenth session and an additional text that will be prepared during the year.
Reports scheduled to be considered at the sixteenth session
The Committee welcomes independent information from non-governmental organizations. Any group or individual wishing to provide information on a particular issue or an entire report that would shed light on their government's efforts to comply with the articles of the Convention is invited to contact either the UN Division for the Advancement of Women in New York or IWRAW at the address given at the back of this newsletter. IWRAW submits reports each October to the members of the Committee based on information gathered from NGOs, academics and other experts, usually based within the review country. Contact IWRAW by phone, fax or email for further information on the reporting process.
The following countries have been invited to discuss their most recent periodic reports at the sixteenth CEDAW session in January 1997:
|Initial reports||Second periodic reports||Third periodic reports|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Morocco and Equatorial Guinea are the reserve countries this year, in the event that one or more of the above-mentioned States parties is unable to present its report.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Convention Articles 2 and 3
The Committee of Soldier's Mothers of Russia (CSMR) has been nominated by the International Peace Bureau (IPB) in Geneva for the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize. The Soldier's Mothers, who now have committees in 14 former Soviet republics, have organized meetings and demonstrations against the Chechen war, and have also undertaken direct action. Hundreds of women have traveled to Chechnya to demand the return of their sons; they have buried soldiers, united with Chechen mothers and negotiated the release of military men held by Chechen forces. They support neither the military actions of President Yeltsin nor those of the Chechen leader Dudayev. The IPB President has said that "these women have dared to challenge the militarism of a male-dominated society; they are civilians who are determined to ...defy the decisions of the military bureaucracy...and they have risked their lives in direct confrontations with a violent system." The CSMR was founded in 1989 and has worked with some success to improve conditions in the Russian military. Their most dramatic action so far has been the Mother's March for Life and Compassion of March 1995 into Chechnya, for which they have been evicted from their offices, thrown off trains and in other ways confronted by the Russian military. IPB says that they remain an active non-governmental organization, with a fully democratic structure, and are working for the survival of civilian democracy in Russia.
Women have been forbidden to work outside their homes, and girls are being expelled from schools in the areas of Afghanistan currently controlled by the fundamentalist faction called the Taliban. The regime imposed by the Taliban fighters, most of them very young men, now stretches across most of southern Afghanistan from the Pakistan border to Iran. They are so hostile to modern influence that, according to the New York Times (February, 1996) there have been public "hangings" of televisions, cassette players and stereo systems. Ironically, the Taliban faction began in 1994, in protest against the abduction and rape of a group of women by local warlords. Since that time the Taliban have systematically enforced purdah, the traditional arrangement whereby women do not come into contact with men outside their immediate families. Not only have women been prevented from finishing high school or college, but nurses in hospitals, the only public places where women are allowed to work, have to rely on their own, sometimes very limited training, to treat women patients. One elderly Afghan scholar, quoted by the New York Times, said "we are ruled now by men who offer us nothing but the Koran, even though many of them cannot read; who call themselves Muslims, and know nothing of the true greatness of our faith. There are no words for such people. We are in despair."
POLITICAL AND PUBLIC LIFE - Articles 7 and 8
Secretary-General Boutros Gali has appointed Rosario Green, a senior offical in the executive office of the Secretary-General, as his advisor on gender issues and to help ensure system-wide implementation of the Platform for Action. Green, a Mexican diplomat and the highest-ranking woman in the United Nations secretariat, will retain her position as Assistant Secretary General for political affairs. The first coordinator of women's issues in the United Nations system, Green will be dealing with problems arising from working conditions to the role of women in UN programs worldwide.
Angela King has been appointed the new Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women effective 1 February, 1996. In addition to managing the central United Nations program for the advancement of women, King will be responsible for the follow-up to the Beijing Conference. She will be working in close cooperation with Assistant Secretary-General Rosario Green. King first joined the United Nations Secretariat in 1966 from the Permanent Mission of Jamaica. From 1992 - 1994 she was chief of the UN Observer Mission in South Africa (UNOMSA), one of only two women who have headed a United Nations peace and security mission.
A regional organization for women parliamentarians from Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya was launched in December 1995 in Moshi, Tanzania. The Honourable Agnes Ndetei, MP and Vice Chair of the Democratic Party of Kenya, has been acting as Interim Secretary General. The organization's goals, in the spirit of recent presidential initiatives to open negotiations on East African cooperation, include exploring ways and means of facilitating communication among women parliamentarians of the three countries. Within each country the group's members will act as pressure groups to lobby for the advancement of women within and outside parliament; initiate motions in parliament to eliminate existing discriminatory laws; seek the domestication of international conventions on women's human rights and provide a network that will link women's parliamentary associations and international organizations.
HEALTH CARE AND FAMILY PLANNING - Articles 10, 12, 14 and 16
A new US law that restricts discussion of abortion and other reproductive health matters on the Internet has been challenged in federal court by reproductive rights and civil liberties groups. On February 8, President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. One section of the Act referred specifically to the Comstock Act, a nineteenth-century law that restricts the sending of material "of an indecent character" and "any article or thing designed or intended for the prevention of conception or procuring of abortion." While abortion has been legal in the US since 1973, this law has remained on the books. The new telecommunications legislation extends this nineteenth-century restriction to cover material sent via the Internet. The sponsor of this archaism, Senator Henry Hyde, is a long time opponent of abortion.
The new Act also prohibits use of the Internet to transmit "indecent" or "patently offensive" material, a very broad description that could include any reference to anatomy or sexuality. The day after the law was passed, reproductive rights groups filed suit in the US District Court in New York to stop enforcement. The request was denied after the court received assurance from US Attorney Zachary Carter that those who discuss abortion on-line would not be penalized. The law was also challenged in federal court in Philadelphia by a broad range of civil liberties organizations. The Philadelphia court ruled that the law's vague use of the word "indecent" is unconstitutional yet its restrictions on information that opposed "community standards" is reasonable. Both judges have requested establishment of three-judge panels to hear the cases fully, a procedure used in Constitutional cases that allows for direct appeal to the US Supreme Court. For further information: Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, New York, tel (212) 514-5534 ext. 250; fax (212) 514-5534.
Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori recently announced an aggressive government campaign to provide family planning services to low-income Peruvians. According to International Dateline, a newsletter partially funded by the United Nations Population Fund, the President's announcement, made during his second term inaugural speech in 1995, prompted an alarmed reaction from the Church hierarchy. The Peruvian Bishops conference issued a letter saying that "artificial" contraception was "morally unacceptable." Although Peru is 90 percent Roman Catholic, a 1994 poll showed that many Peruvians support Fujimori's position on family planning.
In an attempt to promote male awareness, 140 barbers in the Dominican Republic have been trained to serve as resource persons for family planning. According to the newsletter The Youth Round Up published in Denmark, the barbershops have been providing condoms as well as educational materials on family planning, fatherhood, STDs and AIDS and have become an information center for young men. The project has already seen an increasing demand for condoms.
RURAL WOMEN - Article 14
Ten rural women and women's groups from eight countries were awarded the 1995 Prize for Women's Creativity in Rural Life by the Geneva-based Women's World Summit Foundation. The object of the award, according to AIRD News last October 1995, is to honor the women's courage and creativity and to make known innovative work on the part of rural women that enhances their quality of life and contributes to sustainable development. The ten women who won cash awards come from Africa, Asia and Latin America. Prize winners include: Domitila Barrios of Bolivia, an internationally known grassroots leader; Lia Junqiao of China, who has built a village skills-training school; Lai Xiao, a Mongol herdswoman who has pioneered a scientific strategy for breeding and raising sheep; Gawaher Saad El Sherbini Fadi of Egypt, a leader of land reclamation cooperatives; Joan Abgo of Ghana who coordinates activities of rural women in farming and trading; Samuben Ujabhai Thakore and Ranbai Jemalji Rauma of India who shared one prize for leading a union of 14,000 rural women to secure employment programs from the government; Samake Nekani and Sangare Aminata of Mali also shared a prize for being effective group leaders; Huda Abdel-Elhameid of Sudan expanded her fishing abilities into a successful business; and The Coordinating Bureau for Women's Groups in Togo, led by Segou Tida, which trains women in poverty-stricken areas to earn and manage money, provide health care, food housing and clothing.
Chinese women farmers have become the key to China's economic growth, according to a study conducted by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). The study stressed that "China's remarkable economic growth has been both a cause and a result of the increased empowerment of rural women." However, the 131 page Rome-based IFAD report, "The Status of Rural Women in China," called for an expansion of training programs for women, particularly in remote, impoverished areas, as well as greater access to credit, including direct loans to women and stricter implementation of laws ensuring gender equality. Despite improved education, less than half of rural women in China can read, and most cannot borrow money to put into businesses or improve production. These constraints will have an increasingly negative effect as more men go to work in the cities and women become increasingly responsible for China's food production. IFAD President Fawzi-Sultan said that the study is one of the most extensive international surveys of rural women in the developing world.
MARRIAGE AND FAMILY LAW - Articles 5, 15 and 16
In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court of Nepal has ordered the Government to draft a new inheritance code that eliminates discrimination against women found in the current code. The court stated that the current provisions, giving women the right to inherit only if they attained the age of 35 unmarried or were married for more than 15 years was discriminatory and contrary to the Constitutional guarantee of equality. Lawyers challenging the code also argued that it is contrary to the provisions of the Women's Convention, which Nepal has ratified. The court determined that simply rendering this provision void could result in other inequities as to inheritance, and that in such a patriarchal and traditional society as Nepal a dramatic change in the law would be extremely disruptive unless it were thoroughly discussed within the society. Therefore the court ordered that a new code be presented after "making necessary consultations with the recognized Women's Organizations, sociologists, the concerned social organizations and lawyers as well," by August 1996. Information: Sapana Pradhan Malla, Development Law Associates, KA 1-105 Thapathali, Malla Niwas, P.B. 2923, Kathmandu, Nepal. Tel. (977-1) 233234; Fax 271 613/270 811.
Widows in Uganda narrated their sufferings in a mock tribunal organized for the general public by the Ministry of Gender and Community Development. According to the December 1995 New Vision, a Ugandan newspaper, the tribunal was intended to dramatize the ordeal that widows and children often undergo at the hands of their in-laws and its destructive effects on the society. Some women told of how they were locked out of their homes on the day their husbands had died. Others related the plundering of possessions and said that sometimes in-laws simply killed their relative's widow to get her out of the way. One Justice on the tribunal said the testimonies reflected ignorance of Uganda's marriage laws by both the culprits and the victims, while a woman Justice commented that the problem had less to do with the law than with the people themselves, the police and the local Councils. She said there was need for protective and progressive laws for women. Participants suggested that the Ministry makes the mock tribunal a yearly event.
IWRAW's newest publication, Assessing the Status of Women: A Guide to Reporting Under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, second edition, 1996 is now available. This manual is designed to serve as a framework for monitoring implementation of the Convention by individuals and women's groups and other non-governmental organizations. Produced jointly by IWRAW and the Women's And Youth Affairs Division, Commonwealth Secretariat, London, the manuscript was prepared by Jane Connors and Andrew Byrnes from a first draft by Chaloka Beyani. Copies are available from IWRAW for US$15.00, including postage and handling, payable in dollars only.
In conjunction with the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, CLADEM is publishing Human Rights For the 21st Century. It proposes to incorporate a gender perspective into the reformulation of human rights. CLADEM presented the first version of the document in workshops at the Beijing Conference. A revised version that includes the suggestions of other NGOs will be available in April 1996. Information: CLADEM, Apartado Postal 11-0470, Lima, Peru. Telfax: 51 1 463 92 37. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Organizing Committee for the People's Decade for Human Rights Education is publishing Our Human Rights: A Manual for Women's Human Rights Education. The original draft of the manual was distributed for comments at the Beijing World Conference. Written for women and girls of all ages to help educate each other about human rights, it is not a treatise on international law but rather a discussion about human rights in relation to our own lives. It includes practical exercises that encourage women to create their own strategies for demanding rights. The revised version will be published this year. Information: Organizing Committee for the People's Decade for Human Rights Education, 526 West 111th Street, #4E, New York, NY 10025. Tel: 1 212 749 3156, Fax: 1 212 666 6325.
Hlomelikusasa, a South African rural women's organization, has published a training manual, Women's Rights as Human Rights. This manual draws on Hlomelikusasa's (meaning 'skills for the future') own experience in promoting women's rights through education, empowerment and development. Information: c/o the Community Law Centre (CLC), 7th floor, Berea Centre, 249 Berea Road, Durban 4001, South Africa. Tel: 01027 31 202 7190; Fax 31 210140.
The Asian Women's Human Rights Council (AWHRC) Regional Secretariat moves from Manila to Bangalore, India as of April 1996. The new address is: 2124 1st A Cross, 16 Main H.A.L. II Stage, Bangalore, 660008, India, Telefax; 91 80 527 8628. The AWHRC Manila office will be maintained to implement its existing projects.
Russian Information Services, Inc. publishes and distributes books, magazines, and other materials about Russia, Central Europe, the Baltics, Central Asia, the Caucasus and Ukraine. The publications include An Anthology of Russian Women's Writing,, 1777-1992 edited by Catriona Kelly; The Sexual Revolution in Russia: From the Age of the Czars to Today, by Igor S. Kon. Further information or a catalog: RIS Publications, 89 Main Street, Suit 2, Montpelier, Vermont 05602, tel: 1 800 639 4301; fax; 1 802 223 6105.
WOMEN'S WATCH subscriptions policy. Women's Watch is sent free to groups and individuals in developing countries and on an exchange basis with libraries and documentation centres. Subscriptions are US$25 per year payable in US dollars only or an international money order. Subscriptions are renewable as of January 1 of each year. If you renew any time in 1995, your renewal will keep you on the list through 1996. Checks in US dollars on a US bank should be made payable to: IWRAW, Humphrey Institute. Other subscription points: In Great Britain and continental Europe, send subscriptions in pounds or Eurodollars to: IWRAW/Marianne Haslegrave, 6 Wood Lane, Braunston in Rutland, Leics, LE15 8 QZ, United Kingdom. In Australia, send to: Hilary Charlesworth, University of Adelaide, Law School, Adelaide, South Australia. In Canada, Susan Bazilli, METRAC, 158 Spadina Road, Toronto, Ontario M5R 2T8. In Japan, Japanese Ass'n of International Women's Rights, Bunkyo Women's College, 1196 Kamekubo, Ohi-machi, Iruma, Saitama 354 Japan.
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. Research assistants Akemi Kinukawa and Susan Pachikara contributed to the preparation of this issue. 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. citizens.
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