Civil Society Organizations Brief the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on the Situation of Women in Spain, Slovakia and Venezuela
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon heard from representatives of non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions about the situation of women’s rights in Spain, Slovakia and Venezuela, whose reports the Committee will review this week.
The Committee will also review the report of Iceland on Monday, 22 May, but there were no representatives of civil society present from that country.
In relation to Spain, speakers raised concerns around incest, inequality faced by Roma women, and discrimination against women who did drugs.
Concerning Slovakia, speakers raised, among other subjects, discrimination experienced by Romani women and girls, and issues faced by transgender people.
Non-governmental organizations speaking on Venezuela raised issues, including the criminalisation of abortion, the disproportionate impact of unilateral coercive measures on women and girls, and femicide.
The Second Deputy Public Defender of Spain spoke on Spain, as well as the following non-governmental organizations: Alanna; Mamás Protectoras; Secretariado Gitano; Plataforma Sombra CEDAW - Estambul – Beijing; Red de Mujeres Latinoamericanas y del Caribe; and Metzineres.
The Policy and International Affairs Officer from the Slovak National Centre for Human Rights spoke on Slovakia, as well as the following non-governmental organizations: Centre for Civil and Human Rights (Poradňa) and Saplinq.
The Public Defender of Venezuela spoke on Venezuela, as well as the following non-governmental organizations: 100% Estrógeno; Acceso a la justicia; Asociación Civil Sures; Cepaz; COFAVIC; IIRESODH; Observatorio Venezolano de los Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres; ULA Mujer; Fundación Género con clase; and Movimiento Feminista Popular
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s eighty-fifth session is being held from 8 to 26 May. All 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, 16 May to review the ninth periodic report of Spain (CEDAW/C/ESP/49).
Opening Remarks by the Committee Chair
ANA PELÁEZ NARVÁEZ, Committee Chairperson, said this was the second opportunity during the present session for non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions to provide information on States parties whose reports were being considered during the second week of the session, namely Spain, Slovakia, Venezuela and Iceland.
Statements by Non-governmental Organizations from Spain, Slovakia and Venezuela
Alanna said that in Spain, adequate measures were not being taken to protect children and mothers who reported parental sexual abuse, or incest. Children were being forced to see their abusers and interact with them regularly. There needed to be an urgent commission of investigation in the Senate, which needed to ensure that children who had been forced to live with their aggressors were returned to their mothers. It also needed to be ensured that incest was considered as gender-based violence.
Mamás Protectoras said children had suffered sexual violence at the hands of their fathers in Spain. When this was reported to the court, those reporting were accused of being perpetrators of “parental alien syndrome,” which was based on gender stereotypes. Many mothers were sentenced to prison simply for seeking to protect their children. There needed to be an investigation into those perpetrating the abuse.
Secretariado Gitano said gypsy women and girls faced severe inequality in Spain. The report submitted to the Committee made scant reference to gypsy women and girls. This group faced a worrying situation and there needed to be specific tailored responses for them, spearheaded by public authorities. There was a need to ramp up temporary special measures directed towards gypsy women and girls, to give them equal opportunities and prevent them from being excluded.
Plataforma Sombra CEDAW - Estambul – Beijing said Spain was the biggest consumer of prostitution in Europe and one of the main destinations for trafficking. A comprehensive law had not yet been passed and there were scarce resources and care measures in this area. The Spanish State also promoted sexist stereotypes in schools under the new transgender law. Furthermore, there was a lack of gender perspective in the State’s budgeting, and women in vulnerable situations, including migrant women and prostitutes, were excluded from emergency funds and resources.
Red de Mujeres Latinoamericanas y del Caribe said although there had been positive changes in Spain, these were not reaching all women, particularly migrant women. Data, surveys, studies and gender-based violence campaigns excluded migrant women. There were also obstacles for migrant women in irregular administrative situations, and these women were often victims of sexual violence. It was hoped that a recommendation could be made to Spain to ensure that the rights of migrant women survivors of gender-based violence were respected.
Metzineres said the policies implemented by Spain were insufficient to address the discrimination that women and gender-diverse people, who did drugs, experienced. These included problems related to drug use, homelessness, HIV, Hepatitis C, sex work, irregular administrative situations, mental health problems, incarceration, transphobia, and loss of custody of their children. This group also faced multiple forms of violence. The Committee was asked to urge the Government to adopt measures to ensure protection and basic human rights for this population.
Centre for Civil and Human Rights said Romani women and girls in Slovakia still faced discrimination in many areas, including in access to health care, where there were still Roma-only rooms in some hospitals; in education, in the Roma-only schools; and the lack of adequate compensation for forcibly sterilised Romani women. Roma women did not have good access to justice in cases of discrimination or trust in the courts. The Committee was asked to address these issues with the Slovakian Government.
Saplinq said despite the availability of legal gender change in Slovakia, anti-trans bills were being presented and passing through Parliament. Gender-affirming health care was under heavy attack, and its future was uncertain. Currently, there was one psychiatrist in all of Slovakia who provided gender affirming health care to transgender people. This led to long waiting periods, and travel and financial expenses, which many people did not possess. Transgender women faced discrimination, hate speech and verbal attacks by politicians.
100% Estrógeno said in Venezuela, the articles that criminalised abortion had not been reformed in more than 100 years. Abortion was only allowed when a woman's life was in danger and only at the discretion of the attending physician. In 2021, the National Assembly announced a process to reform the Penal Code, but it did not contemplate the decriminalisation of abortion. In 2021 it was determined that Venezuela had an 80 per cent shortage in access to free contraceptives due to the pandemic. Within the framework of the national surgical plan, the State promoted a State sterilisation policy aimed at women of reproductive age. These campaigns were sometimes carried out in unsanitary and dangerous conditions and without consent.
Acceso a la justicia said they were speaking on behalf of women, wives, mothers and relatives of those who had been victims of organised crime and enforced disappearances. They denounced that there was only one women’s prison in the entire country. Although tribunals and courts existed, they often lacked a gender focus and did not have capacity to enact justice. There needed to be genuine structural changes in Venezuela, not just normative tinkering.
Asociación Civil Sures said Venezuela had suffered in recent years due to the unilateral, criminal and illegal coercive measures, as well as due to the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. This had generated a mass economic migration from Venezuela in recent years. Women and girls had been trafficked by criminal organizations, and suffered human rights violations in destination countries. There needed to be further strengthening of migration policies and cooperation of the Venezuelan State with the Governments of the region, to support the safe return of migrant women to Venezuela, as well as ensure productive reintegration programmes.
Cepaz said during the first seven days in the month of May, there was one femicide every 24 hours in Venezuela. Violence took the lives of 282 Venezuelan women last year. The lack of data made it impossible to draft and implement public policies that would address the needs of the population that was going through a complex humanitarian crisis. The Committee had urged for the publication of disaggregated data, yet this recommendation had gone unfulfilled. The Government was silent, but the voices of women were heard.
COFAVIC said women and girls were threatened by sexual violence, assaulted and put in arbitrary detention in Venezuela. There was also prevalence of labour exploitation, forced prostitution and human trafficking. There had been an increase in HIV in Venezuela in the past decade, with sex workers being the most commonly affected. The Committee’s report was a beacon of hope for the millions of Venezuelan women and girls.
IIRESODH said gender-based violence was perpetuated by the State of Venezuela. Since 2018, there had been no actions to implement reparation measures which had been ordered in certain cases against four families. Some of these crimes had taken place 27 years ago, and justice still had not been reached.
Observatorio Venezolano de los Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres said the Venezuelan economic crisis had increased insecurity for the most vulnerable groups. Sanctions were not the only and most important cause of the structural problem affecting the country, nor did they prevent the Government from fulfilling its functions, as it continued to sell oil and obtain oil revenues. The Government had the resources to address the humanitarian emergency, but it was not a priority. It was recommended that the Committee request the State to allocate resources to address the needs that affected the diversity of women, including indigenous women, and to present accessible and reliable official data.
ULA Mujer said the case of Naibelys Noel was one of many in which a woman in Venezuela, victim of gender violence, was revictimised by the police and judicial organs of the State. Naibelys Noel was deprived of her liberty on August 17, 2019, after being unjustly accused of the murder of her 19-month-old son, which was actually perpetrated that same day by her former partner. She was stigmatised in the media by State agents as an accomplice in the murder of her son. She was later detained "for being the child's mother."
Fundación Género con clase said a survey had been carried out in 23 states in Venezuela in 2021, which found that more than 67 per cent of women surveyed said the economic blockade was their primary concern. The reduction of income caused by the unilateral coercive measures made it more likely that acts of violence would take place in households. The measures also had an impact on serious crimes, including femicide and trafficking in women.
Movimiento Feminista Popular said the use of illegal unilateral coercive measures had led to a breakdown of the quality of life and health for women and girls in Venezuela. Breast cancer was the main cause of death in Venezuela, and the measures had also made it more challenging to access antiretroviral therapy to treat HIV/AIDS. This situation seriously affected the most vulnerable groups, including women with disabilities. It was recommended the State create and strengthen a care policy, with a comprehensive approach, to ensure the inclusion of gender sensitive measures.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert asked Slovakia about the prescription of genetic testing to confirm someone’s gender change? The reports of sterilisation were concerning; could the Committee receive more information on this?
Another Expert asked about education in Venezuela. What was the situation of education before and after 2017? What could be attributed to the Venezuelan State, and what could be attributed to the unilateral coercive measures?
Statements from National Human Rights Institutions
PATRICIA BÁRCENA GARCÍA, Second Deputy Public Defender of Spain, said there were still many things needed to ensure the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women in Spain. The Public Defender’s Office was concerned about the lack of statistics, which would provide an up-to-date vision of what women in Spain were experiencing. There also needed to be more training on gender-based violence. Spain had not been able to ensure the full rights granted to all victims, in line with the Istanbul Protocol. Territorial differences needed to be eliminated; victims should receive services regardless of where they lived.
Psychosocial services should have a protocol, with training requirements. The complexity of proceedings and trials had led to the recommendation that civilian and criminal cases which referred to the same family should be tried by a single and specialised court. To facilitate the full recovery of the victims, guidelines needed to be prepared to ensure there could be reparation. There were still gaps in the system to identify and protect women who had been victims of trafficking. It was also concerning that women seeking international protection suffered from the lack of a proper management system.
KATARÍNA MEDĽOVÁ, Policy and International Affairs Officer, Slovak National Centre for Human Rights, said Roma women in Slovakia had been particularly at risk of sterilisation without their informed consent. However, domestic civil claims had not provided an effective means of redress. In March 2023, the Ministry of Justice introduced a legislative intent of the law on financial compensation for women sterilised in violation of the law, proposing a mechanism to request a one-off compensation of 5,000 euros to victims. However, there was a lack of reliable information on the number of survivors, lack of any outreach campaigns planned, and insufficiency of the amount of the compensation and time to claim compensation.
Ensuring compliance with the principle of equal treatment in healthcare in Slovakia remained a significant challenge. The Public Defender of Rights reported on the creation of separate rooms for Roma women, lack of proper care for pregnant Roma women, and use of ethnic slurs by employees of hospitals. Consent given in cases by transgender persons to sterilisations was often in a situation when the person concerned would not want to undergo such a surgery, however, they were forced to accept the treatment as part of a legal process of gender recognition. Currently, several legislative proposals in Parliament attempted to limit legal gender recognition, which was alarming. There was also a lack of access to safe and legal abortion services in Slovakia.
ALFREDO RUIZ, Public Defender of Venezuela, said women and families were the main victims of the cruel coercive measures which blocked trade and resources of the Venezuelan State, but these measures also impeded access to medicines, transplants, food and surgical interventions. The unilateral coercive measures affected rights such as the right to health, life, food, housing, education and security, among others. The adverse effects and the socioeconomic impact brought about by COVID-19, which affected all of humanity and generated a worldwide socioeconomic crisis, had further aggravated the situation in Venezuela and slowed down the social and economic development of the country. In addition, the application of unilateral coercive measures, blockades and sanctions had affected the entire population, especially women, who were the main breadwinners in Venezuelan society.
Women in Venezuela, the heads and breadwinners of most households, not only suffered economic hardship and anguish, but this situation had led to a higher incidence of violence within the family, which Venezuela had not been able to eradicate. The Venezuelan National Human Rights Institution had developed a series of actions aimed at promoting, educating, training and disseminating information on the prevention of gender-based violence. It considered it imperative to accelerate the process of approving and implementing the regulations of the organic law on the right of women to a life free of violence.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert asked how work was coordinated with the regions in Spain? Why was there such a high level of violence against minors in Spain?
Another Committee Expert asked Venezuela what steps were being taken to provide special measures for women victims participating in the justice system, leading up to the International Criminal Court?
One Expert asked how the security and safety of female human rights defenders in Venezuela was being ensured?
A Committee Expert asked about trafficking in Venezuela; did this occur within Venezuela? Were there any plans to assist women involved in prostitution?
Another Expert addressed Slovakia about trafficking in human beings; had the State party implemented the trafficking recommendations previously provided?
A Committee Expert asked Venezuela about women in decision-making positions?
Responses by National Human Rights Institutions
PATRICIA BÁRCENA GARCÍA, Second Deputy Public Defender of Spain, said the Public Defender of Spain was the national human rights institution and also served as the national mechanism to prevent torture. Within the mandate, the role was to ensure that all administrative organs of the Spanish State fulfilled the provisions of the Convention. Spain was made up of autonomous communities and some had their own autonomous ombudspersons. The comprehensive protection law of children and adolescents needed more time to be applied in practice. There was a need to ensure the voices of children and adolescents were heard.
ZUZANA PAVLICKOVA, Head of Policy and International Relations, Slovak National Centre for Human Rights, said the Government had adopted an action plan to implement anti-trafficking measures. However, it could not be concluded that all measures proposed by the Government were sufficient. The Government still lacked a more proactive approach when it came to identifying foreign victims of trafficking.
ALFREDO RUIZ, Public Defender of Venezuela, said women who wished to submit their complaints had been able to do so, and many took advantage of that opportunity. It was important for pregnant women to get to hospitals on time to ensure birth services. There was a law which ensured any woman who had concerns about her safety could report this. Trafficking was a phenomenon which the Government was working hard to tackle. There was a specialised network to tackle human trafficking and provide support for victims. Whenever a popular vote was cast, there needed to be parity. There were specialised banks to provide credit streams only to women.
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