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Experts of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women Congratulate Bolivia for Campaign against Gender Stereotypes, Ask about Violence against Women and Human Trafficking

Meeting Summaries

 

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today concluded its consideration of the seventh periodic report of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, with Committee Experts congratulating it for a campaign seeking to combat gender stereotypes, and raising questions about violence against women and human trafficking.

Leticia Bonifaz Alfonzo, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Bolivia, congratulated Bolivia for its “Children for Equality” campaign, which sought to combat gender stereotypes.

Ms. Bonifaz Alfonzo asked whether there were plans to create a court that addressed violence against women specifically and not also corruption. She said that 84 per cent of cases involving sexual violence ended at the investigation stage and 45 per cent of cases were concluded without any form of punishment. What would be done to address impunity? What results had been achieved from training courses for judges?

Another Committee Expert noted that there was a council responsible for overseeing anti-trafficking policies, and two sub-ministerial units were responsible for identifying victims and perpetrators of trafficking. Was there an overlap between these institutions? A consolidated database on trafficking cases had been developed. What information did this database provide? How many victims of trafficking were currently serving sentences?

In response to questions, the delegation said violence against women was one of the most prevalent crimes in Bolivia. Violence was linked to economic and social inequalities, which had been exacerbated during the pandemic. During the pandemic, there was no system for recording incidences of domestic violence. Such a system had been introduced by the new Government. Measures needed to focus on combatting violence at the local level.

On the issue of human trafficking, María Nela Prada Tejada, Minister of the Presidency of Bolivia and head of the delegation, said Bolivia had multi-disciplinary specialised teams working on the issue of human trafficking, with multiple teams conducting investigations. Awareness raising and prevention raising workshops had been rolled out, focusing on the most vulnerable in society, including migrants, women, girls and teenagers. Mass grassroot campaigns had been launched as well as a campaign for victims, encouraging them to come forward and receive support. There were 148 people currently serving sentences in Bolivia for crimes of human trafficking, a number which had increased since 2020.

Introducing the report, Ms. Prada Tejada said that to combat violence against women, the Government had developed a draft law prohibiting such violence through a consultative process with civil society. Special courts for dealing with violence against women had been established. A total of 27 specialised prosecutors for dealing with violence against women had been appointed and 56 units had also been established to expedite court cases on violence against women. A commission for reviewing femicide and rape cases and release of perpetrators had been established, and this commission had identified various issues and developed immediate solutions to those. Femicide had been criminalised. Fifteen judges had been tried for releasing perpetrators.

In her concluding remarks, Ms. Prada Tejada thanked the Committee for the interactive dialogue and reiterated Bolivia’s commitment to upholding the rights and freedoms of Bolivian women.

Gladys Acosta Vargas, Committee Chair person, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue which had given the Committee a better understanding of the situation of women in Bolivia. The Committee looked forward to receiving Bolivia’s next report.

The delegation of Bolivia consisted of representatives of the Ministry of the Presidency; Ministry of Justice and Fundamental Rights; Ministry of Equal Opportunities; Plurinational Service for Women and Depatriarchalization; Ministry of Government; and the Permanent Mission of Bolivia to the United Nations in Geneva.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s eighty-second session is being held from 13 June to 1 July. All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage. Meeting summary releases can be found here. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed via the UN Web TV webpage.

The Committee will next meet at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 28 June for a briefing on a draft general recommendation on the rights of indigenous women and girls.

Report

The Committee has before it the seventh periodic report of Bolivia (CEDAW/C/BOL/7).

Presentation of Report

MARÍA NELA PRADA TEJADA, Minister of the Presidency of Bolivia and head of the delegation, said that since the cultural revolution of 2006, Bolivian women had sought to consolidate their rights. The Constitution had been revised in 2009 in collaboration with the indigenous population, and a normative framework, the Magna Carta, had also been established. Progress had been stopped by the coup d’état, during which time women’s rights were systematically violated. However, Bolivia had managed to recover its democracy and was in the process of rebuilding its social fabric. The Government had moved to dismantle the patriarchy. It was working to make Bolivia a hub for economic and social development.

To combat violence against women, the Government had developed a draft law prohibiting such violence through a consultative process with civil society. Special courts for dealing with violence against women had been established. A total of 27 specialised prosecutors for dealing with violence against women had been appointed and 56 units had also been established to expedite court cases on violence against women.

A commission for reviewing femicide and rape cases and release of perpetrators had been established, and this commission had identified various issues and developed immediate solutions to those. Femicide had been criminalised. Fifteen judges had been tried for releasing perpetrators. Two observatories on violence against women had been established. The Constitutional Court had issued a ruling requiring that perpetrators should only be released before the end of their sentences in cases of mental health. Training and capacity building programmes for judges were being updated to ensure that cases of gender violence were appropriately tried. The Criminal Code was also being modified to remove statutes of limitation from rape and femicide crimes.

Study programmes in State schools included courses on sexual health. Schools were prohibited from expelling students who were pregnant. Courses were also provided for teachers to raise awareness on sexual health and identity. Support had been provided for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community, and the Government worked to improve access to safe contraceptives.

The Government was also working to improve women’s access to land, and was supporting women who started their own businesses. There were also programmes for empowering indigenous women and Afro-Bolivian people. The State worked to support people with disabilities by enhancing support programmes.

Dismantling the patriarchy required changing the capitalist system and pursuing structural causes of violence against women.

NADIA ALEJANDRA CRUZ TARIFA, Ombudsperson of Bolivia, expressed appreciation for the progress made in Bolivia, as well as concern about the 46,774 complaints related to gender-based violence registered by the Public Prosecutor's Office during 2021, of which 8,513 corresponded to sexual violence against girls, adolescents and women. According to the United Nations Population Fund, Bolivia had the highest rates of sexual violence in Latin America.

Some 110 girls and adolescents fell pregnant each day in 2021, according to data from the Ministry of Health and Sports. Girls and adolescents were forced to carry to term a pregnancy resulting from rape, either due to the influence of agents such as the Catholic Church or the absence of clear procedures related to requests for abortions. Public health services only registered 559 legal abortions from 2014 to 2021, of which 62 per cent were pregnancies resulting from rape. Between 2020 and 2022, the Public Ministry prosecuted 186 women for aborting their pregnancies, although many of these women were victims themselves. Thousands of women and adolescents sought clandestine abortions that put their lives at risk.

Of the total court cases registered by the judiciary in 2021, 39 per cent corresponded to gender violence. There were violations of due diligence in investigations of such cases, especially by the police and prosecutor's office. A shared database on such cases had also yet to be developed.

Despite normative advances, to date there had been only one conviction out of 670 complaints of harassment and political violence. "Shared management" rules limited elected women’s representation within autonomous territorial units.

The Ombudsman urged the State to enact a sexual rights and reproductive rights law that promoted comprehensive sexuality education and allowed the voluntary termination of pregnancy; to cease criminal prosecution of women who terminated pregnancies; and to include forced pregnancy in the criminal definition of torture. It also urged the Committee to assign a special mission to follow up and monitor the investigative processes of violence against women carried out by the Public Ministry, Institute of Forensic Investigations and the Police.

Questions by Committee Experts

LETICIA BONIFAZ ALFONZO Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Bolivia, said that the 2009 Constitution provided an updated framework for human rights, and now the Constitutional values should become a reality. Much progress had been made since the last report.

Ms. Bonifaz Alfonzo asked whether there were plans to create a court that addressed violence against women specifically and not also corruption. She said that 84 per cent of cases involving sexual violence ended at the investigation stage and 45 per cent of cases were concluded without any form of punishment. What would be done to address impunity? What care was provided to indigenous women in court proceedings? Were there legal barriers that prevented adolescent victims from filing complaints? Such adolescents required parental permission to file complaints. What results had been achieved from training courses for judges?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that there were over 1,000 judges, many of whom were on temporary appointments. There were plans to overhaul the justice system and put an end to temporary appointments. The State intended to prioritise cases of violence against women and children. The Criminal Code would be amended to combat violence against women. Bolivian police prioritised cases of femicide, and had processed 85 per cent of cases.

There was a Vice-Ministry of Indigenous Justice that pursued justice for indigenous people. The role of indigenous authorities in dismantling the patriarchy and tackling violence against women was being strengthened. Femicide did not go through indigenous courts, but special support was provided by the judiciary in cases of violence involving indigenous persons.

Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee Expert congratulated the head of delegation on being the first female Minister of the Presidency. The Expert said that the Committee had previously recommended establishing a dedicated Ministry for implementing policies related to promoting women’s rights and dismantling the patriarchy. Would the State party consider establishing such a Ministry? What COVID-19 prevention policies had incorporated a gender perspective? When would the new Ombudsperson be appointed? Would the State consider developing a national action plan related to Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security?

Another Committee Expert congratulated Bolivia for its Constitutional framework, which included legal regulations for implementing temporary special measures. National elections had been held in 2019 and 2020, and sub-national elections in 2021. Had the State party achieved quota measures in terms of the participation of women in these elections, and what was society’s perception of such quotas? Were quotas also established for local and indigenous councils, particularly for indigenous and Afro-Bolivian women? Temporary special measures had seemingly not been implemented in educational, economic or social security spheres. Were there plans to implement such measures? Were there measures in place to support women with disabilities or Afro-Bolivian women?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that the Plurinational Service for Women and Depatriachisation had assessed land distribution to aid indigenous women’s access to land. Availability of medical services had also been approved through this Service’s legislative reform. Parental leave was required to be shared between fathers and mothers. Budgeting for this Service had been increased this year. The percentage of women in the Plurinational Assembly had risen from 12 per cent in the 1980s to 45 per cent in 2022. The percentage of women in municipal councils in 2004 was 15 per cent, but now stood at 51 per cent. The Government expected women to occupy 50 per cent of magistrates’ positions by 2030, and was pursuing training to support increasing the number of female magistrates. Female representation in the Senate was at over 50 per cent.

The Government was preparing to elect a new Ombudsperson in the coming days. One of the structural causes of the 2019 crisis was racism. Many indigenous persons who took to the streets in protest had had their rights violated. The Government was working to provide justice for the indigenous people affected by the 2019 crisis.

There was a national fund established for supporting women with disabilities. Various projects aimed at women had also been implemented. Female victims of violence who had a disability were identified in data collected by the State.

In response to a follow-up question on the perception of temporary special measures directed at women, the delegation said that some people were against parity in public institutions, but much progress had been made, and the public’s impression of these measures was generally positive.

Questions by Committee Experts

LETICIA BONIFAZ ALFONZO, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Bolivia , congratulated Bolivia for its “Children for Equality” campaign, which sought to combat gender stereotypes. There had been counter campaigns run by religious groups in response to these. What was the State doing in response to the counter campaigns?

Had domestic violence increased during the pandemic? Justice was being denied to adolescent victims of rape, as perpetrators were often not issued the harsher sentence of 15 years imprisonment established for rape of a minor. Were there efforts to implement this legislation on rape? What measures were being taken to provide victims of rape with access to the morning-after pill and abortions?

Another Committee Expert said that there was a council responsible for overseeing anti-trafficking policies, and two sub-ministerial units were responsible for identifying victims and perpetrators of trafficking. Was there overlap between these institutions? A consolidated database on trafficking cases had been developed. What information did this database provide? What forms of trafficking had police been punished for? Courts had received 600 cases of trafficking up to 2020, but rejected 524 of these cases. How many victims of trafficking were currently serving sentences? Shelters for victims of violence accepted victims of trafficking, but were there plans to establish dedicated shelters for victims of trafficking? It was commendable that foreign victims of trafficking were provided with humanitarian visas, but processing of visa requests often took years. Were there plans to expedite the process? Why were prostitutes stigmatised, despite prostitution being legalised?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that the State party needed to work to ensure that the voluntary interruption of pregnancy was legalised, and would appreciate the help of the international community in this regard.

Violence against women was one of the most prevalent crimes in Bolivia. Violence was linked to economic and social inequalities, which had been exacerbated during the pandemic. During the pandemic, there was no system for recording incidences of domestic violence. Such a system had been introduced by the new Government. Measures needed to focus on combatting violence at the local level.

MARÍA NELA PRADA TEJADA, Minister of the Presidency of Bolivia and head of the delegation, said Bolivian legislation provided for the criminalisation of human trafficking. Bolivia had multi-disciplinary specialised teams working on the issue of human trafficking, with multiple teams conducting investigations. Awareness raising and prevention raising workshops had been rolled out, focusing on the most vulnerable in society, including migrants, women, girls and teenagers. Mass grassroot campaigns had been launched, including a campaign for victims, encouraging them to come forward and receive support. These campaigns had been endorsed by Bolivian celebrities and were also promoted on social media. There were 148 people currently serving sentences in Bolivia for crimes of human trafficking, a number which had increased since 2020.

The delegation said there had been a meeting in Bolivia to counter human trafficking on 29 May, which had adopted a new national policy on this issue. This was a holistic approach which had a cross-cutting gender focus, and a human rights-based focus, in line with international standards. Guidelines to counter human trafficking included international cooperation; the strengthening of the border and migration policy; and care for victims of trafficking, among others. Awareness-raising on trafficking was a key focus, including for those working in the tourism industry. Progress had been made to ratify treaties in the field of human trafficking, most recently with Argentina and Peru. In Bolivia, sex work was not prohibited, and was therefore considered legal. Steps were being made to ensure that women who participated in sex work were not being sexually exploited, and were being given health care in their field of work.

Questions by a Committee Expert

A Committee Expert congratulated the delegation for all that had been done to ensure that Bolivian women could fully participate in the political life of the State. How did the Bolivian authorities react to cases of sexual harassment against women in politics? What was being done to prevent such attacks? Had there been recent actions condemning these attacks? Was political representation of women rising in rural areas?

Responses by the Delegation

MARÍA NELA PRADA TEJADA, Minister of the Presidency of Bolivia and head of the delegation, said Bolivia had made huge strides forward when it came to women in politics. A mechanism was in place which provided immediate defence for female politicians if they faced cases of harassment or violence. A gender unit was established in 2017 which pursued action to prevent and follow up on cases of political harassment and violence. Workshops were in place on awareness raising on harassment, with a preventative approach. These sessions had been held with the Supreme Court, bringing together elected officials from different bodies. Since 2006, following the cultural revolution, the country had seen historic levels of women in public decision-making posts, including women from different sectors of society.

The delegation said that the act of political harassment contained a mechanism for complaints. In 2022, the protection mechanism had been launched for women who lodged complaints on harassment.

Questions by a Committee Expert

A Committee Expert asked the delegation to elaborate on if and how comprehensive sex education was being implemented effectively? Did the curriculum cover topics such as gender-based violence and early pregnancy? What measures were in place to protect girls against sexual violence? What steps were being taken to prevent school dropouts? What was being done to allow girls to return to school after pregnancy? How was the State overcoming the rural and urban divide in education? What was the impact of the 20 per cent quota for indigenous teachers?

Responses by the Delegation

MARÍA NELA PRADA TEJADA, Minister of the Presidency of Bolivia and head of the delegation, said the Ministry of Education had launched additional training courses for teachers with a sexual education content, covering topics like sexual orientation and gender identity, HIV/AIDS and early pregnancy. Training had been implemented on contraceptives, and condoms had been distributed in health departments. Legal counsels were in place to provide support to victims of sexual abuse and provide guidance to professionals. A campaign had been held which focused on teenage pregnancies, and a regulation was in place to guarantee education for students who were pregnant. Great strides had been made to try and avoid dropout.

The Minister said that there were 25 regional curricula which had been put together by indigenous communities. Textbooks were being put together in 18 indigenous languages, with the view to support traditional knowledge and the many alphabets in indigenous languages of Bolivia. Last year, 2021, had been declared the year of recovery for education following the pandemic. In 2021, more than 100 videos and recordings had been issued in 26 indigenous languages with the aim of reaching all communities. Today there were more women with public university diplomas than men.

Questions by a Committee Expert

A Committee Expert said an issue of concern was the high level of girls who were mothers, and as such the high dropout rates from school. What had the State party done to tackle this challenge? The high level of illiteracy was also a concern. The Expert noted that there were a significant number of women in rural areas who did not know about the internet, and did not know how to use modern technology. What was the State doing to reach those older women, particularly in rural areas and in indigenous communities?

Responses by the Delegation

MARÍA NELA PRADA TEJADA, Minister of the Presidency of Bolivia and head of the delegation, said the State was working on a programme with the United Nations Children’s Fund to address the digital divide. Innovative programmes had been launched to reach children and adolescents, with a view to including boys, girls and adolescents in science, engineering, maths and technology. This included free robotics training in secondary schools; science camps; and the science Olympics. New hubs were being created across the country, with programmes being launched to promote technologies.

Questions by Committee Experts

LETICIA BONIFAZ ALFONZO, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Bolivia, noted that nearly 90 per cent of men had work in the formal sector, compared to around 40 per cent of women. Were there public policies in place to combat the high levels of women working in the informal sector? What was being done to ensure the co-responsibility of household tasks between men and women? How would Bolivia ensure that the laws would be properly implemented to ensure that girls in urban areas would not have to work, but instead could follow their education?

A Committee Expert welcomed the progress made on women and girls’ health. The issue of safe and legal abortion was a concern. What would be done as an urgent action to prevent early pregnancies? Did the State intend to provide free contraception which did not require a prescription, particularly to women with disabilities and rural women? The Expert noted that online access to health care or telemedicine could be a tool when it came to plugging the gaps in health care. The current law allowed for abortion in case of incest, rape, or health risks. However, access was limited which meant women often turned to unsafe abortions. Would legislation be amended to decriminalise abortion and provide access to safe and legal abortions? What was being done to lower the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, particularly for sex workers?

Responses by the Delegation

MARÍA NELA PRADA TEJADA, Minister of the Presidency of Bolivia and head of the delegation, said despite the strides made in health care, there was still more that needed to be done. The Government recognised teenage pregnancy as a key issue and source of great trouble. One of the key problems in addressing this sensitive issue was how to tie this in with high rates of maternal mortality, which were often due to unsafe abortions. Many medical professionals were hesitant to carry out interruptions of pregnancy as it was taboo. Action had been taken to reverse this position, including supporting institutions that were able to provide these legal terminations of pregnancy. One of the major gaps which needed to be filled involved a lack of understanding on reproductive health. To tackle maternal mortality, the State was improving the care provided to mothers during their pregnancy and delivery. Women were able to receive cash support, for pre-natal health checks, to ensure the health of their unborn child.

The delegation said that 40,000 health care clinics had been established, backed up by tele-health services in more remote parts of the country. The issue of legal termination of pregnancy was multi-faceted. Capacity building among health care professionals needed to be continued, and the Government was working closely with non-governmental organizations on the issue of informed consent. The Government had also been working with health care professionals to raise awareness in order to make sure that women undergoing abortions were not stigmatised. A roadmap and handbook for specialised care in this area were being developed.

MARÍA NELA PRADA TEJADA, Minister of the Presidency of Bolivia and head of the delegation, said a handbook had been created for the health care of persons with disabilities, and how their needs could be best met by health professionals.

Question by a Committee Expert

LETICIA BONIFAZ ALFONZO, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Bolivia, noted that no reference was made to the case where a girl’s right to pregnancy was not respected.

Responses by the Delegation

MARÍA NELA PRADA TEJADA, Minister of the Presidency of Bolivia and head of the delegation, said this was a case which had moved Bolivians. The Government condemned all violations of the rights of girls. The State had been trying to correct failings when it came to legal abortions, so cases such as this did not happen again. This was often connected to health establishments, or the way in which the media manipulated the issue, which the Government was addressing.

Questions by a Committee Expert

A Committee Expert asked what steps the State party was taking to generate disaggregated data and establish the basis of a social protection system, which included women in vulnerable jobs and domestic workers? Had the State party considered doing a time use study to outline the strategies men and women used to sustain livelihoods? What steps were being taken to improve women’s technological skills to enable them to scale up their businesses? A programme had been developed to fight poverty; had progress been achieved as a result of this programme? What strategies were being employed within this initiative to enhance the economic empowerment of women? Would the State party consider using temporary special measures to increase land ownership for women, particularly in rural areas?

Responses by the Delegation

MARÍA NELA PRADA TEJADA, Minister of the Presidency of Bolivia and head of the delegation, said the State was trying to ensure that all could enjoy appropriate living conditions and to close gaps. A reduction had been seen in the gap in formal employment between men and women. The comprehensive act on pensions aimed to reduce the legal age for retirement. The President of Bolivia aimed to eliminate any form of discrimination against women. Productive employment was being promoted and prioritised. Efforts were being undertaken to give visibility to the economic contributions made by women through non-renumerated work. The Government promoted community-based activities by granting funding for investment. Women were supported through micro-enterprises to allow those in the agricultural industry to diversify. Access for women in rural areas to land was a priority. The constitutionalisation of the land rights for women in 2016 had helped to favour peasant women who did not have access to land rights and titles and represented great progress. Some 1.1 million women in Bolivia today had their own land rights and titles over agricultural land.

Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee Expert noted that more than 36 per cent of women in Bolivia lived in rural areas, and more than 80 per cent of these women were poor. What was being done to eradicate the structural policy blighting rural women? What measures had been taken to improve women’s access to basic services in health care, victim support, justice or education? What measures were being taken to review cases of women who were detained for minor crimes and give them access to a fair trial?

The Expert noted that lesbian and bi-sexual women were currently unable to marry in Bolivia; what was being done to guarantee minimum standards of recognition of the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex women? What was being done to protect young girls working in dangerous extraction jobs?

Another Committee Expert noted that the Family Code lacked a minimum age of marriage, which could lead to forced marriages. When would a minimum age of marriage be established? Would the State party consider conducting a comprehensive research study on early and forced marriage? How was the State ensuring that men and women had the same rights and obligations in marriage?

Closing Remarks

MARÍA NELA PRADA TEJADA, Minister of the Presidency of Bolivia and head of the delegation, thanked the Committee for the interactive dialogue and reiterated Bolivia’s commitment to upholding the rights and freedoms of Bolivian women. Violence exercised over the body and mind of women stemmed from a patriarchal culture which was entrenched in Bolivian society. Bolivia was committed to achieving equal rights for women.

GLADY ACOSTA VARGAS, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue which had given the Committee a better understanding of the situation of women in Bolivia. The Committee looked forward to receiving Bolivia’s next report.

 

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CEDAW22.023E