Civil Society Organizations Brief Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on the Situation of Women in Panama, Uganda and Senegal
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon heard from representatives of non-governmental organizations and a national human rights institution on the situation of women’s rights in Panama, Uganda and Senegal. The report of Gabon will also be reviewed this week but no speakers took the floor on that country.
In relation to Panama, a non-governmental organization spoke about sexual and gender-based violence being perpetrated against Haitian and other Black women migrating through Panama’s Darien Gap to the United States.
Non-governmental organizations speaking on Uganda said that adolescent girls in Uganda lacked access to sexual and reproductive health services and information. Uganda was urged to better implement sanctions against perpetrators of female genital mutilation, as many crimes went unpunished. Women with disabilities faced multiple forms of discrimination when seeking health services, education, political representation, employment, and access to justice. Uganda was urged to protect the rights of women human rights defenders, particularly those working with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community and those protecting the rights of sex workers.
On Senegal, a non-governmental organization spoke of the endemic nature of rape in the country. For cultural reasons, denouncing rape was not easy.
The following non-governmental organization spoke on Panama: the Haitian Bridge Alliance.
The following non-governmental organizations spoke on Uganda: Centre for Reproductive Rights, Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum, Franciscans International, Islamic Women’s Initiative for Justice, Law and Peace, National Union of Women with Disabilities in Uganda, Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa, and the Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda.
The following non-governmental organization spoke on Senegal: Association of Senegalese Jurists.
Clarissa Martinez, Deputy Public Defender of Panama, said research was being done and information gathered on women deprived of their liberty. Eduardo Leblanc Gonzalez, Public Defender of Panama, spoke about the violence affecting women crossing the Darien area.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s eighty-first session is being held from 7 to 18 February. All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage. Meetings summary releases can be found here. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/ .
The Committee will next meet at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, 8 February to start its consideration of the seventh periodic report of Gabon (CEDAW/C/GAB/7).
Opening Remarks by the Chair
GLADYS ACOSTA VARGAS, Chairperson of the Committee said that this was the first opportunity during the present session for non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions to provide country-specific information on the implementation of the Convention by the States parties whose reports would be considered during the first week of the session, namely Gabon, Panama, Senegal and Uganda. A second remote meeting would take place on Monday, 14 February from 3 to 4 p.m., when they would be invited to provide country-specific information on the States parties whose reports would be considered during the second week of the session, namely Uzbekistan, Peru, Lebanon and the Dominican Republic.
Discussion with Non-Governmental Organizations on Panama, Senegal and Uganda
A Non-Governmental Organization from Panama noted sexual and gender-based violence being perpetrated against Haitian and other Black women migrating through Panama’s Darien Gap to the United States, as a clear example of intersectional discrimination. Panama must respond directly and specifically to problems affecting Black migrant women. Black women and adolescent girls between the ages of 12 and 24 had reported being gang raped by armed men who took them from large groups of migrants travelling together. It was foreseeable that people would continue to transition through the Darien Gap, meaning the situation was anticipated to be ongoing. Other States parties in the Americas played a large role in the underlying circumstances that gave rise to large numbers of black women needing to migrate through Panama’s Darien Gap.
One non-governmental organization said that adolescent girls in Uganda lacked access to sexual and reproductive health services and information, stating that 46 per cent of pregnancies among women aged 20 and younger were unintended, with 15 per cent of those pregnancies ending in abortions, most of which were unsafe, with the situation even worse for criminalised women and women in refugee settings. Uganda should adopt and implement legislation and programmes to ensure the best attainable standard of sexual and reproductive health for adolescents and marginalised women, and put in place measures to ensure that women in refugee settlements were protected from sexual and gender-based violence.
On female genital mutilation, the cultural weight of this practice as a rite of passage into adulthood still overrode the implementation of the 2010 act prohibiting female genital mutilation in Uganda, with many women unaware of the legislation, another non-governmental organization said. Criminalisation of the process had led to an increase of performing female genital mutilation in remote areas, which further endangered the lives of women and girls. Uganda must ensure a better implementation of sanctions against perpetrators of female genital mutilation, where many crimes went unpunished, accompanied by a full-fledged inclusive and preventative approach.
The issue of Muslims in Uganda was discussed, with a non-governmental organization noting that Muslim women had to navigate systemic challenges and intersectional discriminations in their marriages and family lives stemming from negative patriarchal interpretations of religion. Despite the 1995 Constitution acting as subordinate courts for Muslim family issues, this was informally managed by all male panels who imposed deeply patriarchal approaches to marriage disputes. Many underage Muslim girls and women were also in forced or unregistered marriages, with only 6 per cent of all marriages recorded. Uganda should establish formalised Qadhi courts that catered for the needs of all genders, supporting the process of registration of Muslim marriages and providing clear procedures for marriage and divorce.
The issue of women with disabilities in Uganda was highlighted, as they faced multiple forms of discrimination when seeking health services, education, political representation, employment, and access to justice. Only 9 per cent of children with disabilities of school going age attended school and around 70 per cent of girls with disabilities experienced sexual violence before reaching adulthood. Economic empowerment was key to women with disabilities. Challenges had been worsened by the pandemic.
A non-governmental organization drew attention to Uganda’s complex legal system, the absence of a comprehensive family law, and the delay in enacting the Marriage Bill in Uganda. Reservations to the Maputo Protocol should be lifted by Uganda to ensure women equal rights in their marriages and families, and there was a need to implement measures aimed at eliminating polygamy. Judicial access and legal aid and support were needed for women who had been dispossessed of housing, land and property in disputes. All customary principles and practices against the dignity, welfare or interest of women, must be codified, including those based on a male guardianship system.
A non-governmental organization asked Uganda to protect the rights of women human rights defenders, particularly those working with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community and those protecting the rights of sex workers. Uganda should engage with civil society to review and reform the Anti-Terrorism Act (Amendment) of 2015, the Computer Misuse Act, 2011, the NGO Act, 2016, the Penal Code Act, the Anti-Homosexuality Act and Anti-Pornography Act, because of current flaws with these acts. The enactment of a single law on the protection of human rights defenders was an important step forwards, but insufficient without a holistic review of the legislative environment in order to address the root causes of the violence and discrimination that women human rights defenders faced in Uganda.
Concerning Senegal, a non-governmental organization noted progress made since the adoption of the 2001 Constitution, which introduced a new status for women and introduced a qualification and criminalisation of rape and paedophilia. Noting the endemic nature of rape in Senegal, the speaker said that the law of silence reigned and, for cultural reasons, denouncing rape was not easy. The Family Code posed several problems: the rights of women were harmed, as well as those of the child. Parental authority was in fact exercised solely by the father, who also had the right to designate the marital home. The Family Code authorised marriage at the age of 16, which was detrimental to the development of young girls. For cultural reasons, women still had difficulty accessing land; while nothing that the law theoretically opposed this, the speaker said it would take a "cultural revolution" to overcome the duality between law and custom.
Questions from Committee Members
In regard to the speaker from Senegal who had called for a “cultural revolution” to overcome the gap between law and practice, an Expert asked about the most important factor for triggering this revolution. Was it necessary to involve religious authorities in this process? Another Committee member asked about domestic violence in Senegal and noted that there was limited access to abortion as men dominated parental authority, asking what services and support were made available to women in this situation.
Responses from Non-Governmental Organization
Responding to questions from the Committee, the non-governmental organization from Senegal specified that women must themselves be trained and made aware of the fact that, contrary to beliefs, they had the same right to access land – this access itself conditioned even the economic integration of women. Women must therefore be convinced to fight for their rights. The problem of domestic violence was not linked to religion.
Discussion with National Human Rights Institution from Panama
CLARISSA MARTINEZ, Deputy Public Defender of Panama, stated that the Ombudsperson of Panama for the protection of women had 14 centres across the country. These centres had received complaints connected to violations of labour law, due process, the right to housing, access to justice, social benefits and free circulation. Since March 2020, a microsite had been implemented, providing an analysis of complaints brought to the public prosecution service. The Public Defender’s office would continue to follow up on the findings regarding the deprivation of liberty and to gather information on women deprived of their liberty. Workshops and training had been held in response to gender-based violence on migrants and refugee people, with a presence in migrant areas.
EDUARDO LEBLANC GONZALEZ, Public Defender of Panama, spoke about the violence affecting women crossing the Darien area. It was important to ensure the public prosecution of perpetrators. More information would be provided in writing.
The interpretation was then suspended.
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