Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women Holds Informal Meeting
with States, Discusses its Working Methods, the Backlash against Women’s Rights, and the Women, Peace and Security Agenda
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today held an informal meeting with States, discussing the Committee’s working methods, the backlash against women’s rights, and the women, peace and security agenda, among other issues.
In opening remarks, Gladys Acosta Vargas, Committee Chairperson, said this year was the fortieth anniversary of the Convention, which had 189 States parties. Its adoption in 1979 was a historic landmark agreement for humanity. Over the years, significant progress had been made in advancing the role of women in many States. Intensive social and institutional efforts were required, which was why a synergy of resources were necessary, as well as sanctions for noncompliance. At this session, the Committee would adopt its general recommendation 39 on the rights of indigenous women and girls. The Committee was deeply concerned about the current global situation as armed conflicts around the world were deeply impacting the human rights of women, their families, communities, and societies. States parties had an obligation to protect women and girls from all forms of gender-based violence, including in armed conflict, and to prosecute perpetrators. Currently the Committee was closely monitoring two conflicts to address the concerns of violations of the rights of women in these conflicts.
Committee Experts said the world was experiencing a reversal of generational gains in women’s rights while witnessing record numbers of violent conflicts. They spoke about the Committee task forces on Afghanistan and on Ukraine; the Committee’s work on women, peace and security; the backlash against women’s rights; and the Committee’s working methods and the simplified reporting procedure, among other issues.
Opening remarks were made by Committee Experts Bandana Rana, Genoveva Tisheva, Hiroko Akizuki, Nicole Ameline, and Hilary Gbedemah.
The following States took the floor: Colombia, Cuba, Russia, Mexico, China, Finland, Peru, Argentina, Mauritius, and Luxembourg.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s eighty-third session is being held from 10 to 28 October. 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 5 p.m. on Friday, 28 October, to close its eighty-third session.
GLADYS ACOSTA VARGAS, Committee Chairperson, said the Committee significantly valued the dialogue with States, which allowed progress made and challenges to be shared. This year was the fortieth anniversary of the Convention, which had 189 States parties. Its adoption in 1979 was a historic landmark agreement for humanity. The Convention set out that the rights of women were obligatory for States that had ratified it. Over the years, significant progress had been made in advancing the role of women in many States. Intensive social and institutional efforts were required, which was why a synergy of resources were necessary, as well as sanctions for noncompliance.
The Committee had been highly productive; since 1982, 187 countries had been reviewed out of the 189 States parties. In addition, the Optional Protocol had 115 ratifications. The Committee had continued the task of developing international standards on the rights of women despite the pandemic. Thirty-eight general recommendations had been adopted, providing guidance to States parties on measures to be adopted to meet their obligations under specific articles in the context of the Convention.
At this session, the Committee would adopt its general recommendation 39 on the rights of indigenous women and girls, the first time a human rights treaty body would provide advice exclusively on the discrimination of indigenous women and girls. The Committee was deeply concerned about the current global situation; armed conflicts around the world were deeply impacting the human rights of women, their families, communities, and societies. States parties had an obligation to protect women and girls from all forms of gender-based violence, including in armed conflict, and to prosecute perpetrators. Currently the Committee was closely monitoring two conflicts to address the concerns of violations of the rights of women in these conflicts.
BANDANA RANA, Committee Expert, presenting some highlights of the Committee’s work on women, peace and security, said the Committee had adopted general recommendation 30 on women in conflict prevention, conflict, and post-conflict situations in 2013. The Committee remained concerned about the current global conjuncture; the world was experiencing a reversal of generational gains in women’s rights while witnessing record numbers of violent conflicts. States parties had an obligation to protect women and girls from all forms of gender-based violence, including in armed conflict, and to prosecute perpetrators. Currently the Committee was monitoring two ongoing armed conflicts in Afghanistan and Ukraine through two separate dedicated task forces and its States reporting procedure.
In November 2021, the Committee established a task force on Afghanistan and requested the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs to submit an exceptional report on the situation of women and girls in the country since 15 August 2021. This had been the first interaction by a human rights treaty body with the Afghan de facto authorities. The taskforce on Ukraine was established in February 2022 to monitor the situation of Ukrainian women and girls. On October 18 and 19, the Committee held a constructive dialogue with Ukraine on its ninth periodic report which clearly informed about the dire situation of women and girls in the present conflict situation. Women and girls in Ukraine were among the victims of unlawful killings, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and other human rights violations committed in the context of the ongoing conflict.
Ms. Rana said the Committee looked forward to playing a key role in countering the backlash against women’s rights and gender equality, ensuring that women could play a transformative role in society, with political support from States parties.
GENOVEVA TISHEVA, Committee Expert, said the Convention was the most comprehensive source of universal standards for combatting discrimination against women. Representing a broad framework for countering all forms of discrimination against women, the Convention encompassed protection from all forms of gender-based violence. What was referred to as backlash over the last few years was the compound effect of conservative narratives, based on gender stereotypes and the effects of the COVID- 19 pandemic, with the exacerbation of gender inequalities. The attacks against women’s rights were particularly severe, in addition to the area of gender-based violence, in the sphere of sexual and reproductive health and rights. This was an area where the Convention and Convention jurisprudence provided for the protection of women’s access to health.
Ms. Tisheva said the best way to counter backlash was reinforcing the implementation of the international human rights standards and the Convention without delay. During the dialogues after the pandemic, it was positive to note that States reported on important initiatives for more effective implementation of the Convention, adopted new legislation on gender equality and gender-based violence, and increased girls’ involvement in education and women’s political participation, among other measures. Another tool for progress and against any backlash was the practice under the Optional Protocol, where the Views of the Committee under the communication procedure proposed recommendations and measures for more general transformative reparations and guarantees, like the adoption and amendment of legislation and policies, education, and training of professionals on gender equality and on the Convention.
HIROKO AKIZUKI, Committee Expert and Chairperson of the Working Group on Working Methods, said in accordance with the conclusions reached at the thirty-fourth meeting of Chairs of treaty bodies in June, the Committee decided to make the simplified reporting procedure the default procedure for its consideration of reports by States parties, with an opt-out option for States parties that wished to be reviewed under the traditional procedure. The simplified reporting procedure aimed to ease the reporting burden of States parties; strengthen their capacity to fulfil their reporting obligations; provide the Committee with more targeted reports; improve the effectiveness of the treaty monitoring system; and allow the Committee to plan its work in advance. The Committee also decided to establish a predictable eight-year schedule of reviews with a follow-up review in between, which would bring benefits, including improved predictability of the system, reduction of unnecessary repetition of recommendations, and the distinction between the main reviews and the follow-up reviews.
NICOLE AMELINE, Committee Expert, said global upheavals had a direct impact on human rights, and particularly on women's rights; however, women remained the primary forces for peace, development, and progress. The application of the Convention was a major, strategic response to the challenges faced. The Committee was mobilised on innovation and reform of the treaty bodies, the simplification of procedures, and new cooperation with other Committees, as well as synergy with the Special Procedures. The Committee mobilised efforts to respond to the urgency of crisis and conflict situations and listened to States in terms of strengthening their national capacities, in conjunction with United Nations entities and with civil society. However, nothing was possible without the effective consolidation of financial and human resources according to a multi-annual plan. The Committee anticipated future developments on the need for more inclusive and equal governance and it was hoped that with State support, the Convention would be the best pathway for accelerating progress and peace.
HILARY GBEDEMAH, Committee Expert, said over the last 40 years, the Convention had ensured through the Optional Protocol that women had access to justice in line with international human rights principles. Last year, 11 individual complaints were addressed. Since its entry into force, 187 communications had been registered, 42 of which were currently pending. Fifteen cases were ready for decision, but the Secretariat was unable to increase the number of draft recommendations due to existing constraints. The Committee called for increased resources on a sustainable basis to the Committee as well as other treaty bodies, to avoid delays, address the backlog, and close the protection gap. A total of seven inquiries had been undertaken, and it currently took seven years from the time a complaint was received till the inquiry report was issued. Currently, only one inquiry could be undertaken per year. The Committee continued to be concerned about the anti-rights pushback, exacerbated by the pandemic, which relegated millions of women and girls from work or school into domestic roles.
Interventions by States
Colombia said it was committed to the promotion of the rights of women and girls and had been implementing a feminist foreign policy. Yesterday, Colombia started a process of designating a new national plan of action on the resolution on women, peace and security, which was vital for a gender perspective to be applied effectively in decision making. The plan of action would be a tool addressing women’s themes and would be developed over the course of the year, along with a roadmap developed with organizations led by women. The plan adopted would be presented to the General Assembly in 2023.
Cuba said it had sent its periodic report to the Committee and hoped it had been well received. The Committee was under a lot of pressure but continued to persevere in its work. The pre-planned timetable needed to be transparent. Cuba could not support it as it was controversial and problematic. There had been backlogs faced by the Committee, including human resource pressures, and the timetables presented an additional pressure. The timetable for presenting reports before Committees at times coincided with the sessions of the Human Rights Council and this posed a disadvantage to small missions, making it difficult to present a report.
Russia said the review of individual communications should not lead to the lengthening of delays in reviewing national reports. The general recommendations were general views of members of the Committee and should not go beyond the framework of the Convention. Russia asked how the establishment of the taskforces for Afghanistan and Ukraine were justified; were there any other taskforces on other States and topics? Russia called on the Committee to correctly define the scope of the Convention and not make a connection with the women, peace, and security agenda of the Security Council. The concept of backlash on women’s rights had the support of a limited number of countries, and the promotion of this topic by the Committee appeared to be an imposition of neo-liberal positions on States. The simplified procedure for reporting had not stood the test of time, and undermined the value of the reporting procedure as a whole. The proposal to present national reports at a diminished frequency could lead to a situation where States incurred even greater delays in the presentation of their reports. Russia categorically opposed this form of reporting. It was appropriate to return to the original form of reporting.
Mexico welcomed the fortieth anniversary of the Convention and the valuable contributions made by Committee Experts over the years. The Committee’s general recommendations and reviews of reports of States parties had helped to bolster human rights and international standards. Mexico was committed to ensuring gender mainstreaming in the context of its foreign feminist policy. The Committee’s work would have a positive impact on women and girls living in situations of conflict.
China said the Committee had played an active role in championing gender equality and helping States parties honour their obligations under the Convention. China had always been promoting and advocating the principles of gender equality. China had been making steady contributions to the cause of women’s advancement, including calling for the convening of women’s global summits. The pandemic had further intensified the challenges for women. China called on all countries to pay special attention to the needs of women, both during the pandemic and during the post-pandemic recovery. China was looking forward to constructive dialogue with the Committee next year.
Finland asked if it was possible for the Committee to publish fact sheets or guides on the jurisprudence of the case law, as this would give more visibility to the Committee’s Views. The general recommendation on indigenous women and girls was a topic of great importance to Finland. It was important that the Committee was following the situations in countries and developing a thorough picture. Finland thanked the Committee for the analysis on backlash regarding women’s rights.
Peru said the Convention was a vital tool for States to combat discrimination against women. Peru welcomed the forthcoming adoption of the general recommendation on the rights of indigenous women and girls, and welcomed the open, participatory approach for developing the general recommendation. Peru called for greater recognition of the role of indigenous women and girls as leaders within their communities and hoped the general recommendation would be an effective tool for addressing the challenges faced by this group. The general recommendation recognised that indigenous women and girls had the right to enjoy all fundamental rights and freedoms recognised under international law.
Argentina said the development of general recommendation 39 was supported by Argentina, and it was hoped that this would be an effective tool for promoting and protecting the rights of indigenous women and girls. Women and girls affected by armed conflict were highly impacted in Argentina. Argentina categorially rejected sexual violence and promoted efforts to combat this and punish perpetrators. Argentina was concerned about the counter offences organised by some countries regarding the reproductive rights of girls and women, and was leading a United Nations core group against this.
Mauritius said it was committed to achieving social justice and gender equality, and ensuring that women were fully empowered to take part in the socio-economic and political activity of the country. Mauritius’ new national gender policy 2022–2030 provided a framework for collective action by public and private stakeholders. Legislative amendments had been made, including the amendment of the Domestic Violence Act. Mauritius welcomed the recommendations of the predictable schedule of reviews, which would increase synergies with treaty body reporting. Mauritius proposed that the scheduling of State reviews factor in the different sessions of the Human Rights Council.
Luxembourg supported the rights of women and girls and appreciated the work of the Committee. Luxembourg thanked the Committee for working on the simplified reporting procedure and appreciated the establishment of the taskforces on Afghanistan and Ukraine. It looked forward to the future dialogue with the Committee which would continue in spite of delays.
Responses by the Committee Experts
A Committee Expert said the taskforce on Afghanistan was established to submit a request for an exceptional report, which was in line with the Convention. The taskforce on Ukraine was formed to review the ninth periodic report of Ukraine. The engagement on women, peace and security issues was to address the full range of discrimination women faced, in line with the Convention’s mandate.
Another Committee Expert said 12 countries had decided to remain in the traditional reporting modality, instead of the simplified reporting procedure, and the decisions of States parties were fully respected. The purpose of the eight-year cycle was to reduce the reporting burden of the States parties. This should not undermine the quality of the report or the dialogue, which was why the follow-up review was kept in between.
One Committee Expert emphasised that the renewal of the working methods took place to clarify, to simplify and to provide for consistency. The simplification was a positive development, as the majority of States had supported this procedure.
A Committee Expert said the Committee issued recommendations for States parties on matters which affected the rights of women, including climate change, indigenous women, and conflict. These acted as guides to ensure the full rights of women. Contemporary issues were also addressed. Article eight of the Optional Protocol gave the mandate for the Committee to receive information of the violations of States parties of the rights outlined in the Convention.
GLADYS ACOSTA VARGAS, Committee Chairperson, thanked the Committee and States for the dialogue, which was held for the two sides to better understand the work of the Committee and the efforts made by States to uphold their obligations. There was a need to accelerate progress and development for women and girls and to enjoy all the rights that were theirs. This was very complex; it was clear that great difficulties were being faced, however, there were some very positive aspects, including general recommendation 39 which would be adopted this week. Ms. Acosta Vargas concluded by saying that countries would do better if women and girls could enjoy all the rights that were theirs. A greater participation of women in political processes would allow politics to be improved.
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